Seven Ukrainian children feel at home in the Wettstetten primary school

The three women Iryna Högemann, Viktoriia Antonova and Anja Kirchberger (from left) help voluntarily with German lessons for the Ukrainian children in Wettstetten. Photo: Gülich

By Anne Gulich

Wettstetten – They started with cards on which the most important questions in everyday school life were written in Ukrainian and German. “How are you?”, “When is the break?” or “May I go to the bathroom, please?”. The fact that the seven Ukrainian children of primary school age living in Wettstetten are now finding their way around is a joint effort of the school’s management, staff, parents and voluntary involvement in the 5,000-inhabitant community.

Principal Christine Chittka explains how it happened: “When it became clear in March that some Ukrainian children would be accommodated in Wettstetten, I wrote a letter to our parents asking if anyone spoke Russian or Ukrainian and could imagine that volunteer to help. You are only an official welcome class when at least ten children come together. ”

The response was overwhelming, as Chittka reports: she received 25 responses within days. Together with the special teacher of German as a second language, Larissa Mehringer, the school spoke to three women who could imagine teaching directly. Materials were purchased and a plan drawn up. Since school started after the Easter holidays, the Ukrainian children have been in their regular classes for the first two hours every day; in the third and fourth, they meet with one of the so-called “support staff” in a room in the lunchroom. They are connected via the computer program “School Leader” and share what they have learned every day, so that the next helper can easily follow up on the material the next day.

That the three volunteer teachers are an absolute stroke of luck for the children becomes clear when you last see the lesson: they patiently explain contexts in Ukrainian or Russian, point to the letters hanging on the wall, correct them and encourage them. In addition to words, grammar and pronunciation, there is also a whole new alphabet to learn.

Absolute good luck for the primary school children

Anja Kirchberger is one of the three. She worked as a secretary at Audi for decades. After living abroad with her family for a number of years, she can well remember the situation of her own children in a new environment whose language they did not speak. “I went straight to school to help because I knew that learning the language was the most important thing. When I speak and write Russian, I knew I could probably be useful. ” She explains that in Ukraine, both languages ​​are learned and spoken side by side, so the children are all confident in Russian from an early age and understand it well.

Iryna Högemann grew up in Ukraine, studied linguistics and communication science in Germany and, as CEO of the German School Association, helped establish the German School in Kiev. She has lived in Germany since 2001. Iryna knows both worlds, also in school life. “It’s a big benefit right now,” she notes as she prepares the worksheets for the next lesson.

When the Fire Brigade in Wettstetten is called to action and the siren sounds, everyone jumps, including Viktoriia Antonova. She comes from a Ukrainian family, but grew up in Moldova, where she experienced the Transnistrian conflict. “When you hear the alarm sirens, the whole past is there again,” says the 38-year-old, who later studied in Ukraine and has worked in the IT sector in Germany since 2014. Viktoriia tells how she initially listened to the conversations between the children in the classroom, where they also talked about the walls of Grandma’s house no longer standing. “Therefore, our focus in the beginning was not so much to learn German,” explains Principal Chittka. “We did not know what the children would take with them, what depressed them. We want to be open if someone needs to talk or wants to get rid of the grief. ” But what children and their parents most want out of school is something else: normality.

Children and parents want normality

Iryna Högemann clarifies: “The events of the war are already reaching the children, but I have found that here in school the news and problems should rather be left out.” Everyone is happy to see the children’s progress, including their independence, when many start their journey to school on their own after just a few days. Nine-year-old Marta from Kharkiv sums it up (in German): “School is good here. The breaks too. “


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