At a Ukrainian Saturday school in Oakville, Ont., students typically learn about their culture, participate in dance lessons and study the language.
This weekend, however, classes at Oakville Ridna Shkola will have a more sombre tone: The younger children will write letters to soldiers and high-school students will listen to a guest speaker’s lecture about misinformation and how to find reliable sources of news about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“We want them to have an understanding of what the real facts are, what is really happening. And the most important thing is to distinguish between the true information and fake information,” said Oksana Levytska, principal at the school.
Hers is one of many institutions across the country that are providing spaces for young people to share how they feel during an uncertain time. Educators are balancing the possibility of spreading fear among students with the benefits of helping them understand the events unfolding in Ukraine.
In the weeks leading up to the invasion, Ms. Levytska said, older children asked teachers questions about the dangers to Ukrainian residents. About 100 students attend the Saturday school, which is operating online during the pandemic.
“If there ever was a time for solidarity and prayer, it is now,” she said, adding that this Saturday’s lessons will emphasize “unity and hope.”
Teachers at non-Ukrainian schools say their students are also curious about what’s happening in Ukraine and the chain of events that led to the invasion.
Andréa Raymond, a Grade 7 teacher at Toronto’s Humbercrest Public School, said a child in her class had watched a news video about the invasion and raised it in the classroom. She has given her students a number of reliable sources to read and asked them to speak with their families. On Monday, the class will discuss the crisis, she said.
Her school is on the the west side of the city, which has a large Ukrainian and Russian community. In some classrooms, she said, discussing current events is emotional, because children have family members who are affected by the conflict. (Ms. Raymond has students with families who lived in parts of the Soviet Union before its breakup, but none with relatives in Russia or Ukraine.)
For her class, she said, discussing the crisis is about trying “to build their knowledge.”
Bradley Gibson, a high-school history teacher at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, said he and his students spent half an hour discussing the invasion on Thursday morning.
This wasn’t an entirely unusual occurrence. Mr. Gibson discusses current events daily with his classes. He asks his students, who are in Grades 10 and 11, to tell him what they have heard and how they have collected their information, and he helps guide them to more reliable sources.
“They want to understand the why of this, and what’s going to happen next,” he said. “They’re worried.”
Students are also sympathetic toward those who are suffering as a result of the conflict, as Oksana Melnyk witnessed on Friday morning.
Ms. Melnyk is a Ukrainian language teacher at Ralph Brown School in Winnipeg. The school is the only one in the Winnipeg School Division with a program where half the instruction is in the Ukrainian language. Ms. Melynk has family in Ukraine, including her mother. She stayed home on Thursday, overwhelmed with worry.
When she arrived in her classroom on Friday, many of her students hugged her. They had questions about the invasion and about children in Ukraine. Ms. Melnyk showed them a map of the country. The discussion lasted until recess.
“It was a really amazing conversation. They had a lot of questions,” she said. “My message to them is we have to be positive, we have to support.”
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