Students face reality back in classrooms

2008-05-21 01:31:39 GMT       2008-05-21 09:31:39 (Beijing Time)        China Daily      

Sun Dong felt lonely.

The first grader of Beichuan Middle School sat on his new bed, waiting for his classes to resume.

After May 12, the day his school was destroyed by the 8.0-magnitude earthquake, the 17-year-old no longer has dreams of becoming a pilot. Instead, Sun wants to be a doctor because physicians can heal the pains of his classmates.

Due to last week's quake, Sun will have an extra month to prepare for his college entrance examinations that will help bring him one step closer to reaching his new-found medical aspirations.

Sun was the first to be saved among his class of teachers and students that dark afternoon. He is the only male survivor of his class.

Most of his classmates are still missing. Some were supposedly dug out from beneath the rubble, but Sun has not seen any of them.

The only classmate he has seen these days is Xie Xin. The two tried hard to recall the horrible memory and the names of all their teachers and classmates.

"Headmaster Zhang Ping is alive," Sun said. "I saw him the day before yesterday. He had some abrasion, but his wife and son died. He is very sad."

Xie told Sun their English teacher Huang Ying is okay. But, Sun's head lowered when Xie told him their Chinese language teacher Sheng Qirong was not so fortunate in the quake.

The two recalled the names of their classmates one by one. Mu Kun, Mu Huan, Tang Yun, Fu Xianxu, Zhang Xi, Mao Shunyun - then they stopped, biting their lips. They could not continue.

Sun and Xie's senior schoolmates came out of the disaster far luckier. While half of the high school's 2,600 students lost their lives, all of the 509 third grad high school students survived. In the suburbs of Mianyang, they are resuming their studies in a factory-training center.

Staff members drove to Beichuan to fetch the old sign belonging to the school. When the teachers and students saw the board marked Beichuan Middle School of Sichuan Province, many could not stop tears from streaming down their faces.

Yang Chao has a clear memory of the earthquake seven days ago. The Chinese language teacher was commenting on a quiz when the desks and chairs started to shake.

"I thought it was someone's mischief at first," he says.

But, soon he saw the lights on the ceiling were quaking, too. The teacher shouted to his students to keep calm. Another teacher rushed to their classroom from outside. Moments later, the five-floor building collapsed and the first and second floors crumbled into a pile of ruins. Smoke filled Yang's classroom on the third floor.

"The third floor was only three to four meters high and the stairs had broken," he said. "Mr Chen asked us to jump from the window, and I was the first."

Yang broke his legs when he landed. But, after seeing him jump, many others followed. By the time most of the others landed on the ground outside, the third floor had practically become the first floor.

Ten classes of third graders were on, or above the third floor. Those on the third and fourth floors jumped, while the top floor's students escaped to the third floor using the remaining stairs, before also jumping.

Those who escaped to the ground floor outside found students under heaps of wreckage calling for help.

Yang and some of the other students returned to the building and tried to remove some of the bricks with their hands. They were able to free some students, but others were too far under the debris. All they could do was poke holes in the rubble to let air in while they encouraged them to wait for help.

All of the third grade quake survivors spent the night on the playground that night. Many of the boys kept returning to the school to try and rescue more victims.

The most severe loss of Beichuan Middle School was the first grade high school students. About 400 of those 600 students died, or remain missing.

Their teachers, 30 of whom lost their lives, tried their best to save the students.

Dai Zhongwei was a third grade high school math teacher at Beichuan. His wife passed away three years ago. His son, a first grade high school student at the school, held back his tears when his father's body was dug out from the ruins - a scene that broke the hearts of everyone watching.

Teacher Sun Chunyan left the classroom after finishing her courses that morning. No one has seen her since.

Her colleague Luo Lina said Sun was a very devoted teacher. She brought her parents, niece and nephew from her hometown to Beichuan to take care of them and her students at the same time. Only her father and niece have survived the quake. A student of Sun's sent her a note for Mother's Day on May 11, only to find his beloved teacher missing the following day.

When asked about his family, physics teacher Song Bo broke down to tears. He had not heard anything on the whereabouts of his wife and son. Unlike most of his other colleagues, he had never before cried in front of his students.

"I am prepared," he said. "I am going to Beichuan this afternoon to see whether their bodies have been found."

All of the school's survivors were sent to Mianyang the second day after the quake. They gathered again on May 19 on the sports ground of their new school.

A two-floored building 20 m away will serve as the new school for the students to prepare for their upcoming college entrance exams. Next to the blackboard, a notice dated May 12 still reads, "Twenty-six days before the exam".

During Tuesday's three-minute silence for mourning quake victims, students fought hard to hold back tears. But, by the time principal Liu Yachun led the national anthem for the flag-raising ceremony, half of the students were sobbing.

The third grade high school students will take their college entrance exams, starting on July 7, a month later than originally scheduled.

Even if they do not pass the exams, student victims will still have the opportunity to go to vocational institutes.

But, teacher Song says one additional month isn't enough time for the students to heal. While textbooks and guidance materials will be provided by the Mianyang Bureau of Education, he worries the students will suffer considerably lower test scores.

Still, Song says there is some comfort in knowing the students are receiving counseling daily.

I have comments _COUNT_