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Will Ukraine help boarding school graduates enjoy their youth?

May 13, 2009, 10:00 4057 Author: Oksana Mykoliuk www.day.kiev.ua Most of the pupils of Boarding Schools have biological parents, but their school instructors have become their true fathers and mothers. What future awaits them?

Their first document, a general education certificate, has to be studied carefully

Thousands of Ukrainian pupils recently attended graduation dances that coincided with World Youth Day. As a rule, on such occasions parents and teachers congratulate the students on finishing school. They wish them every success in their future endeavors and hope that they will become accomplished individuals. At this age young people believe that adulthood is a flight to a wonderworld, where all their dreams will come true. The graduates of Kyiv Boarding School No. 3 received congratulations from many well- wishers, some of whom expressed the hope that the young school leavers will prove to be better parents than their own. Others reassured them that, after all is said and done, there are more good people than bad in this world.

More adult than all of us

There is no hiding the fact that for the 33 graduates of this boarding school childhood ended a long time ago. For some, it ended when they were thrown out by their parents and had to live in basements, or when their parents were jailed. Most of the children enrolled in Boarding School No. 3 still have biological parents, but their school instructors have become their true fathers and mothers. These children are very different, although they have one thing in common: all of them experienced betrayal at the hands of their parents, so more than anyone they can understand adults wanting them to encounter good people.

“Our children had difficult childhoods. Most of them live here even though they have biological parents who are still alive but were deprived of parental rights or authority,” says Raisa Solovei, the Grade 11 teacher. “They have been through hell and high water and came here with negative life experiences. Some of them got high sniffing glue or drinking alcohol, and I suspect that some were on the needle. The fact remains that even during adolescence they already had formed characters and world views that were far from ideal, but we are working on this.”

Teachers say that now and then children are institutionalized who cannot read and write at 13-15 years of age, so they have to be enrolled in Grade 1. This happens when the authorities belatedly remove such children from problem families, so these children have to work hard to catch up to their peers. Boarding School No. 3 has a special remedial class for such children.

Some of the children have criminal records, which resulted in suspended sentences or a two- or three-year term in juvenile penal colonies. Naturally, these youngsters bring their prison experiences to the boarding school and negatively influence other students. The teacher in charge complains that the teens often break school regulations and are resistant to positive influences. They have friends on the street, and they are so attracted to this kind of life that there is little anyone can do before they grow up and can figure out what’s right and wrong, if at all.

The number-one question: where to live?

For the graduates of Boarding School No. 3 the graduation dance marked an important formality: although they have finished school, they will stay there until the end of summer before heading out on their respective paths in late August.

The school administration says it assumes full responsibility for the teenagers and must help the new graduates with further study or job placements - naturally with guaranteed dormitory accommodations. Those who want to reunite with their families are free to do so; even if a minor’s parents are deprived of their parental rights, their children can return to the family home when they turn 18. As it is, most graduates want to start living independently, materially as well as morally. This year five graduates were fortunate enough to receive their own homes. They have been on waiting lists for housing, and each will soon move into a one-room apartment. One girl has been adopted by an Italian family after seven years of keeping in touch with the foreigners.

“Over the past four years two children have been adopted by Ukrainian families and eight by foreigners,” Liudmyla Bahliei, the principal of the boarding school, told The Day . “Our children spend summer and winter vacations abroad, living with families (the receiving side pays for the travel) where people can take a closer look at them. More often than not foreigners adopt young children, so that they can raise them properly, but sometimes they end up falling in love with older ones. Valia Makarenko, one of our pupils, was adopted by a family with its own child. Then the couple adopted an Italian orphan and later agreed to adopt Valia. They have submitted the required documents to the adoption center, and there will be a court hearing soon.”

Children enrolled in this boarding school are not often adopted, so most have to take care of themselves after graduation. Since most of these teens have good marks, they can enter institutions of higher learning or vocational and technical colleges. According to Bahliei, four of this year’s graduates (11th-graders) are planning to enroll at National Aviation University and Drahomanov Pedagogical Institute. Among the students of the Foreign Language Institute are graduates of the boarding school from previous years.

Yasny children's home in Liev of a boarding school

At the start of the next academic year Boarding School No. 3 will be reorganized as a children’s home in accordance with the president’s decree on schooling reform whereby all boarding schools in Ukraine must be reorganized as children’s homes in the next decade. Each will accommodate no more than 50 children, who will live there while attending neighborhood schools. This project is aimed at making children’s homes more family-like. Government leaders expect that this will help at least somewhat to resolve the problem of financing boarding schools. Current financing levels are considered insufficient.

“We have to spend 26,000 hryvnias a year for every child’s upkeep, even with funds from the state budget and sponsors,” Bahliei explains. “We receive enough state funds for meals, health care, and salaries. We use sponsors’ money to make repairs and purchase equipment, teaching aids, and so on. We have three major sponsors, large companies and banks, as well as organizations that offer to help now and then.”

Sponsors have been donating evening dresses for girls and suits for boys for their graduation dance. Lovely dresses were provided by the Snizhana Company, which specializes in wedding clothing (the girls were allowed to choose their designs and try the dresses on). The boys’ suits were donated by the Zhelan sewing factory, which sews clothing based on Voronin’s designs.

Now that the graduation dance is over, the boarding school is back to its daily routine, with its ups and downs, and mixture of joys and sorrows. The teachers are reluctant to comment on the graduates’ prospects. Some of the kids call to ask for a piece of advice, while others simply vanish. “They have the same destiny as other people,” teachers say, “so those who want to live a decent life and become respectable citizens will do so. We’ve done our best. The rest is in their hands.”

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