A conversation with Jens Peter, Principal of Winsen Gymnasium (Luhe).
Mister Peter, how was your first morning at school without a mask?
Jens Peter: The first day of school was very hectic, but that had nothing to do with the mask requirement. Just as the Minister of Education desired, I sent an email at the beginning of class asking all students and teachers to continue to wear the mask voluntarily. Today, at least, I have not seen a single female student without a mask.
You were probably very proud of this self-responsible act, right?
run out: “Pride” isn’t the right word, but I’m pleased with the mind that seems to be there for the most part.
I guess you don’t have an easy job now: Mask requirements in schools have been raised from the top. It seems a bit helpless when the education minister in a federal state like Lower Saxony requires that masks continue to be worn in schools for reasons of infection prevention. While at the universities of Lower Saxony, the mask requirement still applies. Obvious specs are another thing, right?
run out: The specifications are clear – but unfortunately not in their meaning. We – all school administrations I spoke to – would have liked there to be clear rules. Because this was working fine before. We all know that FFP2 masks are one of the most effective and easiest ways to implement protection, and we would have liked it to continue like this. Now the problem has been delegated to the schools and in the event of an emergency we will have to discuss it with the pupils and parents and we will have no remedy. But we still hope, based on common sense, that it will at least be possible to wear masks.
Another challenge that you, as a school principal, will have to deal with now is the inclusion of Ukrainian refugee children and youth in everyday school life. How do you do that in your school?
run out: This is correct. We’ve been keeping this topic very busy in the two weeks leading up to the Easter holidays and it’s still the issue that worries us the most and that we want to solve completely. As a grammar school, we accept all students – no matter which school they belong to in Ukraine – between the ages of five and eleven. It is clear that Ukrainian refugees, who do not have any knowledge of German in general, cannot be accepted in the school leaving year. We accept them in other years, mainly with the aim of providing a little first aid and to give the refugee students a daily structure, a person to listen to them and, above all, social contacts with their peers. On Monday we start the language courses: German as a second language. We will prepare these courses throughout the year.
Do you have enough capacity for this, because teachers have been reformed for a long time?
run out: You are solving a big problem. Of course we do not have the capacity, especially because a number of teachers were absent from us. We are a big school, but we still have a lot of absences, especially because there is a ban on pregnant teachers, which we are lacking. But we almost managed to get a Ukrainian teacher who will help us. The remainder is covered by our German teachers on a voluntary basis. This means that we will take out a loan for the future.
Speaking of the language: You are also a Russian teacher yourself and there are also Russian lessons in your school. Children in Ukraine speak partly Ukrainian and partly Russian. How are you then?
run out: This is a very sensitive topic. In fact, all Ukrainians speak Russian fluently, and some even speak Russian better than Ukrainian. This is because Russian has been the official language there for decades and is also the language of instruction in most schools. In this case, it is a happy coincidence that I am allowed to conduct admission interviews with students and their parents in Russian. You don’t have that luck in every school, and that helps us a lot in organizing the first few days. Of course, we also hope that our Russian lessons will continue despite the political turmoil.
Do you also have Russian-born children in school? Do they need protection from hostilities?
run out: We have a number of German students in high school, some of whom are of immigrant background. For many decades, Russian language lessons in German schools, especially in Lower Saxony, consisted of pupils who had no prior knowledge, but there are also some students who speak more Russian than German at home, and there are pupils who speak Russian but cannot write. Therefore, it is Russian teachers who have had to perform a giant balancing act for many years and have to achieve internal differentiation between different levels of prior knowledge, which is by no means easy. We are used to it and manage it well.
I don’t see any possibility of conflict there. These are isolated cases and most of them are here because they left Belarus or Russia for a good reason.
It is hard for many children and young people in Germany to imagine what war looks like. Do two worlds collide? For Ukrainian children, war is the bitter truth.
run out: This is actually a big problem. The refugee students with us have gone through very different things. For example, one female student saw her city being bombed and her classmates and teachers killed. Put on the train to Germany alone by her parents, she arrives in Hamburg and is only picked up by a host family by accident. In the first week of class she also had coronavirus and had to be isolated. I think it’s hard to imagine more problems at the same time.
There is no such thing as a general case. But we also see it as an educational gain for our German students that they face the difficult life and conditions elsewhere – not only on other continents, but now even in Central Europe.
led the interview Eva Schram.