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Rescuers excavated school bags from the debris at Hongbai Primary Schoo after the 2008 quake. Zhang Xiaoli / Luoyang Photographers Association
Students sit in the rebuilt school's classroom in March 2013. Photos by Huang Yiming / China Daily
Students and teachers find solace in new classrooms and a traditional martial art.
Modern buildings and an ancient martial art have brought recovery to Hongbai Primary School after the 2008 earthquake, principal Cheng Shilin says.
The quake destroyed classrooms, killing 159 students and eight teachers.
The classrooms have been upgraded to a level beyond most rural schools, while the children have found solace, largely through tai chi, Cheng says.
"The students and teachers were distressed after the quake," says the 43-year-old, who has worked at the school for 24 years. "We needed to restore mental stability.
"We tried other sports but found only tai chi worked. It makes people calmer and quieter."
A master from Deyang city was invited to instruct teachers and students.
"Tai chi has become part of the school curriculum and local culture," Cheng says. "We introduced it to help the students overcome the trauma but found it did so much for their bodies and minds that we have continued it as a required course.
"It's both exercise and a cultural landscape. Our children teach grannies," Cheng continues, adding that Huaxi Hospital experts tested the children last year and found the trauma levels were negligible.
"The quake's shadow has finally gone," he says. It was swept away by years of therapy, volunteer projects and government-funded reconstruction.
Experts from the hospital and the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups counseled children and trained teachers.
Sichuan University student volunteers and the primary school students exchanged essays about the meaning of life, and such organizations as Small Hand Big Hand and Low-Income Visionary Education helped too.
"The children know people from all walks of life love and care about them," Cheng says.
But while all the students have recovered, some teachers still grapple with depression. "They're not as gloomy, but there's still some sadness. Perhaps adults have longer memories," Cheng says.
The principal has taken solace from the children's recovery. The first-graders at the time of the quake are now in sixth grade. The others have gone on to junior and senior high schools.
"None of our children graduated with trauma," Cheng says. "So, I'm content. I can let out a huge sigh of relief."
Students disabled in the quake were taken by an NGO to a special school in Dujiangyan city, 48 kilometers from Sichuan's capital, Chengdu.
"It has been a tremendous process going from the old school to the tents to temporary housing to the new school," Cheng says.
The new school, which withstood the Ya'an quake on April 20, is more advanced.
"We have modern equipment. We no longer use chalk," Cheng says, adding that a multimedia lab means teachers no longer need to use tape recorders for English lessons.
The principal says it's rare for a mountainside school like Hongbai to have English classes. "We're trying to become a model for similar schools."
And the improvements are not just material, he says. "We're also improving our management and teaching. We're trying to go beyond books to teaching good living. We've made great progress but still have a long way to go."
Meanwhile, he says the past five years of helping the children have changed his outlook.
"I'm more upbeat," he says. "I rarely lose my temper. I've matured. I've found peace. The quake taught me to value life and stay positive."
(China Daily 05/11/2013 page8)