National

New high school opens close to evacuation zone

Kyodo

A new high school adjacent to the radiation exclusion zone in Fukushima Prefecture on Wednesday welcomed its first students, including many who fled the area as the 2011 nuclear disaster unfolded.

The prefecture-run Futaba Mirai Gakuen High School in the town Hirono has 152 students, of whom about 100 are from the wider Futaba district and who became evacuees.

The school is located in an area that was once part of the mandatory exclusion zone but has since been declared safe.

The institution is using a building that was formerly a junior high school, but it plans to construct a new building by April 2019 and to open a junior high school.

Some of the freshmen were enthusiastic about the town’s future.

“I would like to help rebuild,” said student Yuki Sato, 15, who grew up in Tomioka and has been living as a displaced person since March 2011.

Sato expressed excitement about the new start and said he has come to appreciate the beauty of a place whose population was once forced to flee.

Two weeks after the accident, Sato’s family sought refuge with relatives in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture, and he attended a public elementary school there.

“I had a hard time making friends in a close-knit community,” he recalled.

However, over time he adjusted to the new environment and his social contacts grew. He later entered a junior high school and became a member of the baseball club, where he made many more friends.

Sato returned to his hometown last summer for the first time in four years. He found abandoned rice paddies and rats running through his family’s home, which was now covered with mold.

He also saw a sinister sight: piles of black plastic bags stuffed with contaminated soil.

“It was much worse than I had expected,” he said. “I had seen such things on TV, but I was really shocked when I saw it with my own eyes. It was really hard to accept what had happened there.”

Sato is a boarder. He will enter the school’s dormitory and live away from his family for the first time, despite the pain of new separation from relatives and friends in Kashima.

“But I’d like to learn more about the district, because I believe there is a kind of revitalization that can be done only by the people who actually live in Futaba,” he said.

Sato said that in the future he hopes to open a coffee shop in the area where local residents can meet and chat.

At Futaba Mirai Gakuen he will concentrate on business classes and plans to continue playing baseball.

The opening of Futaba Mirai Gakuen allows education authorities to consolidate efforts to keep alive local schools affected by the disaster. Five prefectural high schools formerly located in Futaba have been offering distance learning for evacuees, but because of the opportunities at the new school these services will cease in April 2017.

The school will offer a broad range of classes, focusing on sports, business and welfare, giving students a good preparation for university entrance exams and helping them to obtain national qualifications. Study-abroad and research programs conducted in coordination with universities will also be available.

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