How ninth graders learn confidence

The first year of high-school is a stressful time for all students. Even more so for vulnerable children, for whom the new environment is only one of the challenges. UNICEF’s Quality Inclusive Education program now offers them mentoring.

Roxana Grămadă
Image of a hand writing on notebook math exercises
05 March 2020

BACAU, Romania, March 5 2020 - In Romania, enrolment in high-school and vocational schools is at a critical low, with a 20 per cent gap between urban and rural children. Often, the latter face long commutes on strict schedules with little time to study, and may be the first in their families to attend. UNICEF is working with central and local authorities and NGOs to introduce a mentoring initiative that offers them support and guidance as they enter a completely new world. 

At the Grigore Antipa Technological High-School in Bacău, six such children in ninth grade have mentors from the tenth and eleventh, coordinated by their food industry and public alimentation teacher Maria Stan. “I have seen them gradually transform: they grew more confident, think differently of their studies and pay more attention in class. I have also noticed better hygiene.” 

Within “Together for the future”, a UNICEF program developed under the Quality Inclusive Education Package umbrella to support the transition of pupils to high schools, they connect during the breaks, meet after classes and even go out together once every other week. “We first catch up on what’s new at home. Then we have an activity plan: go to the park, a movie or we choose a book we’d like to read. We help with homework, too,” says Roxana, one of the mentors. 

She wrote an essay, applied on the site of the NGO “Împreună” and was selected to attend the first training in the program, where they were instructed on how to behave and how to address private issues shared in confidence. “Together” also scanned the community and made recommendations on the mentees based on who would benefit most. 

Andreea is a redhead with direct gaze and articulated speaking. Very little in her presence reminds of the withdrawn girl she was half a year ago. Her mentor helped her settle in the student dormitory, and decorate with her new roommates. 

“I had never been in such a large group of children. I spoke to nobody, I was just shy. My mentor told me to be more open,” says Andreea, who confesses she often thought of her mom, who died when she was 9. “My mentor says I have a new family now and to be brave… Mom would tell me to hold my head high and never give up.” Andreea’s mother may have been her first mentor. Fortunately, now her daughter has new friends to lean on.