On Thursday, March 3, 2022, the AAIE Global Conversation welcomed community members from Ukraine and Lithuania, as well as from CEESA and the Office of Overseas Schools. The focus of this conversation was the horrific conflict in Ukraine (and surrounding countries) and its impact on school communities. Our thanks to Rachel Caldwell (Head of School, Pechersk International School), Rebecca Juras (Director, Vilnius International School), Mary Russman (Office of Overseas Schools), and Kathy Stetson (Director, CEESA) for joining us and updating us on their schools, their communities, and the hour to hour life in that region.
Rachel Caldwell shared with us what was happening in her community. Almost everyone has been able to leave the country but for a few unable to do so. With the help of Perchersk’s Communications and Marketing Manager, Nikita Vasyliev, Rachel is able to continue connecting with her faculty and students via online platforms as they work together through these extraordinarily difficult times.
“We have a few priorities at the moment. One is that we still have colleagues and families in Kyiv and [elsewhere] in Ukraine who we are trying to help. We're going through an extraction process at the moment which is quite traumatic, with some of our last people on our beautiful campus and we're hoping that that will come to a successful conclusion shortly. When the first round of embassy recommendations for departure happened, we did support everybody to leave, [both] financially, and I think perhaps more importantly, psychologically. There was never any judgment about how people decided what was best for them. We did decide some time ago that it was important to have teaching across many time zones and at the time we were able to offer on campus learning as well. And we stayed there, a number of us, for some time until it became quite evident that it was better for us to leave. Unfortunately now of course we've reached a point where unless they are with a very elderly parent who can't be moved or other similar kinds of situations, they really are keen to go because the bombing has become intense. People haven't slept much at all for a long time. So we're trying to help, that's our number one priority. Of course parallel to that, our priorities are our students, some of whom are still there. We actually have an international family sheltering in the school at the moment as well. We're trying to help them.”
Rachel was quick to praise schools within the region for taking immediate steps to help care for displaced students and their families, and expressed her deep gratitude to everyone who helped make that happen. Her comments about peace, ensuring communication was inclusive and helpful, and her resounding love and respect for everyone at Pechersk speaks to her resiliency as she hopes for a better tomorrow. Rachel went on to deliver a powerful message that she encouraged us to share:
“Our community is extremely mixed. We have Russian teachers. We have Ukrainians with a Russian father or a Russian mother. We have a Russian teacher who has been at the school for ten years and is much loved. “We've done everything we can in our communication to make it clear that this is not about being Russian. This is not about the beautiful Russian culture, Russian literature, or Russian language that we offer in our school. This is about a regime and has nothing to do with the people. And that message can be shared by all of you. That's something you can do. This is not connected to the Russian people.”
Rachel has been working with Ellen Mahoney of SeaChange Mentoring. Ellen offers access to A School Staff Guide for Supporting Students Impacted by the Crisis in Ukraine to those in need of guidance.
Rebecca Juras from Vilnius International School in Lithuania shared her perspective from the vantage point of being ‘just across the border’, and just how unimaginably frightening this is. Rebecca is working tirelessly to ensure her school and her community are safe even though the uncertainty about the future weighs heavily upon her. Rebecca shared:
“The real needs at the moment would be in setting up a network of counseling services for teachers. I imagine something like the groups Homa and Will offer to heads of schools, but made available to teachers. Additionally, we cannot keep up with the demand for a school counselor. Some kids are just bursting to talk about anything and everything while other students are asking for school to be a safe place where kids don’t have to engage with the war - which is visible everywhere in Vilnius! It’s not just happening in their online lives.”
“In order to manage the overflow of students requesting conversation and care, each leadership team member has assumed a grade with whom they run voluntary “feelings circles.” Some of the students are starting to tax the system and it has become difficult to sustain what we have going at this point. What could help is remote professional development opportunities for teachers on the topic of relational competencies. An issue that comes up frequently is that teachers “don’t feel qualified” to speak to the kids about their feelings. I would love to have synchronous online training available for teachers so that they can ask questions, share concerns, practice listening, and understand how to speak with students so that the leadership team and school counselor are able to focus on operations and logistics.”
Also of note is news that the Anglo-American School in Moscow has moved to distance learning. Faculty from countries outside of Russia have left and in light of flights being shut down, the decision was made earlier this week to help facilitate those in this community to leave the country.
Kathy Stetson emphasized how the schools in the CEESA region have come together to support and assist all who are impacted. Kathy said, “This shows what a close-knit community we have. This is what schools and school leaders do in times of need.” Mary Russman, from the Office of Overseas Schools, has been in continuous contact with the schools in the region and expressed that AOS is doing all they can to assist.
Many have asked what they can do to support these schools and communities. Please use the following links and resources to connect with and help these communities.
Pechersk International School - Offers of Support Form
Vilnius International School
Art for Peace in Ukraine
The entire world is thinking of you, and holding you close in their hearts. And our entire community of schools and school leaders stands ready to help, to support, and do whatever it takes to be there for you in these terrible times.
Our thoughts are with you,
The AAIE Team