Information for Prospective Participating School Districts

Richard Morris
Director of Career and Educational Options
Elk Grove Unified School District
9510 Elk Grove-Florin Road
Elk Grove, CA 95624
(916) 686-7726


Elk Grove Unified School District is looking forward to another year of participation in a student exchange program with the Osaka Prefecture in Japan.

In our first year of participation during the summer of 1998, we received 100 exchange students from Japan for a two-week visit. The program was a great success, however a review of the program at the end of the summer determined that a smaller-sized group would make for a more manageable program. This led to a reduction in the number of student participants from 100 to 30 the following year.

The following year, we sent 30 high school students to Japan, and this summer we expect to receive 30 Japanese students. American exchange students are typically intermediate and advanced students in our Japanese language program, grades 10-12. Japanese exchange students are the same age, however Japanese students may have taken more English than their American counterparts have taken Japanese. The program is structured so that host responsibilities are alternated annually between the two countries.

After our two years of participation in the program, Scott Keene, who is affiliated with the California International Relations Foundation (CIRF) approached us. Mr. Keene indicated that CIRF was communicating with other school districts regarding participation in the program, and asked if we would develop a memo which describes in brief terms what it takes to conduct an exchange program. The memo would then be used to assist other districts as they decide whether or not to participate in the program. This document represents the preliminary response to Mr. Keene’s request.

The exchange program requires a fair amount of advanced planning and organization. It also requires the identification of a funding base to support some program activities. In short, it requires time and money—two commodities that are often in short supply in education. The purpose of this memo is to save you some time by pointing you in the right direction organizationally, and to help you identify a funding source for basic financial support.

Why be involved with this program?

We initially became involved with the program because our Superintendent, David Gordon, strongly supports Japanese language programs in our schools. That attracted the interest of CIRF, which led to a Japanese teacher exchange, which in turn led to the student exchange opportunity as initially organized by CIRF.

CIRF has available an excellent document entitled, "California-Japan Scholars Program, Program Report For 1999". This 12-page document provides a far better review of the vision, goals and rationale of the program than I can provide. I recommend that the Report be reviewed by key decision-makers in any school district that is considering participation in the program.

On a personal level, the value of this program became apparent to me last year, when our group of students returned from their two-week visit in Japan. The reports of participating students made it apparent that the program was about cultural exchange, international relations and more. Listening to the reports made it clear that the students had experienced a life-changing event that both broadened their perspective and reinforced their commitment to their learning goals. What educator could not support that outcome?

How are the programs funded?

Adequate funding for this program depends on contributions from three sources: parents of participating students, donations from partnership entities, and school district funds. No one source can cover all of the costs.

District Funding

In the Elk Grove District, we have established a basic funding source for the program by enrolling all of the student participants in summer school. In addition to providing a revenue source, this satisfies two very basic objectives of the program: it allows exchange students to experience the educational system of another country, and it provides exchange students with extended opportunities to interact with their host-country peers in a school setting.

All of the provisions of summer school are met with respect to ADA accounting, and teacher certification (yes, we sent certificated teachers to Japan last year as chaperones). The generated funding, approximately $5,000, is typically used to cover the cost of teacher-chaperones, instructional materials, and stipends for planning activities.


When we are the host District, host-families provide the food and lodging for exchange students. Families of students traveling to Japan are responsible for airfare, insurance, spending money and other incidentals such as phone cards.


When hosting students, donations from private sources and foundations typically cover transportation expenses both to summer school and on field trips, and the costs of receptions and farewell dinners. Our fund-raising goal for this area is $9,000 this year. This includes transportation to and from summer school, which is not normally provided by this school district.

When sending students to Japan, donations may cover the cost of transportation for students who are unable to afford the expense, and for program costs above and beyond the revenue provided by summer school ADA. Last year, the cost of one chaperone’s plane fare was provided for through donations. Generally, outside donations are also necessary to cover those expenses that a school district could not pay due to statutory provisions prohibiting gifts of public funds

Who organizes and plans the program?

The exchange program is simple in concept, but in reality there are a myriad of details and deadlines that seem to spread across departments and divisions in the typical school district organizational structure. A representative planning committee is essential; here is our planning committee:

  • A central administrator with overall responsibility for the program
  • An administrative secretary with planning skills and tenacity with respect to details
  • Several teachers, ideally of Japanese, who will serve as chaperones or supervisors and design the program of in-school and fieldtrip activities
  • A representative from the summer school program
  • A parent or two representing traveling students or host families in alternate years
  • Someone who will monitor the program budget
  • Other individuals who may come into the planning process when appropriate — include a representative from transportation, someone to assist in identifying sources of outside partners for financial support, summer school principals, food services and district media communications.

Perhaps the first job of the exchange program planning committee is to make sure participation in the program has the support of the district superintendent, whether sending students to Japan or hosting Japanese students. Otherwise, the function of the committee is to plan program activities, identify the tasks, establish timelines and deadlines, and perform the tasks necessary to send or receive students. The major tasks are listed below.

What is required to host students?

Contact and establish an ongoing working relationship with your local Japanese officials. In the case of the Elk Grove School District, this is the San Francisco office of the Osaka Prefecture. Identify the primary planning contact and communication contact person(s). All of the program coordination takes place between the Elk Grove School District and the local office, which in turn takes care of all communication with Japan. (We have also established a relationship with the Japanese Embassy in San Francisco, although the Embassy is not directly involved with conducting the program.)

Confirm the dates of the visit. Typically Japanese students will travel after the close of their school year, which is later than our closing. This year we expect students to arrive July 22nd.

Begin soliciting contributions from outside sources. This can be an on-going effort, but the time spent on cultivating one or two major contributors who are willing to support the program on an on-going basis is time well spent.

Obtain information on visiting students, including medical information and medical treatment releases, biographies, and photographs.

Develop a list of host families through teacher selection. Host families will typically be the families of students who made the trip to Japan the previous year. If starting the program for the first time, it could include the families of American students who are interested in going to Japan next year.

Identify summer school site(s), coordinated with the locations of host families.

Work with the transportation department to develop a transportation plan. Provide for central pickup and drop-off points that are monitored by volunteer host parents.

Develop the summer school program, site-based classroom activities and field trips. The day program may be as simple as having the students sit in on existing summer school courses, or it may include sheltered instruction in English or United States history, local history/geography or culture.

Develop an itinerary of daily activities.

Develop and review emergency procedures.

Make sure all the key players, such as the transportation, food services (lunch), budget and communications offices have initial information about the program, as well as regular updates.

Train and prepare host families. Typically one or two meetings is sufficient to provide host families with timelines, activity itineraries, and a review of cultural expectations.

Make sure that the Prefecture office or other representative Japanese office has all of the information that they need, including host family placements, host family contact information, emergency contact information, daily itineraries, and so forth.

Plan the initial reception (western barbecues are very popular with the students) and the farewell banquet; invite the appropriate local dignitaries.

Prepare press releases and publicize the program.

Make sure that the Superintendent receives regular reports about the program.

Continue regular communication with prefecture officials.

Arrange for Board recognition of program staff after the program has successfully concluded.

What is required to send students to Japan?

There may be some benefit in acquiring the services of a travel consultant for a district's first exchange experience sending students to Japan. Travel consultants are generally prepared to easily resolve many of the issues related to foreign travel that are beyond the experience of school district staff.

Contact and establish an ongoing working relationship with your local Japanese officials. See the first bullet in, "What is required to host students?" above. Identify the primary planning contact and communication contact person(s).

Identify the adult chaperones that will accompany students (ideally these are teachers). Obviously this needs to be voluntary, however we have paid a stipend to the chaperones in their capacities as supervising teachers.

Identify the students who will go to Japan. We have recruited students from our advanced Japanese language classes, with selection criteria based primarily upon academic standing and good citizenship. (Important note: Participating students' families will be host families for Japanese students the following year.)

Confirm dates with the local Japanese office. Generally this will be after American schools are not in session, but prior to Japanese schools being out of session.

Obtain student information sheets, including medical information and medical treatment releases, biographies, photographs, and releases of district liability.

Begin training and informing parents and students about program details.

Assist students in obtaining passports, visas, travel insurance, health insurance, phone cards and so forth. No student should participate unless they have both travel insurance and health insurance that covers them for foreign travel.

Prepare students culturally. Students need to know what sorts of behaviors are generally taboo, as well as what behaviors constitute generally accepted etiquette in Japan.

Enroll students in summer school.

Make arrangements for air travel. Discounts may be available, and it is probably wise to contact Japan Airlines and discuss the program with them. Discounts may include a free ticket or two for supervising adults.

Make arrangements to get students to the airport and back as a group.

Provide for communication from Japan to the District. We used cellular phones obtained on a short-term contract in Japan.

Provide a source of emergency funds, such as a district credit card.

Develop the itinerary. This will typically be based upon the itinerary that is provided by Japan.

Release program publicity to the media.

Review emergency procedures and contacts.

Provide regular briefings to the superintendent or designee.

Arrange for Board recognition of students upon return.

Other questions?

No two programs have to operate quite the same way. You are encouraged to develop your own solutions to problems and concerns so that your program works well for you within the resources and structure of your district and community. However, Elk Grove Unified School District staff would be glad to answer questions or provide additional information about our program. You may reach my office at (916) 686-7726.

Office Address