HISD middle schoolers adventure abroad with NES Dyad Travel Program

Though most students approach the end of the school year with excitement, some HISD middle schoolers had a different, very special reason to look forward to the end of May. HISD’s Dyad Travel program gave students at NES campuses the opportunity of a lifetime to jetset across the globe for a five-day journey to Tokyo, Japan. In keeping with the Dyad model put in place in NES schools, Dyad Travel aims to expose students to as many diverse experiences as possible.

Dyad Travel supports annual trips for seventh and eighth graders, seventh graders traveling domestically (this year to Washington, D.C.), and eighth graders to a destination outside of the U.S. More than 250 students are participating in these flagship trips this year, with their eligibility based on their disciplinary and attendance records. The trip comes at no cost to parents or students; everything from passport application fees to new luggage is provided by HISD and various dedicated community partners.

“I want our kids to have the opportunity to see how big the world is, to see how humanity is still the same no matter where you go,” said Ena Meyers, Deputy Chief of Strategic Initiatives for HISD and one of the masterminds behind Dyad Travel. “How amazing is it to know that people across the ocean are human, that their values and wants are so similar to ours but at the same time, so different, and how we can learn from each other.”

To prepare students for their journey to Japan, HISD organized several hands-on learning opportunities, calling on HISD’s Nutrition Services Department as well as the Japan America Society of Houston (JASH) to help familiarize the young travelers with Japanese customs, foods, and etiquette. In the weeks leading up to their trip, students had the opportunity to learn firsthand about Japanese dining practices like using chopsticks, traditional Japanese tea service, and making their own sushi. 

The exposure events culminated in a field trip to 99 Ranch Authentic Asian Market where the students completed a scavenger hunt to collect ingredients for a traditional Japanese dish, followed by lunch at Houston Japanese restaurant Yokushi Robata. The menu consisted of seaweed salad to start, followed by takoyaki (fried octopus), ramen, and okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with cabbage and a variety of proteins. Students were welcomed to the restaurant by representatives from JASH who were on hand to provide coaching and explanations as they ate. 

“The Japan America Society was blessed to have the opportunity to partner with HISD in preparing the students for their trip to Japan,” said Patsy Yoon Brown, Executive Director of JASH. “We feel that our work and our impact is expanded when we work with community partners, and that this program is particularly important because in our experience, promoting cross-cultural understanding broadens horizons, and we feel that travel does the same, and when you’re able to experience a culture firsthand, it opens your eyes to potentials you might not be able to see if you’re just studying about a culture in classroom.” 

Superintendent Mike Miles also joined the student world travelers at Yokushi Robata. This trip held special significance to Miles not only because it is the flagship trip of the Dyad Travel Program, but because Miles himself is of Japanese descent. The superintendent shared with the students some of his experiences growing up half-Japanese in America and talked to them about what they had learned about Japanese culture so far, even quizzing some students on Japanese language as they ate. 

“This is part of the NES program, but more than that, it’s part of kids learning to grow a broader perspective, not just culturally, but on how things work in the world,” Miles said. 

Dyad Travel sent 172 eighth grade students from Fleming, Forest Brook, Henry, Key, McReynolds, and Sugar Grove Middle Schools to Japan in six separate groups, the final of which returned stateside on June 3. 

For more information on Dyad Travel, visit the webpage here