Schoolchildren from Miyake Island began the new school term Monday at Akikawa High School in Akiruno, western Tokyo, where all 356 of the young evacuees are staying in dorms.
“Life has changed drastically for us since volcanic activity commenced on June 26,” said Tetsuhide Hirano, principal of Miyake’s Tsubota Junior High School, during the opening ceremony.
“Many have been evacuated a number of times, camping trips have been canceled, we have been unable to sleep at night from the earthquakes, and the volcanic ash has prevented you from playing outside.”
The last group of residents left Miyake Island after evacuation orders were issued Monday, leaving around 400 police, fire and government officials to maintain essential life support systems, as experts warned of the possibility of streams of hot rocks and volcanic ash from Mount Oyama.
“It is extremely lonely, living apart from your mothers and fathers,” Hirano said. “But I want you to understand how your parents and grandparents wished for you to be able to study safely.”
The students — 138 in grade school, 106 in junior high and 112 in high school — were welcomed by the beating of a drum and the cheering of Akikawa High’s 44 students. “We were lonely when there was only 44 of us,” said Akikawa High School Principal Kunihiko Jinbo.
The school, scheduled to close in March, has two empty dormitories that can each sleep up to 240 students.
Suggestions to convert the school’s expansive grounds into a vocational school to train welfare services officials have been put forward.
After the ceremony, the children dispersed to their separate homerooms — with grade school students spending the better part of the morning playing tag and hide-and-seek.
Yusuke Kimura, 10, who arrived at the school Saturday, said that the evacuation felt like a camp. “It’s fun, but I wonder how long it’s going to be before the eruptions stop and we can go home,” Kimura said.
Asked if he looked forward to starting school, the fifth-grader said, “That’s fine too.” Some homesick students still cried at night, one third-grade teacher said. ,as she rushed her students to their homeroom. With students and teachers evacuated from Miyake’s three elementary and junior high schools, each homeroom has three teachers. This has apparently caused confusion for some students.
On Monday, school officials were still rushing to secure textbooks for students who evacuated without them. “I wonder how this is going to affect us academically,” said Nobuya Tamura, a third-year student at Tsubota Junior High School.
“I am grateful for everything the students and teachers are doing for us. It’s just that there’s no knowing how long we’re going to be here and when we’re going to have to move and adjust again.”
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