Kindergarten-Jr. High Disaster Drill

I’m usually only at the kindergarten on Friday afternoons, but due to the middle school students being busy with testing, I got to be there all day today! In the morning, the kindergarteners were practicing what to do in the case of a disaster, and the middle school students helped with that later (I guess testing was over, then…?)

One of the buildings of the kindergarten. We evacuated out in front here.

The day started out with the students readying their backpacks with thermoses full of cold tea (not water) from home, checking for hats, getting sprayed with bug spray, and listening as the teacher explained to them how important these drills were, and that their lives may depend on this later, so they should take it seriously. Sometimes the kids are really rowdy and the teacher has to tell them to be quiet multiple times, but for this talk, all the kids were really quiet and listening well. The teacher reminded them about the tsunami that had happened, and asked them if they remembered it, and the kids nodded yes.

The first drill was an earthquake drill. The head of the kindergarten (enchou-sensei) came on over the intercom, telling them that an alarm would sound, and not to worry because it was just a drill. Each of the students has his or her own locker-sized cubby (no door) where they put their supplies, changes of clothes, and crafts. When the alarm sounded, the students all hurried and got inside their lockers. On a less serious note, some of the larger 6-year-olds seemed to only just barely fit into their lockers. I know 6 is pretty young for a kid to be super fat already, but I couldn’t help wondering if there would be American kids who wouldn’t be able to fit in there for the drill…

This is a kindergarten classroom around Christmastime last year, students edited out for privacy. You can see the size of those lockers haha. They’d taken their bags out first for the drill, so there was a little more space.

The second part of the drill involved all the students (4, 5, and 6-year-olds) putting on their outdoor shoes and waiting outside with their classes, as though evacuating the building after an earthquake. Then, we all went back inside again to get ready for the second part of the drill–tsunami evacuation practice.

Now, Waki is by the water, but it’s by the Seto Inland Sea, protected by one of the four main islands of Japan (Shikoku, the one I visited for Golden Week). I heard a teacher remarking that maybe we might worry about the Waki-Otake river (forgot it’s name) overflowing, but we’re on the thinner end of the river, I heard, and it’s just not a very big river. If that river flooded all the way to where we evacuated to, I thought, then Waki and Otake both would be submerged, as well as the train tracks, and probably a lot of Iwakuni…right? I still think it’s important to practice, though. I’m just pointing out that I don’t exactly live in tsunami territory, if anyone was going to ask.

Taken June 12, 2013. This is the river that would have to overflow if there was to be an emergency. It’s a lot more full now because of all the rain, and I think I took this picture during low tide, but we’d have to get a lot more rain for anything drastic to happen.

The tsunami drill was a joint effort between the kindergarten and middle school. First, we walked from the kindergarten to the middle school, which is about a 10 minute walk. Whenever the kindergarteners go out on an excursion, they line up in two lines, a girl line and a boy line, and hold hands with the boy or girl next to them. When we get to a street we need to cross, the teacher stops the class and has them raise their hands, and hold up one finger at a time as they say, 「私は必ずとまります!」 “(1) I (2) will definitely (3) stop!” Then they keep their right hands raised while looking right and left and say, 「右よし!左よし!右よし!」 “Look right! Look left! Look right!” and then they cross. It’s the cutest thing ever. I can’t find a video of it, but it’s like these pictures.

Because it was a drill and not an excursion, the kids were instructed to keep quiet, and we walked almost silently to the middle school (except for road crossings). When we got to the middle school, the kids all sat down in their lines quietly and waited for instructions from the teacher. I was really proud of them for cooperating so well and looking so good in front of all the teachers at the middle school. The third-year (9th graders) from the middle school came out and paired off with the little kids, and we all began to walk toward the mountain, where we would practice evacuating up the mountain, away from potential water danger. The 9th graders, boys and girls, kept exclaiming how cute the kindergarteners were (I heard one girl say, “This makes me want to be a kindergarten teacher!”), and they seemed to be having a great time. On the other hand, even though the the kindergarteners really like the older kids, they’re also nervous around them. I think that was the other (perhaps the stronger) reason for them being so quiet, besides the teachers telling them to. They get really quiet when they feel shy, haha.

This is the mountain path we climbed up, with Waki below. I know I’m over-editing these pictures, but I get really nervous about posting pictures of students online in any way, shape or form. If I know you well and you want to see pictures from some events, just ask! I’m allowed to email pictures, as long as I trust you!

We walked up to a certain point on the mountain, I think just to the point where I took this picture, and then we descended again. It’s good that it was a cloudy day, and I was glad we didn’t go all the way to Hachigamine (at the top). I went on a field trip with the third graders a few weeks ago, and we walked all the way to the top in the hot sun, haha. We’ve walked up a different hill with the kindergarteners before, so I was glad we didn’t today.

I have to mention that for these events, there are always a lot of cameras and PR. There were cameramen taking pictures of the kids hiding in their lockers, walking to the middle school, waiting for the middle schoolers to come out, walking with the middle schoolers, scaling the hill together, and I think all the way till the end when the final short speeches were going on. It’s been like that at almost any event I can remember–(although not that trip I mentioned with the 3rd graders), like undoukai (sports day), Christmas programs, and all that sort of thing. Not just parents and teachers with cameras, but real cameramen with nice cameras. I don’t know if other towns do this too or if Waki just has really great PR, but it makes me really self-conscious^^; (Did we have nice cameras when we had upper-grade Field Day at Mark West Elementary? I can’t remember anything like that…) Anyway, I tried to stay out of the cameras. They were even interviewing students and kindergarteners afterwords. I think some of these pictures end up in presentations, slideshows, and the Waki newsletter, but I’m not really sure.

We walked back to the middle school again, had a short speech from the principal and one of the guys helping run this event, and then all had school lunch at the middle school. The desks were huge for the little kids, and it was so cute seeing them sit there and dangle their legs from the chairs because their feet couldn’t touch the floor T^T Adorable…

The first year students came and served us lunch, but we ate as just regular separate kindergarten classes, and not with the big kids. Students would come by the classroom windows (classrooms look like this, if you remember) sometimes to say hi to the kindergarteners. It really made me happy how well the middle school students liked and got along with the kindergarteners. I heard one of the girls comment that she wanted to eat lunch with them, too, haha. I think it was interesting for everyone to have the kindergarteners share the middle school for a bit. One of the middle school teachers commented that a little girl had started crying because she wasn’t familiar with the middle school and had come to a new place; another girl started crying because it was a bit overwhelming for her to be holding hands with a big scary middle school boy^^; Oh, well. Still cute. (Most kids weren’t crying, and had a good time.)

The rest of the day was a normal day at the kindergarten. After sending the first round of students home, I sat down with some students who stay after and watched part of an episode of Doraemon, a really popular children’s program in Japan that I don’t think is very well-known in the U.S. The Japanese lyrics are included in the actual program, which we watched on big flat-screen TVs (at the kindergarten. I always forget that this isn’t normal^^;), and the kids all sang along with it. The kindergarten is one of my favorite parts of this job, so I’ll probably talk more about it soon.

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