New test for teachers as Japan's schools move to reopen
Schools reopen this week after tsunami-related delays. Japan's teachers are likely to face new demands in helping students and their families move forward.
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As the official emergency response got under way, city officials and residents gradually took over shelter operation, and many children have moved in with relatives or friends. But some, like Kiyo, have stayed on in the once-familiar buildings. "It's totally different now," he says, looking around the classroom at blankets, teakettles – and elderly neighbors. Out front are portable toilets and Self Defense Force humvees; out back, there's a cemetery slathered in mud and dotted with wrecked cars.Skip to next paragraph
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Other kids in the shelter hang out in the library playing with toys, but Kiyo doesn't join them. "I'm not an elementary kid anymore," he says with a tinge of pride, similar to what one might sense from any teenager in any country.
But soon, he and his parents will need to find a new temporary home. With 12 out of 71 elementary and middle schools too damaged to use, the city is trying to clear out those used as shelters so classes can start up.
That start will also mean a slate of new challenges for teachers, many of whom are homeless themselves and still trying to locate former students.
"I'm very worried about the teachers. I think the exhaustion has built up and they need counseling," says Ayako Ota, a supervisor at the Ishinomaki board of education who lost her own home in the disaster. So far, however, efforts are focused on helping the kids.
Last week, the board of education held three teacher-training sessions with a child psychologist to introduce the basics of dealing with trauma and recovery. A group of organizations including Save the Children, World Vision, and UNICEF is also preparing knapsacks filled with school supplies for disaster victims.
"Everyone really looks forward to the first day of school. We want to make sure there's no gap in what kids have on that day," says Noriko Sato, a communications officer at Save the Children.
But knapsacks or no knapsacks, teachers will face a different kind of gap in their classrooms this spring.
"Some children survived, but they watched their friends get swept away by the tsunami. Those kids will move into schools in unaffected areas," says Ms. Ota, and they may need special care.
Kiyo lost his home and his grandmother in the tsunami, and he still seems to be thinking more about that day than about his new life as a middle-school student. "The tsunami was so much stronger than I imagined. It was so scary," he says, fingering a hand-held video game. The game was the last thing his grandmother gave him, and even though tsunami water wrecked the screen, he keeps it with him all the time.
Fumiaki Sato, the principal of Okaido Elementary School, is already thinking about how he can help students like Kiyo. One idea: incorporate more music into school events.
"A school's basic role is to lift kids' spirits and energize them," he says. "We want to get them smiling again. When that happens, the older people in the neighborhood will start to cheer up again, too."