Thanks to the engagement of parents - volunteers, every child now will go on excursions: they raise funds for the Parents’ Corner also by growing organic vegetables in the school greenhouse.
Text and photo: Almir Panjeta / Save The Children
“A big thank-you goes to parents - volunteers, who have made it possible for all children to spend their best moments together and have some fun to mark the end of elementary education”, reads a postcard - thank-you note written in fine handwriting and signed by nine-graders, who sent it to an informal group of parents - volunteers active in the Parents’ Corner at Dzemaludin Causevic Elementary School in Sarajevo.
The group meets every Monday and as necessary at the spruced-up Corner, which has been re-opened recently. Because of their work and cooperation with the school staff, it is no longer unusual to see parents at the school. These parents launch different initiatives, organise aid actions, outings and other activities to raise funds, with which they have helped, for example, children to go on excursions for three years in a row, not leaving a single child behind. They have been given the school greenhouse to grow and sell organic vegetables. All earnings go to the Corner’s cashbox. The parents with different skills offer English language, computer and other classes and forms of training to other parents to help them improve their employability.
The Corner is valuable for the parents of children from vulnerable groups. Making these parents feel welcome at school will encourage them to persevere in keeping their children in school. The Parents’ Corner is a new model of furthering the cooperation between schools and families. The aim is to cater to as many parents as possible and reduce the drop-out rate.
“Because of the openness of the entire concept, parents no longer feel uncomfortable when they come to the school or the Corner, or when they seek help. When we know who is in need, it is easier to provide the required support. We have done a lot but especially highlight the fact that all costs of excursions, passport issuance and pocket money were covered for all children who needed support, no one was left behind. Of course, children always have more fun when all of them can travel together; they are unhappy when they realise some of their classmates are unable to come along. With our action, we have polished out such differences, and the thank-you note we got tells us that we can only be proud of what have done and are doing”, said Eldina Zolj-Balenovic, one of the active parents - volunteers.
“The Corner is a place to get together, share ideas about all sorts of things our children can benefit from, and these ideas give rise to actions and initiatives. The aim is for every child to go on an excursion, including residential outdoor schools, the cinema and theatre. We raise funds through direct action, through bazaars we organise on a regular basis and otherwise. we have an active Facebook group, where we share information, and we have started earning money from our greenhouse production recently”, Eldina Zolj-Balenovic explained how the group and the Corner operated, underlining the importance the parents’ presence on the school premises:
“Their presence on the school premises will not solve problems but will help prevent them. If we are there all the time, what can possibly go wrong? Negative developments, such as peer violence, are less likely to occur”, she explained.
As part of its family strengthening efforts, Save the Children has provided furniture and technical textbooks for parents in 28 schools across BiH. In collaboration with parents, schools are free to improve and organise their premises according to their preferences and needs. Dzemaludin Causevic Elementary School has already done so thanks to the support of the school management and staff and active engagement of the parents there.
Branka Kukic, a teacher, said that, through the inclusive concept, everyone was equally involved and encouraged to come to the school on a regular basis, including to attend the meetings of parents - volunteers, whether to offer help and support, or to seek it.
“It is usually assumed that parents will come to the school to pick up their child, for parental guidance meetings or because there has been a problem or something, which has not been the case at our school for a while. We have recognised the eagerness of our parents to participate in the school life and our door is always open to them. The parents are involved in many processes, they meet at the Corner, launch initiatives and turn to us for whatever they want to learn about, without any hesitation. One of us always attends their meetings and we serve as a link there. This has had positive impact on the children who spend a lot of time at the school and are happy to say their parents are there, too. The children visit the Corner with their parents and feel welcome”, said teacher Branka Kukic during our meeting at the Corner. In a friendly and relaxed environment, with coffee and biscuits served, the parents chatted about current issues. The meeting was briefly interrupted by teacher Redzep Grabus, who popped in for brief consultations about a fund-raising action. Emina Valjevcic, the school pedagogue, attended the meeting as well. The Corner helped her improve the cooperation with parents through regular contact.
“This is an ideal form of support for proper, quality and successful parenthood. It is important to involve parents, make them feel free to express their opinions and suggestions because it is vital that we know what modern and quality schooling looks like from their point of view and conjointly create an environment in which everyone feels comfortable. As a result, we have content and happy children. These children feel content and happy because they see that their parents are content and happy as well. In such an environment, it is definitely easier for teachers to do their job, and all of this contributes to higher quality teaching”, explained Emina Valjevcic, adding that she was happy to see that Save the Children had supported the activity and noting the strong support of Beba Sarkinovic, the school headmaster.
Amela Bazi, a member of the parents’ group and the Corner, said that the initiative had had positive impact on children since the very beginning:
“Both parents and children are happy. I see that they feel safe when they see us around and they are proud of our engagement”, said Amela Abazi.
“When a parent is happy, so is the child. What impresses me most is the togetherness of the parents. We have created links and become one big family. We meet outside of the school, too, we organise outings together and exchange ideas about future projects”, said Aida Kadrija, who was engaged with other parents in the greenhouse work in the school yard.
“The greenhouse was given to the parents - volunteers for use this year. We produce and sell organic vegetables, and all earnings go to the Corner’s cashbox. Demand by the school teachers and staff is big, they generally order quantities in advance, so we manage to sell everything we produce”, explained Aida Kadrija.
Dzenita Rujanac is also happy with the Corner’s activities and positive results.
“Most of our activities target children in social need. For the children, we serve as an example of how to be socially engaged and connected and support our children’s childhood. We demonstrate that any seemingly overwhelming problem is actually easy to solve if all of us come together to work it out”, said Dzenita Rujanac.
Parents’ corners were set up as part of the project Inclusive and Quality Education for Roma Girls and Boys, which is in its third year of implementation in BiH and Serbia. The project focuses on the issues of exclusion, discrimination and impeded access to essential services, such as education, health care and social welfare.
“We expect that parents’ corners will reduce truancy and result in the higher inclusion of parents in school life and work, hence stronger social cohesion between the school and the community. In addition, parents’ corners are directly related to the awareness raising among parents of detrimental results of the exclusion of Roma children and families, as well as the importance of equal access to quality education for every last child, especially for girls”, noted Andrea Zeravcic, Save the Children Director.
Save the Children has been implementing a family strengthening program to prevent early school leaving since 2017 as part of a broader project to prevent school leaving, in five cantons in BiH - Zenica-Doboj, Sarajevo, Tuzla, Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva, and three counties in Serbia. The program has benefited 3372 parents so far.
The project has provided direct support to children from vulnerable groups in the form of school meals, transportation and school materials; 1657 children in 60 schools in both countries have been supported so far.
In addition to the direct material support, the project has supported children by engaging their parents and families in training sessions specially designed to improve parental competences. The training aims to help parents provide adequate support to their children in school.