I have loved my time at the Zaporizhia Classical Lyceum, but it’s clearly not an average Ukrainian school. There are 22,000 schools across Ukraine, and the Classical Lyceum is ranked 23rd in test scores. I’ve been learning more about why. Clearly, the teachers are good, but there are other factors as well. Even though it’s public, students have to take a test to get in. I just found out today that they get tested again after grade nine, and the class size drops significantly. They only keep about 30 of the top students out of 50, so their graduates are the best and the brightest.
Today, we visited another exceptional public school, School 71 in Zaporizhia. Like the Classical Lyceum, students take a test to get in and they specialize (in language instead of music). Students were eager and are working on writing letters to students at IACS. So, I hope to bring home some personal notes of introduction! I also gave them IACS wristbands, which they loved.
So, where are the students who are “average?” Where are the students who have special needs? There’s no such thing as inclusion in Ukraine, as far as I can tell. Students with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, or mental retardation are kept separate. In fact, we were told that many fathers leave their families when a baby is born with disabilities. It’s very sad. Overall, there isn’t space made in traditional public schools for students with any kind of exceptional need.
There is some hope. Today, we got an opportunity to visit a special education school in Zaporizhia. They have the full range of students, from age 6 to adult, from ADHD to severe mental retardation. They have teachers who specialize in many areas, from physical therapy to music and art therapy. The teachers that we observed used many creative strategies to reach their students — we saw them use toys, demonstrations, and even give the students a chance to sculpt the curriculum topics in clay. The teachers also showed a lot of love towards the students, and the classes were small — always less than 8 students, but more often 2-4 students per class.
I was impressed with their creative methods. For instance, they have this sensory room where students can calm down if needed. I wish we had one of these at Innovation Academy:
The school is fully funded by the government, but there are some problems, of course. It was small (less than 50 students), so I get the impression that there are many students who don’t attend any school or get any special help. Also, some students live there and go home only one night a week. The school doesn’t have facilities for bathing, so students who live at school just get a full shower when they go home. I also feel sad for the students who don’t get to be in a regular classroom. We saw some classrooms with kids who were teenagers together with pre-school kids. It seems like special education in Ukraine has a long way to go. But then again, we have a lot to learn in the United States too.