Christchurch earthquake: Schools open up to city's children

By Elizabeth Binning

Peter Simpson, President of the New Zealand Principals Federation. Photo / Supplied
Peter Simpson, President of the New Zealand Principals Federation. Photo / Supplied

Thousands of Christchurch schoolchildren have fled the quake-stricken city and are now attending schools across the country in a bid to restore some normality to their lives.

The children are among an estimated 70,000 residents who have left the area since last week's 6.3-magnitude earthquake which is believed to have claimed more than 200 lives.

Many of them - families who have lost their homes - are now effectively refugees, staying with friends, family or in evacuation centres. Others have simply had enough and can no longer take the aftershocks and emotional toll created by living through the two major quakes that have hit the region in the past six months.

The Ministry of Education is aware of more than 4300 students who have left Christchurch and re-enrolled in other schools around the country. That figure, current as of yesterday afternoon, had increased by more than 500 since Wednesday and is expected to rise further in the coming days.

Christchurch's deputy mayor, Ngaire Button, said she had heard of long queues of people heading to Timaru and Ashburton and that Hamner Springs "is full" as a result of the city's fleeing residents.

However, she believed many would return in time. "We are hopeful that most people will come back when the services are on and once the ground stops shaking."

At least 7000 people are believed to be in Timaru and about 1000 in Queenstown.

The Ministry of Education has nearly 700 students re-enrolled in those areas.

Wakatipu High School principal Lyn Cooper said she had enrolled 62 students who were now being introduced to the school in small groups so they don't get overwhelmed.

They are also being buddied up with existing students in an attempt to help them fit in and feel comfortable at their new school. Ms Cooper said many were staying with family or in holiday homes and the school had happily accepted them.

"It's our contribution we can make towards what has happened."

While the majority of the re-enrolled students have gone to other parts of the South Island, more than 300 have travelled as far as Auckland where they are now scattered across various primary and secondary schools.

King's College headmaster, Bradley Fenner, said he had taken about 50 students, mostly from Christ's College, and could take a few more before reaching capacity.

Epsom Girls Grammar has taken nine girls while Auckland Grammar has four boys and Rangitoto College has 20 students.

St Cuthbert's College acting principal, Helen Robertson, said the school has taken in 21 girls, some of whom have family in Auckland and some of whom are boarding or have connections to the school.

"Some have got no connection whatsoever, they just find the trauma of Christchurch is too much and they want to focus on their schooling in a safe, secure place - somewhere that has got a settled routine."

Principals Federation President Peter Simpson, from Belfast School in Christchurch, said local schools appreciated what their colleagues were doing for them around the country.

It was hoped a lot of schools would be able to reopen next week and that many students would return to Christchurch at that stage.

Many tertiary institutions around the country are also opening their doors to Canterbury students.

AUT University is talking to 66 students who have inquired about enrolling, while arrangements are being made for international students to undertake exchanges with Auckland, Victoria or Otago universities. The University of Adelaide is offering to take 500 University of Canterbury undergraduates for the first semester.

- NZ Herald

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