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Japanese students walking amongst debris Even as schools in Japan reopen, students face many challenges in the wake of last month's earthquake. (Kyodo News / NewsCom)

Japan Goes Back to School

Schools in the island nation reopen for first time since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami

By Tyrus Cukavac | April 21 , 2011
<p>TOP: Hundreds of schools have been destroyed or heavily damaged, resulting in crowded makeshift classrooms. (Kyodo News / AP Images)<br /></p><p>BOTTOM: Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures were heavily hit by the earthquake. (Jim McMahon) </p>

TOP: Hundreds of schools have been destroyed or heavily damaged, resulting in crowded makeshift classrooms. (Kyodo News / AP Images)

BOTTOM: Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate prefectures were heavily hit by the earthquake. (Jim McMahon)

Schools in Japan reopened this week, more than a month after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit. Japan has a year-round school year, with short holidays after each of the three terms. The next term was scheduled to start at many schools on April 8, but it was delayed because of the disaster.

Since the quake, many schools have served as housing for homeless residents. In fact, some students are living in their school gym and will go directly to class from there.

Hard-hit areas such as Fukushima, Miyagi, and Iwate face additional problems. More than 200 schools in those areas were destroyed or damaged extensively. As a result, classrooms that are still standing will be crowded with more students.

Japanese schools can only focus on the bare necessities, because resources are scarce, or limited. As such, the future of some school sports and extracurricular activities seems uncertain. Thirteen-year-old Yuka Chiba used to play on her school’s tennis team. “They started building temporary housing in the grounds yesterday, so I'm not sure if we’ll be able to play tennis or not,” she said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Many students living in affected areas have lost friends or relatives in the disaster. All survivors are still dealing with the aftermath. Japan’s Ministry of Education estimates that 207 elementary- and middle-school-age children are among the nearly 14,000 confirmed dead.

A FRESH START

Schools are guiding students through this difficult time. Counselors and psychiatrists have been dispatched, or sent, to areas that suffered the worst damage. They are training teachers to help kids cope with the recent trauma.

In Japan, teachers play a large role in students’ lives. Many teachers set up temporary shelters after the earthquake. Hideki Toyohara, the head teacher at Okaido Elementary School, led students to the second and third floors of the school. He and other teachers took care of students and neighbors for three days after they were left without food, electricity, or water.

Several international organizations want to help kids start the new school term off right. Save the Children, World Vision, and UNICEF are filling backpacks with school supplies. Noriko Sato, an official at Save the Children, tells the Christian Science Monitor, “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.”

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