On Saturday, April 5, the Saturday Polish School in Berwick-upon-Tweed celebrated its fifth birthday with an Open Day.
In the morning there were fun, educational activities for children from the age of 5 to 13 based at Berwick Academy. A group of 15 children, mostly Polish, but also Latvian and Scottish, attended the event, which was hosted by the local charity, Mohr Language Support. The programme included a session with a personal trainer, Mr Krzysztof Skibicki, who talked to the children about a healthy lifestyle, exercising, healthy eating and getting away from computers and games consoles. After the healthy session, the children welcomed another guest, Mrs Aileen Orr, the author of a book on Wojtek, the famous soldier bear.
Aileen told the Saturday School about her memories of the bear, when she came to visit her grandfather, on whose farm the bear stayed after the war before retiring to Edinburgh Zoo. The children were already familiar with the story, but loved to get a copy of the book, especially since it was signed by the author.
Towards the end of the day, the group helped add the finishing touches to the effigy of the Winter Witch (in Polish, Marzanna), which was made of ecologically friendly materials as she was to be later drowned in the river Tweed.
The Open Day ended on a rather sad note, as Mrs Diane Wright, the Chair of Mohr Language Support, announced a suspension of all activities of the Berwick Saturday
Polish School due to the low number of pupils attending the lessons. The School has been run since 2009 by Dr Beata Kohlbek, who helped it move to Berwick in 2010, first to Sure Start premises in Tweedmouth and later, last April, to Berwick Academy.
Despite many attempts to promote the school and encourage Polish families to join it, the numbers never exceeded 15 children and recently only 8 children attended. Dr Kohlbek said with disappointment: “We opened the Saturday School for children who have moved to North Northumberland and Berwickshire with the hope that their parents will see a benefit in continuing the children’s education in Polish, or – with younger children who had never been to school in Poland – the importance of learning how to read and write in Polish. There were a few families who really supported the School, the parents were always volunteering and two parents became Trustees at Mohr Language Support.
“However, I met with many parents and children who were simply too lazy to get up on Saturday morning, to walk or drive to Berwick Academy every weekend. It is a shame, but we have to admit that the support from the Polish community has not been good. We also had very little support from our Local Authorities.”
Dr Kohlbek is a member of the Polish Council based at the Polish Consulate in Edinburgh and is a strong promoter of Polish culture and the language. She adds “We opened a Saturday Polish School in Hawick last April, and the School there has over 40 children, regular financial support from the Scottish Borders Council and can use the premises of the Hawick High School free of charge. This is an entirely different situation from that in Berwick.”
Despite the suspension of the Saturday School, staff are ready to resume teaching (in new premises) as soon as there is more interest and support in the community.
Mohr Language Support will focus on the Saturday Polish School in Hawick and its English as Additional Language (EAL) lessons in Northumberland. A number of local schools use the service already and there is an appeal to other schools, especially First Schools, to help children whose lack of fluent English slows down their progress across the Curriculum. This service is not restricted to children from Poland.
A happier note was added to the Open Day, when at 2pm a group of children with parents, friends and supporters of the project gathered outside the Guild Hall and carried the 2m high Marzanna off to the river, where she was thrown into the Tweed and carried off by the current. This ancient Polish ritual symbolised the end of winter and the beginning of spring. All present were handed in a daffodil after the Winter Witch floated away.
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