Orange Revolution serves as a model for public school students in the South Bronx

by Peter T. Woloschuk

BOSTON - Yushchenko! Yushchenko! Yushchenko!

The repetitive chant comes from a group of well-organized students clad in orange and many of them with orange scarves as well. At regular intervals the entire group gives the three-fingered "tryzub" (Ukrainian trident) salute and their chant becomes even more strident.

Another student demonstration on the Khreschatyk or the "maidan" in Kyiv? Hardly. It was the end-of-the-year neighborhood parade for the students of P.S. 64 in the South Bronx.

During the past school year former Bostonian Larissa D'Avignon, a fifth grade teacher at P.S. 64 - the 1,000-student Pura Belpre Elementary School located in New York's South Bronx - used the example of the Ukrainian students who were the backbone of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and who resisted tyranny and ultimately toppled a corrupt government, as an example of what students can do if they cooperate and work together.

"My students are used to being on their own and doing for themselves," Ms. D'Avignon said. "They have little concern for anyone else and almost no concept of team work or group effort."

"I had 24 students," Ms. D'Avignon explained, "and almost all of them were bilingual and minority. A quarter of the class was inner city Afro-American, a quarter of the class was American Hispanic and then I had students from Ghana, Colombia, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico."

"I felt that the concept of working together like the Ukrainian students in Kyiv was one that my students didn't understand and couldn't relate to," she continued. "I decided to use the example of the students in Kyiv as a teaching tool showing what people working together can accomplish and so I incorporated a study of last fall's Ukrainian elections and Orange Revolution in to the daily curriculum of my class."

Beginning in September, Ms. D'Avignon told the students that they would be spending a lot of time studying about Ukraine, a fairly new country in Eastern Europe, its people, their culture and their day-to-day lives. She taught the children a few basic directions in Ukrainian that she used regularly in class including "tykho," "chytai," "hovory" and "stavai" (quiet, read, speak, stand) and then went on to some basic vocabulary and grammar.

At the same time, Ms. D'Avignon made Ukraine the focal point of a special learning project that was thematically carried through the entire school year, particularly the second half and the yearend special project and annual school parade.

Ukrainian themes were incorporated into geography studies, social studies and current events. When the Ukrainian boxer Vitalii Klitschko appeared in New York for a match, a number of students got tickets and used class time to make welcoming signs in Ukrainian that they could take along and hold up during the bout.

During October, November and December 2004, students read and discussed articles on the protests, demonstrations and elections in Ukraine. They followed events closely on the Internet, and they vied with each other to bring in the latest news articles and analytical pieces from the local and national newspapers.

At Christmastime they incorporated some Ukrainian elements into their holiday celebrations and they learned about the tradition of the Christmas Eve dinner, caroling and the "vertep."

During the spring the students learned to dance a hopak to the strains of "Dyki Tantsi" (Wild Dances) as performed by Ruslana, they made Trypillian-style pottery planters, they created pysanky, and they prepared for their end-of-the-year parade.

As the 2004-2005 school year came to a close, one of the fifth graders, Andres Gonzales, said that learning about Ukraine was "cool" and he only hoped that someday he and the rest of the class could go on a field trip to Ukraine because they knew so much about it.

Ms. D'Avignon has been teaching in the New York City public school system for the past four years. Before becoming a teacher she spent two years studying communication at George Washington University in Washington, and then transferred to Simmons College in Boston, where she earned a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in teaching.

After Ukraine's independence was regained, in the mid-1990s she spent three years in Ukraine - two years working for the National Democratic Institute in communications, and one year taking law courses at the Vyscha Partiyna Shkola (Higher Party School) in Kyiv as one of the first Americans ever to study there.

Ms. D'Avignon is married to Volodymyr Polyakov of Kharkiv and is the daughter of R. Joseph D'Avignon, an attorney, and noted photographer Tania Mychajlyshyn D'Avignon of Newton, Mass.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, September 4, 2005, No. 36, Vol. LXXIII

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