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Coronavirus precaution: Annual Greenbelt HS visit canceled for local Japanese exchange program

Nearly 40 teachers and students were supposed to meet their pen pals at Eleanor Roosevelt this week, but the annual host experience is canceled.

GREENBELT, Md. — Concerns over the coronavirus canceled part of a popular Japanese exchange program between local high school students and their pen pals.

For months, students and staff at Eleanor Roosevelt High School (ERHS) have prepared for the arrival of nearly 40 teachers and students from one of two sisters schools in Japan as part of its Japanese Exchange Program. But since the outbreak of the coronavirus, county school officials decided to cancel the visit.

Assistant Principal Clinton Shands said talks between the county, students and staff started early on.

"We kept the kids up to date, notified the parents and let them know ‘ok, make sure we take these precautionary measures just in cases things don’t go as planned’,” Shands said.

The group, which would have included students and educators from the Kanagawa Board of Education and Suiran High School, planned to arrive next week. Each student would have spent a week with their host family to experience American culture. 

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Credit: Tetsuo Ogawa

Samuel Anotado, a senior at ERHS, was really looking forward to meeting his pen pal Kazuki, but understands safety comes first.

“I told him, it’s fine. It's out of our control, so we shouldn't worry, ” said Anotado when asked how his new pal took the news. “ He was down, he was very sad, he was very excited to come.”

Tetsuo Ogawa has taught Japanese at ERHS for 13 years. He is also one of the exchange program’s ambassadors.

Only two trips have been canceled in the program’s 31-year history, so this is rare. In the past, the trips were canceled for the swine flu and a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. 

Ogawa was just as excited for the springtime visit so students could meet their pen pal and apply what they have learned, but he too said safety is a priority.

"Once our students step out of this classroom, they don't get to use Japanese very often unless they have family members or friends from Japan,” Ogawa said. "Safety is our priority and something we can’t compromise.”

A class trip for ERHS students to Japan has also been canceled for June.

Prince George’s County Public Schools issued this message about international school trips and visits on its website:  

Based on the state health department’s guidance, we will not allow international student visits from countries significantly impacted by the Coronavirus until we receive additional direction.

PGCPS will continue to consult with the Prince George’s County Health Department and Maryland Department of Health on appropriate procedures and recommendations to ensure student safety.

You can read more of the school system's alert here

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