• December 12, 2015
  • 155

Primary school-kindergarten „Wilia”- still among the best

This article is about the only primary school-kindergarten in Lithuania that exchanges letters with Buckingham Palace and has its own star in the sky.

“I can assure you that our establishment functions well, our staff get on well with each other and we work with amazing children.” – says Ms Zofia Matarewicz, the long-standing headmistress of “Wilia” primary school-kindergarten in Vilnius.

The history of “Wilia” starts in 1983 when it was established as a Russian kindergarten. In 1988 the first Polish kindergarten groups were formed. In 1999 the kindergarten became financially self-sufficient. In 2001, the establishment, the first of its kind in Vilnius, became a Polish pre-school and kindergarten.

Everything in Polish

The kindergarten and the school are Polish. There are no Lithuanian groups or classes. Teaching is conducted exclusively in Polish. The official language, Lithuanian, is of course very important for the school and kindergarten. Both in school and in kindergarten, education is based on strengthened curriculum of Lithuanian. There are four Lithuanian teachers employed who, along with their specific classes, also give free Lithuanian lessons for those who have problems with mastering the official language.

The primary school-kindergarten is located in the picturesque and safe suburb Justiniškės. It educates 380 children of kindergarten and early school age (3-11) with 45 teachers working there.

The kindergarten groups work according to their own curriculum, “A pre-schooler’s world”, and the Lithuanian one, “O-pa-pa”. Methods of “good start” are used here, as well as teaching materials by J. Białobrzeska and Maria Montessori, and the teaching methods of Reggio Emilia.

The establishment’s advantages are its highly qualified teachers, teaching Lithuanian with the use of non-standard methods from the age of 4, teaching English from the 1st grade, organized recreational classes which develop children’s interests, the presence of a speech and language therapist, the efficient use of children’s time, as well as tasty, home-made meals and interesting excursions.

Extra-curricular classes include the traditional Vietnamese martial art “Niat-Nam”, pottery classes, dance lessons, folklore group and English lessons.

Children feel safe at school – and this helps them develop and become more versatile.

“We teach the youngest children the basics of savoir-vivre. We explain that it is impolite to interrupt when adults are talking or to enter the room of a teacher or the headmaster without being asked to do so. We provide them with the basics of ethical behaviour.” says Ms Matarewicz.

The pupils often compete in international and municipal competitions and festivals, and they are often awarded high places.

The emphasis on teaching the youngest children

Each teacher in “Wilia” is appropriately qualified. But sometimes this is not enough. –“We cannot allow just any Polish or Maths teacher to teach in a kindergarten or a primary school.” – says Ms Matarewicz. In such an educational establishment, only a person with the appropriate qualifications should be allowed to work. –“I believe that’s the way things should be,” claims the headmistress. “Not every teacher who can work with a 7th or 8th grader would be able to deal with a 1st grader or a pre-schooler. It is important to understand the specificity of the children’s age and know what to give them so that they do not experience a breakdown and can go to  primary school or kindergarten with pleasure.”

After graduation, the pupils usually continue their education at the John Paul II Pro-Gymnasium and later at the John Paul II Gymnasium in Karoliniškės.

The flagship establishment

The primary school-kindergarten “Wilia” is very important for the Polish community and identity in Lithuania. It is the flagship establishment which serves the Poles in Vilnius and Lithuania and should not be underestimated. –“We compete everywhere!” – explains the headmistress. There are no competitions, contests, tests in which young pupils of “Wilia” would not take part. And they are always among the best candidates. It is worth mentioning that the children also take part in Lithuanian competitions, not only Polish ones.

The school walls are decorated with diplomas, letters of congratulations and thank-you notes addressed both to the staff and the pupils for their performance in various contests.

How hard one has to work to help a young person develop so well.

The teachers broaden their horizons thanks to various courses because the ethos here is that only an educated teacher is able to provide their pupil with knowledge that will be useful in adult life.

-“I often use the following simile: primary school-kindergarten is like a coat. If you fasten the first button incorrectly, it makes the whole coat look untidy. It is we who lay the foundations of a child’s overall knowledge and upbringing” – claims Matarewicz.

Alumni of “Wilia” can boast the highest level of education, with some pupils even skipping the 1st or 2nd grade in other schools!

The school also has a rich library where the employees use various methods to encourage children to start reading. It is not an easy task, especially today, when paper has been substituted by electronic media. Nevertheless, thanks to games, plays and competitions it is still possible to convince the pupils that a book can also be a man’s best friend.

Correspondence with Buckingham Palace and a star in the sky

The pupils spend their summer holidays in Poland – in Gdańsk, Włodawa, Łódź, Łomża, Szczecin or Chełm. The school has partners and friends all over Poland.

And quite recently, the children from “Wilia” made friends with the a member of the United Kingdom’s Royal Family, Queen Elizabeth II herself!

On 9th September 2015 Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch. She has been reigning since 6th February 1953, for over 63 years.

-“Our pre-schoolers, along with their teacher Andrzej (which is quite unusual in Lithuania, having a male pre-school teacher) wanted to congratulate the Queen on her Jubilee. The children wrote their wishes and drew her portraits – they imagined her in the past, now, and in the future. They collected all their works together, packed them up and sent them to London. The children were over the moon when they received an official reply and a thank-you note sent by the Queen herself from Buckingham Palace!” Currently, friendly letters are exchanged between the Vilnius establishment and Buckingham Palace.

And that’s not all: last year, the grateful parents of the 11th group of alumni of the school named one of the stars in the sky “Wilia”, using the official star catalogue “Star Deed”. The school now has its own star, complete with Authenticity Certificate.

Mental comfort, satisfaction and the joy of the children who spend their time at this school could be felt everywhere and during every meeting with them. In the school gym, in the Lithuanian classroom, in the pre-schoolers’ playroom…

May the school shine like their namesake star forever.

Translated by Natalia Skowronek within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.

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