Students and parents participate in a summer festival at the Himawari Preschool summer camp in Livonia. The children and some adults are wearing “Happi” coats featuring Japanese characters that stand for “festival,” as well as summer kimonos called yukata.
Ted Delphia has worked as a school teacher, a school
business manager and in information technology, but he's using sales skills to accomplish
his next goal: opening a public charter school for Japanese and American
students in southeast Michigan.
Delphia describes his idea as meeting three needs within one
school: Japanese students temporarily in the United States would have a place
to learn English language and culture; American children would have a place to
learn Japanese language and culture; and Japanese-American students would have
a place to develop and maintain their heritage, language and culture.
Students take a nature walk in the neighborhood surrounding the Himawari Preschool, searching for and identifying signs of fall.
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Add a 200-day school year and an academic program that meets
the standards of both countries, and Delphia believes the result will be the
kind of global citizens that Michigan says it needs.
"Our American children need every opportunity possible to
gain an understanding into other parts of the world," Delphia said in an
interview at the Japanese-American preschool he now runs with his wife, Mitsuyo
Like a number of individuals and organizations that would like to
open public charter schools in Michigan, the Delphias face significant
challenges. Not only would they have to acquire a charter giving them
permission to open as a publicly funded school, but they would have to convince
both Japanese and American parents that the Japanese American School of
Southeast Michigan is a good investment in their children's future.
Southeast Michigan has long
been home to a large contingent of Japanese families who are here temporarily
because of the father's work, according to Delphia. Many of those families have
elementary-age children whose parents are keenly interested in education during
the three to five years they spend in Michigan.
The Japanese parents want their children to learn the
English language — considered an asset in applying to Japan's highly competitive
high schools and colleges — but also want them to keep up academically across
all subjects with their peers back home, Delphia said. That's why they send
them to the local public school during the week, but also to private "Japanese
school" on Saturdays.
"The difference between these children and other immigrant
children is that they aren't immigrants," he said. "These are global citizens,
and the American system of education doesn't meet that need."
A charter school could do both in one setting — but what's
in it for American students?
Delphia acknowledges that that will be the harder argument
to make, but he's prepared.
The main advantage is that American children who attend
Japanese American School would learn the Japanese language by "dual immersion;"
that is, part of the day's activities would be carried out using the Japanese
language and part would be completed in English. The academic program would
meet all standards set by Michigan as well as by the Japanese Ministry of
Education, Delphia said.
The school has already received a planning grant, which it
used in part to consult with an academic advisory team that "crosswalked" the
Japanese and American elementary curricula and advised the school on making
sure the standards of each are met, Delphia said.
One of the advisory team members is Dr. Hitomi
Oketani-Lobbezoo, a professor in the Department of World Languages at Eastern
Michigan University. She and the other advisers recommended that the school
adopt a 70-30 Japanese-English approach, meaning 70 percent of the day would be
spent with instruction and activities carried out in Japanese. This advice
assumes that there are nearly equal numbers of Japanese and American children
in each classroom.
The team found about 98 percent overlap between the
kindergarten curricula in the United States and Japan, meaning the question is
not so much what subject matter to present, but how best to present it.
The Japanese American School would be an example of "additive
bilingualism," in which a child continues to learn and improve in his or her
native language while adding a second language.
As the children mingle at school, they also will gain
cultural understanding that will serve the American students well in the
future, Delphia said. Overseas field trips are part of the long-range plan.
A global citizen himself, Delphia lived and attended schools
in France and England as a child when the family accompanied his father on
overseas assignments for Chrysler Corp.
As an adult, he joined the Japan Exchange Teacher Programme
and worked as a teaching assistant at the junior high level in Moriyama City in
Japan from 1995 to 1998. He then taught for two years at Our Lady of the Lakes
High School in Waterford and next for a year at the International Academy of
He and his wife, who previously taught kindergarten in
Japan, now operate the Himawari Preschool in Livonia, renting space in a former
elementary school. About 90 percent of the 3- to 5-year-old students who attend
the private preschool are Japanese students in the country temporarily, 6 percent
come from blended Japanese-American families and 4 percent are American.
Delphia anticipates another question: Why Japanese instead
of Chinese, a language that some Detroit metro districts have recently added to
It's true that many people think of China as the land of business opportunity, but Japan still has
"a huge, undeveloped market," Delphia responded. The country's demographics — specifically
an aging population — means that it will need to hire young talent from abroad
at some point, and speaking their language "puts you in the driver's seat."
Having bilingual education and, eventually, bilingual
graduates, available in southeast Michigan also could sway Japan's investment
decisions, Delphia said.
"This is beyond tax breaks," he said. "This speaks to what
they (transnational workers) need."
Delphia wants to start small; the Japanese American School
would open to about 50 kindergarteners in two classrooms in its first year,
then expand gradually until it became a K-6 operation. By fifth and sixth
grade, he envisions field trips to Japan.
Aside from convincing families to enroll, Delphia
anticipates other challenges: Bilingual teachers are scarce and there is a cap
on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in Michigan. He's already applied twice to Central Michigan University
for a charter, but was turned down each time because the field of applicants
was so large and the number of available charters so low.
The development team now is working with Livonia Public
Schools on securing a charter and opening the school within that district. Aside
from university-sponsored charters, state law allows individual conventional
school districts and intermediate school districts to charter schools within
their own boundaries.
"We are in the discussion stage. We're still ironing out the
details," Livonia Superintendent Randy Liepa told Michigan Education Report.
"They're starting very slowly, which is attractive to us."
The Delphias already rent space from the Livonia district
for their preschool, and have been "great tenants," Liepa said. Since the
Japanese American School likely would attract students from throughout metro
Detroit, it represents a way to offer a new academic program without
significantly impacting enrollment in any single other district, he pointed
Delphia said his plan matches what lawmakers had in mind
when they wrote the state's original charter school plan: small, start-up
schools that are heavy on innovation.
"Ours is a new idea," he said. "Our program is almost a
poster child for what they (lawmakers) wrote in 1993."
Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that Michigan Education Report is properly cited.