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Maple Street School first-grader Emerson Alderman practices writing Japanese characters. ( Kate Bryan)
Maple Street School first-grader Emerson Alderman practices writing Japanese characters. ( Kate Bryan)
Maple Street School first-grader Emerson Alderman practices writing Japanese characters. ( Kate Bryan)

ELIZABETH A. CONKEY, Staff Writer

MANCHESTER -- Friday marked a special day for students of the Maple Street School.

Japanese culture was celebrated in conjunction with a theme of teambuilding, thanks to much planning and dedication on the part of third-grade teacher Maureen Chaffee.

This summer, Chaffee attended a three-week intensive educational program in Japan, which was organized through the University of Vermont's Asian Studies Outreach Program.

Following the program, from which Chaffee said she gained a wealth of knowledge regarding Japanese culture and lifestyle, Chaffee decided she wanted to share her experiences with the students of Maple Street School.

According to Chaffee, the school hosts yearly teambuilding days, which have held themes of the Greek Olympics and the environment in the past.

The idea of these days, according to Maple Street School Development Officer Kate Bryan, is to encourage students to work together in problem solving, but to also encourage friendships among differing grade levels.

This year, Chaffee made the suggestion to incorporate experiences from her Japan trip to create a day full of Japanese culture for the students.

Members of UVM's Asian Studies Outreach Program visited the school and assisted in the wide range of activities that took place throughout the day.

Kimonos, tea, onigiri, kites

Kindergarten through seventh-graders were paired up, broken into six separate groups and rotated among different rooms hosting myriad of activities.

While one group of students tried on kimonos and learned of the rituals of a Japanese tea ceremony, other students made traditional Japanese rice balls, known as "onigiri," and tried their hand at painting Japanese characters.

Additional activities included a Japanese fish printing presentation and language lesson by ASOP Instructors Gerry Gatz and Michiko Oishi, respectively.

The theme of teambuilding was apparent during a kite crafting activity, however, during which time students had to both build and decorate a kite with minimal adult supervision.

At the end of the day, each kite was flown in the school's field.

Chaffee noted she was very pleased with the day's events and the enthusiasm shown by all of the students.

"It's great to see the kids so engaged," she said. "I love being able to share another culture with them and see the older kids working with the younger kids. It's one of the hallmarks of our school."

Chaffee's students will continue to learn more about Japanese culture throughout the year.

Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at econkey@benningtonbanner.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.