(Photo Source: Zurich International School)
Zurich International School (ZIS) has welcomed 27 young Ukrainian refugees who will complete the academic year at the school. School leadership worked with the board of trustees and the local education authority to adopt guidelines. The overriding principle was that places were offered based on where there was space in classes and whether ZIS could meet the educational needs of each individual child.
And ZIS is now applying to a charitable foundation and seeking donors to enable many of the older students to remain at the school through to their graduation.
Lisa Lyle, ZIS Director, said, “We are so proud of how our community has responded with action and compassion to people affected by the situation in Ukraine. Students on every campus have worked hard to raise funds and to collect essential personal care items. In doing so, they are demonstrating ZIS Character Standards and their commitment as global citizens. They now also have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the individual children we have welcomed into the ZIS community. In talking to the parents of those students, it’s clear that they are deeply worried about their families and friends back home, and at the same time eager to have children here continue their studies in a welcoming school community.”
At the Upper School, for example, 17-year-old Uliana is now attending a mixture of International Baccalaureate and ZIS courses and making friends with members of her new advisory group. Within days of starting at ZIS, she joined other students to run a bake sale during a home basketball game. Her sister Milana has joined Grade 5.
In partnership with the ZIS Parents' Association, the school held a social event to bring those children and their families together, along with the ZIS families who are hosting them and other Ukrainian refugees. The event was hosted by Upper School Principal David Markus, who has visited Ukraine in the past and who speaks Russian, having previously worked at a school in Russia. He had already spent time with all the Ukrainian students who joined Grades 9 to 12 to support their transition to the school.
“In these conversations, it was clear that these students were as diverse as our students are in their personalities and their hopes. Some had been preparing for admission to elite universities globally, while others cared as much about their friends and sports as they did about academics. Yet, every one of them had a mixture of nervousness and openness to the experience. We created a specific schedule for each student that will further their studies and allow them to get to know as many people as possible. We also looked for ways to connect them to activities they were involved in back home whether it was sports, music, other clubs or interests,” he said.
In addition to offering tuition-free places to Ukrainian students, ZIS allocated CHF 10,000 from the ZIS Annual Fund, the school’s primary fundraiser, to match student-led fundraising initiatives.
At the Lower School (for students aged three to 11), the Student Council supported three students who sold handmade bracelets and bookmarks to children and teachers. At the Middle School (for students aged 11 to 14), families donated 400 personal toiletry kits for refugees, while also adding a focus on Ukraine during the annual “Ghana Dinner,” a fundraising event in support of the school’s long-term partnership with the Bosomtwe International School in Ghana. A new Ukraine service group was created at the Upper School (for students aged 14 to 18) with several fundraising and awareness events then held on that campus.
The school has also placed an important focus on age-appropriate education about the war.
At a Lower School, for example, children had just completed a three-week focus on compassion, a key value within the ZIS Character Standards, shortly before the conflict began and this was extended to support conversations with younger students about showing compassion for those in need. Using their curiosity, teachers guided children towards a more general understanding of the impacts of war from a compassionate perspective.
“We always strive to find the 'just-right' balance of protecting young students from the harsh realities, to avoid overwhelm and anxiety, but to use questions and wonderings that arise to support a deeper understanding of the importance and impact of kindness and compassion,” said Lower School Principal Catherine Jolly.
At the Middle School, students are learning about aspects of the conflict in social studies classes, including the history of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, motivations for war from Russian and Ukrainian perspectives, the current situation (including diplomatic talks, sanctions, refugee crisis), the “heroes” (including fundraising and aid by organizations and individuals) and the role of misinformation, bias, and propaganda in war. Principal David Wood explained that these discussions enabled teachers to help students to seek out different perspectives, identify bias and misinformation, and manage their personal engagement with the conflict.
Action has not only taken place in school buildings. Parents welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes and also wanted to help in other ways. To facilitate this, ZIS created a resource page on its website with links to the organizations seeking support, such as the donation of money or items or through volunteering.
And ZIS alumni around the world have also stepped up. For example, Marc Cannizzo, Class of 1975, provided refuge for the extended family of a fellow alum. Marc, who lives in Bucharest, Romania, drove hundreds of kilometers to meet them as they fled from Ukraine. Talking about this situation, Marc mentioned the importance of the values taught at the school, the foundation of an education at ZIS at all periods of the school’s 60-year history.
Rachel is the Communications Coordinator for Zurich International School.