From school dropout to peer leader

Once a school dropout, Mario was now in the position to mentor others.

UNICEF Srbija
Mario in school with his friends and teachers
UNICEF Serbia/2016/Vas

29 November 2016

“Three years ago I dropped out of school. I had enrolled in the first year of the Technical School, and everything was great, my friends and everything, but I had some problems and couldn’t continue my education." 

"I am a musician and I am helping my father earn a living for our family, and that is why I skipped classes a lot. I felt bad for leaving school, but I had to”.

This is how Mario Ališanović, a young man from Vladičin Han who immediately attracts attention and radiates positive energy, starts his story.

He was born into a Roma family living on welfare benefits. His parents are unemployed and earn their living by playing music at weddings. Mario plays the drum and performs everywhere with his father.

Mario’s story would probably be similar to many other stories about Roma children quitting school in order to earn a living, were it not for the project “Combating Dropout and Early School Leaving in the Republic of Serbia”, implemented by UNICEF in Serbia, the Centre for Education Policy and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development, with generous financial support from UNIQLO.

The Technical School from Vladičin Han is one of the 10 schools chosen to participate in this project, based on specific criteria, which includes adequate human resources, a large number of pupils at risk of dropping out, motivation, and experience in cooperation with institutions and organisations at the local level.

 

Working as a team

Once it became one of the implementing schools in this project, the school established a team for dropout prevention, consisting of teachers, the principal and the pedagogue.

At first, this new team had to work with the entire teaching staff in order to raise awareness about the school’s role in supporting pupils to complete their education and acquire the qualifications they needed to participate in the labour market.

All the teachers were trained to implement the instrument for identifying pupils at risk of dropping out. This led to intensified cooperation with parents, as well as applying the new concept of remedial classes, which met the needs and possibilities of pupils to a much higher degree.

The school team assessed that they could help Mario Ališanović return to school, and so members of the team visited him. They explained why it was important to continue his education and this time around his parents were much more supportive. Mario decided to return to school.

Nevertheless, upon returning to school after a two-year break, Mario encountered different problems. He had to accept the fact that he was going to school with children two years his junior.

In addition, he continued to skip classes due to his gigs with his father. He was still at risk of leaving school, and the teachers now faced another problem: Mario wanted to attend school, but at the same time, he had to support his family.

Therefore, the school team came up with the individual dropout prevention plan, in which Mario’s homeroom teacher, Milica Mickić, played a crucial role.

Milica and the other teachers taught Mario the lessons he had missed, condensing and covering the lessons together, using the principles and methods of active tuition in order to help Mario socialise and master the lessons, regularly offering feedback on his progress.

“Everything is just great now. I am even a B student, with a grade average of 4.0. I still play in Obrenovac every weekend. We set off every Friday early in the morning; we play at weddings, and return home on Monday at 5 a.m. It is difficult to go to school then. When I am too tired, I do not go, but I cover the lessons later as agreed with my teachers” Mario says.

Marion in front of his school
UNICEF Serbia/2016/Vas

A precedent – replacing the homeroom teacher

Milica Mickić, the biology, ecology and civic education teacher, was not Mario’s homeroom teacher from the start.

She became his homeroom teacher after the dropout prevention team had replaced Mario’s previous homeroom teacher and two other teachers.

The school team made the assessment that such a measure would contribute to the creation of a stimulating classroom environment.

Lovorka Dragojlović Jović, the school pedagogue, and the coordinator of the dropout prevention team, says that this class had the largest number of disciplinary issues and the school had to do something about it.

“First we replaced the homeroom teacher, which was a precedent as far as I know. We have never done, at least in the time that I have been here. We realised that the communication in class was not good and that the class was slowly ‘sinking’. We had to respond to this situation as a school.

We also replaced the math and Serbian language teachers, and the situation greatly improved. Milica works with them successfully, which is obvious when you see the children. They are the same pupils, but the situation is completely different,” says the pedagogue.

She illustrates this with the example of a pupil who had disciplinary and learning problems, but who was supported and helped by everyone and finally managed to complete the school year successfully.

“When we completed the first year, our teachers were surprised to see how successful we were,” confirms Mario.

 

A role model

His return to school and successful completion of the first year of high school has had a positive influence on Mario. Once a school dropout, he was now in the position to mentor others.

The pedagogue tells us that she saw Mario’s ability to inspire other children, and asked him to be a mentor to a pupil who was at risk of dropping out. This pupil is still in school, successfully coping with all challenges.

His return to school and successful completion of the first year of high school has had a positive influence on Mario. Once a school dropout, he was now in the position to mentor others.

 

All this happened after the project training took place in Zlatibor in April this year. After the training, the school established a peer support team, which included one pupil from every class in the school.

The team, in cooperation with teachers, solves different problems in the school, and Mario, having assumed a very active role in the process, has become the team leader.

Dropping out of school is distant memory for him now, and he looking to the future with optimism.

“I took up the auto electrician specialisation in school because I want to be a mechanic. I will be trained for the job, but I’ll see, I may even go to university,” Mario says enthusiastically.

His friend Zoran, whom Mario has been mentoring, adds with pride: “If Mario had not come to my house to persuade me to return to school, I would not be going to school any more”.

It is precisely this statement that shows how important, if not crucial, peer influence can be.

That is why the Technical School in Vladičin Han established a peer team to work with children at risk of dropping out, and is now looking optimistically to the future.