The Altamont School is giving its students insight into the war in Ukraine and seeking ways for the community to show solidarity with those the war has displaced.
Alexander Skowronski, a ninth grade student at The Altamont School, sparked communitywide engagement with the crisis after his family’s Fortuna Clinical Foundation launched an initiative to aid refugees from Ukraine.
According to a press release from the school, the foundation is soliciting aid for the regional hospital in
the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankivsk and the refugee center in Yazlovets as well as partnering with the Polish Universal Reading Foundation to buy Ukrainian language children’s books for distribution to refugees.
Skowronski said his family were deeply moved by the humanitarian crisis after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last year. That developed quickly, and the family regretted that they were not able to find a way to immediately provide help to Afghans.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, they didn’t want to miss another opportunity to help, especially in a region of deep personal importance to their family. The Polish family has ties to Ivano-Frankivsk, where current dangers echo a troubled past.
More than 3 million Ukrainians have fled to Poland since the start of the war, and the Skowronski family is providing direct personal relief by using a residential property they own there to shelter a mother and two children while their husband and father serves in the Ukrainian army in the Donbas region.
The condition of such children – either living as refugees or still in a war zone is of special concern to Alexander Skowronski.
“Today, they should be worrying about the math test they have next week,” Skowronski said. “Instead, they’re worrying about their friends and family. Will anybody be injured? For those who have fled, they’re worrying about those they’ve left behind.”
As the war began, Skowronski was thinking of his own academic work and preparing a multi-year service project in conjunction with Altamont’s C. Kyser Miree Leadership Center. Center Director Beth Dille expedited his admission to the program when Skowronski proposed Ukrainian refugee relief for his project.
Dille explained that selected ninth grade students develop leadership projects through the center and commit to them for the remainder of their time in Altamont’s upper school.
“The goal is always to be very conscious of sustainability or, if it isn’t going to continue, (have) a responsible exit plan,” she said. Skowronski might continue the work when he transitions to college, Dille said, or he might pass it along to another Altamont student who shares his passion for helping refugees.
For now, Skowronski is raising awareness about the needs of displaced Ukrainians through media interviews and special events at the Altamont School. He organized an April 27 Zoom event featuring Ukrainian physician Katia Zahorodnia, psychology professor and police Lt. Col. Alexey Serdyuk, humanitarian aid workers Josh and Meg McClug, and Ukrainian teens Veronika Velichko and Nastya Kuchmiy, all of whom offered personal perspectives.
Dille said she and Skowronski will work through the summer to find other ways to connect Altamont and other Birmingham-area students to their Ukrainian counterparts. A virtual pen pals initiative will provide socialization opportunities as well as service credits for local participants. Online gaming might bring students together, too, and without language barriers.
Niko Tsivourakis, Altamont English teacher and director of the school’s Global Initiative, is developing related projects with the help of seventh grade student Ben Poczatek, whose cousin Pawel Galewicz will provide a recorded description of how his own community in Poland is serving refugees. Tsivourakis said students in grades five through seven also are working on a short story writing project to share with the refugees in that community.
The work reflects The Altamont School’s globally conscious values and culturally diverse community.
“Engaging our students in authentic ways is always our priority,” Tsivourakis said. “This is one of those wonderful opportunities in which school can extend beyond our classrooms, connect us with real people and become a catalyst for good.”