An entire school year group declares war on racism

10.04.2020 - 17:15 | Christian Possa

The Lindenbüel School in Volketswil is breaking new ground: for the first time, an entire year group is addressing the various aspects of peaceful coexistence in the Pestalozzi Children’s Village, thereby sending out a strong message against racism in school life.

Schoolgirls from Volketswil come closer together during a warm-up exercise.

On a picture-perfect autumnal day in mid-September, two coaches pull up next to the sports field at the Pestalozzi Children’s Village in Trogen and out of them pour 130 youngsters and teachers along with their luggage. A motley group of six classes, ready to take on the next three years of their lives together. The aim of the project days is for this path to be lined with understanding and openness instead of exclusion and prejudice. It is the first time that an entire school year group has attempted to nip challenges such as bullying and racism in the bud right at the beginning of the school year.

«Normal school means sitting down, listening, learning. Here you can have fun and empathise. The games help you to understand things better.»

Jamie – Student

With minds, hearts and hands

Sonja Fröhlich’s class will be accompanied by Julian Friedrich for the next few days. Together with her pupils, the teacher will discover what is required in order to coexist peacefully. To find this out, the group will delve into aspects such as identity, trust and cooperation, prejudice and discrimination, and cooperation and play. Despite its simplicity, the first icebreaker exercise – a balancing act in which pupils must organise themselves by their first names while all standing on chairs – reveals one of the key working methods in the Children’s Village. «For us it is always about doing something,» Julian Friedrich explains to the guests from Volketswil, adding: «What you want to learn from it is entirely up to you. You have to take responsibility for your own actions.» After a few more warm-up games, the tone becomes more serious. The pupils note down on pieces of coloured paper what they hope to get out of the week, what they do not want to happen or what their hopes are for the class for the next three years. During the afternoon break, Sonja Fröhlich reveals what she expects of the project week: «I hope that the exchange strengthens the bonds between classmates and encourages mutual respect.» The teacher appears excited about the opportunities that the village’s infrastructure offers. «It is very cool to live with a new class in a house and eat together. You have your own space, and yet the other year group classes, for whom the next three years are so important, are always around you.» As a teacher, she also hopes to take new ideas back to the classroom with her.

«It is nice to live together with a new class in one house. You're on your own, and yet the other year classes, which are so important for the next three years, are everywhere here.»

Sonja Fröhlich – Teacher
For a good time at the upper school it is essential to be able to rely on your fellow students - course participants during the confidence exercise par excellence.

Togetherness through trust

Day two: the pupils from Volketswil are sat down in a circle. In the middle of the room is a colourful cardboard box, which is surrounded by large format photos from the previous day. The atmosphere is relaxed. Some of them are chatting, others are giggling. The youngsters have quickly become accustomed to the playful approach of the workshops. Or rather, as Jamie expressed it, «normal school means sitting down, listening, learning. Here you can have fun and empathise. The games help you to understand things better.» Soon after the course begins, the secret of the colourful cardboard box becomes apparent. One after another, the pupils open the box and describe what lies inside using adjectives, as instructed by Julian Friedrich. They use terms such as strange, ok, surprising, weird and funny. The uncertainty that has spread like wildfire through the room is not surprising. Inside the cardboard box is a mirror – the children had to describe themselves. «We often have a rather negative image of ourselves,» the teacher explains during the ensuing discussion. He adds that since identity has a lot to do with self-confidence, it is important to be true to oneself. This is followed in the afternoon by the ultimate trust-building exercise. However, letting oneself fall backwards with your eyes closed is not as easy as it seems, especially when the exercise involves multiple classes. The group comes alive with laughter and every now and then one of the youngsters has a slightly bumpy landing on the floor. Julian Friedrich draws parallels with everyday life at school: «Take the exercise seriously and have the courage to say what you need of another person.»

«I’ve learnt that it is important in life to know that you can also say no. And you are entitled to have an opinion without feeling guilty about it.»

Shenaya – Student
To strengthen each other's backs, the girls and boys write down positive characteristics for each other.

Gaining insights through experience

The third day of the workshop focusses entirely on bullying. The pupils have the opportunity to share their own experiences through a range of exercises. How does it feel to be excluded and bullied by others? And why did that person become a bully? The class discussion leads to an important realisation. All too often we laugh along with abuse instead of saying no to it. This ends up with the perpetrators feeling as though it is all just a game. Julian Friedrich encourages the children to «say what you feel, what hurts you. Don’t be afraid of being a spoilsport.» For the most part, Sonja Fröhlich was a silent observer as her classes took part in the workshops. This was extremely exciting for her. «This outside perspective allowed me to see my class in a new light.» She was also delighted to see how enthusiastically the class took part in the workshop and how seriously they addressed the issues at hand. The children likewise give the workshop a thumbs up. «I think I’ve learnt a lot about how people feel and how you can communicate,» 13-year-old Kyoko enthuses. Her classmate Shenaya is taking two important findings back to school with her from the workshops: «It is important in life to know that you can also say no. And you are entitled to have an opinion without feeling guilty about it.» The 13-year-old also believes that the class members have got to know each other better during their time in the Children’s Village and have grown closer as a result. Jamie admits that at the beginning of the project week, he was rather skeptical about it. The workshops with teacher Julian Friedrich seem to have ignited his interest, however. «He did it pretty well, I think.» And even more importantly for the children, «He’s someone you can trust.»

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