From a learning centre to a thriving school community

by Nicholas Millet, Project Coordinator

Refugee Education Chios has been through many transitions and changes since its inception last year, and our high school in particular has seen hundreds of students from ages 12–20 years old pass through it in the last nine months. It has often been very difficult to develop a strong school community within this emergency setting, as both our volunteers and students have been somewhat transient.

However, over the last three-four months we have really witnessed a sea-change in the culture and community surrounding our high school. This was no more obvious than last Saturday night when we opened the doors of our high school to the local community. Our students were standing proud in the space they belonged to and owned, showcasing their work to local Greeks and NGO workers. I don’t believe that we would have had this type of thriving community style atmosphere six months ago, and so I found myself reflecting as to what was the magic formula that got us to this point.

There are three factors in particular that I believe have transitioned our project from a learning centre to a thriving school community that boasts life, purpose and strength. Firstly, are team is made up of mostly long term volunteers (3–6 months) or old volunteers returning, secondly the structure has changed and the content more adapted to the needs of our students, and thirdly we are increasing the contact time between teachers and students especially during a more difficult period on the island.

1. Long term volunteers

Whilst most volunteers only plan to stay for one month, we find that many end up delaying their flights or returning very quickly back to the Island. The project is undoubtedly addictive. Volunteers from day one are able to make a material difference in this complex humanitarian crisis as well as work in a team that is open to new ideas regardless of an individual’s background. For us, the benefit of long term volunteers is very clear. Firstly, we can develop our team and retain the skill set over a much longer period of time, secondly we can develop more long term projects and thirdly and arguably most importantly there is less disruption in the school life of our students. All three factors have helped to foster a creative, loving and more stable environment for our teenagers to study in and feel part of.

2. Changing the structure and content

Multiple iterations have been made to the school structure and curriculum over the last nine months, and we are always adapting what we do based on feedback and the perceived needs of our students. More recently, we have been offering vocational based learning including an Introduction to Business course, teacher training (training our students on how they can teach their language to foreigners) and most recently a journalism / podcast course. These more practical style lessons focuses more on skills than English level, and with the use of translators make them accessible to any level of English. Subsequently, our school has become a more inclusive environment moving away from separated level based learning.

3. Offering more days

When we first started opening the school up to teenagers, we were only able to provide two half days per week. We are now able to provide three half days of structured learning and two half days of unstructured drop-in style learning where students can either use the computers and tablets available, seek one-to-one help on their own projects or get in some extra English practice with a volunteer. With conditions getting worse on the Island in relation to the asylum process and the threat of deportation, our school has become more than just a function to learn English but a place to escape, forget and develop.

I believe it has been these three factors that have helped inject life into our school. A place where our students feel they belong to, an environment they are protective off and most importantly a place where they can feel like teenagers again.

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