Azmeralda Poole pushes the chalk down on the ground and draws two dots inside a circle, cracking a grin as she sketches a smiling face. She points to her creation as she looks up at Nicole Flores, her Vogelweh Elementary School counselor.
“This is me,” the student says. “I’m happy right now!”
The young girl was participating in a therapy session for children who were ordered to leave Turkey by the Defense Department on March 29 due to security concerns there. Flores had them draw out their thoughts and feelings, and for Azmeralda, there were many.
“I had to leave dad alone for a while,” she said. “In the middle of the night, mom and I came over to Germany, and I knew nobody here. Some of my friends came with me to Germany, but a lot of them left to America.”
As she said, some families were moved to Ramstein Air Base but some went back stateside. According to Flores, it’s been an eventful first few weeks, as she and other school staff members help the dozens of families settle in.
“We got a call out of the blue … we ended up with 65 kids from Turkey,” Flores said. “It happened so fast, but we’ve kept our minds and arms open to these kids the entire way.”
Despite the influx of over 60 students, the teachers have had no problem with taking more of them. If anything, according to Flores, the response has been incredible.
“A lot of teachers wanted as many students as possible,” Flores explained. “Also, we have a program where these students have sponsors in the school that show them around and get them adjusted to the new environment. They become their new best friends, and they start feeling like they’ve been here all year.”
It’s not been an easy time for these kids and their parents, according to Flores. However, they’ve never been alone. The parents were provided sponsors to help settle them into the community, while their children were also given sponsors in the form of their peers.
“These kids are so spectacular,” Flores said. “To see them getting along so well with students that have lived here, it’s amazing.”
Flores rounds up the students for their next classes. She takes a glance at the drawings across the playground. Smiley faces and frowning faces crowd the small playground turf. One scribbled face expresses a look of uncertainty with the word “Meh” chalked above its head.
She looks down at the students’ faces. One girl has a doll with a photo of her dad’s face on the head, clenched tightly in her hands.
“Did we get our emotions out today?” Flores asks her students, who answer with nodding heads.
“I know you all miss your moms or dads, but I want you all to leave your emotions here on this playground, kids,” she says. “I want all the sadness, confusion and unhappiness to stay here, chalked in the ground.”
The only emotion she wants them to carry to their next home is their happiness and positivity. Flores will only spend two more months with the students, as they and their parents will return stateside once the kids finish the school year.
“I’m going to miss these kids when they leave,” Flores said. “They’re part of our family now.”