By Olivia Gawel, Center for Educational Improvement
Trauma touches the lives of many across the world. Children residing in various countries have to deal with events that impact their lives, most of which are detrimental. Trauma is a force of destruction that is ready to sweep up anyone on its path - irrelevant of their geographical location. One relevant example is the current situation of Ukranian children and their families, who have fled their motherland in search of safety. Not having the possibility to attain the education they deserve, Ukrainian students have to find help elsewhere - in other school systems around the world. Faced with language barriers, psychological trauma, parental separation as well as difficulties in the given host country are just a handful examples of what these students have to go through on a regular basis. The question is how have host school systems prepared for this?
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, almost 800 children have begun residing in France; along the way having to deal with the current school curricula, such as learning French. According to a French News Station, RFI, the French Education Minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has proposed “free municipal courses” for both children and their parents to learn the mother tongue of the French (Marrow, 2022). According to him, acquiring even the basics of the host country’s language will help victims vocalize the feelings related to the trauma experienced, therefore minimizing the language barrier, even to a certain extent, allowing for a deeper student-teacher interaction. However, there are still many, more serious obstacles to be faced, as the number of refugees is still on the rise. As such, a number of schools in France “are only able to act as emergency reception centers, with zero interaction between the school’s own teachers and pupils” (Marrow, 2022).
On the other hand, there have been more successful attempts to help Ukrainian students to deal with trauma in Poland. So far over 75,000 students have entered the Polish educational system, and over 700,000 are still in line to be transferred. One school in particular, the Warsaw Ukrainian School, was created thanks to financial support from nonprofit organizations. The school encompasses 22 Ukrainian teachers and 270 students, all of whom were refugees - all in need of psychological support (Bior, Shapiro & Ozug, 2022). For this reason, the school’s two psychologists and teachers are all receiving fundamental training in not only addressing trauma and its spectrum but also in identifying it - setting an example for all. Rather than just focusing on school work, which is of course important, the main approach taken is based on communication thanks to which teachers make time to speak with students; creativity and music are emphasized thus teachers along with students use arts and crafts; peace is prioritized because of which teachers do not “disturb” students (Bior, Shapiro & Ozug, 2022). In other schools in the country, there have been examples in which desks have been even repainted in the color of the Ukrainian flag to show unity, and students are given access to online translation tools, such as Google.
Similarly, Slovakia has taken in over 300,000 Ukrainian refugees (Martuscelli, 2022). It is said, however, that there are only 45 child school psychologists available…across the entire country (Martuscelli, 2022). Therefore, in this case, some countries cannot provide sufficient help for the natives of their country, let alone refugees coming from a traumatic experience. 3 Meanwhile, in the US, a school in Manhattan’s East Village, to which Ukrainian students typically go to on Saturdays, has placed much emphasis on reminding Ukrainian children where they are from. Just two weeks after the genesis of the war, the school organized an assembly in which children had the chance to be themselves: they “dressed in traditional embroidered shirts, wearing blue and yellow ribbons, the colors of the flag” (Nierenberg, 2022). Since then, the school has put much more emphasis on taking into condition the significance of language, culture, and tradition when interacting with Ukrainian students.
Based on all of the provided examples, we as teachers and school counselors must remember that there is much to learn from. In order to establish connection with students who come from traumatic experiences - both their culture and language must be considered, as this is indeed a major part of their identities.
Therefore, one should take an individualized approach to all students. For instance, what can help establish a trusting relationship, according to the National Association of School Psychologists, is to:
● Reassure children that they are safe.
● Make time to talk.
● Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
● Review safety procedures.
● Observe children’s emotional state.
● Limit television viewing of these events.
● Maintain a normal routine.
The trauma caused by war will not go away quickly or easily. However, we as the caretakers can act now in order to minimize the suffering that children at such a young age have to go through.The recipe for success? Remind each child where they come from and what they stand for.
Bior, A., Shapiro, A. & Ozug, M. (2022, May 17). This school takes kids from the most traumatized parts of Ukraine and offers hope. American University Radio.
Marrow, A. (2022, March 16). ‘French schools help Ukrainian children confront trauma, language barrier. RFI.
Martuscelli, C. (2022, April 15). Ukraine refugee’ trauma creates ‘crisis on top of a crisis’ for Eastern Europe. Politico.
National Association of School Psychologists. (2022). Talking to children about violence: Tips for families and educators.
Nierenberg, A. (2022, March 9). A Ukrainian School in New York takes on a big mission. The New York Times