Witnessing the Ukrainian invasion brings feelings of sadness and helplessness. Children have no hope of school, running from danger after losing their homes. We’re reminded of how lucky Americans are to have freedom, not to be facing a war here, and that democratic public schools are open to all children.
When we watch Ukrainian children sleeping on bricks in bomb shelters like subways and basements, we see our children and yearn for the safety of all children.
Watching what’s happening in Ukraine should drive us to work more together to create safe and caring democratic school environments for America’s students. We must make those schools welcoming to all because this is a free country.
While we worry about learning loss due to the pandemic, some Ukrainian children have faced repeated school disruption and have lost quality schooling for years, living with danger.
Eastern Ukraine has seen fighting since 2014, and many schools had to close. Parents have had to struggle for quality and safe schooling. Students have had to rely on piecemeal online instruction.
A 2016 Human Rights Watch report describes the plight of Ukrainian children caught in the fighting and having their schools close.
Parents and teachers worked closely together at that time to get schools to reopen safely, but cold weather and damaged unheated schools made it difficult.
Here’s a school bus waiting for students in 2018, in front of the Popasna municipal school in the province of Luhansk, Ukraine. The new school year had recently started.
From Save the Children Ukraine, here’s the Safe Schools Declaration created at that time.
Despite the pandemic, and problems facing public education in this country, Americans haven’t had to worry about any war on their soil. The closest to this is school gun violence, which should be within our reach to fix. The insurrection gave us alarming pause.
But dealing with the pandemic and social change should bring Americans together, not tear us apart.
Parents and citizens meet at school board meetings to address the needs of students. They have a voice. Those voices have been loud but still spoken freely.
How can we work as a nation to address current divisive school issues in a kinder, more thoughtful way without hurting students?
Consider how society is changing and how this affects children. Here are suggestions on how to strengthen our public schools:
- Be proud of neighborhood schools and reach out to them.
- Shore up school art programs and help display student artwork in the community.
- Help schools share the vibrant cultures of children attending that school.
- Respect the differences children bring to the classroom.
- Be open to change and try to understand opposing viewpoints.
- Be receptive to the findings of professional research by and about teachers, counselors, and school nurses.
- Attend a school play, or music events put on by the students.
- Are there after-school activities you can support or help out with?
- Cheer for the local school sports teams.
- Volunteer to help a child who struggles to read for several hours each week.
- Recognize the importance of the teacher/parent/student connection.
- If concerned about what the teacher is teaching, talk with that teacher.
- Ask teachers what they need?
- Get involved in the PTA.
- Might there be something you can donate to the school?
- Perhaps you work in a job that children might be interested in hearing about on career day.
- Get involved to help, not hurt.
For our part, we can step up our investment in public schools for all children and provide what aid we can to the Ukrainians for the world to see.
Reflect on our free democratic public school system and be grateful for the freedoms we enjoy. Hold Ukrainian children in our hearts and pray for the war and all world conflict to end.