“If every young person in the world had the opportunity to travel and be a part of an exchange we could change the world. ”
Chattanooga is celebrating a visiting delegation from one of it's newest sister cities — Tono, Japan — this week, and on Thursday representatives from the two cities revisited the place where their relationship began.
Last September, the two cities formed a partnership based on relationships formed through the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences exchange student program that started in the early 1990s.
"The entire reason we have this relationship began at this school," said Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke. "The teachers and administrators here at CSAS understood that education is a full experience."
For almost 28 years, CSAS has sent high school delegations to Tono during the summer and Tono has sent students back. Since Jan. 5, nine junior high school students and their two student leaders from Tono have spent time at CSAS and with their host families, exploring Chattanooga and sharing their experiences in CSAS classrooms.
"I've had the pleasure of working with these students and they tell me they get so much out of the experience," said Louisa Mesich, a retired CSAS teacher and the long-time coordinator of the exchange program. "They say, 'It has changed my life.'"
On Thursday, local officials including Mayor Berke and Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson, along with visiting Tono city officials and Tono Mayor Toshiaki Honda visited CSAS, where the exchange students from Tono performed a traditional Japanese song and dance.
The Tono delegation also participated in a lunch at City Hall and a welcome event at Bessie Smith Hall Thursday. Today, the delegation will dedicate a Yoshino Cherry tree in Coolidge Park at 3:30 p.m. A farewell celebration is scheduled for Friday night at The Edney Building.
This summer, CSAS will again send a delegation of high school students to Tono.
"If every young person in the world had the opportunity to travel and be a part of an exchange we could change the world," said CSAS Upper School Principal Jim Boles. "We don't take the time to understand the world, to even understand someone on the other side of your city. If you've learned one thing today, please take the time to learn about someone else. That is how we'll change the world."
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.