WUR students invest in newcomers

WUR students are helping young newcomers to the Netherlands by practising Dutch.
‘If you read a book with one or two pupils, or go out and about the get to know the Netherlands, you make faster progress.’ Photo: Sven Menschel

About 30 WUR students are helping young newcomers to the Netherlands by practising Dutch with them in the international bridging class.

It’s just after one thirty on Friday afternoon on 3 September. The children in the international bridging class (ISK) are playing football fanatically in the school playground. The first week of term after the summer holiday is over, and their first tutoring session is about to start. The tutors – all WUR students – arrive and greet their pupils with warm smiles. Chairs and tables are put outside: the sun is shining and the temperature is pleasant. At about quarter to two, each tutor looks for their two pupils to start the lesson amid lots of chatter and laughter.

‘What did you do in the summer?’, one of the tutors asks her two pupils. ‘Played football,’ they say. And a typically Dutch holiday job: picking cherries. ‘I worked every day, and I earned 500 euros! What did you do?’ The tutor tells them about her holiday, during which she went horse-riding. ‘Have you ever done that?’ The answer is no, but they have ridden a camel.

Every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, a group of WUR students come to the international bridging class for a tutoring session. Each tutor is teamed up with two pupils and they work on the lesson material together for three hours.

As a student you invest a lot in yourself; here you invest in other people.

Attention is paid to the pupils’ personal development as well, says Master’s student of Biobased Sciences Bodil Boelens (23), who used to teach the bridging class and who started the tutoring project. ‘A personal relationship is forged with the pupils and that supports the learning process.’

Telling the time

Boelens came across the bridging class by chance. ‘After my Bachelor’s in Environmental Sciences I wanted to work for six months and travel in South America for six months. At a conference I got chatting to Hans Brandwacht (the bridging class coordinator, ed.). He was urgently looking for a teacher of Dutch and asked if I wanted to come and have a look.’ No sooner said than done: Boelens went along, had a chat with teachers and pupils and was invited for a trial day’s teaching, in spite of not having any real experience in education. ‘I was given a pile of books and asked to use them to teach a lesson. It went surprisingly well so I got the job.’

Boelens is enthusiastic about her time as a teacher. ‘Some pupils’ parents work at WUR, and they often learn the language a lot faster. But there are also pupils who have only been to school for two years, or not at all, and who can’t write yet. I helped some pupils learn to tell the time. The heartfelt gratitude of those pupils when they succeed – that is so wonderful.’

After six months of teaching, Boelens went off travelling, as planned. But two months later, Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works, and she found herself in lockdown in Peru. ‘Hans phoned me to ask whether I was back in the Netherlands and could start work again. During the lockdown, classes were online for a while but some of the children aren’t used to using a laptop, and others have a home situation that isn’t supportive. Luckily, when I got back, we were allowed to work in the classroom, socially distanced with half the class at a time. That was very nice, both for the teachers and for the pupils, but the pupils still got behind in their education.’

Colleagues wanted

The teaching team put their heads together: what could help the pupils to catch up? The idea of a tutoring programme came up, and Boelens and Brandwacht set it up. ‘I thought, I’m sure I’m not the only student who finds this work inspiring,’ says Boelens. ‘On the grapevine and through the Wageningen Student Plaza Facebook group, we started looking for students who wanted to be tutors.’

After several rounds of interviews, a team of 25 WUR students was formed, who started tutoring in October 2020 after a doing a course. A success, because although the programme has been running for less than a year, it’s already hard to imagine the bridging class without it. ‘Classroom teaching is very important, but you make faster progress if you read a book quietly with one or two pupils, or go out and about together to really get to know the Netherlands,’ says Boelens.  ‘That’s not possible during the routine classes but it can be done in the tutoring programme.’

Nearly all the students who started tutoring last year are still involved. They get a lot out of the tutoring too, says Boelens. ‘It’s lovely when your pupils learn something new and make progress, or when they start to confide in you. As a student you spend a lot of your time investing in yourself; here you invest in other people.’

It’s time for a break now, and the photographer has arrived. The pupils are playing football again, but don’t mind sitting for a quick photo call. It should be quick, though. After three photos, one boy asks, ‘Can I go now?’ The photographer asks for just a moment’s patience. Done. The boy flies off laughing to join the football with his classmates.

The bridging class (ISK) is looking for new tutors. Dutch speakers who are interested can send an email explaining their motivation and attaching their CV to info@groeikracht.net by 30 September.  

International bridging class

In the international bridging class, 17 children ages between 12 and 18 learn Dutch in two years. After that they join regular Dutch secondary school classes. All the pupils have left their countries of origin for a range of reasons. There are pupils who live in the asylum-seekers centre as well as children of expats working at WUR.

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