Taisiya Krikunova, a primary school teacher of school No. 71 in Astrakhan, tells about her experience of working with Roma children. The school she works at is participating in the Memorial-organized project “Advocacy of the rights of the Roma children in schools of the Russian Federation” (supported by CCFD and Save the Children Sweden).
I never worked with Roma children, so I was very nervous when I saw them on the 1st of September. How could I work with them not knowing their language? But my worries turned out to be groundless. The very first contact with their parents was very good. They asked to teach their children well, to control them and even to scold them sometimes. I liked the children. Everyone was interesting in their own way.
To create a family atmosphere in the class, to make the children friends with each other, I proposed to play role games outside during the break. Every child wanted to play, and tried to repeat the words. All of a sudden, many Roma people came to the schoolyard. The elders stayed aside and watched. The smaller kids asked to play together. When I invited them into the circle, they were so happy! They got really disappointed when it was the time to return to classes.
When we started learning the alphabet, it turned out that my students could not hold pens and pencils in their hands, and could hardly analyze the sounds. Then I prepared many additional sheets and stencils to color the figures. The children liked it a lot. I came to everyone, named the figure, and showed how to outline sticks and squares. We discussed the features of the figures together. During the breaks I asked my students about their life. They told me about their celebrations and traditions. After a while the children learned how to sit at the desk and how to hold a pen. I tried to explain patiently why they should not shout the answers. The children needed attention and approval. I tried to support them and to compliment them. In the beginning, discipline is not so important. Yura Maryenko shouted all the time: “Stepanovna, come here!” Vitya Maryenko always said: “I can’t do it”. Raya Kuzmenko and Sasha Merzlichenko asked: “Taisiya Stepanovna, am I right?”
In the craft, the children also had problems. But when they saw the results of their work, they were very happy. The vase they made was so beautiful! They were happy about everything, and about any new work. They liked to draw and paint. How excited they were to work with clay! I prepared flat stencils of horses. They like horses. Milana made the best one – a white horse with a brown mane. Everybody shouted: “This is a horse! This is a horse!”
The most difficult subject for them was reading. The parents often cannot help as they are themselves illiterate. But when I see how my students are excited, I understand how they want to study! Many of them want to finish school, to go to the army, to become soldiers, doctors, and artists. To become closer to my students and their parents, I decided to visit each family and to learn about their culture and way of life. I made a portfolio with a family photo for all of them. My students have big families. Their parents sell, some fathers drive taxis. The women work at home. In the Roma houses people usually eat on the floor at low tables. The floor and walls are carpeted. Only five of the fifteen students have desks to study at. I talked to the parents about creating good conditions for studying, told them that their children should finish school, and that early marriages are not appropriate for the modern life.
My students like to participate in out-of-school activities. During one of the activities called “A trip to the land of hygiene” they played, listened to the story with great attention and were glad to complete all of the tasks. When in the end, they got toothbrushes as presents, they were happy and asked if I regretted the money I spent for them. I said: “No! Because I love you all and want you to be beautiful!” On the other day at school, the children showed me their shining teeth.
We had a merry New Year celebration for the entire school with round dances in the hall and a separate one in our own classroom. The children got “magic hats” as presents, and as small Santa Clauses went home to celebrate with their relatives.
Traditionally, on the 8th of April we organize the Day of Romani culture. My students make invitations for their parents, grandparents, sisters and brothers. The teachers made posters “Romani culture”, “Hello, it is us!”, “All different, all beautiful”. The stage in the school hall was decorated with the Romani flag. The 1st graders made a performance based on a Roma legend. Older children danced and sang in Romani. The children also told proverbs of different ethnicities – of Russians, Armenians, Georgians, and Tatars. My students told Romani proverbs with a translation into Russian. The school director, Yevegeniya Mashkova, congratulated everyone with the International Romani Day. Lessons on Romani culture were organized in all classes.
Of course, we have some problems as well. First of all, there is a lack of preschool education for the Roma children. That’s why in the beginning, they can do fewer things than the others. At our school during spring holiday and in June we organize preparation classes for future first graders. But this is not enough. Another problem is not all families can buy the complete set of textbooks. That’s why we have to prepare samples of writing on our own. We copy a lot.
I also use the experience of other schools participating in the project. I wish good luck to our colleagues in the important task of educating Roma children.