Children thrive in inclusive schools

The experiences that children have at school could be essential in determining their first steps into successful careers. And family support is crucial.

Luise Vuiu
Alexandra in her room, at home
UNICEF/Catu
03 June 2021

Alexandra is a 10th grade student at the "Vasile Alecsandri" National College in Bacău. Although the school was opened in September and October 2020, this academic year she preferred to study from home for safety reasons. She is afraid of the virus which messed up everyone's life. Her needs are slightly different from those of her colleagues. She misses her classmates but keeps in touch with them online.

Alexandra has all the facilities for digital education and she is quite tech savvy. Afrodita Timofti who teaches her information and communication technology (ICT) is her favorite teacher and inspires her. "She is very nice. She is always happy. Always smiling. My ICT teacher treats me as her favorite student. I achieved lots of As to assignments and tests”, says Alexandra.

Alexandra has difficulty in synchronizing her speech with her thoughts and what she wants to say. "She has an expressive language delay, specific to autism," her mother tells us. However, she can write quickly and she definitely amazed us with her ability to spontaneously formulate a message for her favorite artist, Smiley, in which she skilfully combined key words from his songs. And the way she was humming one of his songs revealed the complexity of her artistic talent. Alexandra likes music and she has been singing in the school’s choir since first grade.

Alexandra, in front of her computer showing one of her drawings
UNICEF/Catu

Although her passions include drawing, mathematics and computer science, starting next year she will continue her studies in a philology class. Her mother hopes that this change will help Alexandra improve her communication and reading skills, as well as develop her vocabulary and speaking.

Her teachers realised that Alexandra communicates much better and easier in English. "A curiosity not yet explained by anyone," says the mother.

Since October last year, she has been actively participating in personal development and career guidance seminars, organized within the UNICEF "Together for the Future" program delivered with the support of the Ministry of Education, the "Împreună" Agency and the Holtis Association.

Alexandra was visibly delighted with that. She remembered that the test she had during the first seminar revealed that she has a visual-spatial dominant intelligence, which makes her very proud.

The first challenge in the project was to create an album with autumn pictures. She loved it and was thrilled with the result.

But most of all, she likes to draw and to create animations. She usually draws human characters in her own style, which is reminiscent of the Japanese anime. But animals are her favorites when it comes to drawing. Most often she draws imaginary cats.

Kitty Tomberones, which enjoyed circling us with curiosity, definitely inspires her. Alexandra spontaneously named it ‘Tomberones’ (Dumpsters) in the vet's office where she took the cat after she found her. By the name, it is easy to imagine where the meeting with Tomberones happened.

Alexandra's schedule on the wall of her room
UNICEF/Catu
Animal toys neatly arranged in Alexandra's room
UNICEF/Catu

Some labels are harder to peel off

Alexandra started school a little later, when it was considered she was ready for that. Some experiences turned out to be friendlier than others.

‘At the very start, from the first to the fourth grade, everything was normal. But, little by little, from the fifth to the eighth grade, it was less ok ", said Alexandra with some kind of reconciliation.

Many of her schoolmates were boys whose age-specific playfulness interfered with her need for less agitation. At the same time, most of her classmates often blamed her for all the troubles they made.

It affected her deep enough to bitterly remember even now about an incident which took place during an ICT class, when the computer’s mouse broke and all her colleagues blamed her for it. She was innocent and no one defended her. She felt powerless. "I did not defend myself. I felt sad. I said it wasn't my fault, but they kept on blaming me".

On the other hand, at "Vasile Alecsandri" College where she is currently studing she discovered an oasis of joy. Nowhere did she find more help and goodwill than she received from the teachers and her colleagues. There she made friends with whom she feels at ease and with whom she can talk openly.

Alexandra’s mother is very grateful. ‘In this high school I feel like I have reached another universe. The teachers are open-minded, extraordinary, they don’t label students". She sees her daughter happy and that matters the most. She is proud of everything they have accomplished so far given how much they went through together.

Alexandra holding her cat
UNICEF/Catu
Alexandra playing with her cat
UNICEF/Catu

Supported talent could be the best job ever

Alexandra's efforts bear fruit and her mother plans carefully for the future. She wants to see her daughter as an independent adult, with a secured job.

She participated with great interest in all the 10 sessions of the online parenting education course organized within the "Together for the future" program. "It reminded me of some important things and it gave me a little more confidence that I'm not alone in this big world.", Alexandra’s mother says.

At the parenting course she met new people who became her friends and they managed to meet in the park when the pandemic context allowed them. "We've reopened a human path that we've been missing a lot lately".

For some time now, she has been thinking that maybe it would be better for Alexabdra to became a pharmacist because "in the arts, if you don't have connections, it's hard to make a living."

Alexandra has already included this option on her list for the future, but she is not very convinced that it fits well enough with her dreams in which drawing plays an important role. She is very much aware of her talent and is not yet prepared to let it stifle.

With a little courage and the right guidance, her passion for drawing and programming could be a successful mixture for the future.

Alexandra has been taking part in drawing competitions at school since first grade and her family has also bought her a graphics tablet to encourage her to develop her talent.

Alexandra, holding a toy, in her room
UNICEF/Catu
Alexandra showing a victory sign
UNICEF/Catu

But who knows what other passions she will discover along the way?

Her teachers from the college pay very much attention to all her skills and involve her in different kinds of activities and competitions, in order to stimulate her to develop her potential as much as possible.

Even though her mother believes that ‘in order to reach maximum performance Alexandra must be her with herself’, the positive experience she has with the current school shows that a stimulating environment, with challenges that arouse her interest, with people who provide her with all their trust, brings her the happiness she needs to reach her true potential.

This summer she will turn 18. She would have liked to celebrate this event in Japan, the country that attracts her the most because "it's modern, it's futuristic, and it has earthquake-resilient buildings." She likes all sorts of Japanese things, especially sweets. She says it's "just a coincidence" that her drawing style is strikingly similar to the Japanese one.

While her future path is yet to be seen, what she knows for sure now is that she really likes children - “they are adorable; they are funny ”- and the animals. And if she would have a superpower, she would turn into "something like an alien or an animal."

Alexandra's mother with Alexandra in front of her daughter's room
UNICEF/Catu
Alexandra and her mother looking at each other
UNICEF/Catu