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Ukrainian kids find their common ground in the classroom


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Ukrainian kids find their common ground in the classroom Ukrainian kids find their common ground in the classroom

Since February of this year, just under 3,800 Ukrainian refugees have settled in Galway, and one of the sectors that had to respond most rapidly to those new arrivals was education.

For Claddagh National School Principal, Michael Gallagher (pictured), the Ukrainian children who have joined their school community have, like every other child, given the school far more than could ever be given to them.

Claddagh NS has a long history of providing support for children from a wide variety of backgrounds and has particularly strong links with the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre in Salthill.

Key to their efforts is a commitment to keep the interest of every individual child to the forefront, and their response to the Ukrainian arrivals has been no different.

“We always say that our teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) learn more from the children than we could ever teach them – their respect for each other, their tolerance and not having any prejudice.

“Children are very honest. If they’ve a problem with you, it’s never going to be about where you come from or what your background is,” says Michael.

“Teachers and SNAs are very adaptable too, and open to change. When the interest and wellbeing of the child is central, everything else follows.”

There are challenges, he says, but none that cannot be overcome. And the Department of Education has rowed in with support, providing Claddagh NS with an additional EAL (English as an additional language) teacher and an extra SNA, says Michael.

“Children integrate very quickly. The great thing about primary school children is they don’t see differences – they don’t care where you’re from or about the colour of your skin. They don’t have prejudices.

“We have had Ukrainian children join every class and it’s challenging for teachers, when you might have three new children with no English, but you’d be amazed how quickly children absorb languages – in a lot of cases, that’s in informal settings like on the playground or through sport,” says the school principal.

Every child brings something different with them, their own perspective and creativity, adds Michael.

After school clubs and activities are more commonplace in Ukraine and that is something the Irish education system could do with more of, he says, but local sports clubs have always been, and continue to be, very open and supportive.

Reserving huge praise for the Ukrainian families who have come here in recent months, fleeing unimaginably difficult circumstances, Michael says he feels they are already adding greatly to the school, and to society as a whole.

“The parents are doing really well and like us all, they just want the best for their children. They have come from a very traumatic situation and shown immense dignity,” he says.

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