ATA News

Ukrainian students need Alberta teachers

Program seeks volunteers with knowledge to share

A older, bearded man wearing glasses, a cap, and a scarf speaks from his desk in front of a Ukrainian flag

If you would like to help Ukrainian students who’ve been displaced by war and have an hour to spare, David Falconer wants to hear from you.

Falconer is the North American volunteer co-ordinator for Smart Osvita, a Ukrainian organization that’s providing displaced students with virtual learning opportunities. The organization is seeking teachers and others from all over the world to populate its ongoing schedule of webinar presentations.

“This is important work,” Falconer says. “We don’t want these kids and this nation to think that we’ve forgotten them.”

The hour-long sessions that Smart Osvita provides are less about keeping up with curriculum and more about helping students escape from their harsh realities by learning about topics and experiences that are new to them.

“I want to make sure that we have volunteers that will laugh with the kids,” Falconer says. 

A school principal in Nunavut, Falconer first got involved with the program as a presenter eight weeks ago. He’s delivered several sessions on life in the Arctic and eased into acting as a recruiter to help connect the program with other interested presenters. 

Several Alberta teachers are already on board delivering regular sessions. Falconer has also organized sessions by the Calgary and Edmonton zoos, the Smithsonian Institute and former astronaut Chris Hadfield. There have been sessions on yoga, line dancing and art.

“We’re definitely open to any topic,” he says. “Those kids, they are so interested in learning.”

Falconer said the students number in the thousands and come from all over Ukraine. Their high level of engagement and smiling faces during the sessions are evidence that the program is making a difference.

“This experience takes you to a whole new level and you’re going to have a much deeper understanding of the importance of education and being a teacher,” he says.

Such a moment occurred during a recent presentation when a student said, “Me and mom were hiding in the basement when the bombs went up and the roof in front blew off. There’s such a big hole. Sorry I can’t take a picture. Thanks for the lessons!”

The program is about saving children’s hopes and dreams, and letting them know they are not alone, Falconer says. With summer holidays approaching, he wants to ensure there are enough volunteers to keep the program going.

“We are not able to stop the war,” Falconer says, “but we are able to, for one hour, take them to a world of wonder.”

Onboarding process

When bringing on new teacher recruits, Falconer provides a 40-minute virtual information session to explain the intricacies of delivering content to students who are living in challenging conditions and experiencing daily trauma.

The one-hour presentations that volunteers deliver to students are scheduled from 3 to 7 p.m. Kiev time (6 to 10 a.m. mountain time). A single hour is the minimum commitment. Some teachers are filling an hourly time slot each week.

Volunteers do not need to speak Ukrainian, as most students have some level of English and each session is attended by a Ukrainian host who will translate if necessary.

“This opportunity is going to be life changing for those kids,” Falconer says, “but it will also be life changing for teachers.”