When schools were closed on March 11 in Poland, primary school teacher Katarzyna Niedziolka immediately thought of how much her students would miss their classrooms in Grala-Dabrowizna. And then, she said, she realized the suspension of classes until April 15 would also impact the program with Global Volunteers. She sent this message to Poland Country Manager and Director of International Operations Dorota Wierzbicka.
“Only a few weeks ago, we hoped to meet with you, but now it is impossible. Yet we want to thank you for all the visits you have paid us so far, as they were such a help and pleasure to us! I see a big difference in the attitude to learning English among my students, especially when they are expecting to meet somebody who they have already met and broken the ice with. Children are often shy and need time to see that they can understand and communicate in a foreign language. I want to thank you also for the scholarship you funded for one of my students. After taking part in the summer language camp, she was so motivated that she received the best result at school in the external exam at the end of the primary school.
“My students always keep asking about your next arrival and I really hope that as soon as this hard time is over, I will be able to tell them that the Global Volunteers will arrive again in a few months.”
“The online lessons we have been having are quite demanding, as the situation is new, and we all have to learn how to cope with it. Taking into account the fact that not all students and teachers have unlimited access to the Internet or good equipment we are doing quite well, I think. Sometimes there are problems when there are three children in a family and only one computer. Also, parents have to work online, but the same difficulties occur in other countries, too. We really are in this together. However, we know what is the most important now – life and health of all of us. Thank you very much for everything. We are looking forward to seeing you soon. Our thoughts are with you.”
Hoping to Seeing You Again Soon!
Meanwhile, Dorota Wierzbicka checked in with other teachers and students to see how they were adjusting to their new at-home school routine. She received these replies from primary school teacher Dorota Piekart, University professor Katarzyna Mroczynska, and 14-year-old Ola. The skills and confidence that students gain through practical conversation lessons, they say, sustain them between school years and even now, during a global pandemic.
“Our classes with American Global Volunteers are very unique, and become “living lessons” of English,” says Skorzec school teacher Dorota Piekart, “because who else, if not native speakers, will present their language and culture better?” She says she notices a clear increase in students’ engagement when they can relate lessons directly to the spoken words of the volunteer teachers. Further, the school administration and other teachers say they benefit from added English practice when volunteers are on campus.
“First of all, volunteers practice communication skills by talking about their country, immediate family, and national symbols. In turn, our students introduce their families, talked about interests and their country. The older students enjoy classes on US history, American presidents, the war of independence, slavery, and civil war. In turn, younger students love songs, games and activities, vocabulary, and BINGO in English.
English lessons extend to breaks between classes, eating meals together in the school canteen, school assemblies, and outdoor sports, Dorota points out. “And millions of photos!” she laughs.
The classroom routine has become so reliably effective over the years, she says, that “lessons pass in a blink of an eye, and students plead: ‘we have not yet told them about x, y and z …‘
“In fact, the time spent together is always in our memory, and when October comes, the students ask: ‘who will visit and teach us English this year?‘ There really are no boundaries of communication, fun and friendship.”
Looking Forward to Summer Camp.
Ola, a secondary school student, says even while she’s at summer English language camp at Reymontówka with Global Volunteers, she’s thinking about the next one the following year. “I’ve been to the camp three times, and at every single one, I was really looking forward to going back. My language skills have considerably improved. The volunteers encouraged me to read books in English, which was pretty challenging at first, but turned out to be a great way of spending my leisure time.”
She says she makes new friends with other “campers,” and stays in touch with Poland Volunteer Ken Higgins, to whom she regularly reports on her progress throughout the school year. “I’m a pretty confident person, and don’t have much trouble talking in English, but some of my friends did. Going to the camp and talking to volunteers have made them much more confident and open to talk,” she asserts, then adds: “I can’t imagine not going again this year.”
We’ll See You in the Fall.
“When the academic year starts, we have ‘regulars’ who ask if Global Volunteers are coming again this fall,” says Katarzyna Mroczynska, professor at Siedlce University of Natural Sciences and Humanities. “Some of the students stay in touch with the volunteers throughout the year; technology helps to overcome the distance and reunite people on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Global Volunteers has worked with the University for more than five years to tutor teaching and business students in English. Volunteers follow the established curriculum, and share their professional expertise with the students and teachers who say they “gain invaluable cultural insight” by practicing their language skills with native speakers. Students eagerly sign up for classes with Global Volunteers when they’re announced. “I guess the work must give a lot of mutual satisfaction and joy, as we have had the pleasure to host both returning volunteers as well as newcomers,” Katarzyna reports. “We’re looking forward to seeing you this fall again, our Dear Friends.”
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