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Culture

Street school gives drop-outs a second chance

In Germany, children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to quit school than just about anywhere else in the world. A Mannheim street school gives some of these drop-outs a second chance.

In a tiny classroom decorated with home-made posters and lined with bookshelves, German high school student Marco sits quietly at a desk practicing English together with his tutor. He's preparing for his leaving certificate exams in a few months time.

Dressed in a beanie, worn jeans and a t-shirt, Marco looks just like an average school student -except that's he's 22 years old.

He's already dropped out of school twice in the past, but is now determined to graduate.

Students and a tutor at the Mannheim Street School

Marco (center) says he's like to take university entrance exams after he finishes high school

"I always wanted to finish high school and I had several goes at it, but I had to move a lot because I was living with different foster parents and in different homes," Marco explained.

He was too busy working out his personal issues when he was younger to pay much attention in school, he says, but now he's "at peace with himself," so can better concentrate on his studies.

"It's the right time now to go to school," Marco said. "Math is my favorite subject. It's pretty easy because it's so logical and I really like it."

However, Marco's school is rather different from typical German high schools or adult education classes.

Bring the classroom to the students

It's located in the basement of a youth drop-in center called Freezone, where homeless or disadvantaged young people can eat, hang out, sleep, and even catch up on an education that many of them, like Marco, missed out on the first time around.

"We thought, no matter what, we have to find a way to bring the school to us rather than the other way round," said Freezone manager and social worker, Andrea Schulz, who together with her colleagues came up with the idea of a school for street kids a few years ago.

Mannheim street school

It doesn't resemble yur typical school environment

Students attending the Mannheim Street School can enroll at any time - they don't have to wait for the start of the school year. There are no set lesson plans, no entry tests and no teachers standing at the front of the classroom.

Rather, each of the 10 students enrolled here has a series of personal tutors and the lessons, which take place four evenings a week from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, are tailored to their individual needs.

"These young people have already dropped out of school at least once so when they decide to return to school, there is no point in confronting them with the same kind of system that already gave them problem in the past," said university professor Ute Schnebel, who coordinates the Mannheim Street School.

Schnebel based the idea on schools created for streets kids in Colombia.

Six of the current students plan to take their high school exams at the end of the school year. One of them is 17-year-old Katura, who has been attending the Street School for 10 months.

She had problems attending a normal school, but is now determined to get her high school certificate.

"School is really important to me so I can get a better job," she said. "If I have a better job, it means I will have a better future."

An open mind

A young student at the Mannheim Street School

Katura sees education in a new light

Many of the Street School tutors are university students who volunteer an evening a week of their time. Many of the students say having such young teachers is refreshing because they have suffered from run-ins with older teachers in the past.

"The teachers are really nice," said Diane, taking a break from her English grammar lesson. "They are really young, and the younger they are, the better it is for the students because then they understand where we are coming from. Some older people can't understand young people at all, and that's were the problems start."

At only 15, Diane is the youngest student at the Street School. She comes from a family where education isn't a big deal, but she is determined to do it differently.

"I am ambitious," she said. "I don't exactly have the best background and sometime in the future, I would like to be able to live well, without being dependent on anyone else. And I will do everything I can to achieve that."

Diane's advice to others: It's never too late to go back to school.

"I want to tell everyone, regardless of their age, that they can still finish school."

Author: Kate Hairsine
Editor: Kate Bowen

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