How are the children from ‘Klassen’ now?

For the main characters from the acclaimed TV documentary Classes it’s been four years since a camera crew began following their lives closely for a year. The series, which made the struggles surrounding inequality of opportunity in education palpable through the eyes of students, teachers and administrators in Amsterdam-Noord, became a hit.

Around 5 million viewers sympathized with Gianny, the boy who, at the age of 13, saw the youth prison from the inside, and with Master Thijs, who did a lot to get him on the right path. We saw the quiet Esma (11), who was a victim of years of under-education at her school, the ambitious Vera (12), who wanted to be better than her parents and enrolled in the special class. Younes (15) had to learn to function again in the education system after five years sitting at home, Evy (15) struggled with the high demands she placed on herself at school, while Tama (15) especially her mother’s high demands like a warm breath, felt her neck – she herself preferred to dance all day.

How would all those children feel now? NRC spoke to three of the series’ many main characters: Anyssa, Viggo and Yunuscan.

Anyssa (14):
‘That period was a low point in my life’

“I feel good,” Anyssa says from a bench in the Over Y College auditorium. She is fourteen years old now, but in her talk and thinking it already seems like a young woman.

Anyssa, 11 years old at the time, formed i Classes a heartwarming duo with his grandfather. Together they drank a milkshake in his red minivan, or drove around on his scooter, she wedged between grandpa and the steering wheel. And just chat, all the way from home to school and from school to home. Because that’s where Anyssa lived, with her grandfather and grandmother in Amsterdam-Noord. She and her grandfather sounded together ‘like jut and Christmas’, summed up the voice-over aptly. “Of all the people on earth, she loves him the most.”

But Anyssa’s story was also the story of the food and clothing bank, of sometimes not bringing food to school, of an eighth-grade child who had to take care of her sick grandfather. The viewer saw a girl who always smiled, but who lived in uncertainty at home: did she live with her grandparents in Noord, or did she go back to her mother in West?

Halfway through the eighth grade, Anyssa no longer finished a piece, then Miss Jolanda, who was also Anyssa’s guardian angel. She just failed. Her high school board was slipping. According to Miss Jolanda, it was “way too much in Anyssa’s head” when she had so much to offer. “If it happens next year too, she won’t make it to the first year,” her teacher feared. The further the important last school year progressed, the more difficult it became for Anyssa. Her grandfather died, her grandmother kicked her out of the house. “Sooner or later it will be alright,” she said with that smile again as she stood in the street among her things.

Anyssa with her grandfatherexcerpt from the TV series Classes in 2020.

Three years later, Anyssa looks back on that time with mixed feelings. Fortunately, she is doing well now. Since moving back in with her mother three years ago, her life has moved into calmer waters. Finally, it was time to rest and start a new school.

She goes to 3rd high school and works very hard. She still wants to be a primary school teacher, just like in the series. Then to the Pabo, and if nothing crazy happens, she’ll get it with flying colours. Anyssa dances hip-hop and reads a lot, about one book a month, in English. “I’ve been almost fluent in English since I was ten, didn’t you know?”, she says with a nice accent. “My aunt is Scottish, she taught me.“Anyssa is a language person, French is her favorite subject. She is often bored with English, although last week she learned a word that could be useful: bridge wallan arched bridge over a moat.

Anyssa is happy that she is not in the spotlight as much as she was when the series aired. Then people often stared at her, on the street and in the tram. She had not imagined in advance that her whole private life would suddenly be on the street, and the series would be seen as far as America. “I knew nothing about all those people and they knew everything about me.” But looking back, Anyssa’s life in real life was less rosy than it sometimes seemed in the series.

“I can no longer empathize with that little girl from back then,” she says. “That period was a low point in my life. It was actually quite pathetic, but I couldn’t see it myself.” In reality, it was difficult to take care of Anyssa. “Every morning I woke up with the fear that my grandfather would die.” And she was often at odds with her grandmother. When the series came out, about a year after the last recording, Anyssa was again confronted with the difficult period and with the images of her grandfather, whom she missed so much. “I didn’t expect the end result to have such an impact on me. But now that I’m three years older, I can look at the series with a different eye. Now I’m like, yeah, that was it. And now it’s different.”

She still texts regularly with Miss Jolanda.

Viggo (14):
‘My VWO wish was magnified a bit on TV’

Viggo, now 14, was there Classes, to put it bluntly, a symbol for the smart children of highly educated parents, for schools where the class photos are light blonde and a recommendation of preschool education is more the rule than the exception. Viggo’s story was high expectations for citoscores and high school counseling.

At least in retrospect, that’s what the creators, according to him and his parents, “had greatly enlarged”. The viewer saw the then 11-year-old Viggo and his classmates in groups in the classroom shouting, cheering. “What advice do you have? vwo? Nice man! Me too!”

The reverse of this also became visible: a group of friends on a rainy day in the excavation of the soccer field. Havo-vwo council is also in order, his friends tried to reassure Viggo. He didn’t seem convinced himself. The highest attainable, that was always the best, wasn’t it? He wanted to be a pathologist, like his father, or an architect. Had he already wasted his future at the age of 11?

Three years later, that tension is barely noticeable anymore. Viggo is a relaxed teenager and made it through third grade in Havo unscathed. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, he now no longer has a direct answer, he can still see it; and he seems to like that attitude.

Viggo (in the middle) with classmates in the series.

He is sitting at the same kitchen table in the same bright living room in Durgerdam where we put him Classes often seen. His mother pours tea and his father pulls on his tracksuit. It’s Sunday afternoon and the hockey games are already over. Viggo, his two brothers and his father all play in the same club.

The tense eighth-grade boy seems to have disappeared, or perhaps only existed in reality Classes. He can’t stay awake from the hockey game he lost that morning. If only he could move. Gymnastics is his favorite subject at school, all his maths and German can be done too.

Viggo likes high school life. He seems to be sailing through it calmly: doing a little homework and especially meeting a lot with friends. Now and then he looks after his brothers or children in the neighborhood, but he will not fill serious shelves yet. Viggo would rather whistle a hockey game for that money.

IN Classes we heard Viggo shout that he “didn’t want to go to cultural school”, but deep down he is quite creative. Before he takes his electric VanMoof bike out of the shed to ride to his babysitter’s address, he likes to play a little tune on the piano in the living room. A piano teacher visits every weekend. Viggo first practices for half an hour, then his brother and then the teacher continues to the neighbors. Previously, Viggo had classical piano lessons, which he did not care for. But his current teacher is a singer-songwriter, and now he’s learning to play chords. “I think it’s cool.”

vigo with his family.

Yunuscan (14):
‘I have become stronger, mentally and physically’

Whoever thinks of Yunuscan melts after two years Classes still a little. The then 11-year-old student of Miss Agnes was the apple of the series’ eye. For him, grade eight would be a crucial year: could he maintain the upward trend that he unexpectedly started in grade seven and be able to go to high school, or was his language deficit too great? No matter how hard he tried, coming from a Turkish family where hardly any Dutch was spoken at the time, he was immediately 2-0 behind in school. At home it was often too busy to do homework, with all the uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews on the floor.

In a touching scene in Classes we watched Yunuscan refresh his vocabulary on the Internet late at night. On the rare occasions when the house was quiet, he crawled behind the computer to do his homework. For example, when the whole family was at a Turkish wedding, or when they went to pray. “You only live once,” he said then, with Miss Agnes’ stern words fresh in his mind. “So you have to do it right now.”

Three years later, Yunuscan is a few heads taller, his voice an octave lower, but his motivation to develop remains as strong as ever. He wears a gray flat cap, inspired by his favorite series, Peaky Blinders. If it suits him, a shirt, braces, squeaker and long black coat will soon arrive. His mother nods approvingly, in the background his sister laughs at him.

Yunuscan with his mother and teacher speaking at school.

“I have become stronger, mentally and physically,” says Yunuscan, as his mother serves an elaborate lunch. He refers to a scene in Classes where a police officer and a former officer come to school to give the children strength training. Yunuscan breaks down in tears in front of all his classmates when he says that he and his friends are sometimes bullied by other boys. “That’s when I realized I had to get stronger. Later in high school, there wouldn’t be anyone left to help me.” Yunuscan left his “bad” friends and went to high school alone with his best friend.He does outside push-upsinside he is working hard on his future.

Yunuscan took a two-year first grade and is now in the third grade of mavo. His favorite subjects are gymnastics and mathematics (“I have a Turkish teacher, he understands me”). He is resolute about his future dream: to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible so that his mother can retire. She has had a clothing workshop in Zaandam for a year and a half and beams when she talks about it. Her Dutch has improved by leaps and bounds as she speaks with mainly Dutch customers all day long. But she works hard, six days a week, ten hours a day. “Sometimes I think: if only I was the oldest,” says Yunuscan, as the youngest brother of two sisters and the only man in the house. “Then I would be even better in life” – he thinks it is sad for his mother that she has to work so hard.

Instead, his sister takes care of him. She will soon begin training to become a BOA and inspired Yunuscan to join the police as well. “But as a backup plan, I want one e-commercestart a business,” he says. “You don’t need any training for that. You can take an online course for 2,000 euros.”

The series has managed Yunuscan well: a tutor who saw him on TV, saw the potential in the boy and offered his help. Since then, this ‘coach’ has visited every Tuesday. He helps Yunuscan with his homework, prepares him for adulthood and together they have “man talk”. “He makes me ready to the next step to adulthood,” says Yunuscan, “like a big brother.”

Yunuscan home, November 2022.’

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