From the war zone to the classroom in Alsfeld

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ALSFELD (ACR). Currently, about 100 Ukrainian children are taught in primary schools in Vogelsberg. This includes Anastasia and Elena. I have attended Gerhart Hauptmann School in Alsfeld since the Easter holiday. How the lessons work despite the language barrier, why learning German is not the highest priority and what role war plays in the classroom. Safiya visit.

“One last bite, one last sip and breakfast is in the bag,” teacher Eva Windgas says with a smile on her face. The third lesson has just begun at the Gehrt Hauptmann School in Alsfeld. German lessons are now on the program at 3b. The digital notebook containing the task for this lesson is already open on the active panel. From the Jo Jo language book, students should write the mnemonic sentence on page 48 in their red volumes.

The three years woke up, go to the shelf and pull out their language book. Only Anastasia and Elena (names changed by editors) are still seated. “Red Bearer” repeats Windgass again in English. Anastasia nodded and took out her red notebook from her backpack. “She understands English very well,” explains the teacher. Elena does not speak English, so Anastasia translates into Ukrainian.

3b from Eva Windgaß, also called “elephant class”, called “multicultural class”. Here, children with immigrant and non-immigrant backgrounds learn together.

Her mother tongue is Ukrainian. Anastasia and Elena fled Ukraine with their families a few weeks ago and have been 3B students since shortly after the Easter break. While the others complete the task after briefly repeating what they have learned from the past hour, the two Ukrainian girls have opened their red folders and are working hard.

However, their red volumes are not a rulebook, as other students are. They hide a lot of German vocabulary, with the corresponding pictures to color in and of course the Ukrainian translation. Anastasia just paints a sports bag with a blue pen, and the stars on it already shimmer in bright yellow. Then she finished, got up and ran to Elena to get a red pen. Next is the bag, another word from the school vocabulary section.

While the other students do Mrs. Windgas’ homework, Anastasia and Elena learn vocabulary from the school’s vocabulary.

Anastasia and Elena are no longer sitting next to each other. “It was different for acclimatization, but of course we want them to connect with others,” Windgaß explains. The two did not know each other before, and now they are friends, people they relate to. “I think they are so happy they found each other,” the teacher smiles and walks over to Elena to see if she gets along. They work – they both work completely independently, just like their classmates.

After about 40 minutes, the third hour is already over. The lesson must be finished on time, because now the students will be swimming. Anastasia translates back into Ukrainian. Her classmates quickly write their homework before the girls’ red cover and colored pencils disappear back into their school bags. While placing the chairs, the silent fox brings a little calm to the anticipation of swimming, and Windgaß still mentions the mask, drinking bottle and jacket. Then we finally go together to the bus waiting area, where 3b is already expected.

Not only Ukrainian children in the intensive class

Scene change after about two hours. Windgaß sitting in the library with colleague Anja Stübenrath. This is where the intensive classes are held, for which Stübenrath is responsible. These lessons are given every day, and there are usually seven to eight hours a week for Ukrainian children. “When designing the schedule, I basically took them out of German and general science classes because they couldn’t participate in them yet,” explains Steubenrath.

Teachers Anja Stübenrath and Eva Windgaß would like to thank the residents of Alsfeld for the many in-kind donations of Ukrainian students – from bags, drinking bottles, and lunch boxes to scissors, glue, and compasses – “it’s really cool,” they happily say. Photo: acr

Not from mathematics and sports, for example. Mathematics can also function without language, especially in the first and second years of schooling, and sports also serve as a kind of connection in which children interact and engage. “They are learning English with German-speaking children,” she explains. The remaining topics will then be considered for the appropriateness of teaching.

However, in the intensive class, not only Ukrainian children are taught, but also from many other countries. “Sometimes the level of learning German is very different, so I design it very individually and it really works well,” explains Stübenrath. The kids also help each other out, which she really loves. “It is the same in class. It is not always necessary for me to be, the person next to the table can also help, for example showing what to take from the bag,” adds WIndgaß.

But how do you actually communicate when kids have no knowledge of German? DaZ teacher smiles: “Of course, this works with a lot of gestures and facial expressions, but also with objects.” Stübenrath himself does a lot of pantomime. For example, if she does not want something on the table, she says it slowly in German and points to the thing. However, if the student still does not understand, she simply makes it clear. “By that time the kids understood. It’s actually pretty good.”

Learning German is not the first priority

Pictured word cards are also in use, not only by Stübenrath, but also by teacher 3b. Otherwise, it sometimes falls back into English, as with Anastasia, which then translates simply to Elena. “Of course, I also have a Ukrainian-German translation app that I use when things get tough,” laughs Steubenrath. In other words: if something very important needs to be communicated, for example you take your swimming gear with you the next day, they use a translator if necessary. After all, kids should also learn to speak German – even if that’s not everything in the first place.

“First of all, it is important to me that the children feel safe and comfortable here, that they regain their daily structure a little, and that the mother has some time for herself at home,” she asserts. Of course they learn German too, that’s what the intensive class is all about. “The way you learn language is almost the same everywhere,” explains Steubenrath. Start with numbers one through ten and work your way through the letters before moving on to the colors.

Because Ukrainian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet – unlike the Latin alphabet which is used for German or English for example. “So they had to learn all the letters again,” Windgaß explains. Anastasia had no problems with this, because she knows them from English.

In English 3b lessons, students introduced different things in class with English vocabulary. Then Anastasia and Elena had to add the appropriate German terms.

Each child then creates a vocabulary book with the DAZ teacher, who works through the picture word system. Students stick the pictures in their notebooks and write the German word behind them. “By the way, the third topic is school subjects,” she smiles. Among other things, the terms Anastasia and Elena practiced again in the third lesson – of course they can also use the vocabulary book in regular lessons.

If the language works so far, then you can try to find out how the level of learning of Ukrainian learning materials compares with German, so that there can be an approximation. This means: what has already been worked on in Ukraine over the years, where exactly can you start. “To do this, however, there must be some basic vocabulary.”

“I think kids would learn German faster if they had a Ukrainian teacher who was fluent in German and could say it right away,” says Steubenrath. Whether it’s a translator, photo cards or English – after all, all this takes time and can be faster. Her colleague agrees, “It would be helpful to have support.” So you can also exchange ideas on other topics, such as the curriculum in Ukraine, what has already been discussed and much more. Windgaß tries to get the information online, “but a contact person would of course be great and make the work easier.”

Ukrainian students not only received additional books from DaZ (German as a Second Language), but also a small, compact brochure to help them understand each other.

Individually As lessons are designed in the intensive class, refugees act individually. “There are big differences, depending on what you’ve been through before,” says Windgaß. “And of course what kind of personality they have,” says Steubenrath. For example, a Ukrainian girl said goodbye to her classmates with a hug on the first day of school, and with another boy she thought the little boy would start crying at any moment. “We don’t know what they lived through,” she asserts.

Experiments are usually kept secret

Over time, some will talk about it. Windgass has experienced it himself, not only with Ukrainian refugees, but also with children from Afghanistan or Syria. “They need a long time before they can even talk about it.” But Steubenrath doesn’t see that as their work either. And her colleague assures: “I certainly wouldn’t ask about it,” “I don’t ask, I wait until the kids say something on their own, and then of course I listen and talk. But I always wait until they are ready on their own.” Nobody should feel pressured and some don’t want talk about it. “They are here now, they should be able to look ahead,” smiles Steubenrath.

But if someone wanted to tell something, they would naturally both have open ears. “If something strange strikes me, I will look into it. But not by asking the child for help, but by getting professional help,” explains Daz’s teacher.

War is no longer a class or class problem – at least not anymore. “I made this a very visible topic in my class earlier. After all, I knew we were going to welcome two new Ukrainian classmates,” says Windgas. That’s why the map is still hanging in the classroom. With her students, she looked at where Ukraine is and worked on the whole topic a little bit so they just knew what was going on. “Since the girls were with us, it really wasn’t a problem anymore.”

But the kids don’t even want to know what’s wrong with them. How old are you? Do you like playing football? These are things that children want to know. Babies are actually always completely uncomplicated. Her colleague smiles: “You live here and now.” War is not discussed in her classes either, unless it is the students’ responsibility. “But I won’t get started on that. I think it’s nicer for the kids here to lead a normal life and relax,” confirms Steubenrath, nodding her colleague.

The school bell rings. The sixth lesson at the Gerhart Hauptmann School has now ended. As the two teachers return to the staff room, there is a lot of activity in the entrance area. Elementary students leave the school building one by one. In the center: Anastasia and Elena.

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