Jennifer Crusco
Communications Assistant

Schools in Kyoto and Demarest Build on Common Link

Demarest, NJ: Students from two schools located across the globe are in the midst of a cultural exchange that grew from a common connection: Both learning institutions were founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

English teacher Dean Williams from Notre Dame Jogakuin in Kyoto, Japan, contacted the staff at the Academy of the Holy Angels with the goal of establishing a pathway for his students to develop their English skills. Jennifer Cucchisi, an international studies teacher at AHA, readily accepted the invitation.

Williams explained that his school, which was established in 1952, serves junior and senior high students.

“We are situated at the far eastern edge of Kyoto, on the flanks of the mountains. The world-famous Philosopher's Path, Nanzenji Temple, and the Silver Temple lie a stone's throw away. The school boasts its own Japanese teahouse and garden, as well as the original nunnery which is now a museum,” Williams wrote in an email to AHA.

When the exchange began, both classes opted to use both modern and traditional methods of communication, beginning with photos that depicted the Japanese students holding handwritten letters. The girls from Kyoto revealed their interests in flower arranging and tea ceremony traditions. Given the time difference between Kyoto and Demarest, Skype and video calls were not viable options.

“We communicate through videos and Google Slides,” AHA senior Danielle Sanchez explained. “On Google Slides, we answered questions regarding our domestic and foreign opportunities and problems. In response, the girls from Japan asked questions regarding what we wrote.”

Google Slides allows the students to work on the slide shows together, without having to worry about the time difference. After the initial introductions, the students were paired up so they could communicate as “pen pals.”

Some of the exchanges extend well beyond general topics.

“I recently responded to a girl who asked how I would solve the issue of immigration if I had the legal power,” Sanchez said. “I never realized how difficult that question would be to answer, and it really made me think about how I view the situation, and what I believe should be done. This experience allows me to teach others as well as learn about myself and my own country. I also learn about the culture in Japan. I can't wait to see what else we are able to do regarding our relationship with the school in Japan, and I'm even more excited to see what else we will be able to learn.”

The Nanuet, New York resident added, “This experience has been incredibly interesting, and I have really enjoyed being able to communicate with a school of girls so far away. We are connected through our faith, and it shows how far connections can go. I never realized how many questions people from foreign countries have about America simply because I live here, so I assume everyone knows what's going on. Being able to learn about Japanese culture from Japanese girls themselves is extremely beneficial because it is coming from people who are experiencing what we are studying. It adds more to the information we are learning in class, especially since we are doing a project regarding different aspects of Japan.”

A few years ago, Cucchisi’s international studies students worked with AHA alumna Claire Quinn, who was a teacher with the Peace Corps. While Quinn was working in Nicaragua, her students corresponded with Cucchisi’s. This positive experience left the educator open to the new opportunity.

In addition to Sanchez, the AHA students who are involved in this project include Jessicca Boccassini of Rutherford, Haojing Chen of Paramus, Caitlyn Conwell of Emerson, Teagan Cunningham of Saddle River, Grace Diaz of North Bergen, Margaret Flahive of Harrington Park, Kristen Gil of Cliffside Park, Kaitlyn Gillies of Elmwood Park, Sakura Kagawa-Ferraro of Fort Lee, Camila Martinez of Paramus, Caroline McGann of Old Tappan, Allyx Miles of Stony Point (New York), Laura Pesanello of Mahwah, Rebecca Quigley of Bergenfield, and Angelina Scozzafava of Maywood. Ava Borelli of Closter, Lana Borelli of Closter, Quinn Martinelli of Alpine, Rhiannon Reilly of the Township of Washington, Ryan Sargenti of Oradell, Katherine Morrissey of Saddle River, Tamika Simeon of Spring Valley (New York), Veronique Dhont of Englewood, Tyara Estrada of Kearny, Courtney Dodds of Cresskill, Karenna (Yerin) Jeong of Palisades Park, and Gianna Gervino of Maywood are also participants in the exchange.

“I think that any time that we are able to exchange cultures and ideas with students in other countries, it enriches us all,” Cucchisi said. “I love hearing from the students there, and it is also a great experience to be able to collaborate with an SSND teacher on the other side of the world.”

Founded by the School Sisters of Notre Dame in 1879, the Academy of the Holy Angels is the oldest private girls’ school in Bergen County. While AHA is steeped in Catholic tradition, this prestigious high school serves young women from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious backgrounds. Over time, thousands of women have passed through AHA’s portals. Many go on to study at some of the nation’s best universities, earning high-ranking positions in medicine, government, law, education, public service, business, arts, and athletics. The Academy’s current leaders continue to further the SSND mission to provide each student with the tools she needs to reach the fullness of her potential—spiritually, intellectually, socially, and physically, by offering a first-rate education in a nurturing environment where equal importance is placed on academic excellence, character development, moral integrity, and service to others.

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