Helping Czech Students SucceedJul 10, 2020
When Jára was in fifth grade, his teacher told him he wouldn’t amount to anything. It was a demoralising comment, and soon, this once-studious and well-behaved boy began to get into trouble. In sixth grade, he got into a fight with a classmate – earning him a broken jaw and a criminal record. In the seventh grade, he failed history and, despite intensive studying, failed a makeup exam.
When his mother demanded an explanation from the school, Jára’s teachers told her simply, someone has to fail each year. Jára’s troubles only intensified after that, and by the time he was in eighth grade, the bright young man had begun to believe what his fifth-grade teacher had told him.
But Jára’s story does not end on a dour note. That’s because for more than a year, People in Need (PIN) has been providing Jára with support and career counselling, helping him to achieve his potential.
Marie Monsportová, who works with Jára and his family, says that taking ownership over one’s education is essential. “Jára, his mother, and I agreed on a few steps that we will take together,” Monsportová says. “The aim of our cooperation is not only to improve Jára’s grades, but also to prepare him for life. We are also working to help Jára take responsibility for his actions and start spending his time meaningfully. Moreover, an integral part of our work is supporting his mother in her communication with the school, and in learning how to communicate with her son.”
Vlastimila Feistingerová, a career counselling methodologist who works with PIN, says these objectives are part of a broader effort to help kids that the system overlooks. “School absences, educational problems, and lack of academic success often begin at the second stage of primary school, and then intensify at the secondary level, where there is no longer a legal obligation to attend school,” she says. “Therefore, we try to focus on this most critical period, on the axis of a juvenile's life, to keep young people in school for as long as possible.”
Working with parents
Jára rides a scooter and a BMX bike, and enjoys hanging out at the skate park with his older friends. He lives with his mother in a small, one-room apartment, and although she works two jobs, the family struggles financially. Jára’s mother, however, believes in the importance of her son's education and invests a substantial amount of money to helping him succeed. Without her active involvement, it would be more difficult to chart a career path for Jára.
“Working with parents is an important component of our counselling programme,” Feistingerová says. “It is based on the concept of prevention. We try to work with families before things begin to unravel.”
A brighter future
Despite a rocky start, Jára's academic work has been exemplary for the last year, and he is discovering his own potential. When he finds an activity he enjoys, he is able to focus and excel. In fact, as a result of his hard work and PIN’s support, Jára was admitted to two secondary vocational programmes: plumbing and roofing. He has decided to pursue work as a plumber. His admission to the two programmes gave him the motivation he needed to finish the eighth grade. Now he is looking forward to leaving primary school and being able to start fresh.
Feistingerová is realistic about what PIN’s involvement can achieve. “We know that it is almost impossible to change the Czech education system in the near future, but thanks to our experience, we also know that long-term support for young people significantly increases their chances of successfully completing their education, often to a higher level than that attained by their parents. For many of the young people we work with, getting a secondary school education is a basic prerequisite for further success in both employment and social integration.”
Thanks to two university volunteers from a faculty of educational science, PIN was able to help Jára transition to distance learning while schools were closed due to COVID-19. We are now helping him find a summer job and preparing him for his first year at the secondary vocational school. Jára has shown great enthusiasm and is committed to his future. With continued support, there is no question he will amount to something very special after all.