Dunava Primary School – Multi-functional Education, Culture and Social Support Center

Target audience: Children from social risk groups at summer academy, teaching staff, parents, municipality and social workers, NGO representatives, local leaders who are taught at the planned seminars; people from socially vulnerable groups who are involved in practical learning.
Goal: Promote community development transforming Dunava School into a multi-functional education, culture and social support center accessible to all community groups. Teach local community members mutual cooperation and communication skills in problem solving and meeting targets. Encourage children and young people’s integration, give support to families.
Support families with children at the age of 5 to 6 to help them get ready for school;
Seminars and creative workshops to support children with special needs;
Work with children from social risk groups;
Teaching “From an Idea to the Project”;
Practical instructions in arranging housing;
Motivation seminar for the community.
Outcomes: Increased capacity of the local community.

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Project Brings Changes to Dunava Parish

Gunta Dimitrijeva, the Project Director, Astra Liopa, the Project manager

Implementation of the Project „Transforming Dunava Elementary School into a Multi-functional education, culture and social support Center” has ruffled the quiet life of people living far from big cities. Attending classes and events within the Project, active involvement into its implementation, generating ideas and looking for solutions have become everyday life for people in Dunava parish.

The aim of the activity „Developing and Equipping a Social Resource Center, Setting up Local Network” was to organize and teach local community to cooperate and to provide the necessary infrastructure. Within the activity two seminars took place – on 29 January and 26 February, 2010. Each of the two seminars was attended by 22 people. Participants at the seminars exchanged their ideas of social justice, discussed team development and working in a team, the role of a leader in a team, the principles of social networking, looking for allies and attracting them to the Project; studied the needs of local community. The class leaders encouraged the participants to study the local community needs and think of how to make life more interesting, how to escape the depression of changes. At the conclusion of the seminars the participants admitted that it was a „great opportunity to learn for everybody who wishes to”, „exciting practical activities, an opportunity to get to know oneself and the others”, „an opportunity of working in a team, Express one’s thoughts and listen to others” and „useful information and good materials were given to us”. Sharing ideas a hope is expressed that the new center could become a place where everyone feels expected for, where new ideas and possibilities are born. It is very important that the classes are free and they take place close to the participants’ homes. A lot of people express their hopes that because of the Project activities local inhabitants (not only parents of schoolchildren who have real interest in keeping the school) will become more open, more active and will realize their importance. Elderly people are happy because classes are attended by young people too. It means life in Dunava is not going to stop. The information on the Project and events organized within its framework was provided through a local newsletter, announcements and posters in the parish center but the most effective way was to addressing people personally both by telephone and when meeting.

Within the activity „Center Support to the School and Families with Children” an aim was set – by the help innovative activities to support families with children; children with learning difficulties and children from social risk groups.  Within this activity on 17 and 18 March, 2010 seminars „Preparing five and six years old children for school” take place where teachers and parents are acquainted with preparing five and six years old children for basic education and latest techniques for promoting children’s learning activities. 23 participants were present at the seminars – basically parents, grandparents, teachers and students. The audience was motivated to learn more about preconditions of qualitative pre-school education, clarify peculiarities of five and six year old children development and recognize the vision, goals and objectives of pre-school education. Thinking of practical things it is important to know how to help a child to learn to read/write, form mathematical concepts, see and understand nature coherencies. Cooperation between school and parents, parents and school has an essential role in all the above mentioned.

The participants of the seminar recognized that the classes were very fascinating; they got practical advice on how to help children learn and how to encourage learning with pleasure. A suggestion was put forward to organize classes where participants could learn how to find contacts with teenagers and help the min the study process.

Within this activity two more seminars took place on 6 and 7 May „Qualitative Education for Children with Special Needs”. 25 people, mostly teachers from Dunava, Dignāja, Asare, as well as Jēkabpils participated in it. There were also parents who care about their children among the participants. The main topics discussed at the seminar – developing partnership between the school and families, opportunities and methods of qualitative education in an inclusive school, inclusive education in Latvia and basic principles of adopting learning materials.

Commentaries by the seminar participants – „a lot of practical ideas for working with children with special needs as the knowledge acquired can be used in lessons and class teaching”,  „a fascinating recommended system of learning concepts – I will use it in my lessons”, „thank you for the materials and stimulating games – I will try to play them with my grandchildren”. As Dunava Elementary School implements study programs for children with special needs these seminars were very useful and educating. Participants had opportunities of sharing their experience, talking to each other and listening to other teachers’ opinions. The biggest benefit of the seminar – interesting methods of teaching as teacher’s efforts of supporting children with special needs very often meet lack of specific knowledge. Successful teacher’s work starts and finishes with attitude. The seminars were concluded with optimism and a wish: let all of us – parents, grandparents, teachers – have the strength and patience for working with children with learning difficulties.

Within the framework of this activity a unique, unprecedented event took place in Dunava – Summer Academy for Schoolchildren with the aim of creating meaningful, creative and interesting leisure time opportunities for schoolchildren, giving them possibilities of mental and physical improvement, as well as developing their skills of team, group and individual work. Every day had a specific theme, aim and objectives. Schoolchildren had a Sports Day, a hiking tour „Heritage sites of Dunava parish center and its neighborhood”, creative workshops „Making Puzzles”, „Developing one’s Book”, science Experiments Day, an excursion „Private Local History Museums in Dunava Community”, A Little School of Cooking, a Day of Intellectual Games and Artistic Creativity Day. 23 schoolchildren at the age from 9 to 15 took part in these activities – mainly they were schoolchildren from Dunava Elementary School but 2 schoolchildren were from Jēkabpils and 2 from Dignāja Elementary School. Everybody was a winner as a lot of interesting places were seen, participants learned to play table tennis, novuss, floor ball (which was bought within the framework of the SFL Project), make different puzzles, hands were tried in cooking, application of principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics in life was learned and many other useful skills and abilities acquired. Schoolchildren themselves admit that these two weeks passed very quickly; they did not regret that participated in these activities while others were doing nothing on their holidays; they were proud of being the first to learn the principles of table tennis and novuss, playing „Monopoly” and „Are You Smarter than a Fifth-grader?”, having hot and tasty lunch every day. It did not matter that some day they drenched in rain on their way to classes, it was difficult to get up in the morning, but they gained so much, the emotional experience and pride in them was really great. It was even intensified by the fact that every participant received a certificate testifying their attendance at the Summer Academy, from hands of the Chairman of Jēkabpils Region Town Council E. Meņķis, and a notebook for friends’ addresses. In the end a common photo was taken and everybody was enjoying the satisfaction of the Summer Academy.

To provide the sustainability of the Project and to promote cooperation between an educational establishment, non-governmental sector and entrepreneurs, as well as activate parents and local community members, events within activity „Support of the Center in Strengthening Community with Regard to Education and Employment” were implemented.

On 23 August, 2010 a seminar „From an Idea to the Project” took place. The aim of this seminar was to provide insight into Project work, show how to write an application and develop a Project. 25 people from Dunava, Dignāja and Jēkabpils participated in the seminar. Participants dividend into groups and wrote project applications. There were ideas of developing a handicraft museum, restoring a family house – half a manor, organizing sports games for children, improving primary schoolchildren leisure time activities, arranging a lounge for teachers to improve their work quality. Many participants came to a conclusion that it is difficult and labor consuming to write a Project application so that it gets support. Good ideas must be planned and worked out to be implemented.

Within the framework of this activity practical classes in housing arrangement and home economics take place. In July and August training in repair work was organized. As a result of this redecoration was done in the Center. Participants admit that the major benefit was an ability to do repairs by themselves and to improve their own environment and living space. Respondents thanked for the possibility of learning and acquiring new skills and abilities; they confess that theoretically everything seemed easier before. They recognize as valuable the ability to use different tools and work with modern materials. The most boring and labor consuming was preparation of walls, ceiling and floor for further processing, but after that one could see the result and feel the satisfaction on the progress. Most participants were willing to proceed with the activity. Now we know that the training has given the expected result – in the end of the summer participants of at least three practical trainings have done redecoration work in their homes as well, and the knowledge and skills acquired during the trainings have been of great use.

Practical trainings in cooking also took place within the framework of this activity. People present at the trainings not only learned how to cook but also exchanged recipes and spend their free time meaningfully, interesting and tasty. Participants made different cookies, which were tasted also by those people who had come for the Poetry Day in Tadenava. Two more trainings are still planned. Trainings in cooking and repairs were carried out by local teachers; they developed programs too. These teachers have gained wonderful experience now. In order to help local people be active in the future appropriate trainings were considered.

As a culture support activity on 2 June, 2010 a seminar „An Ethnographic Method as Means of Local Culture Accumulation and Generation Cooperation” took place with the aim of learning to preserve culture heritage, investigate a community or ethnic group, its culture, gather information on it and record this information very accurately. 19 people participated in the seminar; they got an insight into folklore collection process, investigating a piece of handicraft with the method of critical thinking, learned new ways of drawing children, parents and teachers into investigation process. Participants admit that they learned very much interesting and new about craft research; it encourages them to look through family crafts and keep them for the next generations. The knowledge acquired at the seminar will be of great use when doing small projects at school, setting up and arranging exhibitions there. The participants are satisfied that classes pass unnoticed; theory is alternated with practice which makes them especially interesting.

Within the activity culture events to promote cooperation between generations in the community and to activate culture life in the community are being organized. On 10 September, 2010 the Poetry Day in Tadenava was organized. Young writers from Jelgava under the guidance R. Urtāne; Dunava Elementary School students read poetry by Rainis, Dunava Women’s Vocal Ensemble and Folklore Group from Rubeņi sang. The event was very sincere and nice; it was attended by people of different generations from the neighborhood and schoolchildren from neighboring schools. There was a tea break with biscuit tasting which made the event even more sincere. During those days there was a flowers‘exhibition „Autumn. Poetry. Flowers.” in Dunava Elementary School and a Poetry lesson took place.

On 29 September, 2010 Dunava Elementary School invited everybody to „Miķeļdiena Garden Party”. People were encouraged to make compositions of vegetables and other nature materials and place them in the lawn in front of the school. We could enjoy a big hedgehogs’ family, flower carpet and other figures. Each class prepared a CV for a vegetable, an advertisement and a performance about it. Inhabitants of Dunava who had come to the event were also drawn into the games and activities. In the end of the event we all together enjoyed Miķeļdiena soup.

An afternoon organized within the Project framework, „From a Rye Grain to a Bread Loaf” got an unexpectedly high response. It was devoted to one of our traditional national value – bread. Participants at the age from just one year to a very old age enjoyed schoolchildren’s performances – theatrical tales, charades, songs, and dances, listened to beliefs on bread, stories about bread making traditions and its role in people’s lives. The event was enriched by the presence of Aglona Bread Museum manager and her narration; a local community representative Stankevičs exchanged his experience on bread making who had brought three types of self-made bread with him.  More than 70 participants joined together in a song; the atmosphere during the event was made even more sincere and non-formal by feasting with tea, different types of bread and sandwiches made by participants.

If we were asked what we gained from transforming Dunava Elementary School into a multi-functional education, culture and social support center, we could say: „New cognitions, ability to realize we can do more than we could imagine before; we got to know each other better.”

Our gain from the Project is responsiveness of local community as more than 70 people participated at seminars and practical trainings – adults who are economically active, retired people, the unemployed, people with low income and the poor, large families. It is important for everybody to feel needed and useful in Dunava.

Contemplations of the Project Director Gunta Dimitrijeva on the experience gained and the Project sustainability:
Developing and implementing this Project the municipality has gained new and unique experience. As Jēkabpils District Municipality was formed as a result of territorial reform combining seven smaller municipalities any activity that strengthens inner cooperation within the administrative territory of the municipality and supports local inhabitants is extremely important. The SFL supported Project „awakened” local representatives’ initiatives, motivated them to be active to participate and be able to see the opportunities of development corresponding to the present situation.
People in Dunava parish did not have any previous experience of Project implementation therefore a Project administration model where a Project Director with previous experience and a Project manager who had no such experience was developed. An accountant and a manager of the prospective Center also work in the Project team; they have not had any experience of Project work before either. Such solution provided for the Project implementation in compliance with the plan, SFL terms and demands of LR laws and regulations. As a positive fact must be stressed that developing the Project a survey was done and the Project team focused on the problem identified. This promoted further steps – development of Dunava Elementary School as a multi-functional center because there was no recreation center in the parish before but local community had Access to sports infrastructure. This Project served as a basis for another ELFLA Project as a result of which the school has revived and its further existence is connected not just with general education but also opportunities of adult education and versatile leisure time activities. It can be seen from the Project manager’s notes that local inhabitants have approved of the development of the Social Resource Center and other results of the Project activities.
The project implementation has promoted good cooperation between Dunava local inhabitants, regional administration staff and school and parish administration. The fact that the Chairman of the Council and the Executive Director participated in the most topical activities organized within the framework of the project is very remarkable.
Teachers, who developed programs, planned an assortment of materials to be purchased and conducted lessons have absolutely new experience. The administrating staff – the Project manager, accountant and the Center manager gained experience which increases their competitiveness in the labor market. They have better understanding of compliance with different laws and regulations, Project management, ability to achieve the desired results, providing the publicity for a Project; this list can be continued.
Summarizing the benefits of the Project it can be concluded that it took place at the right moment in the right place as the work started will go on and new ideas will appear which will provide for the sustainability of the Project. Already now there are some signs which are indicative of that. Improvement of local people’s self-esteem, new general and vocational skills, the beginnings of social network, improvement in mutual trust and communication – these are just a few aspects which can be noted as intangible benefits of the Project. Besides, cooperation with the SFL representatives and the seminars organized by them gave the Project team opportunities of getting new knowledge and experience, let us feel equal, not controlled or closely monitored from „the above”. The requirements of the SFL were well-grounded, reasonable and necessary.

The further plans after the end of the project:

– developing new projects and attracting funding for life-long learning;

– using the social resource center for expression of interest groups initiatives and trainings;

– joining together libraries and accommodating the premises of the Center implement the assumption that a library is an island of light which joins, informs and educates all possible groups of community;

– adult learning making use of volunteer work (supervisors of the classes are municipality employees); the first class on 4 November, 2010, the theme of it „From an Idea to Documentation”. Inhabitants of Dunava and other parishes will have an opportunity of learning how to generate their ideas, ways of their implementation and accountancy basis.

The Project implementation shows very clearly that every community has the potential for initiatives, personality development and mutual cooperation; it is just necessary to help the community to realize it.