‘It’s important’: How a Spokane school is teaching about the Ukraine crisis in real-time

SPOKANE, Wash. – As the days pass and the crisis continues to unfold in Ukraine, students are watching history play out right before their eyes.

Teaching students about the history of eastern Europe and what lead up to the invasion is not easy, but Spokane International Academy teacher Spencer Grainger is taking on that task.

Grainger, a middle school global perspectives teacher, is having kids read stories about situations happening in Ukraine daily. After reading articles from credible news sources he finds, students discuss them with each other.

“It’s super sad that a bunch of people died,” one student said.

“They blew up their TV and radio stations,” another said.

After students talk about what they read, Grainger says they talk about it as a class, and he answers any questions they may have.

“That gives me a chance to clarify misconceptions or to add a little more context to what’s happening,” he said.

Grainger says his class is focused on giving students a global perspective, trying to have them understand what’s happening across the world. They look at news articles from places like BBC and NPR, at least in the Ukraine crisis.

While some schools touch on the Russian invasion here and there, Grainger talks about it every day.

“It’s important. We’re an international school. Part of our school mission is to cultivate a globally-minded perspective on the world so these kids can get into higher education and become leaders in our community,” Grainger said. “It’s important we give them exposure and give them an opportunity to explore what’s happening globally.”

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Megan Lebrun, the school counselor for students in grades five through eight, says it’s also important for the school to address the Ukraine crisis because students will talk about it on their own. She says it’s best for schools to also talk about it so students can get the right information.

“The kids are going to make their own assumptions and talk about it, whether we think they are or not. It’s, again, important just to name it. Here’s the elephant, here’s what’s going on. It’s impacting all. It’s impacting Russians, it’s impacting students who are from Ukraine. It’s impacting our teachers,” Lebrun said.

As an international school, there are students from all over attending. That includes students from Russia and Ukraine. It’s important for the school to be sensitive about how they’re approaching the Ukraine crisis.

“Just being mindful of that, how we’re talking about it, what information we’re sharing, making sure it’s age-appropriate and then the correct information,” she said.

When talking about the Ukraine crisis with kids from both those countries in the class, Grainger said he gives them a safe space to ask questions and share anything they’d like.

As they discuss the invasion, Grainger says some students are scared. He said students ask a lot about a nuclear war and are afraid of World War III.

“I tell them they don’t need to be afraid on a daily basis and that we need to learn from what’s happening in the situation to see how dialogue and how international cooperation to help deescalate the conflict,” he said.

It’s difficult for him to help students in middle school make the invasion understandable. He says he teaches a lot of background usually.

“That is the hardest part, to take anything that’s this complex of a situation and to make it comprehensible and relatable by 12 or a 13-year-old,” he said.

Learning about history and the violence that comes with it is not new. Schools talk about past wars in history class. As students learn about Ukraine, Grainger says he shows them photos, not videos. However, news websites they go to may have them.

“I haven’t brought those in, because most of the news sources when I find video, the first thing it says it this can be a traumatic video to watch. If I come across that, I’m really careful not to traumatize my students,” he said, adding that it is allowed for them to watch some videos.

Grainger says students have been exposed to violence and warfare before, whether it’s through imagination or watching a movie or playing video games.

“Now, it’s real. So, they’re understanding that and seeing it differently,” he said.

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