All Articles Education Updates Extra Credit: Resilience in Ukraine, frustration in US

Extra Credit: Resilience in Ukraine, frustration in US

Teachers and students -- both refugees and those still in Ukraine -- show remarkable resilience and determination to stay in school. In the US, a mass shooting at a Texas schools prompts frustration at a problem that seems to be getting worse.

6 min read


extra credit ukraine texas resilience teachers students shooting

Ukrainian kindergarten educator Svitlana Hrabovska clears away broken glass after a Russian rocket strike hit the school in Byshiv, Ukraine, in March. (Anastasia Vlasova / Getty Images News)

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Teachers touch so many lives every day as kids move in and out of their classrooms — and so many teachers, in turn, are affected by their students’ trials, from homework struggles to major life events. The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that killed 19 students and two teachers prompts heavy hearts and weary minds, as does the ongoing war Russia started with Ukraine. We start with the determination of Ukrainian teachers and students and the many ways they and US teachers and students are trying to keep sadness at bay with constructive or charitable works. 

Teachers and students killed; schools bombed. Syrian teacher Abdulkafi Alhamdo, who saw schools destroyed during the Syrian civil war in 2014, knows how Ukrainians are suffering. “When they see their school destroyed, do you know how many dreams have been destroyed?” he asks. Save the Children, which is helping to set up online learning sites, says, “Educating every child is essential to preventing grave violations of their rights.”

Teaching amid the chaos. Teacher Viktoria Timoshenko, 25, whose high-school biology classroom was partially destroyed by a Russian shell, helped some of her students stay safe as Russia invaded Ukraine and stayed connected via online classes, resulting in 18 of 20 students graduating on time.    

New schools become a refuge. Across Europe, schools have been making room for Ukrainian teachers and students, who often don’t speak the language in the country where they’ve landed. In Poland, Ukrainian refugee/educators quickly gathered donations to start Warsaw’s Ukrainian School for people fleeing from Ukraine: For 22 teaching positions, 300 teachers applied; 400 students sought one of the 270 available desks. At a school in Belgium that has absorbed several dozen refugees, teachers are trained to notice signs of trauma in students, and psychologists are on call.

Ukrainian students find deeper connection with their country. Ukrainians aren’t surprised if someone thinks they’re Russian, but the war has prompted many to dig deeper to explore their own feelings about their identity. Ukrainian students at Vassar College explain their thought process, with one noting: “Spreading culture is what matters. Globally, people should be inclusive towards Ukrainians and cooperate with Ukrainian artists and organizations. We often learn about other countries through the culture, so the world should definitely make that a focus.” 

Determined students win science prizes. Two 17-year-old students from Ukraine won awards (and four others were finalists) in the world’s largest high-school science and engineering fair after competing virtually, despite being displaced from their home country. “It was very important for me to show that Ukraine and Ukrainian people are strong, and they are really good in the field of science, as well,” says Sofiia Smovzh, who has been seeking ways to improve cancer drugs for the past year.

Ukrainian in the US: From no English to teaching special ed. Staten Island teacher Nataliya Shchesnyak emigrated from Ukraine at age 35, speaking not a word of English. She’s since mastered the language, earned a certificate to teach special education students and secured a job teaching pre-kindergartners. Shchesnyak moved mountains to get her niece and nephew from the current terror in Ukraine to the safety of her US home. “You wouldn’t even know the stuff that is going on (for Shchesnyak) at home, because she still comes here every day, full force, ready to engage with whatever she had planned,” a coworker says.

Back in Ukraine … One Ukrainian school’s electricity isn’t back online yet, and plastic sheets have replaced bombed-out windows, but students and teachers have been eager to go back to teach and learn, carving out even the tiniest sense of normalcy. However, in Russian-occupied areas, many teachers say they are being forced to change curriculum and teach in Russian. Meanwhile, President Volodymyr Zelensky took time amid his country’s horror to offer condolences to those affected by the mass shooting at a Texas school as well as all people in the US.

Lesson plan for teaching US students about the war in Ukraine. The New York Times offers a lesson highlighting a news article — and adds several lesson ideas and resources from teachers around the US

More stories on education and Ukraine

A roundup of items on US school shootings — and preventing them

Diane Benson Harrington is an education and leadership writer at SmartBrief. Reach out to her via email, Twitter or LinkedIn.


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