Every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, ISK is crawling with enthusiastic students from Wageningen University who come to the school to tutor ISK pupils. Each tutor is assigned to a pair of pupils for the whole school year. The tutor engages them in conversation, games and other activities and helps them with their school work. Since every tutor has their own unique personality, the interaction between the tutor and the pupils within the tutor programme is very varied, but is always characterised by on lots of energy and enthusiasm.

A bond of trust

Over time, the pupils develop a bond of trust with their tutor and they increasingly open up to one another. That is one of the reasons why, every Friday lunchtime, the pupils are always so excited about seeing their tutor again. During the tutoring sessions, the tutors devote their full attention to their pupils’ needs – not only in terms of help with school work, but also in terms of each pupil’s personal development. A tutor session lasts three hours and is attended by two pupils per tutor.

Weekly contact

Thanks to having weekly contact with their tutor, the pupils absorb a lot of information about life in the Netherlands through the eyes of someone of roughly their own age. By discussing their experiences – in Dutch – the pupils can learn from the tutors, while the tutors can support the pupils on their path to evolve into self-assured young adults living in the Netherlands. This support runs in parallel with the school lessons. Each pupil gradually builds up a lasting trust-based relationship with their tutor, and there is regular contact between the tutors and the teachers throughout the year.

“Pupils are challenged to think about life in the Netherlands with other people outside of ISK and their own family”

Tutor Bodil Boelens comments: “I’m studying Biobased Sciences at Wageningen University (WUR). I taught Dutch lessons at ISK in the 2019-2020 academic year. During that time, team leader Hans Brandwacht and I talked a lot about the teaching at ISK and how we could further improve it. Those conversations always revolved around paying even more attention to pupils and creating a safe and strong learning environment.”

“Hans had already set up the tutor programme for HAVO and VWO pupils at Pantarijn, so we combined his experience with our ideas, my enthusiasm and my network at WUR to develop this tutor programme together. It’s a wonderful form of guidance and support: for young people, by young people. The interaction between the ISK pupils and the students from Wageningen University has produced many more benefits than we ever imagined beforehand, including for the students. And the tutor programme has become even more valuable and meaningful in view of the ISK pupils’ needs for extra support during the COVID-19 period.”

“I’m delighted to see the various groups working together so well. For me, one of the nicest things is that the pupils are challenged to think about life in the Netherlands with other people outside of ISK and their own family. For example, a tutor might inspire a pupil to look for a part-time job or to join a sports club. It’s also very beneficial that the pupils hear about Dutch norms and values – which are sometimes still unfamiliar to them – from people of roughly their own age. For example, various conversations have arisen during walks through the centre of Wageningen. The LHTB+ ‘rainbow bench’ is the ideal place to discuss diversity and personal freedoms, because it can help to make the topic much more real for pupils than just talking about it at school.”

“During a game, pupils tend to come out of their shell and feel more at ease speaking Dutch”

According to another tutor, Isabel, not only the pupils but also she herself can learn a lot from the social interactions that take place at ISK between people from different cultural backgrounds. She regards the tutor programme as a unique experience. The two-to-one approach in the sessions creates a safe environment that fosters effective interaction between herself and her pupils. Meanwhile, tutor Esther explains that during her sessions she often uses games as a way to stimulate the pupils. During a game, pupils tend to come out of their shell and feel more at ease speaking Dutch.

The government funding to provide extra support to pupils during the COVID-19 pandemic has been used very effectively thanks to the tutor programme. By fostering engagement and connectedness, it provides a strong foundation for learning and playing, and for inclusion of this unique group of young people. Therefore, ISK hopes to make this special form of teaching a structural part of its approach.