Fun, but with challenges: Alberta teachers brightening the lives of students in Ukraine

Every Wednesday at 6 a.m., northern Alberta teacher Vikki Presakarchuk logs onto Zoom to teach drama to students in war-torn Ukraine.

Presakarchuk is one of four teachers from the Peace River School Division volunteering time to give Ukrainian students lessons online.

“It is a challenging experience,” she told CBC’s Edmonton AM on Thursday.

“We have a lot of fun. We do a lot of activities. The challenging part comes just being aware of the situation that they are in right while they’re doing these lessons.”

6:29Alberta drama teacher shares her skills with students in Ukraine

Some teachers in the Peace River school division have opted to teach extra classes over Zoom to students in Ukraine. We’re joined by one of the teachers volunteering her time, Vikki Presakarchuk. She is also the assistant principal at Paul Rowe Junior Senior High School in Manning, Alta. 6:29

Presakarchuk has led four sessions since April 6, typically for about 30 students ranging in age from nine to 17. Some have been displaced from their homes since the Russian invasion began in late February.

The lessons focus on happy and positive discussions, she said.

She and the other volunteering teachers were given guidelines on what to include in their lessons, and what not to include — no mentions, for example, of airplanes or falling buildings.

She said the students really enjoy tongue-twisters and role-playing activities. 

The students have varying capabilities in English, she said, adding that older students speak better English than their younger counterparts.The students have a Ukrainian teacher co-ordinator who helps with the lessons. 

When prepping lessons for her Ukrainian students, Presakarchuk takes notes from classes she teaches at Paul Rowe Junior/Senior High School in Manning, 100 kilometres north of Peace River, Alta.

Presakarchuk, who is the school’s assistant principal, said lessons learned from teaching her own students online in the COVID-19 pandemic have been helpful in delivering lessons via Zoom to students in Ukraine.

Peace River School Division learned about the opportunity to help Ukrainian students from David Faulkner, a former principal with the division who now lives in Nunavut.

I could hear the air-raid sirens in the background.– David Faulkner

Faulkner said a friend introduced him to the organization New Ukrainian School, created in 2017 as part of a reform initiative under the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine.

David Faulkner, principal at Inuksuit School, Qikiqtarjuaq, NU, sharing a photo of his school with students in Ukraine via Zoom. (Submitted by David Faulkner)

Faulkner offered to teach displaced students across Ukraine about polar bears, the northern lights and other aspects of life in the Arctic.

Following his first couple of lessons with around 300 students — “I could hear the air-raid sirens in the background,” he said — he offered to get in touch with his former school division and other contacts who could give lessons to the students.

“I want to give these kids an hour where we literally take them into a place of wonder,” Faulkner said.

“I want to take them to mountains, to space, to see northern lights, to talk about polar bears so that at the end of that hour, they will have good memories, good thoughts.”

Students in Ukraine sign up for classes through the organization’s website.

Presakarchuk plans on continuing with the lessons “until they don’t need me anymore,” she said.

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