They had to leave everything behind.. but [are] still coming to class!"By Andrea Alvarez

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News At 10) – A St. Petersburg academy is reaching students around the world for class and teachers are giving CW44 news an inside look at what students are facing firsthand Ukraine.

“We have students in about 20 different countries right now. We offer over 200 courses. So, we’re k-12. We offer all subjects,” said Jennifer Williams who serves as Vice Principal and Academic Dean at Aquinas International Academy.

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Since 2017, long before the Covid-19 pandemic, students from around have been tuning into their virtual classrooms based in St. Petersburg.

“We wanted to build long lasting relationships with people around the world and do that via education. We’re in 20 different countries in twelve different time zones.”

But with a war happening in Ukraine, teachers at Aquinas International Academy in St. Pete have continued logging on for students there.

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“Our partners in Moscow had reached out when it first started and just said ‘can we put all the students in Ukraine on pause?’ and I said ‘Absolutely. But what if we left them open and the teachers came anyway… just in case’,” said Williams. “One of the sessions was a mindfulness class. It teaches them calming techniques and the kids were responding to it and asking could we do it year-round. And what we found is a lot of the kids did attend but they didn’t want to have English class. They wanted to talk. One student in particular – his family fled to Bulgaria. They had to leave everything behind so he’s been taking classes on his mobile phone but he’s still coming to class!”

And they’ve been successful in opening up a new and unexpected dialogue.

“The Russian kids are suffering greatly because they don’t want this. The Ukrainians are their siblings is what they consider them,” she said.

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