Bilopillia teachers work under fire and care about quality education and safety
The school in Bilopillia located seven kilometers from the russian border did not terminate studies for a single day, both when temporarily besieged and under constant shelling. It has the largest number of graduates with honors and students who scored 200 points in testing among the schools of Bilopillia area. Teachers equip bomb shelters and volunteer together with their pupils.
The city of Bilopillia is the center of the Bilopillia territorial community, one of the oldest cities in the Sumy region.
A thousand years ago it was a place of the Vyr border fortress, which is mentioned in the "Chronicle of Flaming Years". In 1020, the enemy surrounded the Vyr fortress and burned it to continue to Kyiv. Today Bilopillia is a border town. Just seven kilometers away from russia. Just like a thousand years ago, Bilopillia area was one of the first in Ukraine to face the enemy on February 24. But the Ukrainian Armed Forces and territorial defense drove the enemy out of the Sumy region in late March and regained control of the borderline.
These days, you can hear about Bilopillia almost every day in the reports of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: although the city is under enemy fire, it reliably holds the defense.
There are five educational institutions in the city – 3 pre-school and 2 out-of-school (Center for Children and Youth Creativity, Children and Youth Sports School).
Among educational institutions, Bilopillia Lyceum No. 1 is the first not only in terms of numbering but also in most indicators. Currently, the Lyceum has the largest number of graduates with honors in the Bilopillia area. Four students scored 200 points on their tests. The school has the largest number of first graders among urban educational institutions and is the only one in the community working with international volunteer projects.
The institution is 110 years old. The history is evidenced not only by the inscription at the entrance with the year 1912 when the oldest building was constructed, but also by the preserved traditions and memories of teachers, graduates, and achievements of past years. The staff of the institution keeps writing the history even today.
Together with Halyna Oksenenko, School Director and Honored Worker of Education of Ukraine, we recall both the centenary history and recent events.
– "Our school has brought up and trained true patriots, defenders of their homeland. And our students have someone to take an example from. The war has united us even more," says Halyna Kuzmivna.
All of us in the city have lived through similar emotions. From the first days of the full-scale war, the school staff set themselves several tasks: to continue the educational process if possible, preserve all the material base, and help children and teachers learn safety rules during the war. And, of course, to help the Ukrainian troops fight for the Victory.
The Director shows a stand with photos of graduates who are defending our homeland. According to her, since 2014, schoolchildren and teachers have been constantly supporting our military, who have been defending the country since the first days of the Russian-Ukrainian war. And it is especially noticeable in the border area.
The staff has repeatedly joined fundraisers for the needs of soldiers, actively helped local border guards, cooperated with the Bilopillia Volunteer Center, prepared sets of dried vegetables for the first courses, and arranged assistance to the residents of Trostianets, who suffered from russian occupiers.
Among the fighters, defenders are former pupils, parents of children, husbands, and children of teachers. School graduates are now soldiers and commanders of military units who are known far beyond the Sumy region.
– "I am pleased that our former student, a young thirty-year-old commander of the Motorized Infantry Battalion Serhii with the call sign "Bourgeois", awarded the Order of Bohdan Khmelnitskiy of the III degree "For Courage", is defending Bilopillia these days. Therefore, we are convinced that the city is under reliable protection because the commander protects Ukraine, his home, his school, and friends," the Director shares her feeling of pride.
Fear, despair, and anxiety – all the emotions of the first days are well remembered at school. Rumors of an attack, enemy vehicles near the city, partial blocking of the territory, concern for the family, children...
From the first days of the full-scale war, the institution set an algorithm for working with students and teachers. They acted clearly and prudently. The educational process switched to distance learning. They changed the timetable, and daily online lessons for grades 1 to 11 became mandatory. They were careful with choosing forms and means of teaching. And we constantly monitored the mood of the children, providing them with the necessary mental support.
– "We knew where each child was, communicated with their parents, and felt their absolute understanding and support," says Halyna Oksenenko.
Full-time offline education in the war zone is out of the question. Therefore, the experience of online work, gained during quarantine, came in handy.
– "All teachers ensure the educational process in synchronous and asynchronous modes. We actively utilize video conference platforms, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Google Classroom; create our own (teaching) blogs; use the capabilities of the "Vseosvita" national platform, "Na Urok" national educational platform, "All-Ukrainian School Online" project," comments Deputy Director Iryna Voropai.
Transitioning to distance learning is a new stage in school life. Not simple, but successful. Not all teachers managed to master computers with new applications immediately and easily. There were problems faced by teachers of humanities and primary school teachers.
The school also developed a training program for teachers themselves. They were grouped into groups of five, and each group was "assigned" a more knowledgeable colleague in modern technologies.
– "This type of training turned out to be more successful than online courses or video tutorials. We could ask our colleagues to explain unknown terminology or functionality of certain gadgets. Mutual learning helped, thanks to which we mastered the remote way of working," says the teacher of foreign literature Tetiana Strelchenko.
During summer, teachers were actively preparing classrooms and premises for the new school year. Together with the Director, we went to the classroom for first graders. Everything is ready here: repairs have been made, and there is necessary equipment and furniture with due consideration of special needs for teaching first graders. By the way, the number of first graders among all Bilopillia schools is the largest here - more than 60 pupils per two classes.
–"We were worried whether we would get enough children this year. One of the reasons is that both classes will be taught by young teachers," says Director Halyna Oksenenko.
However, there was no need to worry. Children are sent to school without hesitation because both their parents and grandparents used to study here.
Yana Anisova, mother of first grader Dima, never hesitated about where her son would study. After all, this school has become a family educational institution, where the third generation studies.
– "My father used to study here, my brother and I also used to study here, and we brought our children here. I am not afraid to entrust my child to young teachers, because young people can give children a modern education."
We stopped by the Hall of Fame. The Director proudly and a little sadly pointed at the photo of the graduates. This year, there were 33 students in the two eleventh grades. Four of them received gold medals. And two graduates scored the highest scores on the National Multi-Subject Test.
Teachers not just teach and volunteer, but also engage in educational projects and attract additional resources for the institution. English teachers show the best results.
Back in 2006, they applied to the Peace Corps and invited volunteers to their school. Since then, volunteers from the United States and Europe have been working at the school. Students were happy to improve their knowledge of a foreign language and communicate.
It is by working with volunteers and improving their language skills that children participated and repeatedly won in the FLEX international exchange program. The winners lived in the United States for a year. This year, the war has made changes. The traditional summer language camp "We are from Ukraine" was held online. A volunteer from Australia communicated with students from Bilopillia. They enjoyed listening to interesting stories about her country.
– "Recently, we applied to “Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Allies for Ukraine" NGO, which provided us with a grant to implement a project under the mini-grant program "Victory". We applied for the grant together with Peace Corps volunteer Diana Groves, who worked at our school during 2006-2008.
Now we are spending the funds received on training our teachers in the rules of conduct during shelling and arranging a safe stay on the school premises. We are also conducting first aid training," says Inna Kryvokhyzha.
The 2022-2023 academic year will be perhaps the most difficult in the history of the school and the whole country. The school is working on two main issues – quality education and children's safety.
We have everything for quality distance education. In the summer, we received 10 laptops thanks to the cooperation of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine and UNICEF.
– "We were thinking about blended learning, but when we found out that the enemy had bombed a school in the neighboring village of Pavlivka, we decided to study only online so far. It's too loud here every day.
But the enemy will not intimidate us. We have lived and will live here, and we will bring the Victory closer. Together with colleagues and students, parents, and everyone who supports and helps Bilopillia," Director Halyna Oksenenko is convinced.
Writer: Natalia Kalinichenko