RICHMOND — “Konichiwa,” said Naoto Kobayashi Thursday as he walked the halls of Richmond Middle School. “Konichiwa, konichiwa.”

Japanese instruction is still new to the school, but the students Kobayashi passed seemed to have the hang of it. Pausing in lockers or standing in classroom doorways, they bowed slightly and returned the traditional Japanese greeting: “Konichiwa.”

Though it means a daily drive from Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale, Kobayashi said he is thrilled to be teaching Richmond’s seventh and eighth grade students.

“They pick it up so quickly, and their pronunciation is great,” he said.

The new classes in Richmond are part of an effort to maintain and expand foreign language programs in Regional School Unit 2 — an effort that got a boost when the district won a $30,000 grant for salary assistance from the Japan Foundation. RSU 2 comprises Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Monmouth and Richmond.

Foreign language classes at Monmouth Middle School and the Hall-Dale elementary and middle schools were on the chopping block during budget discussions in the spring.

The school board instead decided to eliminate foreign language at Hall-Dale Elementary and add it at Richmond Middle School so all three of RSU 2’s middle schools would have foreign language classes.

Richmond middle and high school Principle Steve Lavoie said he expects the district to need more foreign language resources for Richmond High School, partly because of the expansion of the classes to the middle school.

“I think (the students) are very excited about it, and it’s going to force the issue of how we provide more,” Lavoie said.

Richmond High School offers French and Spanish, but the languages are not required for graduation. Lavoie said that may soon change.

Kobayashi is teaching one period a day at Richmond for the first trimester of the school year. French and Spanish will be offered the second and third trimesters.

On Thursday, Kobayashi taught a group of seventh grade students. They reviewed greetings and vocabulary for some common classroom objects, then answered simple arithmetic problems in Japanese.

Kobayashi taught the students a song about closing, opening and their clapping hands, along with vocabulary for food items: egg is tamago, cooked rice is gohan.

Student Olivia Winokuzew responded enthusiastically to Kobayashi’s questions. After class, she said she likes Japanese better than other languages she’s encountered, like the Spanish her older sister is studying.

“I think it’s my favorite so far,” she said. “The words are fun to say.”

Although the Japan Foundation grant is not paying for his work at Richmond Middle School or Hall-Dale High School, Kobayashi spearheaded RSU 2’s application for the grant from the semi-governmental organization that promotes cultural exchange and Japanese language instruction.

When the RSU 2 school board cut funding for foreign language classes at Hall-Dale Elementary, the Hallowell City Council and voters at the Farmingdale Town Meeting agreed to take on the $138,784 cost of the classes and a half-time nursing position, which also was cut.

The grant is being used to reduce the amount the municipalities pay. A $26,000 gift that was tentatively offered by an individual did not come through, according to Superintendent Virgel Hammonds.

With the grant, Farmingdale will pay $49,929 and Hallowell $58,895.

Kobayashi said RSU 2’s grant application included letters of support from the Japanese consulate in Boston, a Japanese professor at Colby College in Waterville and students who have taken the classes or participated in Hall-Dale High School’s exchange program with a school in Amori, Japan.

Hammonds told Hallowell city councilors that district leaders will look for more grants and other ways besides tax money to support educational programs. He said this week that working with the consulate and the Japan Foundation could connect the district with other resources.

“Their mission and vision is to really expand some knowledge of what it means to learn Japanese and what the culture is all about,” Hammonds said. “So when they heard about the program here in RSU 2, they whole-heartedly supported it with $30,000, which is the maximum amount. They’re committed to making sure this continues and looking for other ways to support our program.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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