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Polish Dual Language Program to be Featured in Documentary

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Clearmont teacher Joanna Pawlina and her colleagues want the Polish dual language program at CCSD59 to set an example for fellow districts. That is how her relationship with Andrzej Cierkosz and his website began five years ago.

What started as a routine search for useful resources that she could share with parents, later turned into a unique opportunity for Clearmont Elementary School. Pawlina discovered Dobra Polska Szkoła, which translates to “Good Polish School”. The foundation, run by Cierkosz, was created in 2010 with a focus on making the Polish language attractive to young people again.

Within a month of her initial email, Cierkosz and his crew traveled from New York to Elk Grove Village to interview four teachers.

“They did mention that our passion and professionalism is evident,” said Pawlina. “They also commented on how they noticed that we are not only colleagues but also friends.”

The interviews were shown to teachers in the New York area in order to provide insight as to how Polish educators work within an established program and curriculum. That proved to be just the beginning, as interest in Polish bilingual programs continued to grow in both New York and Chicago.

The Polish dual language program at CCSD59 will now be the subject of a full-length documentary by Cierkosz. He and his crew returned to Clearmont in March to begin filming an in-depth look inside the program. They spent several days interviewing teachers before shadowing classrooms throughout the school. They received a first-hand account of a typical school day for all grade levels before getting the viewpoint of CCSD59 administrators and parents.

“The questions they asked about the program really showed that the message they want to convey through this documentary aligns with our own message,” said Griselda Pirtle, Director of Multilingual Programs. “We value bilingualism and biliteracy because we know that, for our students, it goes beyond literacy skills in two languages. It means preserving students’ identities and maintaining family and cultural connections.”

Polish DL 3

Andrzej Cierkosz films students in Ms. Pawlina’s classroom at Clearmont Elementary

Cierkosz knew he had a good foundation to work with based on his first trip to Clearmont, but found himself overwhelmed by what he saw from a full day of lessons.

“The group (Clearmont) has created is at the heart of this work,” he said. “The main purpose is to show how important the teachers are. There may be teachers that you don’t even know about that are very good and speak Polish. My hope is that they see the film and think: ‘We could make a program, too.’”

His original sit-down interview with the group of Clearmont teachers helped spawn a new dual language program in one New York district. While the release date of the documentary has not been determined yet, Cierkosz plans to return to Elk Grove Village later this year to compile more footage both inside and outside of school.

“When (others) see the people interviewed and how the kids speak beautiful Polish, all the doubt is supposed to disappear. I hope this helps create more programs like this in Chicago.”

For Pawlina, Principal Monika Farfan, and the rest of the staff, the experience of taking part in this project has been a jolt of energy. They have been humbled to hear good returns about the work they are doing and hope their counterparts in the Polish community can soon be a part of the same lessons.

“We hope this inspires other local school districts and parents to provide dual language education to their students, not only Polish Heritage students,” Pawlina said. “We would like to educate the parents that the dual language program is strong and it enhances their child’s learning while not inhibiting English acquisition.”

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