Drummers keep time at Verdugo assembly

The Japanese drummers paced themselves, and delivered each strike with precision and flair.

In the audience, Verdugo Woodlands Elementary School first- and second-graders let loose, air drumming, heads bobbing and shifting side to side with each beat.

The school hosted a taiko, or Japanese drum, gathering Wednesday, a cultural assembly designed to tout diversity across the school, organizers said.

The assembly had a particularly relevant theme for the school's three new dual language immersion classes, officials said.

"It's a perfect example of what we're doing," said Kayoko Fujii, a first-grade Japanese immersion teacher. "They are learning rhythms and patterns in math."

But they're doing 50% of it in Japanese. The Foreign Language Academy of Glendale, which houses the district's dual language immersion programs, expanded to include Verdugo Woodlands this year.

The program exists at several campuses and spans Armenian, Korean, German, Italian and Spanish.

Because of the complexity of the Japanese language, instruction is divided evenly until the students graduate to middle school.

"We're still in the beginning stages of moving this influence of FLAG-Japanese into the rest of the school," said Mike Jaffe, the Japanese program specialist.

Six-year-old Jackson Adkins said his homework is hard. His favorite word is "konnichiha" because he picked it up during pre-school.

Lately, he said he's liked his math work.

"I like learning the numbers," he said.

Nanami Bryden, a classmate, said learning to count money has been her favorite part of school.

Still, "it can be hard," she said.

There are three different sets of characters in Japanese, and explaining that concept has been among Fujii's biggest challenges, she said.

She said her students have mastered many greetings and pleasantries, like "please," and "thank you."

"There's time, addition, subtractions and shapes are all done in Japanese, Fujii said. "They get motivated and participate."

The Japanese program is less than three months old. By the end of the year, school officials said the school library and other multi-purpose space will have more cultural and linguistic diversity, as the Dad's Club had during the drum assembly.

"We'd like to show you the many different ways and sounds the taiko can be played," said Johnny Mori, one of three drummers.

He recited the pattern, "don-kara-don-don."

The drums took off, audible from the school playground.

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