NE Japan Earthquake Day 19: Yamagata Prefecture Prepares to Accept Refugee Students for the New School Year

Yamagata Prefecture Prepares to Accept Refugee Students for the New School Year
Prefectural Department of Education Distributes Pamphlets to Faculties
Yomiuri Shimbun: 避難児童・生徒 県内受け入れ準備本格化…山形
March 29, 2011

The new school year is approaching, and Yamagata public schools have begun concrete preparations to receive refugee students.

The number of entrants from Fukushima Prefecture, where there is no end in sight to the nuclear disaster, especially stand out. To facilitate the integration of these students, the prefectural Department of Education plans to distribute pamphlets to faculties, and it has also requested assistance from the national government for adding counselors to its schools.

“Even the satchel I bought for my grandson was washed away by the tsunami.”

On March 28, the Yamagata City Board of Education held an informational meeting for parents at the largest refugee center in the prefecture, the General Sports Center in Ochiai-machi. When Mr. Shinichi Kumata (58) of Namie, Fukushima said the preceding sentence there with a deeply worried look on his face, the staff replied, “We will offer support for those who were affected by the disaster, so don’t worry,” and Mr. Kumata put his hand on his chest in relief.

About 40 people attended the meeting. The closest public schools in the area, Chitose Elementary School and Junior High School #4, will receive students. The schedules for the opening ceremonies and the Entrance Ceremonies for first-year students were given, as were instructions for writing names, addresses, birthdays, and such in school registration forms.

The national government will freely provide textbooks and school supplies to elementary and junior high school students. Backpacks and uniforms are not included in the aid, but the city is negotiating with local businesses and PTAs about giving or lending these items.

Self-employed Keiko Ebihara (33) of Minamisoba, Fukushima has to make a difficult decision before April. Her two sons were attending Minamisoba Elementary School #1, but “I don’t know if school will start again, and I’d like to hear that information from the refugee center.” Her husband has a job in Minamisoba, and if his company gets back to business, the family will plans to return there, but she’s worried about radiation.

After the meeting, she received gym uniforms provided by a local business. “Classes start along with the new school year, and I don’t want my children to fall behind. We’ll enter this school for the time being and see what happens,” she resolved.

But her son Daiki, who will become a 6th grader this April, belonged to the national award-winning school marching band at his old school, and he would like to return there as soon as possible. “I’m worried about whether I can make new friends here in Yamagata,” he said with a hardened face that belied complicated feelings.

The Department of Education is making a pamphlet with respect to refugee transfer students and will deliver it to schools before classes begin. A group of professors led by Dr. Matsuzaki of the Yamagata University Faculty of Education, Art, and Science are meeting with representatives of groups like the Prefectural Counselors Association to assemble material.

“We’d like to include thorough information about approaches for preventing and treating serious conditions like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” Professor Matsuzaki says.

The prefecture encourages these three concrete steps for faculty: (1) in order to foster good relationships with students, say things like “What do you like?” and “teaching gives me strength”; (2) in order to quickly bond old and new students, run icebreakers like “greeting relays”; (3) give plenty of appreciation and cooperation to parents.

Since the nuclear disaster is ongoing, there are many parents who are having trouble making school entrance decisions. Staff are available for face-to-face meetings. Each local board of education is responsible for discussing its own elementary and junior high schools. The help number for the prefectural Board of High School Education is 023-630-3106.

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