What is the current situation in your school, how many Ukrainian students do you have?
We currently have 39 students from Ukraine who have joined us in the last 2-3 weeks. It was then that we started to work with the refugees and tried to provide them with information on education. 40 children accompanied by their parents came to the first initiation meeting and 24 of them signed up.
How to integrate children into the team?
We have developed a methodology where we try to adapt Ukrainian children to each other during the first 10-14 days. They mainly communicate with each other, everyone is from a different corner of Ukraine, otherwise they are afraid. After this time they have individual lessons, but in the morning they have Czech lessons for the first 2-3 hours. There are students divided into age-related groups. In Czech, they are divided into classes, where they are assigned a so-called boss, who takes care of them.
What is the function of the patron?
Most of the time it is someone who, for example, also knows Ukrainian or Russian, for older children English is enough. The boss will tell the children where the class is, he is such a friend to him. So far, we are mainly trying to teach children to understand the language. It’s not that this limits the teaching of Czech to children. The main goal is not to teach Ukrainians all the listed words, but to understand their meaning. But it was not easy to find, we met daily at school and assessed what we needed.
“Moms look at the phone and cry”
Did Czech pupils accept Ukrainian children well?
During the adaptation days, the Czech children were very curious, they went to observe the little Ukrainians. My daughter, who studies in another school, was even disappointed that a Ukrainian child did not come to her class. Through a school psychologist, we did various activities to improve the climate in the classroom, we played dating games, where the children asked each other different things. But the questions couldn’t go any further if some of them had trauma behind them. Adaptation activities continue for each new student.
Have you noticed any signs of war trauma in children?
We have a school psychologist who takes care of children whom they suspect of not living very well. We have students who would rather be back in Ukraine, thinking about what is happening there. I also experienced their mothers, who looked at the phone and cried. Colleagues said that the Ukrainian students heard the drill and hid under the benches, for example, we had a fire alarm, so we had to calm the children down. When the sirens sound, they feel like there is a war. There are people who say that children play it. But that’s really not possible.
You also have Russian children at school. What are their relations with the Ukrainians?
On the contrary, Russian children help Ukrainian children because they understand each other. There is no animosity between them. We did not notice that Russian children have a different attitude from ours towards the Ukrainian war.
“You are creating a whole new school”
Did you have to change anything at school with the arrival of Ukrainian children?
It was necessary to find more people to help us, pedagogical assistants and special educators who create methodological materials and lead the education of Ukrainian children. Fortunately, we have support as a great school, people in our country will limit their work so they can help or work harder. On the contrary, the pieces of a small school are in there.
We also hired two girls, a Ukrainian and a Russian, to talk to the children. We met one of them in a refugee center, the sister of the other is studying in our school. Then we had to take care of the benches, an older child cannot sit at the same table as a younger one, but how does he manage to be able to work in a group? We’ve solved all of that, you’re basically organizing a whole new school.
Will Ukrainian teachers also teach with you?
The problem is that Ukrainian teachers can only teach young Ukrainians, but not Czech children. Then, unfortunately, it loses its meaning as we have little Ukrainians and Czechs together, because we want to teach them Czech.
What do you think of the creation of one-class classes for Ukrainian children?
This is not the way, but a step back. The goal is for children to fit in with their peers. The moment you form predominantly Ukrainian classes, it will lead to segregation and school failure. The one-to-one classes were an effort at a time when we hoped the war would end soon and the students would return. But now we see that 2/3 of Ukrainians will stay here.
Is there a difference between Ukrainian and Czech children in terms of school system?
Once enrolled in the school system, Ukrainian children enjoy the same rights as Czech pupils. At the same time, they have the same obligations: if they drop out of school and go elsewhere, they must enroll there. If they don’t, I have to report to the OSPOD that the children are not going to school. This must be explained to the Ukrainians, who sometimes see it as a spontaneous affair.
Have you noticed if the transition from the war to the new school is better handled by younger or older children?
Young children are more adaptable, older ones are responsible. He’s learning, he’s trying to figure out how to go to high school, he’s trying to teach Czech. But it depends on whether they accepted that they would be here for a long time. Some children have to adapt before they start learning Czech, they find it difficult because they still hope to go home.
Which issue do you think resonates most with Ukrainian children in Czech schools?
High school students because they have a different education system in Ukraine and now find themselves in such a vacuum. Secondary schools, with a few exceptions, do not accept pupils without knowledge of Czech. It is better for universities because they have programs in English, but most high schools have no choice but to conduct an interview in Czech.
That is why we accept students from the 9th grade, provided that they learn Czech intensively for 3 months. But if they managed to go to high school, what next? For example, it is possible to release students from subjects that are not crucial for their field, so that they can take private lessons in Czech instead. But the school must create the conditions for this.
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Have you encountered such a student in practice?
A 17-year-old girl is ambitiously trying to start directly at university, because in high school she would have a high school diploma in Czech. Instead of studying Czech, she goes to work for a company. This is a mistake, children must be motivated. We have previously reported that the final exams are not suitable for students with difficulties, whether language or other. For high school students, for example, I support distance learning from Ukraine, but this is not always possible.
What challenge now awaits Ukrainian children at school?
We may encounter September 1, when more children enroll in schools that are not ready for it. Schools need to prepare intensively for children who are not yet enrolled in the system. Even 1 student will employ special educators, psychologists and administration. Schools need to know in advance how many children will be in front of them, buy benches and helpers. If 40 kids unexpectedly sign up for you during the holidays, you won’t be able to.