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Welcomed in any language

After two weeks at a Derbyshire infants school Kosovan refugees are starting to settle in, reports Esther Leach

IT'S THE end of week two and the Kosovan pupils at the small, red-brick infants school are counting up to 10 in English, saying good morning and are no longer frightened to take the teacher's hand.

These are small, but significant signs of progress among the handful of refugees aged between five and eight who have started at the school in the former pit village of Clay Cross near Chesterfield in Derbyshire.

They are among a group of 60 displaced people who have settled at Stretton House, a country house and former special needs school, not far from the village.

Headteacher Pam Smart didn't hesitate when the telephone call came asking for her help. "We had a week's notice and acted quickly to get everyone in place such as education care officers and interpreters ... but they were like gold dust.

"We prepared a welcome booklet in English and Albanian which outlines the activities at school and there are matching pictures and labels around the school to help them through the day."

Lists of useful Albanian words spelt phonetically are up on walls around the school to help the staff communicate with the children; words such as sum mire meaning well done; koha drekes, dinner time; koha e lojes, play time.

"We have to take into account the effect on these children of school routines such as fire drill. The sound of a loud bell going off will frighten them but we must still do the drill. We will probably line the children up outside before the bell goes off. They can still hear it but it won't be as frightening," added Mrs Smart, 50, head for six years.

"It's difficult to imagine what these children may have been through. They have been traumatised by the appalling conditions they have had to live with in recent years and months.

"They will have seen soldiers and policemen fully armed, often in masks. Their fathers have been separated from them by police and soldiers by force. And they have seen lots of wounded people, beatings of children and adults, including parents and relatives. Some families have been split, some do not have parents with them."

The school is used to seeing children with emotional and behavioural problems and has adopted a positive play programme to help them for which they are constantly seeking funding. Stretton House needs pound;10,000 to keep its play worker Sharon Brown. The staff also want to create an area in the school where colour and fibre optics will be used to soothe disturbed children.

Mrs Smart said: "We are a school in an area which can be really challenging, a pit village where the colliery has closed, unemployment is high and there are many disadvantaged families.

"The challenge for us now is that we do not share a common language and we will have to be even more inventive and creative. Really it is an extension of our positive play programme to develop self-esteem so that children can learn to trust others and believe in themselves."

News 9 TESJMay 28 1999 derby evening telegraph Settling in: Albanian refugees began lessons at the Derbyshire infants school earlier this month

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