‘Schools For All – Integration of Refugee Children in the Greek Schools’- extension of the project for another school year

As the first three-year cycle of the project has concluded, a new phase begins. A few thoughts, data, testimonies, and plans regarding the project that has aimed at the heart of the public Greek school system.

The project ‘Schools for All – Integration of Refugee Children in Greek Schools’ supports schools in strengthening the democratic culture in schools so that all members of the school community, especially children with refugee experiences, feel welcome in a safe and inclusive school and learning environment, where quality education is offered for all. 

The European Wergeland Centre (EWC) offers training and support to school principals, teachers, and parents who have children with refugee experiences in their student population and promotes the empowerment of the wider school community (principals, teachers, pupils) and the local community (parents and child-supporting organizations) through education in democratic citizenship and human rights.

Beyond the quantitative data, this project highlighted a few key principles, innovative for the Greek reality, that open a path for wider changes in public secondary education. More specifically, what proved to be beneficial and a game changer for the schools of our network:

The ‘school as a whole’ concept

Based on the whole school approach, the project in its methodology introduced the cooperation of all counterparts of the school communities, educators, principals, students, and the local community. This parameter served as a prerequisite, starting from the initial application by the school, to the school workshops with representatives of the school management, teachers, and parents, to the creation and implementation of each school’s action plan. Opening up to the community, and working together with neighboring schools and local institutions, enriched the support to the school, therefore, increasing the chances of creating an inclusive school environment with future potential. As Gelly Aroni, expert trainer of the project highlights: ‘’Being extroverted as a school is of major importance. The existence of students of refugee background within the schools has been a chance for the first step toward opening up to the community, other schools, and organizations. Communication has been slowly established between schools and the shelters, for addressing the different needs of the students. Necessity is the mother of invention and that is the case.”

The school-centered logic 

This educational intervention proved to exceed the expectations of teachers, who usually participate in numerous projects and trainings throughout the school year. Experiential knowledge, teamwork, and the creation of a customized action plan by the school itself, enabled school community members to reflect on their motivation, their school and to identify on their needs, shaping achievable goals. This approach had a deep impact on the workshop participants. “Knowledge came gradually and to the extent that we could assimilate it. It was experiential and prepared us to carry out the project on our own and to inform our colleagues about it’’ mentions Aggeliki Ilia, the principal of the 2nd Lyceum of Athens. Cooperation between colleagues was a fundamentally positive factor in the participating school communities. “I learned how to formulate action plans for the inclusion of refugee students and how teachers can collaborate closely with them. Also, how teachers can be empowered in their practice and psychologically to successfully cope when challenges are overwhelming and make them feel powerless. I learned how I can face some of the challenges in collaboration with my colleagues” notes Dimitra Hatzinikolaou, teacher at the Gymnasium of Drosia.

Working around language

A frequent obstacle in the current school setup is that refugee students attend reception classes that focus on Greek language lessons and attend some common classes in which they usually do not actively participate. Teachers face challenges in creating an inclusive environment, lose heart or wait until the level of language acquisition is improved. This project equipped teachers and school directors with tools for differentiated teaching methods, and ways of not only working around the language barrier but turning language diversity and school population diversity to its benefit. The core idea underlying this whole educational intervention is that inclusion benefits ALL students and this was evident during the realization of the action plans. ΄Τhere are always children that might feel different than the majority, not only refugees, who might have difficulties, feel excluded, and are shy. They do not make friends because they are afraid they will not be accepted and stay in the margin’ points out Stelios, student of the 5th Model Gymnasium of Halkida. On the same note, his fellow student Despina notes regarding the interaction with students of refugee background in her school: ‘I am more sensitive and stronger psychologically to act for the future, not only at school’.

The Action Plan 

The action plan methodology is not widely deployed in Greek public schools. Introducing the required steps for designing, implementing, and evaluating an action plan has been a fascinating and challenging process for the school communities and the regional trainers who mentored the schools during these past few years. Especially, the evaluation and reflection by the school community after the completion of their action plan has been an important step of the process that we hope will be distilled into other school processes. “Τhe action plan enabled teachers to work with greater certainty and confidence. In my view, the most important activity from our action plan were the cooperative learning methods that  were implemented in class. Through those activities, the whole class became a team’’ shares Aggeliki Simitzi, teacher at the 5th Model Gymnasium of Halkida.

An overall idea of the creation and work within our school network is illustrated in the following video.

Sustainability and building a school network

From the beginning, sustainability has been a major challenge for this project. It is to be further evaluated to what extent the action plan methodology, cooperation, and the ‘Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture’ have been adopted and followed beyond the completion of this project. School culture is evolving slowly in a rapidly changing school environment, where temporary teachers are reallocated every year, schools form or do not form reception classes depending on the allotment of students of refugee background, etc. Nevertheless, there are tangible results, breakthroughs made, and valuable experiences gained for all involved that will be taken with them wherever they are. Kouros Nurmohammadi Baigi, who aced his exams in June 2022 graduating from the Model Lyceum of Mytilene and entering the Electrical Engineering Department of the Νational Technical University of Athens, is an example of how a supportive educational network can assist students to reach their full potential. ‘’As of the current school year, our school does not have a reception section for refugee children. But it has many challenges to face. Action plans, working groups, immediate and long-term planning, active participation in implementation and flexibility are much more than before the daily practice of teachers’’, Ioanna Iliopoulou, teacher from the 5th Model Gymnasium of Halkida, highlights.

The next phase of the project

‘’I feel we have managed not only to work with each other but to establish a community of peace’’ Angelos Vallianatos, head trainer of the project notes.

The Schools For All project has been extended until June 2023, to continue the work though in a slightly different format. Four “hubs” between neighboring schools will be created throughout Greece, where schools already part of our network will mentor ‘new’ schools into the framework, aiming at inclusive and democratic school environments. The planning focuses on the sustainability and expansion of the project’s ecosystem. The school representatives will be trained in a two day Academy by the team of experts. Following this training, the teachers of each school will participate  in a training workshop with the regional trainers who will support them throughout the school year. The schools of each hub will have the opportunity to implement activities from the project’s handbook ’’31 Basic Activities’’ and to collaborate with each other towards a joint event that will take place in spring 2023.  

We are looking forward to seeing this next step through and expanding our community and network!

The project in numbers: