Welcoming our new Ukrainian students

Having a Nurture room in our school has helped enormously

By Amber Allan, Ennis ETNS 

Welcoming 44 new children to a school population of 88 within a few weeks is not usual practice for most schools. However, this was the challenge and opportunity faced by Ennis Educate Together N.S. with the arrival of our new Ukrainian pupils just before the spring break.  

From the outset, it became evident that the administrative tasks would be so much more than just obtaining personal details from the families to allow the children to register with the school. We were mindful that these families had been through the trauma of fleeing war, leaving their families and homes behind to face the unknown. As such, relationships of trust had to be formed from the start. The leadership team had to assure the families that their most precious possessions would be safe and cared for in our school. This began with visiting the families in their hotels to get to know them and addressing any concerns they may have, with the help of the Ukrainian parents who could speak English.  

Every class in our school has welcomed our new pupils and focused on building positive relationships with them. The class teachers, SET and ANAs have been mindful of the language used around the children and made every effort to create a safe environment to let our new pupils open up or not open up if they wished to. Giving them time and space to settle into their new classes has been especially important. 

Having a Nurture room in our school has helped enormously as it has allowed us to give the children the space to play, engage in sensory activities and be in a space that feels calm and safe. The homely environment of the Nurture room has been positive for the children. They are excited when they walk through the door, and the social activities such as making fruit smoothies have helped them settle in and build relationships with their peers in a small group setting. The children have decided they want to make pancakes in the coming weeks and even told me they could teach me to make Ukrainian borscht soup! We are currently using a translation app to communicate, but I can already see the students beginning to communicate more through English as their confidence grows. Having additional EAL teachers has really helped, alongside the already dedicated teams in each classroom.  

Our new pupils have been feeling comfortable enough in the Nurture room to share how they are worried about pets they have had to leave back in Ukraine, how they are missing their fathers and brothers and how they are so happy they can use video calls to maintain contact to know their loved ones are safe.  

As the Nurture teacher in the school, it was also important to check in with the well-being of the children that were already attending. We have had conversations that addressed concerns that they had with their classes growing in numbers and the new language that in some classrooms is becoming the more dominant language and to ensure they are not feeling too overwhelmed with these sudden changes.  

Having an additional 44 children in our school has not come without challenges, including finding the physical space to accommodate our growing numbers, supporting new and existing staff members, and catering for pupils with additional needs. However, the nurture room has remained a sanctuary for our children and has continued to cultivate a positive school environment for all pupils.