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How can teachers support Ukrainian students during the current crisis?

Canada has responded to the recent invasion of Ukraine by welcoming a small minority of internally displaced persons. When displaced youth arrive in Canadian schools, their experience may be coloured by preconceptions, prejudices and precepts about how to welcome them. Here are some tips for educators who welcome these youth and their families.

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By Crystena A. H. Parker-Shandal, PhD, Professor, University of Waterloo, and Tamara A Bolotenko, VP of Citizenship, Toronto French School - Canada's International School

Canada has responded to the recent invasion of Ukraine by welcoming a small minority of internally displaced persons. When displaced youth arrive in Canadian schools, their experience may be coloured by preconceptions, prejudices and precepts about how to welcome them.

Refugees from other countries continue to be affected by war, conflict, famine, or other atrocities. While the focus of this fact sheet is on Ukrainian children, it is essential that educators also be mindful of the plight of refugees from other parts of the world and be cautious in how they address the situation of displaced persons who seek refuge in Canada.

Be aware of the different elements associated with trauma- The Russian invasion of Ukraine began on February 20, 2014.
- Ukrainian children have been repeatedly traumatized for nearly a decade. 
- Ukraine traces its history back to centuries of Russian imperialism and attempts at assimilation, colonization and genocide.
- In addition to fear, anxiety, and other feelings associated with trauma, some Ukrainians also feel shame and guilt for having survived and left behind their loved ones, especially males of military age. Trauma-informed social-emotional learning at the school level and restorative justice teaching practices will support these and all other children. 
Taking into account the experiences of Ukrainian families- With the Canada-Ukraine Emergency Travel Authorization, most Ukrainians are in Canada temporarily (up to three years) to work or study until they can safely return home. They do not have refugee status or services.
- Parents are not entitled to government-provided language training.
- Some students are still taking online courses from Ukraine in addition to attending school in Canada.
- Some Ukrainian parents feel that Ukrainian education is more rigorous. This, combined with their short stay in Canada, may make them more reluctant to advocate for their children's needs. 
Some remarks on the language - The Ukrainian language and culture were banned for long periods during the rule of the USSR. For this reason, many Ukrainians speak Russian as their mother tongue.
- Slavic languages, including Russian and Ukrainian, use different forms of the Cyrillic alphabet. To learn English or French, or both, Ukrainian children will also need to learn the Latin alphabet and its phonetic and grammatical rules. 
Use factual vocabulary - Words to avoid: conflict, situation, problem.
- Words to use: Russian invasion of Ukraine, Russian genocide of Ukrainians. 
What to say to children who ask questions about the Russian invasion of Ukraine- Use age-appropriate vocabulary and responses. 
- Pay attention to the child's state of mind (you can ask them how they feel about this war, listen with empathy and show compassion by giving them a factual answer).
- However, it is even more important not to try to explain what you don't understand.
- When speaking to young children in elementary school, respond simply, with facts and a calm demeanor, e.g., "The people in charge in Russia are hurting the Ukrainian people. You can also redirect the attention of very young children to other topics. 
- When dealing with intermediate level students (first years of high school in Quebec), factual examples from history can be brought into the discussion (see resources below) and students can be invited to put themselves in the shoes of the Ukrainians.
- When speaking to older high school students, it is appropriate to explore with them what they know about the invasion and intentionally point out misinformation that could reinforce messages of hate or discrimination (see resources below).

From Conflict Zones to Classrooms: How can educators facilitate inclusion for Ukrainian students fleeing the war?C. Parker-Shandal, K. Lake Berz et al. Education Canada, vol. 62, no. 2, 2022 www.edcan.ca/articles/from-conflict-zones-to-classrooms

The Making of Modern UkraineTimothy SnyderFree video series from Yale University, 2022. https://online.yale.edu/courses/making-modern-ukraine 

Ukrainian Nonviolent Civil Resistance in the Face of War, Felip Daza Sierra, 2022.

What does 'Westplaining' do to the Russia-Ukraine narrative? On the Qrius site, 2022.

Pre-bunking' shows promise in fight against misinformationDavid Klepper, 2022.

Product by EdCan Network, Toronto French School and University of Calgary.

The Facts in Education series is produced with the generous sponsorship of the Canadian School Boards Association. For more online resources and references: www.edcan.ca/faits-en-education

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