English Language summer schools.

Back in 1996, when representatives from both Sandy and Skarszewy were exploring criteria for an effective community link it quickly became apparent that the greatest desire on the Polish side was to have contact with English language and culture with a particular focus upon opportunities for young people.

As a result English language summer schools were started in 1997 and, apart from the Millennium year, have run every July since then involving students from local Bedfordshire Upper Schools.For the first 5 years Sandy students took part and since 2003 Stratton students have taken over..

In the past three years numbers of students volunteering have grown so markedly that a second summer school has been established in the nearby town of Starogard. Numbers of Stratton students wanting to go to Poland in 2006 has broken all records with a current figure of 37.It has already been agreed to accept 21 and hopefully, if grant applications are successful more English students can be accommodated.

It is estimated that to date well over 150 English students and upwards of 800 Polish students ( aged from 10-20) have taken part in the classes.
Organisation of the summer schools is relatively simple. Polish organisers agree to pay all the costs of accommodation, food and weekend trips and the students themselves just have to find their own fare.

For the first years students had to endure the long bus trek to Poland, a journey of more than 30 hours. However now that cheap budget flights are running daily between Luton and Gdansk, it is possible to do the entire journey in less than 5 hours. Hardly surprising that numbers are growing, especially as the air flight is no more than the coach fare.

The students are accommodated in a simple hotel in Starogard and in the Agricultural College at Boleslawowo, about 2 miles from Skarszewy. Classes are organised over a four-hour period every weekday morning for two weeks. Afternoons are free for the students and the favourite activity, weather permitting, has been to go to the Lido and lake at Browno, just outside Skarszewy, and take advantage of the outdoor swimming facilities, many bars and discos. One of the major attractions for English students is the fact that drinks are about 50% of the cost paid back home. However the gap between prices generally is narrowing and has speeded up since Poland joined the EU.

At weekends the students can go to places like Gdansk, Gdynia and the Baltic coast and trips have been organised to such historical places as Marlbork, the Hel peninsula and Stuttovo concentration camp. There are also barbecues and parties and some English students have been invited to the homes of the students in their classes and a good number of lasting friendships have been established.

The Polish students find themselves in classes of between 10 and 15, based usually upon linguistic proficiency. Formal teaching is not on the agenda. The English students have received no formal training, just an afternoon briefing beforehand with a TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) input. They are encouraged to concentrate upon simple conversational activities such as games, quizzes, songs etc. With older students it is quite possible to hold discussions about typical teenage interests such as fashion, sport and pop music.

On the Polish side there is a strong feeling that the Summer Schools have had an enormous impact in a short space of time. Traditionally and for largely historical reasons, Russian and German are the two languages that predominated in northern Polish schools throughout the post-war period. In 1996 when we first visited Poland, so few people spoke any English that it was necessary to bring in someone from Gdansk to act as interpreter. Ten years on however the transition is dramatic. English is now firmly established in all local schools, both Primary and Secondary. Most young people can hold a conversation in English and a growing number of adults too.

Interest in the summer schools remains very high. It has become a real success story and a useful and satisfying initiative from a twinning association.

Article written and copyright © held by Max Hill 2006
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