Charlotte, NC and River Falls, WI Students Connect with Tsunami-Affected Japanese Schools Through Books
Charlotte, NC – Students from Charlotte, North Carolina and River Falls, Wisconsin delivered over 1,500 books to fellow learners in Hirono, a town in Fukushima prefecture, Japan, trying to rebuild from the devastating effects of a magnitude 9 earthquake on March 11, 2011.
Residents of Hirono, the closest habitable town on the south side of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were forced to evacuate the town immediately following the nuclear accident. They are now allowed to return to their homes, businesses and schools, and the town also now houses thousands of plant workers.
The resumption of normal life has come at a price, requiring the expertise of companies from around the globe to restore safety and services. Atkins has been working to ensure safety at the crippled nuclear plant in the town of Hirono for over a year. Employees were touched by the plight of residents and resolved to support the local residents by providing a selection of English books on the shelves at three area schools including an elementary, junior high and high school. English is a required second language in Japan.
“There is so much need, and it’s often most visible among children,” said James Masterlark, director in Atkins’ nuclear division based in Hudson. “Resources, particularly English books at school libraries, are limited or non-existent.”
Atkins was inspired to refill the library shelves with the help of the Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy in North Carolina, and the River Falls School District in Wisconsin. The funding to purchase the books was provided by Atkins and its employees. Atkins staff worked with officials in Hirono area schools to identify English language books that would fit its curriculum, and then with teachers and students in the River Falls and Charlotte schools to obtain the books.
“This project gave way to a wonderful opportunity for those within our community to get involved,” said Brittany Watson, director of human resources based in Atkins’ Charlotte office. “It presented a unique learning opportunity for the students at Metrolina Regional Scholar’s Academy in Charlotte, and for the Greenwood, Rocky Branch, and Westside Elementary Schools, Meyer Middle School, and the Montessori school in River Falls. Students had curriculum lessons designed to help them better understand what happened as a result of the tsunami, and we were able to tell them about how our company is helping to rebuild after the devastation.”
James Masterlark added: “The students were excited to get involved once they learned of the hardships endured by their counterparts across the globe. Not only did they help choose titles for the effort, students wrote more than 1,000 letters of support to accompany the books.”
Classic American favorites like Where the Wild Things Are and Frog and Toad were included in the selection. Meyer Middle School student Sierra Masterlark had the honor of presenting the books to Hirono students in person. The Hirono schools tread a daunting path forward. Hirono Elementary and Junior High School must now share the same building due to the loss of their school from the tsunami. Out of 560 children, only 140 have since returned.
“In many cases, the students lost their homes to return to and the families of those that did were often forced to look elsewhere for their livelihood” said Atkins interpreter Ayako Birch.
Futaba Mirai Gakuen High School, which is the only high school in Hirono that opened its doors two years ago, was designated as a Super Global High school by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Sports, Science and Technology. The school’s mission is to generate global leaders who can rebuild the communities. The school aims to foster future innovators through three principles: independence, cooperation, and creativity. Hope has been steadily gaining ground against the melancholy that has prevailed since the tsunami.
A Hirono student expressed the sentiments of many when she said; “When I heard of a new school opening, I was able to feel very positive. I was so happy and decided to take the entrance exam right away.”
Atkins’ Ayako Birch summarized the effort by adding; “Atkins is thrilled to contribute to the emerging sense of optimism among the children who will one day lead this proud community.”