| Yuriko Wahl-Immel |
Dusseldorf (dpa) – Schools specially for the sick have a special mission and an unusual concept: They take in boys and girls who need long stays in hospitals or clinics and who therefore miss out on weeks or even months of schooling.
However the mission of such schools in Germany is more than just keeping up the input in core subjects such as maths and languages.
“Learning can be a source of strength,” says Elfriede Link, headmistress of the Paul Martini School in Bonn, which received the German School Prize, aimed at rewarding excellence in teaching, two years ago.
“And the pupils need strength to help them recover,” she says.
There are around 137 schools for sick children across Germany. They have all kinds of different specialisations, including one which focuses on those who suffer from epilepsy.
According to a spokesman for Germany’s KMK national educational agency, the schools are aimed at “strengthening the self-confidence and self-respect of sick children and young people by recognising individual performance potential”.
Sylvia Loehrmann, schools minister for North Rhine Westphalia and current KMK president, emphasises: “These schools are especially important for chronically ill children and
young people, because they give them a
piece of normality in an otherwise difficult situation.”
All sorts of children attend Bonn’s Martini School, including those with psychiatric disorders, speech and developmental problems, autism, asthma, cancer and rheumatism.
Everybody has a health issue and a strict medical therapy programme to get to grips with.
Individual learning depends on health
and learning potential and is worked out in agreement with the clinic and their home school.
“It works quickly and professionally,” says Link. It has to, because the pupils are always changing. New ones arrive and others move on.
Around 750 children per year are taught at the Martini School – that’s around 130 per day by 26 teachers, most of them special needs teachers by training.
Teaching groups are small, around five to ten children grouped in two-year classes.
Between two and six teaching periods a day is the norm and once a week there are workshops.
These can take place in anything from research companies to animation film studios, or could take the form of photo or radio projects – they all help to build self-confidence.
Ninth-grade student Anna, who has suffered psychiatric problems, has decided for an art project and is proud of the large watercolour she has produced.
“In my local school I had problems with my classmates, with everybody. I learn better here,” she says.
Marie, a 15-year-old who has spent six months being treated for an eating disorder, adds: “I feel at home here. I’m nearly finished. My home school is already sending me teaching material so that I can do extra coursework.”
Children who are too ill to come to the school are taught by teachers in German hospitals, sometimes at their sickbeds.
Their progress is monitored and reports are sent back to their home schools, says teacher Sabrina Nolte.
The goal is to keep a connection with the local school and to reintegrate the children into their everyday programmes later.
The children also regularly present their work.
Some dare to get up on a small stage, while the others listen, clap and sing along.
It is a great achievement for those who are severely ill, depressed or have had violent experiences.
“The pupils learn that they can achieve something,” says deputy head Maria Zingsem. “They experience success and feel themselves to be of value.”