In Japan, there is a saying: “There are hardships and there are delights” to remind us that there is often joy interwoven with our troubles, or at least after the trouble has passed. There is certainly a great deal of joy at Chehalem Valley Middle School in the wake of some pandemic-era challenges.
Both the Wadayama Exchange Program and The Japanese Garden of Friendship at CVMS were seeded decades ago. During the COVID-19 quarantine, both went dormant, but now, they’re bursting into life once again.
The garden received a massive renovation this summer when the Woodruff family raised $20,000 for its renovation with the assistance of a master of Japanese landscaping. The CVMS Wadayama Exchange Program recently received the green light from its Sister School in Japan, Wadayama Junior High to return this year after COVID-19 cases decreased. CVMS students have until Oct. 11 to apply.
The Return of the Exchange Program
Why does CVMS have an Exchange Program and how is it beneficial for the seventh- and eighth-graders who participate? The program started 33 years ago to open the eyes of students at both schools.
“It’s important to get a different view of the world through the eyes of somebody else,” said Andrew DeBois, CVMS Principal, who organizes the program with teachers Donna Golden and Su Limbert.
Golden agreed. She leads the program as the volunteer Japanese Exchange Program Coordinator.
“The program gives students an opportunity to learn from other people, from other cultures, from other ways of life,” Golden said.
Local teens are eager to not only learn from another culture but to have the chance to tell the world about their beloved community.
“If I’m with a family from Japan and told them about my life in America, I would tell them that we have the most beautiful town in all of Oregon,” one student wrote in her application years ago. “Our town is a small town close to the ocean, and there are lots of farm animals in our neighborhoods. I would tell them that American culture is busy. America is a huge country with diverse climates and people.”
Students have lots of opportunities to share these thoughts with their host families, spending seven days in Japan. Their trip is scheduled for May 2024. Wadayama Junior High students will also visit America during their two-week summer break in August. They stay in Newberg for five to six days, experiencing places such as OMSI and the Oregon Coast and trying food such as burgers and fries at Jake’s Grill.
Although it sounds fun, the program requires commitment. Wadayama Exchange Program participants are the ones who host the visitors, returning the kindness of the Japanese families that allowed them to stay in their homes.
To prepare for the trip, students also must take lessons in Japanese language and culture.
Students participate in fundraisers to defray their costs: offering gift wrapping at Fred Meyer, participating in the Christmas Bazaar at Ewing Young, selling pies, and more. Students raise as much as they can toward the $3,000 participation fee. However, Golden makes sure that no one who wants to go is left out. There will be partial scholarships for qualifying students who cannot pay the remainder after they’re done fundraising.
The Wadayama Exchange Program is also selective. Each applicant must submit a signed parental consent form, a typed essay, two teacher evaluation forms, and a letter of recommendation from an unrelated adult who knows the student well. Then the students are interviewed, and up to 16 students are chosen, with eighth-graders receiving priority.
What’s next in the application process?
There are several upcoming dates:
- Oct. 11: Turn in applications by 4:00 p.m. to Golden or the front office (no late applications)
- Oct. 23 to 26: Interviews
- Oct. 30: Delegates announced at the end of the day.
- Nov. 6: Family Informational Meeting at 6 p.m. in the CVMS Library
The Garden’s Revival
The Japanese Garden of Friendship has existed for almost as long as the Wadayama Exchange Program, which launched in 1990. In 1997, the Wadayama Association of International Cultural Exchange offered a long-lasting gift, a peaceful, garden celebrating the connection of CVMS to Wadayama Junior High. Students, staff, and families have grown together like twin trees leaning on one another ever since.
“The garden is our connection to them,” DeBois said.
So much has happened since the garden was first planted:
- In 2000, Asago City and Newberg officially became Sister Cities.
- In 2017, the Newberg Rotary Clubs donated a peace pole to inspire continued fellowship, setting the pole right next to the garden. The white pole says “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in four languages.
- Last school year, the class of 2027 painted a wave on the inside of the wall facing the garden. The wave is reminiscent of The Great Wave off Kanagawa, a famous woodblock print by Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hokusai. The painting was designed and painted mostly by Cecilia (CC) Draz and supervised by the Leadership teacher, Brittany Olson. There are plans to add a cherry blossom tree next to it this year.
- In 2020, then-School Board Director Bob Woodruff successfully applied to the Green Legacy Program to receive a tree grown from the seed of a persimmon that survived the bombing of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. This tree was a perfect fit to honor decades of peace since then with Japan and decades of friendship with Wadayama.
Then, progress halted. The CVMS managed to plant the tree honoring their Sister School and Sister City in March of 2020 on the last day before the COVID-19 lockdown. They never had a chance to celebrate the tree and the peace that it represents.
During the ensuing pandemic years, the garden became a little neglected with so much going on. Then the bond work to make the front of the school more secure altered the shape of the garden. Woodruff and his family didn’t want the tree to die of neglect and also thought that, with the school upgrades, the garden needed a change too. They began to tend the garden, but they wanted an expert to help reimagine the space with its new shape.
The Woodruffs raised $20,000 to renovate their garden, bringing on board Kurisu LLC President and Founder Hoichi Kurisu of Sherwood. Kurisu — a highly regarded landscaper and Hiroshima survivor — has been designing and building gardens for almost five decades. He was the perfect soul to revive a garden showcasing a tree grown from the seed of a surviving tree, a symbol of peace.
“His focus is on healing gardens and the healing properties of nature,” Woodruff said.
For The Garden of Friendship, the whole CVMS team wishes to honor Woodruff and his family, but he resists the attention.
“The focus should be on the garden and the Exchange Program,” he said quietly.
Nevertheless, CVMS will likely offer boundless thanks to the Woodruffs during a garden rededication ceremony tentatively scheduled for the spring of 2024.
Just like the restarting of the Wadayama Exchange Program, the garden’s rededication ceremony will offer a reminder of the delights that can follow hardship, that can be worth pushing through some of life’s harshest challenges.
For more information about the program or to donate to the program, please contact Donna Golden at [email protected].