What are you leading?
In 2018, when Teach For Romania alumna Mihaela Bucsa arrived in the village of Crizbav to teach eighth grade physics, some of her colleagues warned her not to expect any learning to take place in her classroom, or for many of her students to go on to secondary school. A community made up of primarily Roma families, Crizbav is known for poverty, violence, illiteracy, and ethnic segregation. Few of the village’s children grow up believing their future holds anything other than hard work and low wages. “The physical distance between Crizbav and Brasov, one of the biggest cities in Romania, is only 25 km,” Mihaela says. “The distance in terms of opportunities and real chances for a better life can only be measured in years.”
Mihaela soon discovered that many of her students struggled to read and write—but what surprised her more was that the majority of them didn’t dare to dream that they could continue school after finishing the eighth grade. To better understand her students Mihaela spent time getting to know their families and the community. “It became clear that poverty was the cause of many problems we face within the school, but it wasn’t the only cause,” Michaela says. “I found that the main thing that I could work on was the community’s lack of belief in the benefits of education.”
Through her frequent visits, Mihaela was able to build relationships based on trust with her students’ families. To further illustrate the value of education and expose them to new ideas and opportunities, Mihaela began taking her students—many of whom had never ventured outside of their village—on field trips to museums, parks, and the “big city” of Brasov. “For the first time, school was creating nice memories for the children of Crizbav,” she says. At the end of her first year of teaching, 21 of Mihaela’s 28 eighth graders went on to enroll in high school or professional apprenticeship programs in Brasov—an unprecedented achievement.
When the 2019-2020 school year began, Mihaela continued the tradition of field trips with her new class of eighth graders, and several were scheduled for the spring semester. In March 2020, however, COVID-19 forced schools throughout Romania to close, and the field trips her students had been looking forward to for months were indefinitely put on hold. Mihaela recognized the importance of maintaining her students’ enthusiasm about learning, but, since the majority of them lacked access to a computer, smartphone, or stable internet connection, first she had to find a way to stay connected to them from a distance. With creative thinking and the support of a nearby foundation, Mihaela was able to provide devices to the students who needed them. Next, she turned her focus to finding ways to keep them engaged in learning and optimistic about the future. While the field trips they’d been dreaming of were postponed, Mihaela realized that as long as they had phones or tablets, she could still introduce her students to new experiences and show them places they’d never seen -including places they would never be able to physically visit—starting with outer space.