Cultural letter #6 School oddities


Dear family and friends,


School....does it conjure up images of yellow school buses, school kids standing in lines with lunch boxes and books, leaving at 7:30 or 8 am returning at 3:30 or 4 pm, first grade teachers standing in the hallways with open doors to a cheery classroom with bulletin boards all brightly decorated?


Those are my memories of school.  Ours kids just finished their first week of Polish public school.  Here are some short clips that will help you understand better what it is like here.


-- The first day (Labor Day) although I remembered our kids' slippers/special school shoes--I forgot all about the special "bag" that they needed to put their "regular" shoes in.  (This is an assumed bit of knowledge that no one talks about--you just are supposed to "know" you need it.)  The "special school shoes" amount to slippers or soft soled tennis shoes devoted to school/indoors.  The children all go to the basement area of the school to change their shoes and leave their hats/coats/scarves and outdoor shoes in certain designated areas sorted by classroom, which are later locked so no one can steal your coat/shoes/scarf.  (It's a madhouse down there!)


-- Our 3 middle kids are in school here--all in different classes and all have different schedules.  We live 1 1/2 miles from the school, approximately, and on Tuesday we went to school 6x to take them and pick them up.  We will be working on streamlining their schedules to our convenience this week.  For example, on Monday, Lydia goes from 8-11:25.  Abby, from 11:35-4:30, and Timmy, from 1:30-5:30.  This is the way it was the first week.  They've changed a few hours for a couple of the kids for this upcoming week.  Tuesday isn't the same as Monday, however, and Wed. is different yet.  I don't believe that we have any day that is the same.  For example, Friday, Abby was from 8-10:30, Lydia, from 11:35-4:30 and Timmy from 12:30-4.  We'll figure something out, but in the meantime, it is taking its wear and tear on the starter of the van!  :) (and who said it is less time consuming to not home school!)


--They don't worry about separation of church and state here....there is religion class built right into the school week.  We can exempt our kids from it, so we did. (The nun comes in and teaches and the regular teacher leaves--we are tempted, however, to leave Timmy in to see what they are teaching and what the books say.)  However, Abby's teacher took that time to spend some extra time with her one on one.


--Teachers here make very little, and to expect them to decorate the school with their own funds is unrealistic, so the school is somewhat bare compared to what you would be used to.  Also, the fact that they are sharing classrooms (that is why the different time schedules) so a teacher doesn't have "a classroom" of her own.  I've not been to the kids' classrooms--just to the area where they take off their shoes.  There seems to be a shortage of computers and copy machines since the teachers often hand write stuff to pass out (like announcements).


--I found myself extremely frustrated when I didn't know when Abby's class was over, one day, as I arrived at the time I had been told (and 20 min. before the board in the hallway said it was over).  I thought I arrived at the right time but no other children were around.  Abby said she had been waiting for a long, long time.  I was upset because I couldn't seem to get INFORMATION--what time is school for the whole week (I don't like to be told from day to day when it is), what supplies do the kids need, etc.--can't it be written on a piece of paper and handed out to the parents--wouldn't it be so much easier than "hearsay?"  Abby's teacher was in the teacher's lounge (which looked like a business office with a whole bunch of tables--) apparently she heard me talking to someone in the hallway after I asked this stranger how I could find out when my daughter's class meets, and we "talked" about what she needed, when school was, etc.  How nice to get information!


--The first day that the kindergartners met, I was there on time (8 am) with Lydia but the teacher didn't show up to get the kids (in the basement where they change their shoes) at 8.  I saw a neighbor of mine and asked her why the teacher wasn't there yet--I was aghast at the "negligence" of her being so late on the first day of school. (I just assumed with children's nerves in Kindergarten she would come down and socialize a little.) She told me that the kindergarten teacher shows up 10 min. late.  Which she did.  So, later in the day, I thought, "OK, so punctuality isn't all that important to that teacher, I'll just be 'barely on time.'"  Well, it turns out that at the end of the day, she shows up early with the kids, at least 10 minutes, so when I was "barely on time", I was actually late!!!!  Oh my.  Things to learn.  Later we learned that this is a ploy for the little ones to avoid the mad rush/crush of the bigger kids down in the basement where they change back into their "outside shoes."  (This school has 800 kids from 0-8th grade.)


--There is a fallacious thinking that somehow if I have my kids in "Polish school" that it will somehow be easier for me.  However, it is difficult to get anything much done during the day with it being broken up so many times by trips back and forth, waiting for the teachers, etc.  However, I've asked the Lord (and my kids) to give me a little bit of extra time this year so that I can focus 1 or 2 hours a day to studying Polish.  Last year I focused on learning to play the flute and this year, I really desire to work some more on Polish.  I really want to be able to have a Bible club in Polish---I've met several parents and had numerous opportunities for practice with other parents.  In that respect, it has been great to go to school--Mike said he didn't know there were this many kids in all of Jozefow!  When Abby came out of school the first day she said, "Mommy, I have a friend!"  I was glad for her.  Our purpose is simply getting our kids more exposed to Polish and to get them to know some more of the kids in our neighborhood. Having our kids in their school has let people see that we don't consider ourselves superior.  I guess that is the overwhelming assumption that people have about Americans.


--So, our adventures begin this year.  I've told the kids to learn from the other kids and basically, unless it goes against what they have been taught as right/wrong, to "do as they do!"  (I'd never tell my kids that in American public school)  I didn't realize that Thurs. was PE for Abby so she didn't have any shorts/shirt to change into and all she had was her dress, so she played in it.  I would have had her put her other clothes on under her jumper, but the rest of the kids all strip down to their underwear and change into PE clothes in the classroom and then change back.  We'll just let them wear their PE clothes under their other ones.  It's no wonder modesty is so difficult to ingrain in young people here--they've been changing in front of their peers (down to their underwear) since first grade. I'm not sure at what age it changes, but we've seen an adult woman strip down to try on a pair of pants, in the store!  So Abby did what she could in her skirt and the teacher told me later I hadn't looked in her book to see that she needed her PE clothes.  I apologized.....Abby told me cheerfully, "That's okay, mommy!"  (She didn't mind that we had forgotten to look--actually I didn't know I needed to look.)


--Please pray for our kids. Years back when Jeremiah was in Polish first grade, he didn't really learn much Polish. However, I couldn't help him--I couldn't understand the teacher at her meetings and couldn't ask her very much.  Things are a lot different now and so we are asking for prayer/help concerning our children's improvement in Polish.  Because they've had each other, and because there are so many of them, they don't really have to "branch out" to the kids in the community and the church has had very few children and none that live very close.  I believe that the children will have a good year.  In my ignorance of culture and customs, when Jeremiah was in first grade, I sent him to a disco (they called it a carnival and I had thought it was like a fall festival until I walked past the gymnasium to retrieve my other two from preschool, and the gym was reverberating with the disco music and I saw Jeremiah with some other kids, just sitting there) , the movies (with his classroom) and who knows what else--he isn't the type of kid to complain about stuff.  I am praying this time we will know better.


--I believe that Timmy and Abby will do fine.  Both of them are actually older than the rest of the kids in their classroom and the actual schoolwork should be pretty easy for the most part. I will continue in Math with them at home, on their grade level--but Lydia is more scared and has been quiet. She is a quiet child, and so I don't expect open rebellion from her, but please pray that she will make friends and not just sit in class.


Thanks so much for your concern.


Garden report.....

It's about over now, but I did get some green beans, a few tomatoes (they were attacked by the "late blight" while we were in Lithuania--they looked great before we left, but when we came back they looked terribly sick--), some squash, zucchini and yellow crook neck, and a couple of green peppers. I have broccoli in the ground now, hoping to get some before it gets too cold, and a whole bunch of flowers. I have about 6 or 7 nice big pumpkins--definitely my best "deal" and I had some volunteer potatoes, that came up without even being planted.  So, overall, I did okay--not great, but better than if I had done nothing, More than the actual produce, however, I learned a lot this year from it, and I believe that I can do better in the future. (It's amazing how many parallels there are from gardening to being a missionary--I've reflected on them lots and lots as I've worked in the garden.)


I'm hoping to have a whole page/section of our new web site that Mike is working on just for "me"--that is, personal stuff, my interests/activities, kids' pictures, ladies with crafts, children in the neighborhood, etc..  It'll be a while though, as I have to go through a whole learning curve before I  have it done.  I'll let you know when it is ready.


Have a great day,

Becky Petersen in Warsaw