Visi projekta jaunumi:

How the “Cloud pushers” turned into graffiti artists in Tirza

More than 30 people responded to the young and active guys from Tirza, in the central part of Latvia and came together to tidy the open-air dais and its premises – the usual venue of concerts and all kinds of festivities. As Anete Ziepniece, the coordinator of the local grassroots activists (they call themselfes “Cloud pushers” or fantasts) told us, the youngest participant was only four months young, but the oldest had just celebrated her 50th bithday. Turpināt lasīt…

Factors That Influence and Form Meaningful Leisure Time Opportunities for the Local Community

Harijs Rokpelnis, Mazsalaca High School Project director

Mazsalaca territory has always been famous for the beauty of nature and tourism potential. Everyone might think that the brilliant landscape provides the community with leisure time opportunities – walking round alleys and enjoying the Salaca River beauty. Unfortunately we must confess it is only partially true.  When breaking away from everyday worries and responsibilities peace and well-being sets in and this activity improves the feelings and clears the inner self. But for those who live in the neighborhood of Mazsalaca this environment is everyday life, therefore people look for other leisure time opportunities. Taking into consideration that there are three Culture Centers and four libraries in the territory, the range of culture activities is quite wide and sufficient for everybody but one cannot live only on culture.
Mazsalaca High School has been a highly appreciated rural school for long time. People in these places have always hungered for knowledge for learning something anew. Unfortunately the High School budget for extra-curricular activities is too narrow and the school cannot even provide for the needs of schoolchildren not to mention such society groups as the unemployed, young mothers, working people and elderly people thus completely excluding them from the market. The Project „Developing a Community Support Center in Mazsalaca High School” supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia ideologically brilliantly fills the niche. Contemplations on how successful or unsuccessful was the Project implementation in Mazsalaca and what problems we faced you can read in this article.
When speaking to people attending the classes it seems the Project is a real success. Country people have been given opportunities to sharpen their minds and to strengthen their bodies in various activities – at a drama studio, applied innovation workshop, Swedish, Norwegian and English courses, lectures on how to set a goal and what to do to achieve it, Latvian wisdom classes, modeling aircrafts, computer classes for seniors, photo studio, social support group, stance project for women and stance project for juniors and Nordic walking. Premises of Mazsalaca High School were redecorated within the Project framework as well so that they could be used, as planned before for classes and as a recreation room for everybody, especially for schoolchildren waiting for a bus to go home, to the furthest places of the territory.
But after listening to the opinion of group leaders and class teachers not everything seems so smooth.
The first and biggest problem is to achieve the growth of the people activity. If at the moment when there are no more than two months till the end of the Project the number of participants has reached three hundred then we must admit that four months ago it was half of it. Relatively the number has grown from 3.75 to 7.5 % of the population, or, speaking only about Mazsalaca town population it has reached 20 % now (although most participants are from Mazsalaca people from rural territory also forming a considerable part of the participants on the Project). In any case I believe the attendance has improved a lot and a big part of the local community have benefited from the Project. But one can always wish for more. There were some problems that arouse during the Project implementation and as a result the attendance was so low. First, when questioning local people it turned out that many of them did not know anything about the activities in the territory supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia. Mostly the information on classes had reached the participants by word of mouth therefore only part of the inhabitants knew about some activities but not about the Project as a whole and its concept. In the beginning we were surprised to find it out because the information was published in a regional newspaper which can be found almost in any home in the rural territory and on the regional web page. But it seemed this had not been enough. As it turned out the biggest increase in response could be reached with relatively simple methods. One of the methods was making use of the existing „oral” marketing network and promoting it. People who had taken part in some activities were informed about the other forms of spending their leisure time. If the information was not useful for them, they could let others know. Another measure to promote attendance was placing detailed information about the activities in strategic points in the town: a shop, a hospital and libraries, emphasizing the fact that all the activities were free of charge. Although people had started discussing the Project activities when listening more carefully to what people said sometimes a certain disbelief and unreliability could be heard in these talks. Therefore everywhere where there was information on the Project activities the Project director or activity leader’s contact details were given. Although it seems a small and insignificant detail if I had not experienced it myself I would not believe that people could worry about so trivial things and ask for details of everything. Surely the local people can also be divided into several groups and the information techniques which turn out to be useful for some people do not even reach the others. To attract representatives of social risk groups to the Project activities we drew in the activities a social worker. This way we did not only inform the people but also encouraged them to get involved. Teachers who were directly connected with the Project as well as those who were not, were active in drawing in schoolchildren. Men of working age in Mazsalaca, like in most parts of Latvia are very inactive. But we have some good examples too when men attend classes within the framework of the project. Being aware that this group might have attendance problems we paid special attention to its representatives. What are the reasons that make men attend classes? It turned out that for some of them it was a need, for example to communicate with business partners or continue to perform one’s responsibilities at work. But most participants had been encouraged by their partners. Despite the fact that aircraft modeling group was set up for men as a place which could be attended by fathers and sons together, it was not very popular. It means that men can be brought out of house only by their women.
Another very important factor is developing the right or recognized offer. In this respect our experience in Mazsalaca deserves to be used as a proof of the statement that people’s wishes are inconsistent and often unpredictable. First, regarding the leisure time opportunities offered within the framework of the Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” we can divide them into two periods: up to June, 2010 and from September to December, 2010. Distinguishing these two periods allows us to see the differences between the offer and attendance as the drama Studio, applied innovation workshop, English, Norwegian and Swedish courses, stance improvement Project, Nordic walking and lectures on how to set a goal and what to do to achieve it as separate blocks had become stable in the community by June. In the beginning of the Project implementation the statistics of attendance was very unsteady, but in April and May constant size had developed. The school and the Project too went on summer holiday. The only classes that had not lived up to expectations were Swedish classes. Attendance for these was very poor and according to the attendance lists – very uncertain. Those participants who went to classes irregularly were an extra burden for the teacher and created false statistics. So, we decided to reduce the number of lessons in the second part of the Project by half; thus the classes were organized only once in two weeks. Taking into consideration the budget we made a decision to set up new positions and arrange some other classes. The choice of the classes made based on the previous Project activities and the local population profile. So it turned out that attendance is a very sensitive and unpredictable process.
Now I am going to tell you about the successes and failures while developing new activities and trying to adapt to the needs of the community. I must admit that sometimes a matter of chance can create better circumstances for a sustainable idea than a long-thought-out plan. One of the groups created in the second part of the Project is a photo studio. The idea on this studio was quite accidental and it appeared when there was a Vidzeme photo plain air in Mazsalaca. While talking to the organizer of the plain air, a professional photographer we found out that he hoped to organize a photo society in Mazsalaca and to interest people in Mazsalaca in photo art. Word by word, and we had a concept for a photo art studio supported by the Soros Foundation – Latvia. These classes are regularly attended by approximately fourteen people and the most interesting is the fact that they represent all the generations from senior schoolchildren to retired people.
Some time ago aircraft modeling was very popular in Mazsalaca. Men of different ages participated in competitions and shared experiences. But nobody has been involved in aircraft modeling for several years now as there was no-one that could hold together this movement, provide it with equipment and instruments. I addressed an aircraft modeling enthusiast and suggested he starts an aircraft modeling group in Mazsalaca High School. I hoped it could be an activity to be attended by fathers and sons together, especially because this sport was very popular among different generations and only young people of nowadays did not have an opportunity to get to know this sport. Unfortunately expectations did not come true, but it must be admitted that the class attendance was satisfactory. Schoolchildren attend the classes; their fathers have not expressed interest in this activity.
Although Mazsalaca economics is greatly based on logging, woodworking and agriculture even we face the increase of unemployment level and social risk groups. The most alarming is the fact that there are a large number of unemployed single mothers and families where both parents are without jobs in Mazsalaca territory. Worrying of the well-being and mental health of these families we set up a support group for women led by a certified psychologist. To provide attendance at these classes and give the first push to women who need this kind of help the potential participants were contacted by the local social worker first. Although in the beginning the classes were a kind of compulsory after the third time already women admitted they were satisfied and now they are ready to come to classes without any encouragement. I believe this is a great example of the fact that people do not always understand what they really need. This was one of the rare cases when participants had to be pushed to attend classes postulating it as a condition for getting social allowances.
And now we have come to a less successful example. Folk dance parties have been organized in Mazsalaca several times; and they have gained wide recognition among people of various ages and both sexes. This summer 3 x 3 camp was also organized in Mazsalaca and it gained wide recognition too. Everything showed that local people in Mazsalaca territory are interested in investigating Latvian folklore and national wisdom. So based on these observations we decided to organize Latvian wisdom classes. Unfortunately the number of participants who wanted to attend these classes did not meet any of our expectations. Very few people were interested and as a result several classes had to be even cancelled. Thus we can see that an opportunity to spend leisure time in activities which correspond to the local profile and includes learning and cognition processes is not recognized. Maybe if the first classes had been more promoted they would have gained greater recognition just like the support group I mentioned. Taking into consideration the facts we can say that most probably the classes were organized in the right time and place but the marketing campaign was not effective enough. Obviously each class has to be positioned so that first, the target audience could have all the necessary information and secondly, the audience would be encouraged to attend the classes. As our saying goes, while you do not taste, you do not know, but a lot of people choose not to taste at all.
Practically two thirds of the local inhabitants are elderly people and finally they have become aware of their ability to influence things going on in the territory. Seniors in Mazsalaca have set up a society and computer classes for seniors are organized at their request. These classes are attended by no less than thirty-two people! This is a great example that not everything needs to be planned based on estimated human desires and needs. Sometimes it is absolutely enough to listen to local people.
In early summer there was a three-day environment camp where mostly schoolchildren participated. Knowing that volleyball is quite popular kind of sport in the territory part of the camp budget was allocated on developing a new volleyball court in Mazsalaca High School Park. It was a pleasant surprise to see local people who did not participate at the camp come and help to set up the court. A local farmer even helped us with his private tractor. It was a sign that the decision to set up a new court and to improve the existing one was right. We could check on that during summer when in the evenings both courts were busy and occupied and young people were standing in a line at them. The three competitions organized in these courts also attest the rightness of the decision. There are only positive references about the environment camp both, on the participants’ part and on Mazsalaca High School visitors’ part. The camp was a brilliant example showing that people are ready to spend their leisure time not only studying or entertaining, but also working. During the camp time benches in the park were restored and new ones made; bridges were restored and built anew over the Baron’s ponds; the school surroundings were tidied up and the volleyball court established. Thanks to the Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” the participants of the camp were provided paints, wood, bolts and screws, paintbrushes, plants and everything else that was necessary for the improvement works in return for their dedication and work.
Taking into consideration the fact that since the first years of Latvia independence there has been a Music School in Mazsalaca and several generations managing music instruments, as well as there are extensive choral traditions in cooperation with Rīga Jazz Orchestra a Developmental Music Camp will be organized in Mazsalaca. Everyone interested in this sort of activities as well as musical instrument players and vocal talents are kindly invited to the camp. The camp will last for three days; music theory, various master classes and vocal studio will be included into the program. The aim of the camp is to show that music can be different from the one which is traditionally taught at a music school or in a choir.
Speaking of all this I wanted to illustrate the main factors which affect and form meaningful leisure time opportunities in a local community. I did not mention in the article that in the course of the Project implementation the Project leader was changed. Of course, it is a real test but this kind of changes (it do not have to be a Project leader by all means), such as new faces in the Project team bring new trends and new vision into any Project which is certainly appropriate!

Experience Gained by the Education Center „Muse” in Jaunanna Music and Art School

Jaunanna Project team

The Education Center “Mūza” („Muse”) in Jaunanna was opened to create a favorable environment for personality development of children and young people in our parish, Anna and other Alūksne territory parishes; for youth and adult further education opportunities and improving their competitiveness in labor market as well as to join together local inhabitants in common activities. The implementation of the Project was started on 1 December last year.

It was planned within the project framework to open an Education Center “Muse” in Jaunanna Elementary School and Jaunanna Music and Art School. Before the project work local inhabitants were questioned to get to know their wishes and needs; what they would be interested to learn. During the project implementation various educational programs were offered providing an opportunity to learn small business management, computer skills (both for beginners and those participants with preliminary knowledge), foreign languages – English and German; practical psychology and mental health, landscape, cooking and records management; acquire new skills at art studio with sub-programs in ceramics, art studio for schoolchildren and adults and at a Small Dwarfs’ Workshop; perform at the music studio learning to play the acoustic guitar, the electric guitar _solo and bass, the keyboard; improve singing skills, take part in a newly set up vocal instrumental ensemble and get involved in sports studio.

After summarizing the information on the people involved in the Project activities we have concluded that the most participants who attended classes at the Center were local – from Jaunanna parish. However people from Alsviķi, Anna, Jaunlaicene, Maliena and Ziemeri parishes and Alūksne had also covered the distance to Jaunanna to acquire new knowledge at the Center.

Promoting Life-long Learning of Adults

The most interest was shown on the courses in ceramics and landscaping, led by Uģis Puzulis and Agris Veismanis. The ceramist Uģis Puzulis’ classes were attended by participants at the age from six to sixty-six. The ceramist admits that he was surprised by the great interest and willingness to get involved in this activity. The classes where all the interested people could learn the basics of ceramics were finished by stoking a kiln at „Racupkalns” and the products made there could be later seen at an exhibition in Jaunanna People’s House. During the process a new pottery firing method was tried out which is possible to be used by anyone in everyday circumstances, i.e. digging a pit, filling it with dishes and cones and then covered with firewood logs and chips.

As many of the participants expressed a wish to proceed with the classes and their readiness to pay for the course themselves, the program is continued on the Art School premises which are run by the municipality.

Classes with landscaping teacher Agris Veismanis were not planned initially but on the way home after signing the grant contract the teacher himself suggested organizing such a course. It turned out later that local people were greatly interested in it, there were all in all 44 participants on the course. To tell the truth the number eventually decreased and the certificates on the completion of the course were given only to twenty participants but the knowledge acquired during this course are useful not only for participants themselves but they can be shared with people who did not manage to attend the course.

Verities and surprises

We are really satisfied that people of all the generations got involved into the Project activities. Many thanks must be said to ladies from the parish council who did their best to encourage people not to be afraid and come to classes. Actually we could make sure once again that information about good and interesting things spreads very fast by the word of mouth. People from other places than our parish told each other about the Project activities and there were some phone calls every now and then asking if it was possible to engage in these activities.

In the beginning it seemed that children would be the most active participants of the Project, but in reality the classes were attended by middle-aged people and retired people as well. In the evenings seeing all those cars parked at the Elementary School and Music and Art School when local people and people from other parishes came to evening classes it could be imagined that a large event is going on. It was nice parents found an opportunity to engage in activities together or alongside with their children. Some parents went to ceramics classes taking their children with them (or vice versa). We were happy to watch a family which was coming from a parish in 30 km from Jaunanna. While sons were mastering ceramics skills their mother studied and found strength at psychology and mental health classes.

In winter period the offer of classes was very saturated, so not everybody could learn everything they wanted but the interest has not diminished during the whole run of the Project.

Participants at the Music Studio had a very active period during winter. In very short time they managed to learn playing several music instruments and set up a vocal instrumental ensemble which later in spring performed at five concerts in Litene, Liepna and Jaunanna. Taking into consideration that as a part of the Project implementation all the necessary equipment was purchased for the needs of the ensemble we can be sure that this part of the Project is also sustainable and will live on. Jaunanna People’s House has already managed to raise partial funds for the ensemble activities after the end of the SFL Project. The interest in what has been achieved is great and they really want to see the ensemble performing. So we may not disappoint the community.

Developing New Skills

Quietly but consistently foreign language skills are acquired and improved by people who chose to attend English and German courses. Schoolchildren and elderly ladies are sitting side by side at a desk during these classes too. Although it has been often heard that the most important language which must be known to everybody is English the German language taught within the framework of our Project was as popular among local people and very many people even come to Jaunanna from Alūksne to study this language.

There is a special story about computer classes. This course was divided into two parts, and in spring those people who had no knowledge of computers attended it. The story is special because the course was attended mostly by elderly women at the age from 50 up to even 70. Each of them had her own reasons and motivation but consequently the results were evident. In the beginning when they only wanted to apply for the course the voices over the phone were worried and a bit confused; not sure they can manage: „May I apply for the computer course if I do not know anything about computers; I don’t even know how to turn it on?” And every time it was concluded that „clever it is, the computer”. The path to knowledge was not easy but it was great that despite the difficulties computers were „studied” even at home to consolidate the skills acquired during classes.

A very special event for this group was the end of the course. Participants were getting ready for it just like for a graduation party at school; there were flowers and presents for the teacher and a party table for the participants themselves. It seems there was no one in Jaunanna parish who would not know about this important event and its significance.

Verities and Surprises

Insistence on the way to the knowledge was really admirable. As usual in the countryside people have very limited job opportunities therefore every possibility to work is used and after that everybody is simply exhausted. But it was not a reason to give in. Even evening milking time was adjusted on a farm in order to give the farmers an opportunity to attend classes. Women whose everyday life was spent working in fields, under the sun and wind found strength in them to overcome the tiredness and continue mastering new skills.

Concluding the cycle of classes it seemed that the main goal had been achieved as the participants were not afraid of a computer anymore and, as they said, they could write a letter nicely and make a gift card. But after some time it appeared that the classes had been even more useful – one of the participants invited the teacher to join her at „draugiem.lv”; another woman’s son sent her a computer so that they can communicate over the internet. It means the classes have been really useful.

Taking into consideration that the summers are very busy time in the country we did not plan classes for adults at that time. However we tried to find interesting opportunities for young people and drew them into judo group. It turned out that this was a strategically correct solution as there was a possibility not only for those children and young people who are daily in Jaunanna but also for those who are at other educational establishments and can be at home only during holidays.

Women in their turn during the whole period of the Project implementation took an opportunity to keep fit choosing gymnastics classes or aerobics according to their fitness and health.

An opportunity to improve their knowledge in entrepreneurship was offered to everybody interested by the teacher Ilze. First a comparatively small group of people expressed an interest in entrepreneurship but after summer holiday we understood the main reason why people who have joined the classes now did not attend them before was the wide range of programs in winter and spring time. It was not possible to attend classes in all the chosen spheres of studies. A new and novel experiment is still ahead of us – a video class online with the consultant Jānis Baltačs.

It is a pity none of the women attending art classes did not learn the basics entrepreneurship as skills and knowledge acquired at these classes would be very useful and could be the basis to start a private small business. Painted bags and T-shirts, beautiful silk scarves, dishes in decoupage technique, a variety of jewelry and ornaments – these and not only can be seen on women in Jaunanna and other neighboring places. During classes while making new things women shared their experience – they discussed where they had seen such products and how much they had been. One of the participants told u san interesting story. At a fair while getting to know what was there on offer she had noticed a product like those they had made during classes. The price had been huge. And then our participant’s daughter had announced in an all-knowing voice: „Ah, yes, that’s a scarf like you were making. It can be easily made by us at home.” The saleswoman had been really annoyed at hearing this.

We would like to believe that one day there will be a business plan made by those who have attended the classes in entrepreneurship and they will invite those who attended art classes to join the min their business. But while it has not happened yet each participant of the art Studio has a chance to feel beautiful and different in her own hand-made products.

Looking Back on the Progress

The end of the Project is approaching very fast. As in any life situation there were corrections to this Project too. It turned out that the program in office work we had planned is not topical enough in our community. Now the Project is entering the final phase. Soon the classes on the remaining programs will finish but the spark lighted in the community will certainly not die out. Already now we hear a suggestion from several participants involved in the Project to write Project applications and try to raise money to continue activities started. They want to continue. Looking back at the time spent on the Project we must admit that it has been not only 100% success but even more so. There are no losers; everybody has gained. Local people have gained an opportunity to attest themselves, learn new things and acquire new skills. Teachers, who have had an opportunity to feel the community wish to develop, learn new things are winners too. We, the personnel of both educational establishments involved in the Project have benefited from the Project getting new technical equipment and getting recognition from people not connected with education in their everyday lives. And the biggest gain for all of us is the opportunity to get to know so many different people from all over Latvia and to communicate with them within the Project framework.

If I was asked what the secret of successful Project implementation is I would mention several factors:

– People willing to get actively involved;

– Support from the local government;

– Great teachers who can light a fire in others with their personalities and enthusiasm;

– SFL team who have such bright ideas and can create positive atmosphere everywhere they go and in everything they start doing.

Promoting Adult Life-long Learning Activities

Druviena Elementary School Project team

The long-term goal of the Project „Druviena Elementary School as an Education, Culture and Social Support Center” is to promote developing Druviena Elementary School into a life-long learning, culture and social support center of the region. The short-term goal is to create favorable conditions for creating an open society in Druviena parish and to develop the School into an active community center.
The environment itself brings forward the strengths which can help us, the community of Druviena to survive in this difficult time; the strengths to base the future vision of our school and our parish on: cultural heritage of the parish – Druviena old school- museum with its exposition on J. Poruks#, the Straume# and Egle# brothers, Druviena Elementary School – manor house, a member of the Association of Latvia’s Castles, Palaces and Manors, Silmači Museum – the only One-Play Museum in Europe, a folklore group „Pērlis”, a folk collection collected in Druviena, a very versatile and long-term interest education, craftsmen and a new sports hall.
Druviena Elementary School sees its second chance in transformation into an education, culture and social support center not only for children and youths, but also for adults, thus providing life-long learning opportunities in perspective.
At the moment work at strategic and systemic life-long education planning is being organized in Gulbene region. The concept of life-long learning combines formal, informal and life education opportunities. A work group has been created which has seriously started work on these issues. Druviena Elementary School representatives also belong to this group as there are establishments and organizations in our parish which can bring forward proposals for diversifying formal and informal education  opportunities in local community: Druviena Elementary School, Druviena Culture House, Druviena old school – museum and Silmači Museum, Druviena Parish Development Society „Pērļu zvejnieki” („Pearl Divers”) and parish libraries.
Druviena Elementary School which is being transformed into a multi-functional community center by implementing not only general and interest education programs, but within the framework of the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project also informal and life-long learning in the parish, has defined its strengths and weaknesses and necessary development for promoting life-long learning of local people:

Life-long Learning

Strengths: Weaknesses:

– Institutions and organizations which can make proposals exactly for developing informal and life-long learning opportunities for local people, provide material, technical and human resource base;

– Cooperation with a learning center „Austrumvidzeme”, Ltd. in adults’ further education.

– No systemic approach to life-long learning and its information flow organization;

– No institutional and regional cooperation;

– No „regional thinking” directed to a common goal. Local approach in each parish;

– Weak business environment.

 

Possibilities: Threats:

– Develop systemic information network on life-long learning offer in parishes and the region for related organizations/institutions;

– Develop motivation and leadership programs for local inhabitants to extend their viewpoint, competencies and creativity;

– Develop projects to improve human quality of life and build their capacity.

– Insufficient funding;

– Insufficient interest on behalf of local people;

– Inadequate human resources capacity (lack of leaders).

What we have done in local community within the framework of the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project to promote life-long learning measures:
36 hours of instruction „Computers for Beginners” have been provided to the local people. The course was attended by 21 local people and 2 inhabitants of neighboring parishes. Activity and responsiveness was big as there had never been a course like this in the parish before. The unemployed had been involved in this kind of training. The program included using the internet and doing internet banking which is closely connected with the demands of modern life.

36 hours of instruction „English for Beginners” have been organized for local people. The course was attended by 25 local people and two people from a neighboring parish. Great interest in this course is connected with the fact that during Soviet times German was taught in Druviena Elementary School as a second foreign language. Now already for more than ten years children at school study English but parents do not know this language and cannot help their children in the study process. The course gave an opportunity to adults to acquire basic knowledge of English. Two of the participants soon after the course went to Britain, so they will need the language in job search and communication with people from other countries.

Once a month floristic classe4s are organized where mothers together with their daughters and a granny with her granddaughter take part. On average seven people attend every class. There were some problems with attendance during summer when country women are very busy in doing housework and farming, so the attendance at that time was poorer. At the moment we are planning classes on workday’s evenings, because dark time of the year is gradually setting in and most farm work is done. We all together decorated the school for 1 September. In October we are planning to start getting ready for Christmas.

Beading classes have been taking place since September. They are regularly attended by seven participants. The classes are very interesting as every time a new technique is being taught to the participants and samples are made which the participants finish at their homes afterwards. So the women can make bijouterie for themselves and it is much cheaper than to buy the min a shop or at the market. Every time the participants evaluate each other’s products. This way a positive and very busy environment is created which unites teachers and children’s mothers.  In the end of the course an exhibition is planned where every participant will be able to show their accomplishments to wider audience so that the success of participants at this course could encourage others.

For three months – from January to April – on Sundays therapeutic classes in gymnastics took place in the new sports hall. These classes united three generations, even the whole families. In total these classes were attended by 39 participants; on average 22 participants every time. The classes were led by a local specialist; they were adapted to every participant’s abilities. The participants learned how to do warm-up before gymnastics correctly, various gymnastic elements, exercise for various problem zones and stretching exercises. The classes taught the participants to organize the strengthening of their health and promote physical well-being individually and correctly.
From February to July once a month six creative self-development classes together with the singing Vītoli family were organized. The themes of these classes were the following: Field of Songs and Images; Māra Songs; God Songs, World Tree – Vertical Sense; Unity; Creative Center in a Man; Color Songs. The classes gathered people who feel close to songs and singing. In total 20 people attended the classes. It was interesting that these classes attracted participants not only from neighboring parishes, but even from neighboring regions – Alūksne and Jaunpiebalga.

One adult expressed a wish to learn wood turning. We gave him this opportunity inviting him to do it together with schoolchildren at the school wood processing interest group.

During the Project implementation some conclusions have been made about life-long learning in the local community:
– The community is not fully aware of the necessity for life-long learning, does not recognize its possibilities, and lacks motivation and understanding about it.
– Local inhabitants actively support those classes which give skills that can be immediately used and applied to real life situations.
– We did not succeed to arouse interest in wide enough range of people, as some part of local inhabitants do not express any interest in social activities.
– Much less men participate in life-long learning activities than women. It was not possible to organize a basket weaving interest group because only two people expressed a wish to participate in it. We are going to solve this problem by drawing these two people into activities of the wood processing interest group.
– Activity is lower in summer. It is not advisable to plan regular classes at that time, because country people are busy in farming.
– We lack the municipality co-financing.
– To provide sustainable effect to the Project work we need a coordinator of life-long learning in the parish and the region.
– Expanded career specialists activities are needed.

We have set two directions for the further implementation of life-long learning programs in the parish: cooperation with the Learning Center „Austrumvidzeme”, Ltd. to organize Professional development and re-qualification in compliance with the demand and developing the school into a multi-functional center which builds the supply of creativity, leadership, skills development and succession, and local patriotic upbringing.

Sikšņi Elementary School – Education for All Generations

Sikšņi Elementary School Project team

Sikšņi Elementary School is located in Vireši parish, Vidaga and is the smallest of all the Ape region schools. In the beginning of the Project there were 62 schoolchildren and 18 pre-school age children. Now there are only 44 schoolchildren and 17 pre-school age children there. Gaujiena Art and Music School classes also take place in our school so that the children who live in Vidaga do not have to go to Gaujiena. Youth Leisure Time Center „Burziņš” („Party”) is situated in the premises of the school where young people can relax and organize various events but there are no facilities for seminars or studies. A territorial unit „Augšgaujas mazpulks” of a youth organization „Latvijas mazpulki” and a society „Pagasta attīstības grupa „Vireši”” („Parish Development Group „Vireši””) operate in the school premises. Culture events for local people are also organized in the school on Bank holidays, at Christmas etc. where schoolchildren perform. Vidaga is in 60 km from Alūksne and in 30 km from the regional center Ape. In the present situation people cannot afford to go to the town to study and acquire the skills they might need. Therefore they must be given opportunities to learn, meet each other and fit in the community here at Sikšņi Elementary School.

Sikšņi Elementary School applied for the participation in the Soros Foundation – Latvia Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” due to several reasons. One of the reasons was the beginning of an economic crisis. We are a small rural school which has to think very carefully how to exist, what to do in this situation. We understood if we do not change and do not reform ourselves, our school will be reformed by somebody else. The other reason was that we felt the need to meet other people in the school and communicate with the min a positive and creative atmosphere. The third reason was that in 2009 the school was fully renovated. And we were sure that there must be life in full swing in such beautiful buildings.

The goal of our activities within the Project was to develop Sikšņi Elementary School into a local community education, culture and social support center.

The Project provided for the following activities:

  1. Setting up a study room.
  2. Teaching children and young people in the parish:

 

– Web page (blogs, forums etc.) developing,

– Photo and video processing on a computer,

– Music processing on a computer,

– Braille,

– Ball dances.

  1. Classes for pre-school age children:

 

– Rhythm and songs studio,

– English studio.

  1. Schoolchildren’s parents, the unemployed youths and adult training:

 

– Web page (blogs, forums etc.) developing,

– Photo and video processing on a computer,

– Music processing on a computer,

– Braille,

– Business opportunities on the Internet,

–     starting a small business, developing business ideas,

– The English language,

– Computer courses,

–     Floristic,

–     Handicraft.

  1. Developing a vocational education program „Data Entry Operator” and starting schoolchildren and adults’ training within the program.
  2. Organizing two events for schoolchildren’s parents and socially inactive people to give them information on the Project and opportunities it would provide and to involve local people into social life of the community as well as to provide them with an opportunity „to leave their homes”.

 

We planned to develop an education, culture and social support center in Sikšņi Elementary School, set up a study room and organize 800 hours of instruction for at least 305 participants, develop a vocational education program „Data Entry Operator” and start its implementation.

The Project gave us a wonderful opportunity to investigate our local resources. We learned that a young man who enjoys working on a computer to mix music live in our territory. He was glad to teach local youth. We found a florist who was really good at teaching what she knew to both, children and adults; in addition she was ready to work in a group with all ages.

There were some activities within the Project which were very popular among local people, for example, the English language courses, floristic, a rhythm and dance Studio for pre-school children, Braille or shorthand typing. A lot of people wanted to participate almost in all the activities but because of their number and limited time resources had to choose only some of them. As one woman put it, „I would be happy to make use of every possibility to get out of home, to meet people and learn something new but, unfortunately I cannot do it every day. I could be „put out of the house” by my family!”

During the Project implementation we have set up a study room which is a computer room at the same time – there is furniture (tables, chairs, and shelves), computers, an interactive board and a document filing cabinet. The room is used both for the Project needs and lessons and extracurricular activities at school. English, entrepreneurship, computer classes take place in this room; bloggi9ng events are organized there; there is an opportunity for a few hours a day train in Braille. The school has IT classes in this room; teachers have lessons in other subjects there too – biology, geography, Latvian, English, visual art, chemistry etc.

We offered local pre-school children activities in a Music and Rhythm Studio. They had classes in a group twice a week. The Project team and parents, we hold a view that these classes contributed a lot to the children’s development. We had planned that children in our very Latvian community could learn English but it happened that unexpectedly two children came to the group who spoke only Russian. Their parents wanted them to learn Latvian so that they later are able to continue schooling in Latvian. So other local people had an opportunity to learn Russian because they heard it now in everyday situations and everyday communication. The process goes very successfully. All the parents are satisfied. We decided that mastering the third language would be too much for the children.

Most activities in our Project are directed at an adult audience: English, starting a small business, computers, floristic, Braille, etc. Adults are very active in attending studies; but the most active who wish to make use of all the opportunities cannot master such a generous program. Therefore there were not too many participants on some courses as people set their priorities and their priorities are languages, computers and just for fun and enjoyment – floristic at the moment. I can say from my personal experience that adults can be offered some kind of classes at a maximum three times a week in the evenings, besides it refers only to the winter period. Classes can be started after gathering crops and must be finished before seeding and planting time in the spring. Two evenings per week are the best schedule for adult classes. At the moment the situation is changing although, because the most active people have learned what they wanted most of all. Now those who were reluctant up to now, who waited while they heard some references start coming to the activities. Another possibility is that new and new activities are being introduced, for example some modern kinds of handcraft. At5 the moment we are working on next projects and now we have to take into consideration all the aspects: classes must be organized for the active part of the community so that they can further develop and for the passive part of the community who are more fearful and waiting but have finally decided to get involved in some activities. We have already started the second level English course and maybe will look for financing to continue on next levels. At the moment we are developing computer course programs both, as continuation to the previously mastered knowledge and for people without any preliminary knowledge of computers.

We all like floristic courses most of all as it an activity for learning new skills and for an enjoyment as well. The best atmosphere prevails at these courses. People of different ages and different life experience work side by side. Working together stronger ties between generations are established. The whole region knows about our florists and florists from Ape region found us and came to Exchange the experience. They have also invited us to Ape Flower Festival in summer and to their exhibition now. We were glad to see a part of our floristic group participants come back to classes in autumn. There are also some girls who joined this year. The teacher had developed the program so that last year when we started work we could use artificial flowers and other materials bought in the shops, but a task was given to collect various natural materials in the summer. So in autumn we could start work making use of natural materials collected by participants themselves; first live flowers while they were still in gardens, but now we use various dried flowers or materials that can still be found in the nature, for example moss and cones, etc. Thanks to the very skilful teacher the program is developed so that anyone who wants to join us can do it at any time.

As one of the unexpected outcomes of our Project the fact can be mentioned that our municipality – Ape territory – sees our school as the lifelong learning center in the territory. We are presented that way whenever and wherever there is a need for such presentation. The municipality financially supports us in the form of co-financing of the lifelong learning projects and provides moral support to lifelong learning programs in our school too. The municipality constantly encourages us to develop lifelong learning programs providing information on various opportunities in lifelong learning.

During the Project implementation an opportunity to master the basis of the entrepreneurship was given to our community. Unfortunately these classes were not extensively attended but those people who came to the classes still keep in touch with the teacher. The main goal of these classes was to encourage thinking and doing. People often have an idea but either themselves or somebody else very soon deny and destroy it, „Oh, what can I do? It is not going to be a success.” We learned not only generating ideas but also the ways how to implement the idea in life. We tried to overcome ourselves, encouraged each other, learned to present our ideas, mastered business plan writing and monitored our skills, needs and opportunities. It is nice to hear that the teacher sometimes has a phone call in the evening and some „student” wants to have a consultation on possibilities of implementing some idea. It means we have managed to make people venture. Nowadays shorthand can be very useful and it could be learned during our Project activities too. Mostly they were schoolchildren who learned this but we must admit adults too, even men came to school every afternoon to train their fingers for shorthand. These skills can be useful for a lot of professions, not only secretaries. We are pleased even schoolchildren understand that an ability to write fast not looking at the keyboard and making use of all the fingers will be useful in the future life.

Blogging was not very popular with either schoolchildren or local youth within our Project. They sometimes came, listened to the teacher, did some work but then everything subsided. Maybe they do not want to think, to express their thoughts to others; but maybe we just were not at the right time in the right place in our community.

But the English language course, on the contrary was attended so densely that in the beginning we did not know where to put everybody in the classroom. It was very good that most part of those who started the course finished it; the next year half of the previous group passed on to the next level. It is a pity that some of the participants, as soon as they picked up a little English went to work abroad. At the moment they still say they wish to come back. This is how we have helped people – encouraged, given knowledge which are necessary to look for and find a job.

The Project „Sikšņi Elementary School – Education for All Generations” has made our school recognizable in our region and beyond it. We have developed an Education, Culture and Social Support Center. The District Council members see our future in lifelong learning and projects connected with it. Encouraged by this particular Project we have developed another Project where great attention is paid to non-formal education in mastering various handcrafts, for example, felting, loom knitting, etc. Children together with parents can participate in the new Project and those parents who know how to do it, can teach others. It will be an educating and relaxing activity which will last for half a year. At the same time we are working on the opportunities offered by the State Employment Agency to educational establishments. At the moment we are preparing a tender in IT and foreign languages teaching.

Maliena Children and Family Support Center: Providing Social Support to the Community

Sandra Ābeltiņa, creative workshop teacher in the Project

The necessity for social support to the population is marked by the present situation in the whole country and Alūksne region Maliena parish in particular where alongside with the economic downturn the unemployment level has risen considerably, a lot of local people have lost their means of subsistence or experienced their dramatic decrease in them thus facing difficulties which are often connected with previously taken credits and loans. Some people’s problems are so serious that they really lack means of subsistence, children’s clothing, school fees and medical services.

It must be noted that neither the country, nor its inhabitants were ready for such a situation either financially or emotionally. Alongside with the incr4ease of the poor and decrease in the municipal funding for social budget the municipality lack funding to provide financial help to everybody who needs it. It cannot be denied that the parish administration constantly encourages local people to engage into various activities which could provide them opportunities to earn some living for their families. Several people have got engaged into work practice in local municipalities as well as vocational training at employers. Thus the people who have lost their job and means of subsistence or who would have wanted to return to the labor market after their maternity or paternity leave have an opportunity to earn a small but a certain amount for their families.

But it must be said that this kind of help is often too little and it is not so easy to make use of, for example, if a single mother needs some sitting and care for her two year old child. People who have lost their means of subsistence face other problems too. Not all of the poor local people have hot running water, a shower or a bath in their place of living; many of them do not have a washing machine. In conditions like that they have difficulties to care for personal hygiene, organization of everyday processes takes time and effort. Alongside with the stress for making the living causes emotional depression, reduce reliance on them and promote an increase in social negations (such as alcoholism, conflicts and violence in families, crime, etc.).

Maliena Children and Family Support Center was developed with the Soros Foundation – Latvia support after Maliena Elementary School submitted an application for participation in the Project competition „Change Opportunities for Schools”. The idea grew up when evaluating the situation in the local community and being aware of the risk for small schools to be closed as a result of small school network optimization. Maliena School is attended by 70 schoolchildren and it is among the schools to be closed due to insufficient number of schoolchildren. Losing the school would be a heavy blow to Maliena municipality and could encourage a lot of families to move from the parish, but others could have difficulties to provide learning opportunities for their children. Maintaining the school was one of the most important encouragements to participate in the Project competition.

Successful implementation of the idea gives support to the community in several aspects. Local people can use a washing machine and have a shower at the Family Support Center, but children, in their turn have a possibility to engage in activities in the Recreation and Activity Center „Kabata” („Pocket”) six times a week; it is open from 13.00 to 17.00 on workdays and from 10.00 to 14.00 on Saturdays. It is especially important that children can do things together with a teacher on Saturdays, so their parents have time and possibility to do their everyday household work.

We must admit that in the beginning the Project implementers doubted if the local community members would be willing to use the laundry services and showers in the Center. It was because of the fact that we were afraid people could be shy to do so, they could be afraid of slander which can be especially characteristic of small communities. But it must be admitted that the washing machine in the center was used not only by inhabitants of our municipal territory who did not have one at home but sometimes it was used by people from other parishes as well. Due to a very deep winter several farms ran out of water in their wells already in December, and so these families used the laundry service in the Center up to the very spring. The shower was also regularly used. We have understood that concern that there will be little responsiveness is not always justified. If during the Project development real wishes and needs of the community are studied, the services offered usually are a success. It is important to enter a dialogue with those people who the Project activities could be directed at already in the Project development stage.  It is important to specify not only what services are necessary, but also conditions upon which local people can and would like to use them. Not always it is possible to predict all the wishes and needs of the community and understand the subtlest details of them during the Project planning stage.

For example, babysitting at the Maliena Children and Family Support Center is a very popular service, although there is a pre-school education establishment in the territory of the parish too. There are several possible explanations to that. First of all, it can be explained by the fact that children of different ages are most welcome at the Children and Family Support Center. Schoolchildren also come to the Center to do their homework after lessons. It is especially good for those children whose parents work and come home late at night. It is also useful to the children whose parents have their private farms and who are engaged in farming in the evenings. Parents who have to go to other parishes for work or who work in shifts highly appreciate this service too. It is good for those children who do not live in the territory of our parish and who have a possibility to spend their time waiting for their bus home meaningfully. In the Center „Kabata” those children who do not attend the kindergarten are also looked after and drawn into various activities if necessary.

Secondly, an advantage of „Kabata” is an opportunity of leaving children safely when their parents have something urgent to do at home or in the town. Parents of small children enjoy a possibility to leave their children at „Kabata” while they are seeing a doctor or a hairdresser, hurry to finish a farm job, etc. Not all the parents want their child to attend the kindergarten every day as they wish to take care of their child’s upbringing themselves. Others find the kindergarten fees too high and cannot afford them.

Not all the parents who want can get a place in a pre-school education establishment. As there is only a specialized pre-school education establishment in our parish which in addition provides preparing 5 and 6 years olds for school children before the age of 5, if they do not have any health problems have difficulties in getting into the kindergarten. As birth rate in our parish is low and the number of children therefore is small each parent has to deal with the problem him or herself. The way out is the Children and Family Support Center where a child can stay five or even six days a week for four hours a day. At this time parents can do the most urgent things on their farms, see the doctor or some other specialist in the town.

Another advantage of „Kabata” is that parents can bring their child here when they need to. A doctor’s note is needed if a child misses kindergarten, but parents sometimes simply want to spend a day or so with their children. „Kabata” provides greater freedom to parents. They can choose how to organize their own and their child’s day according to their life rhythm and their special needs.

Services of „Kabata” are so popular that a lot of parents keep asking about possibilities of looking after their children for longer hours, in the evenings or on Sundays. It does not mean that parents want to get rid of looking after their children; it is necessary only for some parents and not for ever. But sometimes situations may arise when parents want to go to some courses, a culture event or something like that, but they have difficulties in finding a babysitter. It is especially important for young parents who have not finished high school, who need to get some qualifications marketable on the labor market or find a job to keep a family. It would also be useful as a support measure for single parents; and this is something that should be considered in the future.

In „Kabata” schoolchildren do their homework, learn to make sandwiches and tea for themselves, make cakes for holidays and gift cards for those who have birthdays, and play. Small children from far away homes have an opportunity to find friends among their peers and get accustomed to life with others.

Children from foster families spend their free time at „Kabata” very often. In our municipal territory there are 13 foster families where sisters and brothers are often placed 2 – 3 in one family, another 2 – 3 in another family, as it is difficult for a foster family to shelter 5 or 6 children from one family. „Kabata” gives an opportunity to sisters and brothers spend their free time together, help each other with homework and keep in touch every day. „Kabata” is a great support for foster families too as a teacher there can work individually with those children who have learning difficulties. It is not a secret for anybody that children who are placed in foster families have missed school quite often before, they have had learning difficulties. The fact that children are looked after the lessons let the foster parents feel more assured as they know that many of these children have behavioral problems too; they have tramped, gone about begging and stolen to find a living before. Knowing that the children are looked after and get ready for the next day at school foster parents feel much more assured, especially during the adaptation period while they get to know their foster children, their character and abilities.

Maliena Children and Family Support Center is a meeting place for foster families and a psychologist and a foster families’ coordinator. Psychologist’s services are available to schoolchildren and their parents, as well as anybody interested in them. People in crisis situations when they lose their job or their livelihood drastically reduce and it is difficult to repay loans and credits, need not only financial help, but also moral support and some advice. Sometimes other parents’ example and their experience in problem solving can be of great uses, but sometimes a Professional help is necessary to regain balance, understand the most important values in life and develop one’s life model according to them.

It is characteristic that when in crisis, people usually become unsociable, avoid contacts with others and therefore do not get the necessary emotional support. Mutual activities promote that very soon conversations settle on everyday topics, and as a result cooperation between parents starts. They Exchange children’s clothes, household items, fruit or vegetables they have grown. Very often this is exactly the kind of help which is most needed for young parents or single parents with small children. Parents meet both, non-formally and at events organized the Children and Family Support Center; they can join in activities which give them opportunities of learning new skills and spending their free time meaningfully.

Maliena Children and Family Support Center has given an opportunity to inhabitants of our parish to learn the English language and acquire first computer skills, to get to know the basis of entrepreneurship and Project application. Handicraft and creative workshop classes have been very well-attended; these classes have given a possibility even to experienced knitters and needle-pointers to learn something new and to beginners acquire the first skills. While awareness of abilities increase people get faith in themselves, new ideas appear and they start seeing opportunities of making use of the resources each of them already has to improve their life quality in modern conditions.

Various sports activities are organized in the Center, which are mostly attended by local youths. It means that spending free time actively is the need which is met by the Family Support Center. The sports hall and the sports grounds of the school are the only places where local youths can do sport and where there is appropriate equipment. Effective use of this equipment creates possibilities for local youths and other people interested, to spend their free time meaningfully. Somehow these activities are preventive measures that possibly decrease the risk of spreading various negations among youth (such as alcoholism, tramping, misdoing, etc.).

Everybody who deals with young people on daily basis can understand that this community group is special with great activity, wide interests and constant need for something new. Therefore activities must be planned so that young people have more possibilities to decide for themselves what they want to pay most attention to. So we have found a form of sports activities which allows the young people to Choose the kind of sport and the equipment, organize relays and competitions and make teams, etc. The employee of the Center in these activities is more like an environment builder and equipment administrator who does not impose anything on young people coming to the Center. Thanks to this kind of attitude sports classes are well-attended and the atmosphere at them is enthusiastic. Such an atmosphere emotionally supports young people from problem families, increases their reliance and helps them find their place even if their marks at school are not so good and do not promote their success.

All in all the activities of our Children and Family Support Center are directed at promoting inhabitants’ own initiative and activity, mutual support and help.

During the implementation process of this Project as well as in everyday life the municipality has provided support to Maliena School and always taken care of finding resources and possibilities to refurbishment of premises and implementation of various ideas. Local people and school leavers who now live somewhere else also think about the future of the school. A lot of former schoolchildren and teachers have donated to the School Support Foundation. Every 9th grade when finishing Maliena Elementary School gives some useful present to the school.

A school in rural are of Latvia is now one of the few culture and community centers which many families are connected to. It may be said that existence of a school in a rural area provides for families with children stay in the municipal territory and give their investment in its future.

Transforming Sigulda Regional High School into a Multi-functional Education, Culture and Social Support Center

Māra Jēkabsone, Project director

Balanced territorial development is important to Sigulda Municipality therefore they constantly look for new growth opportunities that could provide harmonious development of every local inhabitant from upbringing in a family and pre-school establishments to motivated life-long learning possibilities. Within the framework of the given Project various educational courses were offered to local people.

Turpināt lasīt…

How Can a School Support the Development of Families and Pre-school Children?

The Team of Drusti Elementary school

In the summer of 2009, when we learned about the Soros Foundation – Latvia Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools”, we understood at once – it is something meant for us, for our white school, standing on the shores of a lake in the very center of Drusti to become a center of local education and development where lifelong learning program is being implemented by children – parents – teachers all together. Within the Project „Transforming Drusti Elementary School into an Educational Center for Intellectual, Social and Cultural Personality Development” the basic attention is paid to a person, especially to pre-school children. The pre-school children and their parents are the ones the colorful playground is made for where the objects have been placed giving the children an opportunity to orient themselves, to take steps to practice their bodies thus improving their physical form and suppleness. There is also a playroom now where pre-school children are kept busy every day, and during the classes the parents are offered to have their children looked after. So the children are given opportunities of acquiring new skills but everyone can experience positive emotions and share them with others to remember during the daily rush that for a child the most important things are relations, care and love.

While working with pre-school children it is important to be engaged in activities together – children and parents. Mutual activities of an adult and a child, their interrelation at the pre-school age is one of the most effective means of upbringing (parenting?). The future personality is being formed exactly at this age and this personality needs emotional ties with an adult; they affect the behavior of a child, his or her personality development and conduct in public.

The idea of developing a playroom and playground for pre-school and schoolchildren grew out of initiatives of other Project activities’ managers. The main idea was the following: while parents are engaged in activities they are interested in the children are kept busy in the playroom where different games are organized to teach the children, to stimulate their initiative and activity, cognitive processes and provide staying outdoors.

The playroom was created on the basis of playrooms for the five and six years old, and during the Project in order to supplement the resources we purchased:

– New toys, board games, study materials, stationery;

– Materials for decorating the room;

– Equipment for sports activities;

– A laptop and DVD.

The children playground was created in rather uncared-for grounds near the school. Outdoor games together with other children are special in any child’s life – they are the first strength tests, adventure of getting faster, higher, further, being the first; they are one of the ways how to explore the world.
It is topical to remember that when designing and arranging a playground, children must be in the center of everything. Consult them! We had them express their ideas in drawings within a competition “My Dream Playground”. A very nice event can be joint work in tidying up the neighborhood but to be on the safe side about the quality of the playground installation of equipment must be entrusted to a construction company (we had an offer that we can do it ourselves).
We involved two teachers into the activities in the playroom (one of them a pre-school teacher, the other one – a primary school teacher), and as it turned out later, it was the right decision.
Children who come to the playroom are of very different ages; therefore they are divided into two groups: the small ones mostly play, but the bigger ones are engaged in more serious board games, creative activities and operate computers.
It must be noted that sometimes mothers bring infants as well, and they must be looked after too, so we have to change the previously scheduled activities. If the weather is good, we go out to the new playground or sports ground, sometimes we go for walks and watch the nature, collect different natural materials which can be later used in children’s games or their creative activities; thus the children learn to see practical and aesthetical meaning of the materials.
Some children do their homework during the playroom opening hours; we help them too, as it is obvious that when they come home after eight o’clock at night they will not have the power to do it.
During the classes we observe the rhythm of seasons and holidays. Children cooperate: the bigger ones help the smaller. It is very interesting to watch the getting on within a „family” as it is a usual practice that several, even three or four children from one and the same family come to the playroom.
While being engaged in playroom activities we tried to conform to everybody’s needs, both children and adults’; thus we probably lost something for ourselves in this process…
Writing the Project we thought its implementation would be easy and very clear, everything would run as by a thread, but the reality turned out to be a little different. We have learned a few things which we would like to share now with others:
1. A strong and very tough team is necessary which is ready to work hard, not to stop somewhere in the middle as the Project makes you learn a lot and does not let you ease off for a moment. Only being together and working together you get new ideas which can be implemented during the classes and applied to attract people to them.
2. It is essential to know exactly and in detail what has been intended, write the Project application as if we were going to spend our private money, try to anticipate everything very much in detail, make sure how much everything costs so that it does not turn out that when buying something for the needs of the Project we learn that the price we have budgeted for corresponds to a product of very low quality. If we want to adopt the experience of others all the odds and ends must be clarified before. Thus we had a situation when we wanted to set up a play wall like the one we had seen in another school, but later we learned that it is not possible to buy such a wall as it had been custom-made. Management is very important, especially when working with pre-school children. Children are eager to work and play if they understand the interconnection between the goals of their activity, the tasks given to them and the result of their activities.
3.Municipality support is very important in the Project implementation. The Regional Council had large and undivided interest in the Project. We always could rely on their support in dealing with more complicated issues. It is essential when entering procurement procedures, preparing reports or choosing the best solution on site. When arranging the playground we chose the place for it together with specialists from the Regional Council at the same time evaluating the possibilities of using old benches and other equipment. With the municipality support our „findings” got a new look (were repaired and painted) and could be practically used again.
4. It must be remembered that there will be unplanned situations during the Project implementation. A striking example – setting up the children’s playground. We ordered the playground as scheduled but because of freaks of nature (unexpected cold) it was not possible to set it up. We were patient and understood that it was just a matter of time, but we had to act quickly and the leader of the activity looked for creative solutions of the problem. So we organized „nature laboratories” – classes, quizzes, competitions and other activities in nature. It was a kind of recreation and cognitive process as well and children liked it very much.
5. It is true that working with small children is the easiest, but at the same time it is difficult for a teacher to conduct a class for pre-school children, for example in drawing alone – other people who can help are necessary or the group should be very small. Ideally there should be one or two children in a group with one teacher as children lose interest very quickly if they are left aside and attention is not paid to them; they like acting together and need praises, they stimulate children in action. Sometimes classes are more successful if we manage to come down to the level of children to understand that they also have their needs, wishes and feelings which they might not be able to Express properly yet. A good solution in a situation where children were lining up at some games or toys to do without quarrels and jostle was to make lists to determine who was going to play.
Usually when children finished a class or did something we asked: „How were the things going for you today? What did you like? What was most difficult for you?” And once I got an answer: „It was all good – from the top to the bottom, from one side to the other!” (Children were painting with gouache on drawing paper, and this was the way how the child described the list with his own words).
6. Children’s hearts do not have to be conquered, they are eager to act and learn something new every day. Children are the most impatient and at the same time the most sincere audience. A lot of pre-school children speak their „own” language, it is often not clear even what they are saying, but just to keep the conversation going I answer something too (what else will you tell me? or simply – yes, yes, it was really amazing, etc.). Some bigger children heard this and said: „You really know so many foreign languages, you can talk to everybody. We did not understand what little Peter was telling.” You must always be watchful! Big brothers and sisters of those small ones we called „Interpreters” as they usually could explain what their little brothers or sisters were saying or wanted.
7. It must be remembered that in any stage of the Project one can face scepticism about the expedience of the Project, doubt about the usefulness of it – the school has always been in this place, does anything else happen at school apart from studying? Adults are hiding their shyness behind this, they are thinking about the others, what they will say, what they will think> We have applied different methods for drawing people in – the local newspaper, the Internet, posters, flyers, special invitations, phone calls, etc. – and have come to a conclusion: if people are addressed personally, they usually come and even bring a neighbor with them.
8. We have done great job in arranging the playroom – we use children’s works as decorations. Thus children feel that their work is necessary and useful, lenient attitude towards our surroundings (both indoor and outdoor) is formed. What a child has created with his or her own hands he or she does not want to destroy, tear, ruin or disarrange. Children often take other children or adults to see how beautiful their works are, how special they are and how „the whole room is lovelier now”.
9. As a disadvantage should be mentioned the time for classes as adults sometimes had them until eight o’clock in the evening, but children are tired so late at night, some of them even fall asleep on the couch, so interest in the playroom disappears, they start being naughty, making a fuss, crying as they cannot wait their moms. It is like a vicious circle: in the morning the child gets up at around eight o’clock, then spends the day at school or kindergarten but in the evening again have classes in the playroom. In dark and cold winter nights parents often did not want to bring their children with them understanding that this is too difficult for a child.
Rather often it happens that the five or six years old or junior schoolchildren want play in the playroom in the afternoons. If possible we let them do it. But evaluating all the above mentioned conditions we would like to plan classes for children in the afternoons, not in the evenings (if there is such an opportunity), as well as divide children into two age groups so that they can use the classroom time fully, creatively and interesting.

The Project implementation has given us joy of experience, we are happy about the given opportunity of getting to know other people beyond the usual environment, about our mutual understanding, about values which we have managed to teach the children, about the conversations we have had time for. Nothing compares to the joy and the glow in the eyes of children when they are busy in our playroom or playground.

Children are encouraged by the teachers’ trust in them, by positive psychological attitude, creative and free atmosphere, open cooperation between the teacher and the small child. There is no greater happiness than bringing joy to somebody else. We should always remember R.Blaumanis’# words: „How can you help the mankind, if you cannot help the person who suffers close to you.”

If we had to start a Project like this once more in our lives we would include activities for pre-school and junior schoolchildren and their families. It must be started from the very beginning – a child, mother, father, brother, sister, grandparents. A baby is a key person in any family’s life for some time; everybody who is around the baby will come together with it, the child will be brought to the activities, involved in them, and together with the child everybody else will participate.
The Project implementation time was very special as every little deal done together, blessed with positive thoughts is so vital and topical for our feelings of solidarity, so essential in awakening positive attitude in ourselves and our children.

Your Tomorrow in Zilaiskalns is Being Created Today

Inese Stepane, director of the Project „Tomorrow is being created today”

The idea of participation in the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project competition arose at the moment when further existence of Zilaiskalns Primary School was threatened after the territorial reform. Zilaiskalns Primary School was located in a one-storey building where there were two classrooms, a small kitchenette and dining room, a hall and a small study for teachers. Two more classrooms, a library, a speech therapist’s office and director’s office were situated in a building across the street. So we had an idea: if the School is closed the building which had been renovated (the roof and all the Windows had been replaced and the facade had been insulated) will not be abandoned and empty but a multi-functional community support center could be developed there.

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Making a Dialogue

Aina Keplere, Allaži Elementary School Project Manager

In June, 2009 the territorial reform had been finished and there was absolute ignorance around about the future. Will Allaži Elementary School continue existing? In August a new possibility of attracting financing for various activities opened for small rural schools through the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project „Change Opportunities for Schools”. The Project announcement came to us like the second breath, and we immediately decided to take this opportunity.

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