CPS announces STEM exchange program with Japan

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COLUMBIA - A Columbia delegation recently returned from a week-long trip to Columbia's Japanese sister city, Hakusan City.

Among the group were three representatives from Columbia Public Schools: Superintendent Peter Stiepleman, School Board Vice President Jonathan Sessions and Science Coordinator Mike Szydlowski.

"We thought why not leverage the relationship we have with our sister city and see if we could also send students to a STEM school in the mountains of Hakusan," said Stiepleman. 

He said the CPS group had a successful meeting and plans to send students this summer.

Stiepleman said the district considers the exchange program to be a part of preparing students for real life.

"We have a responsibility to our community to keep doing innovative things to give kids very great experiences, and this is one of those," he said.

Sessions said the district is still working out the details of the program.

"It will be a small number of students, probably no more than 10 as we get going," he said.

Stiepleman said students who want to participate in the program have to be interested in STEM, and finish the ninth grade.

"We want you to be a good ambassador for our city and for our school district," he said. "Some way shape or form, being able to demonstrate that you have experience and doing that is going to be important for us."

Szydlowski said that Hakusan City has many similarities with Columbia, and that's what makes this exchange program interesting.

"They're similar size city, they're actually on the same line of latitude as Columbia, so the climate is similar," he said.

Former Columbia Mayor Mary Anne McCollum signed the sister city agreement between Columbia and Matto City on March 7, 1988. 

In 2005, Matto City merged with other nearby cities to create Hakusan City. 

McCollum was part of the first Columbia delegation to visit Matto. 

"It was just a very small delegation and we did a short trip to Matto City and were warmly welcomed by both the mayor and all of the people," McCollum told KOMU in May.

Sessions said the relationship between Columbia and Hakusan City weakened in the early 2000s, but it has recently seen a revival. 

"Hundreds of kids have visited Columbia, Missouri from Hakusan, and hundreds of kids have visited Hakusan from Columbia, Missouri," he said. 

A delegation from Japan visited Columbia in May. 

Columbia has four other sister cities in addition to Hakusan City.