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Monday, May 20, 2024

UNCW developing teaching program to aid Ukrainian students

UNCW. (Port City Daily/Alexandria Sands Williams)

WILMINGTON — Two universities more than 5,000 miles apart are working to assist Ukrainian instructors in trauma-informed teaching methods for students in battle-scarred Kyiv. 

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Kateryna Forynna, director of UNCW’s English Language Center, and Daisyane Barreto, an assistant professor at the Watson College of Education, are designing a curriculum for English as a Foreign Language teachers from war-affected secondary schools in the Kyiv region.  

The online program is a collaboration with the National Technical University of Ukraine Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

Utilizing a $73,000 state department grant, the researchers have set forth training modules to expose 20 Ukrainian ESL teachers to trauma-informed teaching techniques. Those instructors will then go on to share the program with other secondary teachers in Kyiv with the potential to affect 1,500 students.

Forynna, who has family in Ukraine, talked to Port City Daily about the program’s potential to address learning barriers in Kyiv due to the war between Ukraine and Russia. The conflict has been persisting since February 2022, displacing students and their families across the nation.

“It’s just been so heartbreaking to know that children have to learn in the basements and fear for their lives every day, and as much as they got accustomed to it, the fear is still there,” Forynna said. 

She explained students are given instructions like if you don’t hear an air raid siren before 8:30 a.m. they should report to school.

“Psychological safety is very important,” Forynna said. “Before they can even begin learning, they need to feel safe, and that’s where those trauma-informed teaching strategies come into play. That’s what we will start our training with.”

The approach could include allowing comfort items in classrooms, limiting exclusionary punishments to reduce feelings of isolation and disruptions, putting student reactions into context to work through them, and learning to become a supportive adult for those in need of a role model.

“Nowhere in Ukraine is a safe place, but there are certain things that they can do to help children feel secure in that classroom environment,” Forynna said.

The training program will also focus on making teachers feel safe so they can be effective support to students.

By creating as much of a safe and stable environment as possible, Barreto noted students will be able to retain more academic information. She also said ESL teachers, as opposed to history or art, are also better equipped conduits of the program.

“One, they have the language skills, but [we’re] using that as a venue to help their own students to get the content that they need from science, STEM content, and then try to be able to apply that with English,” Barreto said. 

While most of the program is virtual, it has components that can be taught in person, plus the course is asynchronous, all to provide maximum flexibility in a region where internet or electricity could become scarce or communities become displaced.

The training is set to begin in February and run through May. Afterward, the 20 teachers in the program will need to create their own strategic plan for delivering the training and then implement that in their schools. In January of 2025, at the very end of the project, the instructors came together at the National Technical University of Ukraine to present their successes and challenges.

From there, there could be an opportunity to extend the grant funding to continue the project or expand the program’s reach. 

“Hopefully, if this project is successful, then we can expand to other regions, for example, or they can take on a leadership role and they can lead trainings in other regions because the good thing about it is that the training is fully online and they can do it themselves,” Forynna said.

Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at

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