Today we are speaking with Darko Antolić, one of the members of our staff who focuses on special education at Bloom. Mr. Antolić finds a lot of joy in supporting the socialization of children, witnessing the way they learn to communicate despite their differences. In this interview, Darko Antolić talks about the benefits of working in an environment where children are not restricted to their desks for defined periods of time, and recounts some touching moments from his time working at Bloom.
Tell me a bit about yourself and what you do at Bloom.
My name is Darko Antolić. It has been almost three years since I started working at Bloom. I first began working here as the special education assistant for a young boy. As he has become more independent, I have also been able to support other children which gives me a lot of joy and satisfaction. When I work with a new child, I always begin by creating an emotional connection with them before expanding into something broader.
I started assisting children in the classroom about seven or eight years ago; it happened quite spontaneously. I studied sports and physical culture at university like my colleague Amar Muhić (the teacher of natural movement at Bloom), but then I started dabbling in working with children who experienced different challenges; it was very difficult for me at first. I was on the verge of giving up a few times. But when I started to observe the changes that my work supported in these children, I decided to keep working as a special education assistant because it felt meaningful.
What do you feel is your purpose at Bloom?
Working with children who experience challenges, and being able to help them become independent and gradually make their way through school, as much as possible. What I like the most about this environment is that we can influence the socialization of children, precisely because they spend more time at school. The children don't have to sit at the same desk listening to 45-minute-long lessons. We can work together in groups. And they can move around as much as they need to. That's what I love most about it; I love that I can devote myself to the socialization of the children as much as they need it.
This applies to all children. Movement and supported socialisation are very beneficial to their overall development!
Yes, exactly, because they spend a lot of time together here and then sometimes, by force of circumstances, they have to spend time with a person who maybe at first did not seem like someone they could befriend tomorrow. But because they work together in groups, or spend time in the garden, they connect, and then socialization occurs - which to me is perhaps the most important thing they will learn at school. They have a curriculum and that knowledge is also important, but somehow, to me, healthy socialization is key to their healthy overall development.
What would you like students to learn from you?
Well, I am honest and optimistic. I would like them to learn from the way I see the positive in everything and to learn from our discussions to find constructive ways out of challenging situations. My strength lies in creating trusting bonds with children built on mutual respect, understanding and clear boundaries. This gives them a sense of security and belonging and creates the foundation for our work with them. Ultimately, I want them to believe in themselves, believe in the future and trust that they have the ability to overcome the personal obstacles they may encounter.
What have your students taught you?
What have they taught me? Well, I can say that I have learnt that no matter how different we all are, we can function together, without any prejudice. It is at Bloom that I saw children from different parts of the world, who speak different languages, somehow manage to communicate and socialize together for the first time. They are able to spend time together and function without drama.
Do you have a favorite memory from this academic year?
Just this one? Maybe it is easier for me to recollect if I focus on this year... Actually I'd like to share one from the beginning of my time here, when I first started working with this young boy. At the time, he was very attached to dates and would ask me questions like: "what were you doing on this day?" or "where were you then?". One day I was sitting with him, and I asked him, "what happened on the first of December?". That was the day I came here to Bloom. He replied, "that was the day we met". Then I ask him how he felt, and he said: "I was happy." Even now, this memory gives me goosebumps. It's one of my favorite first moments. Because he was the one always asking where I was and what I was doing - and then we came to that moment spontaneously.
And my favorite moment from this past academic year... For me, this was the first year that I worked in P2 (grades 4 to 6), so it was challenging... well it is when I felt that I was accepted by these children, that I was no longer a foreigner to them but that I fit in among them - that was the first positive moment for me this academic year. And then, I don't know - when I heard from grade 6 students, who were going to transition into P3 (grades 7-9) that they were sorry that I wasn't going to move up with them.
Here is final one - the fashion show I helped organize at the end of the year. When you know that you put in effort into making something happen, and then you see the children smiling and asking if it will happen again. Those moments stay with you!
You organized this fashion show in cooperation with art teacher Ismir. How did you come up with the idea to make it?
It happened spontaneously. On social media, I saw people decorating t-shirts with colors - and of course I don't understand everything about art, so I sat down with Ismir because he is the art teacher. I asked him if it was possible to do something similar, and he replied that it would be very difficult for us to do it here at school. But then he presented some interesting alternatives.
So it began with t-shirts and then we got to the idea that the children making the t-shirts could also have a fashion show. And then from the fashion show, the idea kept on developing: first face painting, then spraying on nylon - slowly we kept upgrading. Then we talked with our colleague Emina, who teaches biology, and she also decided to participate in her own way. So, from a small idea, we got to doing a day long creative workshop, where children could enjoy visiting various stations and explore multiple materials and types of work. I thought this was awesome!
We already have a plan for next year to take it to the next level. We will do it sometime at the end of the academic year, when both the teachers and the children are tired. It's the perfect time to indulge in some creative pursuits and a great way to end the year on a positive note.