Observing Ukraine: Telling the Story of Resilience from a Teacher’s Perspective

Marie Perry, Communications Director for the School District of Belleville


Sometimes it is necessary to get out of one’s own box to gain a greater understanding – and in the case of Belleville High School Science teacher Travor Bussey, it meant boarding a plane to a war-torn nation instead of sitting down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  To grow, we sometimes have to allow ourselves to do things that scare us, and, when we do, we learn we can accomplish things we thought we could not manage on our own.  Bussey has recently learned from the students in Kyiv that you can be “relaxed in a war zone” when it comes to learning.

Travor made the trip because he wanted to understand how students and teachers remain resilient with their studies while their country is at war.  So, on November 20th, 2023, he entered the main door of Gymnasium No. 117 named for Lesya Ukrainka, a famous poet.  There his eyes were opened to a different way of life for students and their teachers in Kyiv, Ukraine, but it wasn’t stopping anyone from putting a strong focus on the value and importance of education.  Their customs, ways of life, curriculum and methods of study represent strength and maturity that he has seldom seen as they face the day-to-day struggles life offers right now in Ukraine.  It is quite different from what he sees on a daily basis in his American science classroom.

On his first day of observation, Bussey noted the presence of a retired soldier who greets each person as they enter Gymnasium № 117.  He is stationed there as the first line of defense should the war spill into the building – a constant fear for those in attendance.  The hall is stockpiled with survival supplies should the students and teachers need them, further evidence that everyone is ready to face the ugliness of war at a moment’s notice.  But in the classroom the business of learning is serious, and the fear of war has shaped the course offerings.  Among the traditional science courses Bussey was there to observe, he found himself also attending a required class called “In Defense of Ukraine.”

Bussey witnessed students assemble weapons rhythmically one after another, without gender bias.

“The students liked this class because it was more hands-on than others,” reflects Bussey.

The curricular choices Ukraine is making at schools like Gymnasium No. 117 reflects what they are experiencing as a society, but it hasn’t meant they are placing a greater emphasis on these course offerings at the expense of traditional learning.  Bussey experienced quite the opposite.  Whether it was Chemistry, Physics, or Biology class, Travor Bussey witnessed a dedication to the importance of learning.  The war isn’t stopping anyone from their studies.  At the back of the classroom, the repeated tapping sound of chalk on the front board caught not only the attention of himself, but commanded the focus of the students there to learn.  If he had any doubt in his mind about whether students were distracted by the elements of war at their doorstep, he only had to look over their shoulders at the beautiful handwritten notes and diagrams flowing at each desk as the teachers lectured to their high school science students.

With this said, the strength of Ukrainian culture runs deep as students open each day of learning with a hymn honoring those they have lost.

Bussey notes, “The students had a deep sense of respect for the sacrifices that fellow Ukrainians have made for their country.”

For Mr. Bussey it is important to think about how we teach science in the US versus what he observes on an international level in other countries like Ukraine.  Bussey is passionate about his teaching, but also his role as a life-long learner.  What he takes in from a trip like his visit to the Ukraine, he brings back to share with his students and his school district to hopefully make Belleville stronger.

His presentation to the School Board on Monday, January 8th, was nothing less than insightful and helps us all gain a world perspective on the state of education from his lens as a talented educator.

District Administrator Nate Perry notes, “The Belleville Board of Education appreciated Travor’s presentation and insight.  Travor mentioned getting more staff to join in similar school visits - an idea that the board would encourage.  These types of visits generate potential new approaches or solutions to ongoing problems.”