When I start to feel the sunlight of spring in Tokyo, for some reason I am reminded of the view of my snowy hometown of Otaru, Hokkaido. But together with that, I also recall a certain school in the adjacent town of Yoichi, called Hokusei Yoichi High School.
This school is known for its unique educational program that accepts high school dropouts and other struggling students, and teaches and supports them both through the community and in school. Former shut-ins, students who were expelled for smoking or otherwise breaking school rules, students who gave up on advancing in their studies due to psychiatric problems, and even people in their 30s who have decided to finally go back and finish high school, all gather from around Japan at Hokusei Yoichi, where around 80 percent of the student body live in school housing. However, this housing isn't a large dormitory building, but rather something akin to homestays.
On one snowy day, I stopped by the school and at one home that houses students. The owners, a couple, had been providing a home to Hokusei Yoichi students for 10 years.
"When we think what we would do if they were our children, we can't ignore them," one half of the couple said. They prepare three meals a day for their lodgers, including boxed lunches, and when the students look troubled, they ask them what's wrong. They called themselves "nosy," but the teachers at the school are the same way.
They reach out to the students when they have any concerns -- the opposite approach to the current trend of not prying too much into others' affairs. After a while, the students start to reciprocate, they say. Even students who wouldn't look at them at first eventually start to talk, become more active and care for other students in the same way that the homestay families and teachers have done for them.
However, Hokusei Yoichi has been faced with the possibility of closure since two years ago, due in part to the low birthrate and fewer students. I have heard that this year, they have again not yet reached the number of students said to be necessary to stay open, but during my visit both the teachers and students were cheerful about moving forward. Alumni are also active around the nation in trying to keep the school going.
Yoichi is a town with a lot of snow and a dropping population, and it is certainly not a lively place. But, when I think that such a passionate high school exists there, it warms my heart. I hope that this year, too, that "nosy education" can somehow continue to exist. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)