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Unknowingly, three class teachers at our school, with around 30 years of teaching experience, joined the Passage project one after the other. By getting involved, we knew that we all felt that we lacked the knowledge and the tools to make our work easier in the field of immigrant integration and, above all, to enable these pupils to integrate as early and as easily as possible. After in-depth self-learning through the project’s online classroom, we exchanged daily impressions, discussed new knowledge, our own perspectives and worked closely as a team in the true sense of
the word.

Our school is a small rural school with one branch. One of us is the head of this branch with 35 pupils from 1st to 5th grade. Even during the education itself, the conversation often turned to a recently immigrated pupil from Bosnia who had problems with integration. After observing the situation and the facts given by the class teacher, we were encouraged and started to plan activities in the group he was included in. After the training, the help offered by the Passage project promoters of the People’s University of Ptuj, the mutual support and, last but not least, the approval of the school management, we felt empowered and wanted to get started as soon as possible.

We planned three lessons in a combined class of 4 and 5 pupils with a total of 12 pupils. The immigrant pupil has been with us for a whole school year, so we approached the work a little differently, as we believe that each case requires an individual approach, even though we realised that we have identical problems as those presented during the training. We decided to run sessions with all the pupils and only after that to invite those who were suitable and interested to act as role models. It was very important for us that the immigrant and the role model student feel each other and are compatible. But we also thought that over time the immigrant pupil could become a good role model with his/her own experience for future newcomers.

The first meeting was devoted to getting to know the terminology, who all is new to the class as a community, what they are called according to the reason for their immigration and how they identify with them. We wanted to find out what kind of background they had. During the PTT presentation, we confirmed with the pupils that there are different people living on our planet. The pupils discovered that most of the diversity is more or less pronounced and more or
less influences the stereotypical observations in the everyday life of different backgrounds. They agreed that all this diversity only enriches the human race. We watched a video by Amnesty International which illustrates two girls of the same age in different environments in different situations. This was accompanied by a (fictional) story about the lives of Lina from Ljubljana and Lynne from Syria. By comparing their lives, we created a mental model of the
reasons for emigration and, consequently, for integration into a new environment.

We listened to a recording of testimonies from children who have recently immigrated to Slovenia and have both positive and negative experiences. In some of them, we found situations that we had experienced ourselves, and in others, we were amazed by some of the observations and actions. At the end of the first meeting, we tried to identify with the people who have to leave their homes. We wrote lists of ten things we would take on our journey. They had great difficulty in choosing and for some of them the game was already causing stress. We eased and dispelled it with short, soothing music.

The second session was devoted to activities to promote and strengthen basic communication and empathy skills. Through a matching game, the pupils revisited the terminology they had learnt in the first meeting, which is related to the topic of foreigners in our country. This was followed by an activity to make the pupils realise the importance of listening attentively. Inside the sealed boxes were various substances (semolina, pasta, pebbles, sand, seeds, etc.) which, when shaken, made a specific sound. Two boxes had the same contents. Each person chose a box, shook it and tried to remember the sound. Walking around the classroom, he went from classmate to classmate and listened carefully to the sound of his box. When the two students found each other, the game was over for them. Once everyone had found their pair, we continued the discussion about the purpose of this activity.

The children realised that the ability to listen attentively is also very important when interacting with people, including newcomers and immigrants. They said that it is good to listen to what they have to say and the tone in which they say it. We continued with an activity to strengthen the expression of empathy. We put pictures of faces expressing different emotions on the floor of the classroom. We also placed blank sheets of paper next to the pictures. They walked in silence between the portraits and observed the expressions on the faces. On the sheets next to them, they had the opportunity to write down the thoughts that came to their minds when they looked at each face. When they had finished, we stopped by the photographs and the students presented their notes. They surprised us with their choice of words. They showed that they can observe well and think about what someone is communicating to us non- verbally. At the end of the lesson, we discussed with the students what they remember someone doing for them when they were in a new situation.

As an immigrant pupil joined their department in the last school year, he also shared his experiences of what he had welcomed in his new environment and what he would still like to have done. His classmates reflected on what else they should look out for and what other ways they could help him. They agreed to create didactic games for immigrant children by the next meeting, which would help the immigrant pupil to acquire Slovenian vocabulary more easily and quickly. We started the third session with a game of balloons. The aim of the game was to learn that it is good and right to focus on others in the environment. The words and their explanation of the previous presentation sessions were repeated. Then we focused on the words ” NEW” and “PATTERN”. The pupils realised that they had all been in
these roles at some point: newcomer to school – first day, newcomer to a club….role model to a sibling, role model to a younger pupil….

In groups, they looked for qualities that a role model should have, and at the same time they put themselves in the role of a newcomer, thinking and writing down their experiences and wishes about what they would like to have as a newcomer. They presented the posters they had made with their ideas and the didactic games for language comprehension they had made after the second meeting to each other.

The common conclusion at the end of the lesson was that DIVERSITY ENRICHES AND FRIENDSHIP BRINGS US TOGETHER.

Performed and written by Lilijana Sevčnikar, Gordana Krajnc and Metka Vogrinec