Helpers in all situations: school attendant Katrin Grabow and Felian Schröter (8) in a classroom at Traubinger Elementary School. For more than a year, the woman from Weilheim has been accompanying the hearing-impaired boy. You are a comforter, a second mom, a confidant and a supporter. Katrin Grabow on her tasks as school counsellor © Andrea Jaksch
School companions – they help and support children and young people with disabilities in their everyday school life. Katrin Grabow has been doing this job for five years, she herself has a now grown-up son with ADHD. For them, the work has become fulfilling.
Traubing – Felian Schröter sits at a wooden table in the first row of the classroom of the second grade of the primary school in Traubing. He holds his head at a slight angle, his eyes focused on the task projected onto the blackboard. "Who wants to read the first sentence?" asks teacher Melina Leidel. Half a dozen fingers shoot up, and Leidel passes a microphone to a boy at the other end of the room. She herself has a kind of smartphone around her neck, which has a touch screen and a talk button. Thanks to these two things, Felian can follow the lessons and actively participate in them. The eight-year-old has been hearing impaired since birth, without his devices in his ear he understands nothing. During the lesson, these are connected via Bluetooth to Melina Leidel's microphone and small apparatus. However, if it gets too loud and the students talk in confusion, it is difficult for the Traubinger to keep up. Then Katrin Grabow helps him.
During the lesson, the school attendant sits diagonally behind Felian and supports him in everyday life – with work assignments, organizing his desk or changing the hearing aid batteries. If it gets too much for the eight-year-old, Grabow takes the boy out of class for a short time to catch his breath or take a break in the next room.
School counsellors are a support for children and young people with physical, mental and social-emotional disabilities or chronic illnesses in everyday school life. Without them, participation in lessons would not be possible. "You are a comforter, a second mother, a confidant and a supporter," says Grabow, who works for Lebenshilfe Starnberg. "The most important thing, however, is that it has to fit between the student and the companion." This is because the time the two parties spend together is long – usually several hours a day. In Grabow and Felian's case, there are exactly 24 a week.
Five school companions alone at a small primary school
For a little more than a year, the 47-year-old from Weilheim has been accompanying Felian in everyday school life. At the beginning of the first grade, the Traubinger had no support, he was on the waiting list of Lebenshilfe. "That was difficult for him. He was quickly exhausted by the many impressions," says Grabow, who herself has a son with ADHD and knows how difficult school can be for children with disabilities. "When my son started school, there were no school attendants. That's why he couldn't go to regular school, but attended a special school." Today, Grabow's son is 22 years old and works as a mechatronics engineer. "He did it that way. However, if he had gone to a normal primary school and had been accompanied, it would probably have made his journey easier."
Today, things look different: At the Traubing primary school alone, which consists of four classes, five school companions work. "You don't need any pedagogical qualifications to do this job. There is also no training at the beginning. You're thrown right in at the deep end. I had a bit of a stomach ache at the beginning." However, this does not mean that everyone can work as a school companion. Previous knowledge is important. "You shouldn't be afraid of contact, you should be socially competent and patient, and good nerves are also important," says Grabow. But above all, school companions should have a big heart. "I don't have an exhilarating salary, but I enjoy the job and it's fulfilling. I see myself here until retirement and even longer," says Grabow. The trained housekeeper became aware of the Lebenshilfe offer five years ago. "At the time, I worked with seniors with dementia." Her experience in nursing also helps her as a school companion.
It is not always the case that it harmonizes so well and runs so peacefully as between Katrin Grabow and Felian. That's why the school counsellors of Lebenshilfe meet regularly to exchange ideas. They also receive guidance, support and further training here. "There are students, pensioners, former bankers or chefs." Sharing experiences with each other helps, says the Weilheim resident. Even more important for good cooperation, however, is communication with school and parents. In Felian's case, it's not so easy. "His father and mother also have hearing impairments, so we write each other e-mails." At home, the family usually communicates through sign language and lip reading.
School counsellor: "I was not seen as an appendage"
At the primary school in Traubing, Grabow immediately felt welcomed. "I wasn't seen as an appendage." School companions are used both at special schools and at regular schools in the district. However, there is a particularly high demand for special schools. "At regular schools, the requirements are very high, the level is different." But Felian seems to be able to handle the pressure. "He's a very strong student who is insanely interested. He reads a lot and likes to be in nature." The eight-year-old's favourite subjects are German and local history and social studies. "Later I would like to become a geologist," he says.
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Grabow will be at his side until the summer. "He's made so much progress. The aim of school support is for the children to become independent at some point." That seems to have worked. But Felian will continue to see the 47-year-old regularly, as she will be supporting his younger brother, who also has a hearing impairment and is scheduled to go to the first grade of Traubing Elementary School from the coming school year.