Azmeralda Poole pushes the chalk down on the ground and draws two dots inside a circle, cracking a grin as she sketches a smiling face. She points to her creation as she looks up at Nicole Flores, her Vogelweh Elementary School counselor.
“This is me. I’m happy right now!” Azmeralda says.
Flores smiles and consoles the young girl as she participates in a therapy session conducted for the children who were evacuated out of Turkey during an approved order from the Department of Defense. Flores had them draw out their thoughts and feelings, and for Azmeralda, there were a lot.
“I had to leave Dad alone for a while,” Azmeralda said. “In the middle of the night, Mom and I came over to Germany, and I knew nobody here. Some of my friends came with me to Germany, but a lot of them left to America.”
As Azmeralda said, some were moved here, but some went back stateside. According to Flores, it’s been an eventful first few weeks, as she and other school staff members have been coming to help the dozens of families getting settled in.
“We got a call out of the blue. … We ended up with 65 kids from Turkey,” Flores said. “It happened so fast, but we’ve kept our minds and arms open to these kids the entire way.”
Despite the large influx of over 60 students, the teachers have had no problem taking more of them. If anything, according to Flores, the response has been incredible.
“A lot of teachers wanted as many students as possible,” Flores explained. “Also, we have a program where these students have sponsors in the school that show them around and get them adjusted to the new environment. They become their new best friends, and they start feeling like they’ve been here all year.”
It has not been an easy time for these kids and their parents, according to Flores. However, they’ve never been alone. The parents were provided sponsors to help them settle into the community and become comfortable, and their children were also given sponsors in the form of their peers.
Although they have had so many changes in their lives in such a short amount of time, many of them are still smiling and brightening the classrooms.
“These kids are so spectacular,” Flores said. “To see them getting along so well with students that have lived here, it’s amazing.”
As the kids’ next classes are looming, Flores rounds up the students. She takes a glance at the drawings across the playground. Smiley faces and frowning faces crowded the small playground turf. One scribbled face expressed a look of uncertainty with the word “meh” chalked above its head.
Flores looks down at the students’ faces. One girl had a doll, with a photo of her dad’s face on the head, clenched tightly in her hands.
“Did we get our emotions out today?” Flores asked her students, being met with a crowd of nodding heads.
“I know you all miss your moms or dads, but I want you all to leave your emotions here on this playground, kids,” Flores said. “I want all the sadness, confusion and unhappiness to stay here, chalked in the ground.”
The only emotion she wants them to carry with them to their next home is their happiness and positivity. Flores will only spend two more months with the students, as they and the parents will return stateside once the kids finish their school year.
“I’m going to miss these kids when they leave,” Flores admitted. “They’re part of our family now.”
Whether they were drawing happy faces or stacking cups, these third-grade students were united with the community and built friendships at their elementary school. Although they’ll only be here for two months to finish the school year, they’ll have friends and teachers that will remember them for years.