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In 24 hours, the Lope de Vega Complutense school was launched to receive the first Ukrainian refugees who are already learning Spanish in their classrooms
«Мене звати Арсен, men_ 14 rock_v. Зараз я живу в Алькала-де-Енарес і навчаюсь у школі Lope de Vega”, replies Arsen, a 14-year-old Ukrainian refugee. Arsen is one of the eldest in the group of seven minors who have arrived at this Complutense center. “My name is Arsen and I am 14 years old. Now I live in Alcalá de Henares and study at the Lope de Vega School », he adds after recording the phrase in his mother tongue.
For just over 15 days, in the corridors of this ‘school’ it has been heard first thing in the morning, beyond the good morning in Spanish, its Ukrainian version is also added: «Добрий день». At 9:00 in the morning, the siren sounds in the center and it is time to start the school day.
The 1,300 students arrive at their classrooms through different doors respecting the Covid-19 protocols with which they have had to live since 2020. Among this thousand are Vlad, Daryna, Macar, Lidya, Arsen, Maxim and Oleksandra, although she prefers that call her Sasa.
“We work so that their day-to-day life is as normal as possible,” explains Natalia Cónsul, principal director of the Lope de Vega School. His schedule is a total immersion in Spanish. “They have no basis in our language,” says Carmen Domínguez, director of Infant and Primary. His day to day, for the moment, passes between files where it is explained thatruchkais it pencil orвчителькаshe is a teacher. “Maintaining a fluid conversation with them is complicated,” says Domínguez. “We have asked the Ministry of Education for a translator for the liaison classroom,” says Consul, “hopefully it won’t take long,” she adds.
A change in 24 hours
The first alerts from Eastern Europe arrived in Spain from Thursday to Friday. The headlines announced what was to come: “Russia attacks Ukraine.” “Everything has been very fast,” says the head director of the Complutense school.
With just under 30 days of Russian invasion in Ukraine, Spain has welcomed “around 25,000 refugees,” says the Ministry of Inclusion and Social Security. “The Community of Madrid has enrolled 618 students,” say regional sources. “We have seven students in school, but we expect more and we are prepared to receive more,” added the Consul.
The lives of 40 million Ukrainians changed overnight, as did the Lope de Vega educational community. “A few days later, a Ukrainian grandmother who works as a domestic worker here in Alcalá came,” recalls the director. Her request was simple, yet complicated at the same time.
“We have seven Ukrainian refugees enrolled in school, but we expect more and we are prepared to receive more”
principal director of the Lope de Vega School
His grandchildren came alone from Ukraine, they had crossed the border and were on their way through Europe to this city 30 kilometers from Madrid. “The first decision was made instantly, which was to welcome them,” says Cónsul. Now there was the educational, psychological and also material logistics.
The grandmother’s request was heard by the management, but its echo also resounded beyond the walls of the center. “The families of the center have turned,” says the director of Infant and Primary. “In 24 the device was assembled”, narrates Cónsul. “We have been about 15 days in which, I think, we are getting it right,” she adds.
In these two weeks, the Lope de Vega School has set up a classroom to promote the immersion of young people in Spanish. “In this sense we had some experience, because we have Chinese and South Korean students who need to learn Spanish,” says Natalia Cónsul.
That’s where Alejandro Muñoz, professor of English and Castilianization, comes into play. “I had never imagined facing this situation,” he notes. “You approach them with empathy, adjusting to them and understanding their complicated context,” he notes.
Ukrainian refugees in Spanish class. /
His working day passes between cards with words in Spanish and Ukrainian, his tool a digital whiteboard and some iPads, which, in turn, serve as translators. On other occasions it is Arsen himself who, thanks to his English, translates for his companions. “A Ukrainian boy who was already in school at the center also helps us,” warns Domínguez.
Since the first bombs fell in Ukraine, Vlad, Daryna, Macar, Lidya, Arsen, Maxim and Oleksandra started a new life. A beginning “in which what they love most has been taken away: their people and their family,” denounces Jesús Calvo, advisor to the head director and pedagogue at the center.
The first days, Calvo assures, “they arrived frightened and shrunken.” After, in the worst case, more than 4,000 kilometers by car, van or bus, they arrive “with a significant situation of uprooting and anxiety”, Marina Aguilar, Primary school counselor.
The work of the Aguilar department is focused on monitoring young people and integration dynamics with the rest of the students. “All his classmates are aware of what is happening in Ukraine and they understand perfectly that they need warmth and help”, María Jesús Martínez, director of secondary and high school at Colegio Lope de Vega. “The truth is that they are looking forward to going to the classroom with their classmates,” she adds.
In this case, the seven young refugees share subjects such as physical education, music and plastic arts with the rest of the center’s students. “In these subjects it is not so necessary to know the language,” says the director of the center.
However, the work beyond knowledge is still laborious. “Each one depends on their family situation,” says Aguilar. “Everyone has support from their family in Spain,” says Consul.
«Alcalá de Henares is next to the Torrejón air base, the other day a military plane passed by and upon hearing it one of the girls fell to the ground»
principal director of Lope de Vega
The mother, the grandmother or the two paternal figures, father and mother. “But, many times they ask questions for which we have no answer,” reveals Calvo. “We are working on making them see that this is a safe place where there are no bombs or noises,” she adds.
Adapting to the new center and its new situation is “essential”, answers Marina Aguilar. “They have lived through tough situations,” she adds. Erasing fear is complicated, “Alcalá de Henares is next to the Torrejón air base, the other day a military plane passed by and when one of the girls heard it, she fell to the ground,” says Natalia Cónsul.
“We are working on all this,” says the director of Infant and Primary. “We are on the right track, now you see them smile a little more,” she highlights. The smile is the mirror of the soul and “peace begins with a smile”, said Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.