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Ruth Sterry, a Sollars Elementary School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, welcomes students back to school for the first time since the massive earthquake and deadly tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11.
Ruth Sterry, a Sollars Elementary School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, welcomes students back to school for the first time since the massive earthquake and deadly tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11. (T.D. Flack/Stars and Stripes)
Ruth Sterry, a Sollars Elementary School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, welcomes students back to school for the first time since the massive earthquake and deadly tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11.
Ruth Sterry, a Sollars Elementary School teacher at Misawa Air Base, Japan, welcomes students back to school for the first time since the massive earthquake and deadly tsunami hit northeastern Japan on March 11. (T.D. Flack/Stars and Stripes)
Students wait to return to Sollars Elementary School on Monday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. All students on the base had been out of school since a massive earthquake and deadly tsunamis hit northeastern Japan on March 11.
Students wait to return to Sollars Elementary School on Monday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. All students on the base had been out of school since a massive earthquake and deadly tsunamis hit northeastern Japan on March 11. (T.D. Flack/Stars and Stripes)
Staff and students return to Sollars Elementary School on Monday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. All students on the base had been out of school since a massive earthquake and deadly tsunamis hit northeastern Japan on March 11.
Staff and students return to Sollars Elementary School on Monday at Misawa Air Base, Japan. All students on the base had been out of school since a massive earthquake and deadly tsunamis hit northeastern Japan on March 11. (T.D. Flack/Stars and Stripes)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — School officials are closely monitoring students who returned to school Monday for the first time since a devastating earthquake and deadly tsunamis ravaged northeastern Japan on March 11.

Emmalie Lee, assistant principal at Edgren High School, said all the 7th – to 12th-graders who came to school Monday morning attended an assembly in which mental health specialists talked about how they could deal with the trauma they may have experienced over the past 10 days.

The kids were told they have “mental safe havens” in the school where staff members are ready to talk about any concerns or anxieties the teens are experiencing, Lee said. She said she’s already had a few kids stop by her office to talk.

“We just visit,” she said. “I think that some of the kids seem to be speaking with adults around them to get a feeling on how we’re acting.”

She said having students back in school – in a system they know and understand – should help them feel they’re getting back to normal again.

Both Lee and Cummings Elementary School principal Scott Sterry said spirits were high and the kids seemed to be genuinely excited to be back with their teachers and friends.

“They were so excited, talking and hugging each other and telling stories,” said Sterry. “It’s good for everyone.”

Misawa lost power and suffered minor structural damage when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit as students were leaving school March 11. They were kept home for an entire week as base officials launched recovery efforts. With power finally restored to a majority of the base, including all three schools, officials made the decision to bring the kids back into their classrooms.

No one at Misawa was injured, but the area has continued to be hit with hundreds of aftershocks, the ongoing nuclear crisis in Fukushima is a main topic of conversation on base, television news reports are broadcasting the massive destruction caused by 33-foot high tsunamis along the coast and more than 21,000 people are either dead or missing.

More than 1,100 family members from Misawa have signed up for voluntary evacuation from Japan and contracted planes are expected to start ferrying them back to the United States this week.

Lee said the high school is expecting to temporarily lose about 100 of their 460 students to the evacuations.

Sterry said that the teachers and administrators at Cummings are also paying especially close attention to how the elementary students are reacting to being back in school.

“We’ve been watching them all day,” he said, starting with them getting off the bus. “I’m talking with children about the earthquake,” and what they’ve experienced.

He said he hasn’t seen any problems.

“It’s amazing how resilient these children are,” he said.

Family member Jess Valetin-Khan dropped her daughter, 8, and son, 6, off at Sollars Elementary School early Monday. She said she was glad the schools were open.

“It’s been kind of crazy this last week,” she said. “We’re kind of looking forward to having some kind of normalcy.”

flackt@pstripes.osd.mil

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