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Thursday, April 25, 2002
Marist Brothers school hits 50 years in Kobe, regains its prequake stride
KOBE -- Marist Brothers International School in Suma Ward here celebrates its 50th anniversary this month.
Despite the economic slump, demand for the school's services remains high among the expatriate community and with Japanese parents who want their children to have a more global education, officials say.
With the economy still rooted in the doldrums, international schools in Japan are having a hard time making ends meet.
This is especially true in Kobe, where the expatriate population has always been far smaller than Tokyo's and has shrunk considerably since the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995.
Marist Brothers, located in one of the hardest hit areas of Kobe, was literally torn apart by the quake.
"The decision to rebuild rather than close was the greatest challenge the school had ever faced," said George Gibbons, a spokesman for the school, whose name mirrors that of the Catholic society.
"Funds were raised from around the world for repairs, and today, things are back to normal."
There are now some 300 students in grades one through 12, about the same as prequake levels.
In addition to restoring the prequake curriculum with its emphasis on traditional grade school, junior high school and high school subjects, a few new courses were added, including a business studies option.
High school students who pursue this course work can study marketing and economic theory, as well as business ethics.
The Model United Nations, an extracurricular activity that introduces students to the problems and issues facing countries around the world, has proven quite popular.
It was Marist Brothers' Kobe school that introduced the program to western Japan back in 1986. Today, Marist students cooperate with kids at other international schools in the area to keep it going.
Nor is all the educational emphasis on people and issues far from the shores of Japan. Students can also volunteer to help the homeless living in Osaka's Kamagasaki district or help at hospitals and nursing homes.
Although the school is founded on the principles of the Marist order, Gibbons said that its purpose is not religious conversion.
"We do begin each morning with a prayer, but students are not indoctrinated. Our students come from all over the world, and from many non-Christian countries. So we're not strict in forcing religious principles on the students," he said.
But one area in which Marist Brothers is very strict is language. As an international school, the working language is English, and its use is enforced.
"We've been known to expel students who speak Japanese repeatedly," Gibbons said.
While it was established primarily to serve the needs of the international community, Marist Brothers has, in recent years, attracted the attention of Japanese parents who do not want their children to go to a traditional Japanese public school.
"We could fill the school with Japanese students. But we remain committed to serving the international community and for preparing our students for international universities," Gibbons said. Nearly 90 percent of its graduates go on to universities, about three-quarters of them in the United States.
"The Kobe community recognizes that our educational methods, which put emphasis on small classes, individualized instruction and community activism, are unique. Despite the difficult times we've had financially, I think that we will be around for our 100th anniversary as well," Gibbons said.