We took the “Hans Radl school”, which was founded 50 years ago by a physically disabled war veteran called Hans Radl to the “Dance of the Vampires”! Hans noticed that children with physical disabilities were in dire need of a school catering to their special requirements. Kids in wheelchairs for example, required a school with ramps and elevators. panagenda was made aware of the school through Katrin Hermann’s initiative. We highly commend the work she does and are particularly impressed by her commitment to increase equal opportunities for her students. We were honored to fulfill one of her wishes to attend a cultural event with the students and were overwhelmed by their enthusiasm.
The sponsorship came about thanks to your initiative. What moved you to organize this trip?
Vienna is all about theater. Living here, it’s a big thing as it offers many possibilities. It provides the opportunity to immerse yourself in another world. You can identify with characters or even find a new side to yourself. In doing so, your thoughts can run wild in a fantastical world free of the restraints of reality. The youth in our class are at an age where they are looking to future. Often, to find the road less travelled, so to speak. This particular piece, “Dance of the Vampires”, portrays many issues that this age group is confronted with: independence, testing limits, desire, danger, love. For many of the students, this was the first time they attended such an event. And I sincerely believe that youth should be given the opportunity to have these sort of experiences.
What were their reactions to the “Dance of the Vampires” and what did they enjoy the most?
They were absolutely awe struck. The beautiful location, the stunning set, the outstanding costumes, the mask, the music by Jim Steinman’s and its energy in general – it was simply fantastic. As soon as it finished, the students wanted to watch it again straight away. They were completely enchanted by this world, which brought up many emotions in them. Allowing them to see how fascinating and exciting going to the theatre can be was exactly what I was hoping for. They also realized the importance of “scrubbing up” as a sign of respect. You could definitely call the experience holistic learning, especially considering going to the theatre has a such a rarity to it.
What aspects of art and culture are important to you personally? Does this affect your students directly?
I mentioned earlier that I consider the ability to slip into other roles as very important. It strengthens the emotional and social awareness – virtues that are both important in this world. Providing this opportunity to expand their imagination, to delve into an out-of-this-world experience, might even encourage one or the other to aspire for more. Art has a lot to do with freedom. The freedom of expression, the freedom to desire – both often shrugged off as impossibilities. Identity also plays a big role. To identify with others and find common ground, to recognize the humanity in others. You could almost say it’s an awakening to tolerance. At the same time, art should stimulate contemplation – affection, revulsion – what do these things have to do with me. It should discourage from thinking in only black and white but also in polka dots, stripes, checkers and of course everything in between.
You mentioned new roles suggesting everyday life isn’t always easy. What does a regular school day look like?
Being a teacher doesn’t only mean knowledge transfer. School life includes a lot of social work, conflict management, accepting viewpoints as well as conveying structure and clarity. It’s important to help the quiet ones come out of their shell while acknowledging the loud ones and showing them, they won’t be forgotten if they’re not the center of attention. Attentiveness, conveying optimism, life affirmation and clearly positioning oneself as clear counterpart but also a companion. As soon as these things are second nature to me and accepted by the students, I have a basis to teach. Class starts with students submitting their communication books, a way for parents to share any concerns they might have. Maintaining the school/family relationship is important to us. The day continues according to the timetable, whereby students aren’t in class when they attend the counselling sessions that our school offers throughout the day. Catching up on missed lessons is easier due to our smaller class sizes. The benefit is being able to establish a closer relationship with each student and providing them individual attention.
Which do you consider the most important tasks in your profession?
Conveying knowledge and values. Considering we work with kids and youth, we can limit our tasks to knowledge transfer. In order to live a fulfilling life, it’s necessary to understand principle values. Worthwhile education only works through a solid relationship. I have to see the child as a whole, to know their history and to develop from there. Everything we say, must confirm what we teach. Art also conveys values and emotions. Balancing pros and cons, broadening horizons through the willingness to listen and striving for common goals are very important. Respect and communication are of course also determining factors. A touch humor and lightheartedness don’t hurt either when trying to motivate the students. My aim is a balanced approach challenging but also encouraging the students. The positive cooperation with parents and their interest in the child are a great advantage in this respect. Just as important is the social learning. Solidarity in a group greatly promotes wellbeing. Everyone learns better in a peaceful and caring environment. Every child should feel welcome and safe at school.
All of us at panagenda are glad to have been a part of this excursion and thank you for your service. What advice would you give to someone who is interested and would like to help?
My advice is to never be indifferent. Everything that serves education also serves peace. Whether taking the time to read to a child or to a resident in a retirement home, whether sponsoring a class to visit the theatre, it all serves the same purpose. They enable memorable moments. Ones of great value. Boosting self-esteem. All of which lead to an inner peace. Helping requires time, commitment, attention and yes, sometimes also money. If everyone gives just a little, in total it is a lot. If you consciously look around your environment and listen, then you will also find something where you can contribute.