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Looking For Answers: Special School Aims To Teach Students Who Say They Don't Fit In

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Unlike New York, where there are a variety of types of schools, Tokyo mandates all schools be the same, including private schools, but the problem with a one-size-fits-all education system is that not everybody fits. One educator's special school is aimed at those students who don't feel like they fit in a traditional structure. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

TOKYO - On a Thursday afternoon, 17-year-old Masaki Watanabe is speaking at a school assembly.

That he's even in a school is remarkable, considering where he was a few years ago.

"I stayed in my house and watched TV, read comic books, played video games," he said through an interpreter.

Every year, more than 120,000 Japanese elementary and middle-school students refuse to go to school, about one in every class of 40.

It's not considered truency or dropping out. These students refuse to go because they don't feel they fit in. Most cite problems with peers or teachers. About one-quarter blame academic stress.

In 1978, Keiko Okuchi's child began refusing.

"I was an experienced teacher. I knew what the problems with traditional schools were," she said through an interpreter. "I realized I had to make a place where children wanted to go outside of the traditional school system."

She has devoted herself to that ever since. However, in Japan, schools, even private schools, are strictly controlled to ensure they're all the same.

"The Ministry of Education advocates one size fits all, but it would be much better to have a range of options," Okuchi said through an interpreter. "It would make Japanese students much happier."

While dozens of so-called "free schools" have opened in Tokyo, catering to refusers, they can't grant diplomas and are technically illegal. Home schooling doesn't exist.

Finally, after three decades of fighting, Okuchi was given permission in 2007 to officially open a special school. It is Tokyo Shure, a school for students who refuse to go to school.

The rule here is that students decide where they want to be in the building, what they want to do and even whether or not they come each day.

"I found myself enjoying speaking with the adults. It was fun to do things with the students, too, so I began going to school every day," Watanabe said through an interpreter. "Tokyo Shure was not like a regular school."

That idea, that "regular school" doesn't meet the needs of every student, is starting to take hold in Japan.

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