The secret of the village school with zero absences. Principal: “All the students come to class now” PHOTO

In a country that ranks first in Europe in terms of school dropouts, a village headmistress managed a miracle: she convinced all the students to come to class every day. What is the secret? Class attendance is rewarded with field trips, children's names are put on the honor roll, and parents receive congratulatory letters at home. However, the teacher has other plans by which she tries to attract the children to study.

Students from Dobrin commune come to school every day. Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

Delia Petran is 45 years old and is a Romanian language teacher. She lives in Zalău, Sălaj county, but, every day, she commutes to the general school in Dobrin, where she is also a teacher, and for seven years, headmistress. He drives nearly 40 kilometers round trip every morning, but he doesn't complain. On the contrary.

I leave home with my personal car around 07.00. I'm at school in half an hour. I try not to be late, even if I come from the city. What example would I give the children then?“, the teacher begins his story. “I worked for 10 years as a teacher in the city, but I wouldn't go back there. Although, I admit, it was difficult for me at first, I discovered here a world that I wanted with all my heart to change“, the teacher confessed to us.

And he did the impossible: in just a few years, he reduced the dropout rate from 20% to zero. It is a real achievement, especially since we are talking about 120 children who come, most of them, from disadvantaged backgrounds. “When I came here, I found children who had no confidence in themselves at all, with very low self-esteem, desolate, sad, withdrawn and distressed children. Most of them come from modest, single-parent families, some are taken in foster care, others have a precarious financial situation, many receive social assistance, their parents are abroad and they are raised by their grandparents. I wanted to do something for them. May they be well and beautiful in life”continues the teacher.

And the woman's work was titanic and stretched over several years. The headmistress implemented the first project when she was only a teacher in the school. In 2013, he obtained funds to equip the educational unit with computers. Also then he founded a school magazine. “The money was also used to organize trips for children.” It was the first step and the beginning of what was to be a story with a happy ending. “I realized that these children deserve a better education, teachers who will be close to them, who will encourage them, guide them, support them”.

The Romanian teacher encourages the students to read.  Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

The Romanian teacher encourages the students to read. Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

As for the dropout rate, here was the teacher's biggest pain. In the meantime, she had become a headmistress and dreamed of the time when all the children enrolled in school would also be in the banks.

Until about two years ago, I had two, even three students that I lost on the way. They dropped out of school. By 2022 I found a little girl in the field. He looked after the animals. He was about 10, 11 years old and had never been to school. I talked to the parents, enrolled the child in the preparatory class. He came until the second grade and then gave up,” the teacher recalls with regret. Another case is that of a boy who was enrolled in school at the age of 11. “He didn't know how to write, read, count. When he entered the fifth grade he was already 16 years old. He told me he didn't want to continue. I lost him too”. That was the moment when the teacher knew that urgent action had to be taken. “And I started thinking of plans and strategies to keep the others in school.”

Delia Petran attended the training and improvement courses of the School Leadership and Management Academy, organized by the “Values ​​in Education” Association. He was inspired by the cases that other teachers faced, he took over the ideas of company managers who held trainings.

We collaborated with institutions that deal with education, we learned new practices and teaching methods, successful strategies that we then implemented in our school. I entered the “School of Trust” program, where I met business people, numerous trainers from whom I learned a lot.”

The teacher, from a simple teacher, to a best friend

The teacher tried to create a healthy relationship, as she says, between teachers, parents and students. “Children should come to school with love, and teachers with love to work. If you come with love, you can do extraordinary things. If, on the contrary, you are constantly under pressure, under stress, if you feel, as an adult, that you always have a “Big Brother” behind you, you will not achieve results. When you work relaxed, calm, with the confidence that every mistake is, in fact, a step forward in your learning and improvement process, then you know that everything will be fine in the end”.

A real family was formed in the small school in Dobrin commune. 18 teachers make sure that the students feel that they also matter. That their opinion is taken into account. That their voice is heard. “We are a team. My greatest joy is this. That we managed to create some healthy relationships between adults in the first place. Because children do what they see in grown-ups. They are our mirror. If their teachers have some healthy relationships, a common direction, then the children also align with these values. And we're all pulling the same bandwagon.” the woman told us.

120 students study at the school in Dobrin commune.  Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

120 students study at the school in Dobrin commune. Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

Delia Petran tried to transform in the children's eyes the image they generally had of the teacher, and over time, that man behind the chair became for them not only a teacher, but also a friend. “There is continuous communication between teachers and children, a very good collaboration. And everyone was encouraged to talk, to come closer. Students need to feel safe at school. I am referring to an obviously physical safety, but also an emotional one. How we relate to children is very important. They are like a blank sheet of paper. What matters is what we, as adults, draw on that immaculate paper. Some draw well, others less well.”

Delia Petran is of the opinion that as long as children learn in a healthy environment, are surrounded by empathetic people, open to dialogue, who offer them help and support them, then the school turns into a magical land, where everything is possible, where dreams take wings, and the future suddenly doesn't seem so bleak anymore. “This was the first step: to make the children gain confidence in us, then in themselves, to come to school because they want to, to do it with pleasure, to enjoy everything we offer them”.

The students from Dobrin commune learn in an integrated system.  Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

The students from Dobrin commune learn in an integrated system. Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

Attendance at classes, rewarded with trips

However, the teacher went even further. He devised a reward system for children without unexcused absences. And it works great! “We try to motivate them to come to school. At the end of each module, those who have no absences receive a prize: they go on a trip, their photo is put on the school board with the message “SO YES”, they go to the movies, they receive the award “Bravo, you have style”.

Children keep their own records of absences. Everyone writes them down on a list that then goes to the class leader. He passes it on, and at the end the big fight takes place: the class with the fewest absences receives the much-coveted prize. “They also have, for example, the opportunity to eat a cake together with the school director, sometimes I take them home by car from school…we have all kinds of little surprises, but which for them are great joys. And this encourages them to come to school tomorrow, to learn, to be even better”.

Moreover, the teacher says, the parents were also involved in the children's education. “When the child does well, when he has done something worthy of praise, the parents receive congratulatory letters from the principals. Moreover, sometimes we call them at school to tell them what wonderful children they have. They can't believe it. Many begin to cry.”

Excursions, movie or theater tickets, small surprises are generally financed by sponsors. “We found sponsors from outside, but there are also teachers at our school who want to contribute. Which I find incredible!” said the headmistress proudly. Recently, one of the teachers bought the “winners” burgers.

Director Delia Petran has 25 years of experience in education.  Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

Director Delia Petran has 25 years of experience in education. Photo source: Prof. Delia Petran

And this is how, little by little, the teacher's dream took shape. But now he wants even more. “I asked the children what their needs were, what their school should be like. They told me they would like to have a mini basketball court to hit the ball. And I got to work. Some of the money has already been donated to us. We will get another part from the ministry, through the National Program for the reduction of school dropouts. We need dirt to level the court, then we pour a concrete slab and buy a basketball hoop. It costs us about 20,000 euros”.

And the teacher also has an offer: she wants to introduce the “Healthy meal” program in the school. “I am convinced that a hot meal would attract the children even more to school. I would like to keep them even after the program for an hour or two to do their homework under the guidance of a teacher”.

Anti-bullying education

The teacher thought of a method by which he effectively resolves the small conflicts that still arise between the children. “Conflicts are resolved in a separate meeting with each child. Communication is essential. We have some questions for the kids but not like who started first or who is to blame. We ask them what happened, how they felt at that moment, how they think the other child involved in the conflict felt, who was affected in this whole story, what do they think they need to do to avoid going through the same feelings again “, the teacher explained. “But we have this discussion when the children are ready to speak openly and honestly. Sometimes they tell me they're upset and we'll talk next break. Is OK”.

As for meetings with parents, they also take place individually. “On a mutually agreed date, we have a meeting with the parents and the child.

Professor Delia Petran told us that she is aware of the fact that she will not be able to achieve academic results with these children. “But we try to prepare them for life, to have a job. The best students in the country go abroad. Let's see how we help those who stayed at home”, says the teacher.