When the children of Castle Gardens Primary School, in County Down, Northern Ireland, came traipsing to school on Monday morning, they found a scene of devastation in the playground. Trees were wrecked. Asphalt was torn up. The police service were on hand, in emergency-response mode. There, in the middle of the yard, was a smoking bundle from outer space: a meteorite.
NEWS ALERT We’ve had strange happenings in the Castle Gardens’ playground overnight! The rear playground has been secured and children may only enter via the main entrance. We need budding scientists to investigate extra terrestrial material! @ArmaghPlanet @ArdsNthDownHour pic.twitter.com/JBPJ9s0f7d— Castle Gardens (@CastleGardensPS) November 13, 2017
Except—there wasn’t, not really. Parents, staff, and a local paving business had spent the weekend staging the extraterrestrial occurrence. The paving company tore up the ground and provided the boulder that stood in for the space rock. The trees were bent not by a rocketing lump of granite, but by winds from Storm Ophelia. And the police were in on the gag. This false strike, the BBC reported, was an educational exercise, designed to teach the children about space and distract them from the stress and anxiety of their exams, which are taken at the end of elementary school.
Live scenes from our back playground where a meteorite has crashed into the rear playground. All under control and PSNI have secured the scene pic.twitter.com/aIY8jZa5LJ— Castle Gardens (@CastleGardensPS) November 13, 2017
The last word of thanks today needs to go to Mrs Hutchinson who pulled this plan together. So many pupils emailing and posting their homeworks this evening, inspired to go that little bit further by today’s events makes it all worthwhile. pic.twitter.com/6VftFg8Rnr
— Castle Gardens (@CastleGardensPS) November 13, 2017
The children were tasked with documenting the strike, armed with iPads and notebooks, pencils and blog posts. A local newspaper, the Newtownards Chronicle, organized a workshop to teach them how to write an effective news report. “It gives the children the chance to experience and imagine an event they’d otherwise only see on video clips or photographs,” the principal, John Gray, told the BBC. Budgets might have been cut, he said, but their dedication to education was undimmed. “With so many negative stories about education budgets, this is an example of the lengths that some schools and their local communities go to to ensure the best learning opportunities to children.”