Canterbury schools praised for resilience

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 25/06/2013

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Canterbury schools' response to the earthquakes is to form a template for those dealing with future disasters.

The schools' efforts in dealing with the crisis have been lauded in an Education Review Office (ERO) report that also found increases behavioural problems and anxiety among pupils.

ERO has gathered quake survival stories from 17 schools and 27 early childhood services and released the report, which it hopes will prepare others for natural disasters.

Not one child or teacher attending school or early childhood services lost their life or received serious injuries during the February 2011 quake, despite it occurring while pupils were scattered around the school grounds for lunch.

The report found school and early childhood staff showed "real courage, resilience and professionalism" after facing rockfalls, playgrounds hit by liquefaction and flooding, and unsafe and collapsing buildings.

Stories of Resilience and Innovation in Schools and Early Childhood Services focuses on the post-quake experiences of those reviewed from January to August, last year.

The report said many pupils remained anxious for the rest of the year, but Canterbury Primary Principals' Association president Rob Callaghan said anxiety behaviour was "still an issue" in most schools.

Getting children back into learning helped to normalise the situation, so schools had to quickly make learning "portable", using off-site hubs and home schooling with correspondence between teachers and pupils.

Schools enlisted outside help when needed, including the Ministry of Education's trauma team.

Leaders became role models, and if they stayed calm, then children, staff and parents were more likely to, also.

Earthquakes became learning topics, and communication was improved by having mobile phones set up with emergency information, and using social media to contact parents.

Callaghan said the report was a fantastic recognition of the actions of teachers and schools, who were now dealing with what is predicted to be the worst year of delayed anxiety.

"For us, I think we've noticed an increase in some of those anxiety behaviours and coming out in different ways."

His school, St Martins, observed post-quake anxiety among its parents, too. One afternoon quake saw the school reassuring about 50 parents who arrived to check on their children. Some were so unwilling to leave their children, they stayed all day as helpers.

ERO spokesman Graham Randell said the report revealed "very heart-warming stuff", emphasising how schools put the children first, before any existing protocols.

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Their ideas would be helpful for other people coping with traumatic incidents and natural disasters, he said.

"Children's wellbeing was paramount in the days of uncertainty that followed.

"Staff in schools and services often had to make quick decisions and change their plans along the way."

- The Press

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