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In Romania, a teacher’s care helps shape her students’ future

© UNICEF Romania/2017/Dinulescu
Mrs. Alina Mănăilă looks on as the students in her classroom greet UNICEF Romania National Ambassador Smiley. Mrs Mănăilă is dedicated to giving each of her students the support he or she needs to excel in school.

By Floriana Scânteie

At the Orbic school in the Romanian town of Buhuși, many of the students come from disadvantaged homes where they don't receive educational support. One teacher is helping give these children the care and attention they need to succeed in school and in life.

BUHUȘI, Romania, 26 April 2017 – "What do you want to be when you grow up?"

"Miss!" say the children in unison, looking at their teacher who is also a mentor and sometimes even a parental figure for the 14 students in the preparatory class of Orbic school, in the town of Buhuși, Romania. Hearing these words, the woman’s face lights up, revealing both pride and kindness.

"As long as I am at school, I am their mother, especially because many children can’t enjoy their parents’ presence at home, as they are at work, abroad. Children know that whenever they feel like it, we can hug," says Alina Mănăilă, their teacher. Mrs. Mănăilă left her hometown of Bacău five years ago to be with her husband in Buhuși, and has since built a life teaching pupils and day by day, helping to shape their future.

Today, the classroom is abuzz because they have a special visitor: UNICEF Romania National Ambassador Andrei Tiberiu Maria, known more commonly by his stage name, Smiley. He is one of the most popular and appreciated pop artists in Romania.

Smiley joins the students in their class activities, including an exercise that involves drawing a potato with a cotton swab. The children gather around and look on in amusement. "What do we do if Smiley is not doing so well in drawing?" asks the teacher. "We help him!" answer the children. 

© UNICEF Romania/2017/Dinulescu
Students gather around UNICEF Romania National Ambassador Smiley to help him draw. Many of the students come from disadvantaged homes and their teacher, Mrs. Mănăilă, works with their parents to stress the importance of their children's education.

Smiley’s visit in Buhuși came out of his desire to see the results of the services provided to vulnerable children and their families in order to prevent school non-enrolment, absenteeism and premature dropout.

"Here, we probably work more than one would in other schools; that’s because our children come from single-parent families, poor families or families with many children, so in terms of homework they don’t have any support at home,” says Mrs. Mănăilă. The family's involvement in their children's education is usually limited to sending them to school and providing them with clothing. Many of the parents or grandparents are illiterate, and can’t help the children with their homework.

Striving to provide a positive contribution in her pupils’ lives, alongside further training in her field, Mrs. Mănăilă attended parent education courses provided by UNICEF Romania. These courses are part of the "Quality Inclusive Education" package implemented in 45 educational institutions, including kindergartens, in Bacău County.

Using everything she learned, Mrs. Mănăilă organized the first parenting education course in the school, consisting of a series of eight informal meetings with the parents. During these sessions, they talked about the importance of their children’s education in a community where the rate of school dropout is high due to poverty.

"I think I intrigued them," says the teacher. "At the beginning, they were rather skeptical, but along the way, they started sharing thoughts, ideas and situations they were confronted with and we managed to find solutions together.”

The meetings laid the foundation for a support group called Resourceful Parents. Mrs. Mănăilă soon noticed that the number of children attending school had increased and that their parents were more actively engaged in school activities.

© UNICEF/UN039014/Dinulescu
Children from second grade in Mihail Andrei school in Buhusi rehearsing a song for Smiley, National Ambassador for UNICEF Romania. Smiley is visiting schools in the area to promote the Quality Inclusive Package that UNICEF is testing in Bacau County.

Mrs. Mănăilă knows the situation of her students inside and out. When necessary, she visits her pupils at home and keeps in close contact with their parents and grandparents. She knows the capabilities of every child in her class and guides each and every one of them with patience towards intellectual and emotional development.

For example, Mrs. Mănăilă knows that Bianca, the most daring girl in the classroom, has been raised by her grandparents from an early age; this is why she became more independent compared to the other children and takes the lead in games and lessons. "She is very bright and she is the only one in the class who knows how to write," says the teacher.

“I am motivated by their needs and I want my classes to be as inspiring and attractive as possible for them. Every day, after school hours, I prepare myself for the next day, searching online for things that might interest them,” says Mrs. Mănăilă. “And every day, I conclude with a story whose ending they will learn only if they join the class the next day."


The objective of UNICEF Inclusive Quality Education package is to help children with vulnerable background to enrol in kindergarten and school as soon as possible, to support them in learning at their maximum potential so that they can succeed on the labour market and in life, as well. All children have access to this package, but it specifically targets children in vulnerable situations (poor children, children born in Roma communities, children living in the countryside or children with disabilities).

To date, more than 27,000 children have received direct support, over 700 teachers are involved, and 5,000 parents have participated in parenting education courses.

This pilot model is financially supported by Norway Grants, UNICEF and the private sector.

The model is independently evaluated, and the results are shared with decision-makers to develop new legislation, norms and standards and to mobilize state and European funding for scaling up throughout the country for all children living in Romania.




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