July 06, 2001 11:00 pm
Hajime Imada tests his roping skills at Mavericks Arena. (Observer photo/DICK MASON).
Hajime Imada tests his roping skills at Mavericks Arena. (Observer photo/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Whats the best way to teach English to Japanese high school students who are visiting Northeast Oregon?

Introduce the students to rafting and rodeos.

Another tip: Stay clear of the Oregon Trail.

The above is time-tested advice from Elgin educator Steve Stanhope. He and his wife, Heather, have helped put on a program for students from Tohoku High School in Sendai, Japan, each summer for at least eight years.

The Stanhopes are the co-directors of this summers session, which is hosting 41 students from Tohoku High School. The Japanese students have had few idle moments. They have, among other things, taken a raft trip on the Minam River; hit golf balls at a driving range; participated in a mini rodeo in which they lassoed stationary items and rode a mechanical bull.

Hands-on activities help them develop their English, Steve Stanhope said.

He explained that teachers give English lessons while conducting activities.

Teaching English is our main thrust, Stanhope said.

The activity schedule has changed since the program started in the early 1990s. For example, earlier the Tohoku students were taken to the Oregon Tail Interpretive Center in Baker City, where they observed displays about Oregon Trail pioneers. The displays did not captivate the Japanese students.

It did not mean anything to them, Stanhope said.

He explained that Oregon Trail history seems very recent to Japanese youths. This is because Japans history extends back more than a thousand years.

For Japanese students, the Fourth of July celebrations are another matter. The 41 students from Tohoku High School were enthralled by the Fourth of July fireworks displays they saw in La Grande. Many stayed up late watching the celebration and were slow getting up the next morning, Heather Stanhope said.

The students are staying with host families in La Grande, Imbler, Elgin and


Heather Stanhope said that the host families have been exceptionally generous. She noted that when several host families pulled out at the last minute, others stepped up and volunteered to take extra students into their homes.

Organizations that have helped with this years program include Elgin High Schools FFA program and the

Union-Baker Education Service District.

The staff for this summers program includes four teachers and eight high school-age counselors. The teachers helping with the program in addition to Steve Stanhope include Barry Bowers of Elgin High School, Kathy OBrien of the Union-Baker Education Service District, Mike Schireman of La Grande Middle School and Ruth Yeates of the Elgin School District.

In addition to conducting activity programs, the teachers have also taught English to the students during classroom sessions.

Teachers, counselors and host families are finding it easier to work with students from Tohoku High School today because they speak better English. Tohoku teachers who accompany their students to Northeast Oregon are picking up tips on how to better to teach English, Stanhope said.

The Japanese students will conclude their almost two-week Northeast Oregon stay on Sunday. Katsuhisa Edno is among the students who will miss Northeast Oregon. He likes its people and its rivers, mountains and open expanses. Edno views this as a welcome change from the city environment in his home of Sendai, a city of 2 million to 3 million in northern Japan.

Edno is among several Tohoku students who are baseball fans. One of the players they are following is Kazuhiro Sasaki, the Seattle Mariners ace relief pitcher. Sasaki is a Tohoku High School alum.