In the Lyon suburbs, an association brings Roma or homeless children back to school

In the Lyon suburbs, an association brings Roma or homeless children back to school

For almost twenty years, a Lyon collective has worked to educate Roma and homeless children. A place of welcome and listening for families with difficult backgrounds.

Under Annalisa's diligent brushstrokes, a character with shaggy hair comes to life: “My sister,” assures the little girl. Today, there is a painting workshop in the parking lot of the abandoned company offices occupied by several Roma families, in Vaulx-en-Velin, in the suburbs of Lyon (Rhône). Like every week, the volunteers set up a makeshift installation: easels leaning against a shed for the artists, a tarpaulin for those who want to read or work on subtraction.

Dimitri chose his side: “Shall we do math? ” he asks. “He was always good at mental arithmetic,” smiles Jacques, employee of the Lyon Collective for access to schooling and support for children in squats (Classes). Of the twenty or so children there, only two girls go to school. In these hectic lives of squatting in camps and temporary accommodation following evictions, there are many obstacles. The association was born in 2005 to compensate for this lack. Almost twenty years later, its mission remains crucial. In the metropolis of Lyon, she supports migrant children of around thirty nationalities, Romanian Roma in the lead, in 105 living spaces. In 2022-2023, Classes participated in the education of 573 students.

Convince families

The relationship with families is first forged through these workshops, “a gift time to share a moment”, underlines Jacques. Then time does its work and trust is established. The man wants to mention a particular case: “Three years ago, this family was suspicious. From now on, children jump into the arms of any newcomer. » Confidence comes with time. “Often, they just need help with administrative registration,” explains Henri Branciard, historical pillar. Sometimes the path is more tortuous. “In this Bosnian Roma family, who had previously passed through Italy, the parents dreamed of sending their children to school. But this put the oldest in such states of anxiety that none of the other children wanted to go afterwards,” explains Jacques.

In these cases, the goal is to maintain the connection. Practice numbers on a hopscotch, go to the media library, write your first name… The association also works on the framework by familiarizing children with the rules: “Put on a blouse, put away the painting equipment. » School also sometimes arouses fears among parents, often linked to separation. Added to this is the fear of intervention by child protection services or that of not finding your child in the evening in the event of expulsion. “In this life, you can expect anything,” explains Bianca. Romanian Roma, she is now a school mediator at Classes, who in the past helped her. Having experienced the chaotic journey of the families she supports, she understands their daily lives.

“Last year, he ran away”

Persuading parents is one step, but entering school does not mean staying there. In this unknown universe, children's first steps are often painful. A kindergarten teacher in Lyon, Ms. Berger has a little Roma boy in her class. “This year, he's getting his bearings, last year it was impossible: he was running away. » “Arriving alone in a class, far from the family circle, without understanding anything, it’s violent,” sighs Jacques. Added to this are material constraints. “If it rained all night in the tent and everything is soaked, it's difficult to send the child to school. » And fatigue: “Outside, in a truck, we don't rest the same,” explains Andrea, Romanian Roma, in France since 2015.

Difficulties that teachers must be aware of in order to understand these students whose absenteeism, behavior or academic lag they fear. “We invite them to talk to the family about their constraints,” adds Andrea. A challenge for teaching teams. If a national education system exists for allophone students, “it is insufficient and limited to two years”, deplores Sarah, school mediator, who continues: “The ideal would be support, in class with adapted materials, on living spaces and extracurricular times. » Often, schooling calms down when the situation at home stabilizes. Now housed, Andrea has put her four boys through school thanks to Classes, “and everything is going pretty well”. When she calls the association now, it is to refer a family in need.

The recipes for success of the Lyon Classes association

  • Trust. A relationship is built with families through regular visits to the living areas.
  • Training. Interventions are organized with social workers, teachers, future educators specializing in life in slums, with people concerned who testify to their reality.
  • Mediation. Three school mediators interact with the school. Their positions have been financed by the State since the 2018 circular on the reduction of slums.

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