Bay Space excessive faculties reducing celebrated Japanese language program

Till the second she stepped on the stage, Maya Swaminathan felt nauseous.

The 17-year-old had been getting ready for months to symbolize San Jose’s Lynbrook Excessive College in April at The Japan Bowl, a high-pressure nationwide competitors the place a whole lot of gifted college students spar over Japanese language, tradition and historical past.

She and her classmates coached one another on the flight from the Bay Space to D.C., then crammed right into a resort room to drill one another previous midnight on all issues Japanese. What’s the title of the standard sq. fabric used for wrapping items? (Furoshiki) Which metropolis hosted the 1972 Winter Olympic Video games in Japan? (Sapporo) What Japanese merchandise are these areas — Shizuoka, Hokkaido and Niigata — identified for producing? (Rice, tea and dairy)

Reproductions of historic Japanese artwork items are on show within the class of Lynbrook Excessive College Japanese language trainer Jeremy Kitchen on in San Jose. (Dai Sugano/Bay Space Information Group) 

Although it was Maya’s third time on the Japan Bowl, this yr, the stakes felt completely different. Months earlier, the staff heard rumors that their faculty district, Fremont Union Excessive, was planning to section out their vaunted Japanese program over the subsequent few years — together with these at two different faculties close by.

“We thought, possibly if we win this, we will affect the pinnacle honchos to in some way not section out this system,” Maya stated. “I felt like, even when I’m anxious, I’ve to do that.”

And do it, she did. Through the remaining spherical of the competitors, Maya hit her buzzer early to name out the title of a Japanese manga, a graphic novel, that received a cultural prize in 1997 (Fujio Fujiko’s “Doraemon”). Lynbrook introduced residence second place, and Cupertino Excessive, one other Fremont Union faculty, took first.

Saahil Gupta, Maya Swaminathan, and Samantha Tang from Lynbrook High School in San Jose compete at the Japan Bowl in Washington D.C. in April of this year.  (Photo by Jeff Song)
Saahil Gupta, Maya Swaminathan, and Samantha Tang from Lynbrook Excessive College in San Jose compete on the Japan Bowl in Washington D.C. in April of this yr. (Photograph by Jeff Tune) 

However it wasn’t sufficient. Later that month, the district introduced that the rumors have been true: Lynbrook, Cupertino and Monta Vista — faculties which have lengthy dominated the Japan Bowl — have been planning to chop their Japanese packages because of districtwide declining enrollment. It received’t occur abruptly: Beginning within the 2024-25 tutorial yr, the district will start phasing out Japanese courses one stage every year by 2027-28, when solely AP-level courses will stay.

The cuts are centered on the language packages with the fewest college students, although that may very well be re-evaluated primarily based on enrollment in language courses this fall. Chinese language at Homestead Excessive and French at Fremont Excessive are additionally within the bullseye, although all college students already enrolled in these courses will be capable of end out their full course of examine.

John Malott, the president of the Japan-America Society — which has hosted the Japan Bowl since 1992 — stated he couldn’t imagine it when he heard the information. He despatched out emails to his community with the topic line: “Don’t fall off your chair, however…”

“It might be like Duke College giving up basketball, or Maestro (Gustavo) Dudamel saying that the L.A. Philharmonic would not carry out Beethoven,” he stated. “There have been years once I would watch the ultimate championship rounds and see solely these three groups on stage as a result of no different faculties within the nation may come near them. They’re formidable.”

Regardless of their prowess, none of these faculties are resistant to the ripple results of declining enrollment. Over the previous 5 years, the Fremont Union Excessive College District has misplaced 9% of its college students, and its feeder Okay-8 districts, Cupertino Union and Sunnyvale, have seen much more staggering losses — plunges of twenty-two% and 18% respectively from 2018-19 to right this moment.

On the identical time, enrollment within the district’s world language packages has dropped 17%.

“We all know there are college students in these courses that love these packages, and we don’t make these choices frivolously,” stated Denae Nurnberg, Fremont Union’s information coordinator. “However this has been a very long time coming.”

Many different college students, dad and mom and lecturers have been mourning the anticipated lack of Japanese, Chinese language and French. They’ve packed faculty board conferences and circulated petitions, attempting to get the district to vary its thoughts. A type of, to maintain Chinese language at Homestead Excessive, has gathered practically 1,000 signatures since late April.

“There’s quite a lot of anger,” stated Ting-Yong Liu, a junior and Chinese language language scholar at Homestead. “The world language program is sort of a second residence to many people.”

For Maya, a rising senior, that second residence has meant dipping her toes into one thing solely new and plunging herself right into a language, tradition and historical past that she finds fascinating. A few of her finest buddies are in this system, and Maya stated she spends as much as 15 hours every week finding out the Japanese language — only for enjoyable.

She’s disillusioned that it may stop to exist for all the scholars who will comply with her.

“These faculties have the gold customary for Japanese schooling within the U.S., and I don’t know in the event that they totally perceive that,” stated Malott. “We’re simply all in shock.”

Just one different Bay Space faculty has received the Japan Bowl within the final decade: Silver Creek Excessive within the East Aspect Union Excessive College District, which took residence a first-place prize in 2017. It was the final time that faculty entered the nationwide competitors.

However since 2013, there have solely been two years {that a} Fremont Union Excessive College district staff hasn’t received first prize in at the least one of many three ranges. Even in these lacking years, Cupertino or Lynbrook took each second prize aside from one.

Benjamin Chang, a former Japanese language scholar who graduated from Lynbrook Excessive this yr, stated reducing world languages will make the district lose its edge.

“If I wish to get an schooling in math or science, I can discover that at any faculty in California,” Chang stated. “However discovering a faculty with a robust world language program is lots more durable to search out. If FUHSD removes that, they’re shedding the factor that makes them so nice.”

For at the least just a few years, the window continues to be open for college students to compete within the Japan Bowl. However Jeremy Kitchen, the Japanese trainer at Lynbrook, worries the top of their courses may simply be the tip of the iceberg. With cuts to a program as nationally acknowledged as theirs, will different courses be on the chopping block as enrollment continues to say no?

“I’m nervous that we are going to turn into the start of an total slide,” stated Kitchen. “What if different districts say, ‘Oh, properly Fremont Union did it, so why don’t we go down that path as properly?’”

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