Their sense of normality shattered

Last updated 08:37 18/09/2012

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OPINION: Protests against the Government's proposed changes to Christchurch schools are planned for this week. Jane Dunbar argues that schools deserve a strong show of support.

A question for parents of Christchurch: what, almost more than anything else, has sustained you and your school-aged children through the past two years?

My guess is that most of us would agree that it's been the schools.

Shaken to our core by the quakes, schools have been heroic in offering our kids something to hold on to; something familiar and reassuring.

While so much around them has been wrecked, most of our kids have been able to keep going to school; keep seeing the same friends, the same teachers.

Schools have said: everything may look like it's falling apart but we're here for you. Your classes are still on. Your sport is still on.

There's music, dance, drama. You can make things in technology. There are clubs to be part of. And, by the way, don't forget to do your homework.

The stability and focus that schools have provided have been crucial to the mental health of our young.

So wouldn't you think that if big changes were planned, affected schools would be kept closely in the loop?

If someone in the Ministry of Education decided that your school should be closed, wouldn't you expect a detailed analysis of why this should be?

The Government says that the structure of education in Christchurch has to change because of the impact of the earthquakes.

OK, that seems fair enough. Maybe some schools are so small now the best option is to merge two together. We all understand adjustments have to be made.

But the announcements made about schools last week defy all logic and were, in their own way, like an earthquake - a sudden, severe, frightening, unexpected form of violence.

While many schools are affected, Chisnallwood Intermediate is a good example of how capricious the Government has been.

Chisnallwood is in the heart of the damaged east yet its roll is still 750 - it is the largest intermediate in the South Island.

Chisnallwood is an exceptional school. Among other things, it has a music department unlike any other intermediate in the country, producing award-winning musicians in everything from Pacifica beats to jazz.

The streets and homes and lives of people who live around Chisnallwood have been torn apart over the past two years but Chisnallwood has continued to provide a safe haven, a place where hundreds of kids every day get a sense of normality; but also expectation and challenge.

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Being a Chissy student has been a source of enormous pride for thousands of Christchurch kids and the school has long offered a powerful reason for people to live in the east.

So what possible reason could the Government have in announcing last week that Chisnallwood would close?

How callous can you be?

Take a battered and traumatised community where their school has been everything and snatch it away while giving no reason other than some loose generalisations about the necessity for change?

Change, yes, but the wholesale abandonment of a top-performing school that is the epitome of state education at its best? What can an announcement like that do to morale, to property values, to families' commitment to the area?

Why would people want to send their children to the year 1 to year 13 school proposed for Hampshire St? Do 5-year- olds to 17-year-olds make for a good school mix? Is the Government deliberately trying to empty out the east?

Is all this to make a charter school seem an appealing option? Who would know?

Certainly the affected schools have been told virtually nothing and they're left reeling. How could this be, they ask, and what should they do? Why should they have to fight an Education Ministry that is meant to have the best interests of the city's traumatised children at heart?

In his letter posted on the school website, Chisnallwood principal Richard Paton vows his school will 'not take an ill-informed decision by Government lying down'.

And to his students he says: 'I simply say you have been through enough.

"Be reassured that your parents and your school are here for you. That we are proud of you and that all this will work its way out.'

That's how it's been throughout these calamitous couple of years. The schools have been there for our kids.

And now they need us to show our gratitude and support.

- The Press

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