A Gift for the Future of Užava

Anita Pāvelsone, Ilze Geste, Inta Lazukina,
Užava Elementary School pre-school group teachers

Nowadays every person has to state his or her life perspectives, set a goal and in compliance with one’s abilities and life opportunities find ways to meeting this goal. Every period in human life is unique, and it has its value in acquiring new experience and learning new skills.

Our society needs creative personalities as such personalities are the real wealth of the society. Creative activity leads to the future, to realization of human imagination. Everything human hands have created is a result of imagination and activity based on imagination. Imagination depends on former experience; everything that a child sees and hears prepares the basis for his or her future creativity. Therefore imagination must be developed from the early childhood.

Up to last autumn five and six year old children training program was implemented at Užava Elementary School. Last autumn in cooperation with Užava parish administration a Pre-school Study Center was set up. Classes for younger children, three and four year olds were also started. One classroom was allocated and adapting for the needs of the Center where children simultaneously played and learned. This kind of activities had some drawbacks – while some children were studying the others played and it often hindered wholesome studies as one room for twenty-six children for both, studies and plays was much too small. Toys were also worn-out. We often talked and discussed the situation trying to think of possible solutions. When we learned about the opportunity to apply for the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project competition „Change Opportunities for Schools” we decided to participate in the Project without any hesitation as the school had suitable rooms in the former boarding school but they needed refurbishing. It was the first time when we wrote a Project of such a scope. We were really happy when we got to know that our Project had been chosen for support. Activities started and not only us – teachers, but also children and their parents followed every step of them.

We were very excited and happy when the time came we could move. Now a newly refurbished classroom in the former boarding school and a separate room for plays and games is at pre-school children’s disposal, as well as a bedroom and nicely redecorated toilet where there is hot running water and a cloakroom where there are new lockers for children. Many thanks must be said to the Ventspils Regional Council because one more room and a passage were refurbished on the Council’s funding. We were able to purchase new furniture for the classroom, beds, lockers, various toys and board games, a tape recorder, different musical instruments, books and a computer. Moving to the new premises was a celebration for all of us – children, parents, teachers, as now we have a possibility to work and study better. The day when the room was officially opened children had guests – the school headmaster Guntra Magonīte, Užava parish head Laima Erliha-Štranka and an interesting visitor – a Hare who taught the children and pre-school teachers what the children should do in the new rooms. We sang together and played games. After the celebration classes started in the new room.  Work is made even easier because children can be divided into groups according to their age. While one group is studying in the classroom, the other group spends time with the second teacher playing games or singing. When the classes are over children relax and then they swap places. So it is possible to organize wholesome training and it promotes better acquisition of knowledge and skills. Three teachers and two nannies work in the group. Great emphasis is put on games.

The teacher Ilze Geste teaches music to primary schoolchildren and to senior students at elementary school. She was also a pre-school music teacher for ten years but after the pre-school educational establishment was closed she continued work only at school. After a longer break now Ilze has an opportunity to work with pre-school children again. In her pedagogic career the teacher has met children of different ages and characters. Generations have changed and now the playgroup is attended by her former „children’s” kids. The 21st century has changed the 20th century bringing new trends and modern technologies, as well as new features of character in children.

Modern children’s interests and free time possibilities are very wide and varied. Children want to act not passively listen. Music provides various cooperation opportunities among children. As one of the ways a play can be used. While playing a child relaxes, gets rid of worries. A play promotes development of children’s various creative abilities and imagination. Using songs, rhythm elements, musical puzzles and simply listening to music a music teacher develops children’s musicality. Music perception is a complicated and highly emotional process. The first years are the most important in a child’s life to develop his or her musicality. In this respect musical instruments purchased within the Project framework are very useful. Children have an opportunity to try their hands in playing musical instruments.

Music teacher in a pre-school establishment works with children whose abilities differ. Children who do not sing at all and are afraid of engaging in plays with others because they do not know any games or plays, come to the music classes. Songs and games taught by the teacher are a real discovery for them. These features are more characteristic in the country where children have no Access to kindergartens as it used to be in Užava parish. Some time must pass before these children accept new circumstances and make them at home. These children are usually quieter and less confident but they learn everything with great interest. Children from the age of three can develop and improve their musical skills in Užava Elementary School pre-school group, because the teacher lets the smallest ones – – three and four year old children – take a musical instrument and feel the joy of playing it. And the joy is bigger and bigger as there are a lot of talents in these small children which nobody has noticed before.

Cooperation with parents has invaluable role in work with children. Every parent wants to see talents in his or her child; the children’s success is very important for any parent. Recently a mother of a four year old girl asked us if we were going to prepare the children for some musical competition, because she thinks there are one or two talented singers among our pre-school children group. Of course, we will do it as far as we have possibilities. While talking to parents we try to explain that it is very important not only to play together with their child, but also to dare to sing together.

I consider that we have very good cooperation with parents. They are regularly informed about all the news in the pre-school group, about their children’s success and failure; and we try to solve all the problems all together. If any of the parents does not understand something, everything is shown and explained to them. Parents have expressed their wish to study something themselves, so we organize parents’ meetings – lectures. The first lecture was on characteristics of different age groups. Some part of the parents seem to know everything about it, but others are happy because the lecture can help them better understand their child’s behavior and actions. After the meeting a mother of a six years old admitted that the lecture had made her think over her relations with her son and a little daughter; that now she understands what the reason for her son’s behavioral violations is. I think it is a big success as our aim is educating parents too.  To clarify the topics parents would like to listen about at the next meeting we questioned them. We try to plan our activities so that they are directed both, at children and at parents as well. Sometimes it happens that a mother comes and asks us some piece of advice concerning her child. We try to give it and discuss the situation. It is very pleasant when the same mother comes once more after some time and tells us that our advice has been useful. Mothers become younger and younger. It is not always so easy to bring up children as they would like to. They lack experience and want to devote more time to their private lives. We teach parents not to feel uneasy about their not knowing something, but look for advice and ask somebody for help. Pre-school teachers are the ones who educate children’s parents too – talking to them, discussing problems and situations, listening to them and informing them about their children’s success.

A positive way of cooperation with children’s parents is organizing celebrations together in the pre-school group. Getting ready for these celebrations, discussing the run of them bring together children, parents and teachers. It is exactly mutual games that create emotional uplift during celebrations. Our pre-school children not only celebrate in their group but they participate in the whole school celebrations too – at Martin’s Day, Christmas, Mother’s Day etc. So the children have an opportunity to show their talents to other schoolchildren, teachers and parents. Last May our group had the first real „Graduation Party” – nine children got a waybill to the first class. Although planned as a small celebration, this event turned out into a mighty party which was attended not only by parents but also guests. Very gratifying is the fact that now that the children are in the first grade at school, their parents come to thank us for preparing their children for school so well. The group leavers are also frequent guests in our present group. This year we have already passed the first holiday too – the Autumn Festival where children did not only play musical instruments and sing, they also played games together with the Mother Autumn and prepared a composition. In the end of the Festival everybody could feast on tasty pies made here in Užava, at a bakery belonging to K.Akums. Children’s parents had taken care of beautiful party dresses for children. At the moment getting ready for Martin’s Day is at full speed.

Teacher Inta Lazukina mostly deals with teaching reading and preparing small hands for writing. To be better prepared for school a child must know the alphabet. To learn all the letters in the alphabet more successfully new developing board games bought on the Project funding are very useful. With the help of these games children can train to recognize letters, form syllables and words from separate letters. The games promote interest in printed letters, help to understand the notions „up”, „down”, „to the right” and „to the left”. Children are very willing to read their words aloud and are happy about their achievements. We make use of these new developing games at lessons when telling children about quantity, size, number and place. While playing children consolidate their knowledge about polygons, as well as their ability to count to ten, etc. Children play a lot with building materials and Lego. Working with these materials their logical thinking develops and new mathematical concepts are learned and consolidated. Choosing the developing games we purchased hose which to our minds could be most effectively used learning mathematical concepts, reading and speaking skills. Parents have had an opportunity to see the games in the pre-school group. We have explained to them that those are the games which should be at home too, as it is not enough for a child’s multi-faceted development to have only toys at home. Several parents have come to us and asked which of the developing games is best for their child. We are sure it is a success as it means that we do not only work in group, but we are educating parents at the same time.

Teacher Anita Pāvelsone has been working for our school since last autumn. When the school where she had been working since 1985 was closed she was offered to come to Užava Elementary School to the play group. The teacher spends most of her time together with the children. Teachers have dividend their spheres of responsibility and teacher Pāvelsone is responsible for craftwork, drawing, modeling and appliqué. Together with teacher Ilze celebrations are organized and excursions planned. Children had an opportunity to go to the theater in Ventspils and Liepāja on the Project funding. This autumn we were on an excursion to the local branch of the Riga Zoo „Cīrulīši” in Kalvene and attended „Laumas” Nature Park. Children are very happy about these activities as not all the parents can afford go with their children on excursions or to the theater.

Once a week, a speech therapist Sigita Tumpele comes to visit the children. This is possible thanks to the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project. It is a great relief to both, the children and their parents. There are quite a lot of children with defects of speech in the group but not every parent can afford to take their children to Ventspils to a speech therapist, as a ticket must be purchased and the therapist’s fee paid. The parents of the children with speech problems are very happy about the opportunity within the Project to see the speech therapist. The speech therapist works with all children in the group starting from the age of three. Sometimes she arranges special meetings with three and four year old children’s parents to tell them and explain what they can do at home for themselves to promote correct speech. As to the elder children, Sigita works with the min the class.

Once a week, an English teacher Aiva Cela also worked with children. Children liked these classes. After the classes children often repeat what they have learnt or heard during the classes. These skills are also going to be very useful when children start to learn English at school. Before start learning English at the age of three we asked parents if they agreed to it. Of course, the answer was positive. A mother of five said very briefly and concisely: „Let they study! A small child learns everything quicker. None language is ever too much.”

As there are computers in the group, children have acquired the basic computer skills too. They do not play only computer games but also learn to write and read. As there are a lot of cartoons available on the internet we often watch them. We have asked parents and during conversations with children found out that at home children mostly watch the cartoons which promote violence and bad taste. We have taught them that a cartoon can be different – instructive and full of love. Now the children themselves often tell us which movie they want to watch. We also like www.pasakas.lv very much because lovely cartoons, fairy-tales which can be read on the internet, various memory games etc. can be found on this site. In the beginning some parents had a wrong idea of how exactly we teach their children to work with the internet and the opportunities offered by it. During one of the last year meetings parents had an opportunity to learn what games we play, what programs we use and what cartoons we offer to their children. We have also informed parents about the sites where they can look for the information they need, more successfully.

The pre-school group was open in summer too, and it was well attended during the summer. Parents were happy about it as their children were looked after and active during the warm summer days. Although there were no classes in summer, children had a lot of possibilities to engage in creative activities – draw, model, work with plaster and various nature materials.

If we compare last autumn with this autumn, all of us, connected with the pre-school group – children, parents and teachers – seem to have changed. Parents are not afraid to come to us with their ideas and suggestions; they freely offer their help. We believe it is a large step forward as only in cooperation between parents and school we can achieve the biggest results and gain success in a child’s versatile development and education.

Getting involved in the Soros Foundation – Latvia Project competition and implementing the Project we have been constantly supported by Užava parish administration. We have got all the best from them. Definitely we must not forget the Headmaster of our school Guntra Magonīte, as she is the one who continuously cares for us and follows all the activities in the pre-school group supporting us and encouraging no to stop at the achievements but move on.

Starting educating children from the age of three the school has made an enormous contribution to Užava parish. The parents of the children attending the pre-school group have more possibilities to look for a job because they do not have to worry about their children, where to leave them and who will look after them. Even in case when parents do not have a job they send their children to the group because they believe the child can learn more here than at home when uselessly wandering around or playing alone. We are happy that step by step we have managed to break the Picture that a teacher only is responsible for the behavior and success at school. We have made parents understand that only in cooperating we can achieve the main goal – develop a comprehensive, educated and sincere personality who is responsible for the future of our parish, region and country. Our work within the Project „Change Opportunities for Schools” is only a beginning, a starting point for the future work together. We, the Project implementers had to acquire new experience in this Project. At first it was sometimes difficult to decide what and how to do, where and what to look for. Now we have overcome these feelings. During the Project implementation we have in practice checked the truth that one must never stop meeting the aim. The next aim must be set – farther, bigger, and one must go on without any fear of difficulties.  There are no difficulties which cannot be overcome. One must wish to do it!

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.

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.

Let Us Learn to Live Making Use of Our Own Resources

L. Miķelsone, M. Neilande, D. Barančane

Brocēni municipality implements the Project in cooperation with Brocēni High School, Remte, Blīdene and Gaiķi Elementary Schools. Because of the territorial reform our territory was in a very disadvantaged position. Although it was developed ten years ago in education up to 2009 it remained closely connected with the former Saldus district. This year Brocēni territory could not rely on services provided in Saldus territory therefore we had to develop our own education system. The Soros Foundation – Latvia Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” helped us in this. With the help of the Project we managed to start developing education system in our territory, so the activities included in the Project enveloped very many spheres so that we could encourage all the target groups to further activities. In order to coordinate the activities of all the target groups involved in the Project we developed Public Support Methodological Center.

Cooperation Between Schools and NGOs

  • Student Exchange
  • Extreme Sports Games
  • A Night at School
  • Co-management Meetings

E- learning

  • Latvian
  • Mathematics
  • English

Collaboration of region’s schools and NGO

  • Exchange of students
  • Extreme sport games
  • Night at school
  • Meetings of Parliaments

Life-long Learning

  • Entrepreneurship
  • English
  • Computers

Public Support Methodological Center

Non-formal Education

  • Social Practice at Enterprises
  • Arranging a Recreation Place
  • Peer Educators
  • Classes at the Social Center „Kopā” („Together”)

Measures to Reduce Social Tension

  • Motivation Program Development
  • Meeting Successful People
  • Making Fancy Things
  • Lectures and Psychology Classes
  • Christmas Charity Campaign

Chart 1. Activity Directions at the Public Support Methodological Center

Further in the article we are going to describe each one of the above mentioned activities.
Because of the territorial reform municipalities have to undertake increasingly greater responsibility on education opportunities in the particular territory. A good school can leave an impact on the development of the municipality and vice versa, municipality members can promote development of a good school. Planning and implementing sustainable development is a responsibility of a municipality but no municipality is allowed to promote only one sphere of education. This is why we have to think of possibilities to provide both, formal and informal life-long education to local people.
Life-long Learning, combining formal and informal learning promotes wholesome personality development and lets a personality adapt to new social changes more successfully. This was the reason why life-long learning activities we offered within the Project framework had so much interest on the part of local people.
In the course of the Project we evaluated the success of the activities and defined those issues which have to be addressed more carefully in the future to proceed even more successfully.

Success Issues to Be Addressed
Successful choice of teachers who are able to arouse interest and motivation in students of different age groups How to promote interest even more in those target groups who need new knowledge and skills most of all?
Relaxed and free learning atmosphere where students feel comfortable How to address people and where to place the information on opportunities of learning so that it can reach the target audience?
The school is open to different age groups; stereotypes on the school have been broken in the community How to learn as much as much possible about the community needs for classes?
Opportunity to learn new practical knowledge and acquire new skills How to motivate local people to be aware of their need to acquire new knowledge and skills?
People of different age groups have an opportunity to communicate How to achieve that people’s interest in opportunities of getting new knowledge would remain intact and would not fall during the whole course?

We have made a conclusion that life-long learning is topical for local people in our territory as the interest in these opportunities is considerable. But if the classes were not free interest in them would not be so great because, unfortunately people are not willing to invest their money in non-formal life-long learning. Therefore we must think of other opportunities to attract resources from other projects in order to proceed with what we have started. The more people know and can do, the more interested they are in acquiring new knowledge and skills and improving themselves.
E-learning opportunities were offered to those schoolchildren who due to an illness or some other reason could not participate in the learning process and who needed help at home. This kind of learning was a new experience in our territory not only to schoolchildren but also to teachers.
This kind of learning created a necessity for special learning materials that could help in e-learning and could be used in class as well.

Success Issues to Be Addressed
Both, students and teachers improve their computer skills How to help a student to understand and formulate what is the most difficult for him or her in particular?
Contacts with schoolchildren improved How to motivate schoolchildren get actively involved into e-learning processes?
Schoolchildren have an opportunity to improve their knowledge How to promote learning and later on self-study motivation using the e-materials prepared by the teachers within the Project framework?
Teachers learn what causes learning difficulties to schoolchildren and try to pay more attention to teaching those particular themes at lessons How to organize thematic e-consultations offering particular themes at them?
Materials developed within the Project will help in self-study processes in the future as well
Teachers have opportunities to improve their teaching methodology

E-learning is sustainable as within the Project framework teachers and students’ knowledge and skills have been improved; people are encouraged to apply modern technologies in their knowledge improvement.
One of the tasks within the project framework was to bring together schools in the territory. We wished to implement this aim encouraging schoolchildren to get involved into various attractive activities thus promoting cooperation between schools. Young people improved their targeted planning and organization skills. The basis of the success was schoolchildren’s interest in achieving the best possible results as well as the feedback – schoolchildren evaluated pluses and minuses of each event.
We must think how to motivate schoolchildren to take responsibility for the tasks assigned to them even more. In the future we are going to proceed with what we have started and schoolchildren are proposing new measures.
The basis for any activity lies in providing favorable social and emotional environment and atmosphere. Only in such an atmosphere a wish to get involved and cooperate appears. We tried to create such an atmosphere working with children and young people with low level of basis social skills.
In order to make young people belong to the community there was a one-week social internship at entrepreneurs in Brocēni and Saldus territory, for example at the joint stock company „CEMEX”. This experience helped young people to choose the most appropriate profession after leaving the school.
Various possibilities to improve their skills were offered to young people in Brocēni High School. Boys acquired wood working skills and developed a recreation place. Girls prepared various trivia for this year’s charity campaign. Young people acquired useful social skills in this process – they learned to participate in processes in the local community, developed their preparedness to risks, initiative, acquired problem solving skills and tolerance.
Peer educators had great impact on the socialization processes. This education is a method of non-formal education where a peer passes his or her knowledge to another peer and helps to create positive attitude towards issues which is difficult to discuss if there is a language, age or status barrier. Young people teach each other topics which are essential at a particular age.

                      Success                     Issues to Be Addressed
Young people with low level of basic social skills feel belonging to the community How to involve young people from different social groups into joint activities?
Youth center „Kopā” („Together”) is becoming more open to the local community How to plan classes so that they are interesting for different young people?
Successful peers education Where and how to make use of not so qualitative children’s works so that they feel satisfied with their achievements?
Bringing together various social groups of young people The choice of adults who are to work with young people from social risk group must be seriously considered

Work with young people from social risk group will be successful if meetings and classes are organized regularly; if the adult – teacher is a confidant and young people are attracted to one particular place and particular people. Not knowledge but attitude is the most important issue.
Sustainability of this activity is provided by the learning material developed by peer educators which can be used in the future working with other youths, and the fact that young people from social risk groups already now are willing to get involved in charity campaigns, take responsibility for putting the environment straight; they attend events organized by youth NGOs and propose their ideas for the events.
To reduce social tension in Brocēni territory a motivation program was developed which consisted of three parts: healthy lifestyle promotion, psychological help to oneself and others and practical classes in making fancy things. We drew into the implementation of the program local and external specialists. Meeting with successful local people was a success. They were an example that there are no insurmountable situations in life. Meetings of this kind encourage people to change something in their lives. It was important to dr4aw into these activities young people who live in the school dormitory. The program helped them to get into the new environment sooner and find ways of spending free time in dark autumn and winter evenings.

                       Positive                      Issues to Be Addressed
People make use of opportunities offered by various projects more and more to improve their life quality How to encourage local people to be proud of their achievements?
People of different ages are willing to participate in activities How to learn to take stock of the existing local resources?
People understand they do not have to be ashamed to look for help at local specialists; also a kind word and good atmosphere can help How to encourage people from social risk groups to make use of the opportunities offered by the Project even more?

While implementing the measures to reduce the social risks we made a conclusion that it is important to comply with the following principles:

– Events must be widely available;

– Equality is important at them;

– Wide range of activities based on the community needs;

– Effectiveness of processes;

– Understanding of the local community and shared responsibility.

 

During the Project implementation Community Support Methodological Center has been opened.

 

Community Support Methodological Center

Support staff
Work with parents

    Pre-school

          Primary school
Elementary school

Brocēni Municipality

Non-governmental organizations

Libraries

Culture and Education Center

 

Youth Center „Kopā”

Schools

Education specialist

Project specialist

Social Service

Chart 2. Network of the Community Support Methodological Center
The main task of the network shown in the Chart is joint work, communication and meaningful application of the newly acquired knowledge and skills. There is some experience, professional growth and development in any kind of cooperation. Cooperation between different structures can be successful if needs of all the parties are met; various forms and methods chosen and people think about needs of local community and money raising and allocation together.
The sustainability of our Project is provided by the following factors:

  1. The Community Support Methodological Center has been developed.
  2. The Center has the staff consisting of the manager and eight methodical union leaders.
  3. The Center has its own premises with IT facilities.
  4. Next year a psychologist, a social educator and a speech therapist will join the staff.
  5. Youth NGOs and the Center staff have developed several projects, part of them already have got financial support, for example, an NGO „Brocēni High School Parliament” has purchased sport equipment which can be used on the school premises by the local community.
  6. Cooperation between the regional schools has been initiated and basic cooperation guidelines developed.
  7. Peer educators have expanded the scope of their activities teaching local youth.
  8. Brocēni High School has become more accessible for the community.
  9. A cooperation agreement has been concluded with Skrunda, Saldus and Kandava territories. It will provide a chance to allocate financial resources more effectively.
  10. The Methodological Center will help to coordinate education and social exclusion issues on the territory. Cooperation will allow for more opportunities to attract extra funding for realization of ideas.
  11. E-consulting will be further developed aiming at introducing a distance learning program at school.

Balvi Elementary School Project „A Lot of Hearts – One Land and Language”

Balvi Elementary School Project team

The aim of the Project was to develop integration and intercultural community center that:

– provides educational, culture, leisure time, social and other events;

– promotes tolerance by the means of informal communication and mutual respect;

– encourages formation of a democratic and open society;

– provides meaningful leisure time activities for interest groups, acquainting with Latvian and Russian cultures, their traditions in organizing events, cooking and making national folk costumes;

– promotes removing language barriers by teaching the Russian language to Latvians and the Latvian language to Russians.

In order to implement the Project it was necessary to improve the home economics classroom of 49,2 m2; purchase the necessary equipment for the wood processing shop; purchase modern equipment for learning languages; buy the necessary equipment for interest groups.
The Project team consists of experienced specialists from the municipality, the education board and the school. The municipality specialists solved the problems at the municipality level, teachers – in the school, but the specialists from the education board – in the establishment they represented. This kind of team is a very good combination for successful implementation of the Project.
We started the implementation of the Project by redecoration of the home economics classroom. At the same time we also initiated negotiations about making furniture for this classroom. During the negotiations two entrepreneurs simultaneously presented their offers and they managed to convince the Project team that their offers were the most advantageous. „Fagor”, Ltd. from Rēzekne was chosen. The representative of this company offered us delivery of raw materials and hardware for the needs of wood processing classes free of charge. As a result during the negotiations a three-sided cooperation agreement was signed within which the cooperation will continue after the end of the Project too. This cooperation is very important for the school and the municipality. So the necessary equipment and raw materials were bought for the home economics classroom.
Household classes for mothers and daughters, and grandmothers and granddaughters take place twice a week; each time they are attended by 12 to 14 participants. At the moment the participants are making a constituent part of a Russian national folk costume – sarafan#. In order to do the job as professionally as it is possible a Professional seamstress has been invited to participate at the classes. These garments are being made especially for the girls of folk dance group. During the classes also aprons are being embroidered which are another part of the folk costumes. Eight units have been made and embroidered so far. During the classes 30 pillows have been made for music classes in a pre-school group. The participants come to the interest classes from 6 to 8 p.m. Mothers and grandmothers are happy to help, teach, consult and work together with younger girls. The classes take place in a warm, light and cozy home economics classroom which has been redecorated within the Project framework.
A computer class was created and equipped with 11 new computers in the elementary school premises. The parish administration computer specialists were of great help in choosing the right computers. At the moment two interest groups are studying in the newly equipped class – „E-environment” and „Computer skills for Beginners”. The classes are led by an experienced teacher Rita Hrustaļova; they are well-attended. It has happened that there are more people interested in these studies than it is possible to accept in the groups. 40 lessons have been planned for computer studies within the Project framework. The teacher considers that it is too little to acquire computer skills from the very beginning. The classes are attended by adults who are very happy about the possibility.
The resources at the wood working shop were significantly expanded. We purchased a dust – particle hood, woodworking lathe, electric circular saw, electric jigsaws, grinder and other equipment. Wood working interest group classes take place in this shop; they are conducted by an enthusiast of his work Aldis Voits.
Within the Project framework a Russian language course is done too. Latvian schoolchildren from elementary school learn Russian there. The interest group leader is Svetlana Pavlovska. The classes are very interesting; it is evidenced by the increase in the number of participants – every time it increases by 2 or 3 participants. The classes show that Latvian children like the Russian language and they are willing to learn it. This depends on the teacher and the methods used when teaching a language.
Initially there were only three children in this group; now there are 16 people at the age from 8 to 17. The teacher Svetlana Pavlova stresses that the children like the classes very much, they want to learn more and more, are active and full of creative ideas. At the moment they are already able to read in Russian. They experienced a lot of fun and interesting situations while learning the Russian alphabet. While doing it children had to think of a dish to treat a friend the name of which starts on a particular letter.

Various games which make the study process interesting were used in it. Children
– travelled in the world of colors; getting to know the whole rainbow they drew colored things;
– spoke about themselves, about their school, music and hobbies in Russian;
– played „Guess who?” where they had to ask each other „yes” and „no” questions;
– competed who knew more words in Russian; the winners got prizes;
– put the names of participants in alphabetic order and studied men and women’s names.

The participants of this interest group are very diligent; they attend every class. Classes are held on Wednesdays from 3.50 to 5 p.m. Schoolchildren are very happy they are not given marks and do not have homework, so they can go to the classes with real pleasure.
Terēza Čudarkina, the teacher of the interest group „Latvian for Non-native Speakers” comments on the activities of the interest group: During the first class each participant received a file where he or she could later develop his portfolio. Participants will compile all the materials and work sheets they have received during the course. In order to promote cooperation and favorable atmosphere within the group during the first class both, me as a teacher and all the participants created our business cards.

My name is……………………………………..
I can be characterized by

We wrote our names on these and with the help of symbols tried to show our interests, hobbies and the things each of us likes most of all. After that we got to know each other telling the group mates about us. These cards are also useful for the teacher to remember the names of the participants.
Everybody received quotes on learning and languages in their files too. This material was later used in discussions about the significance of a language and the fact that one can study a language at any age. This discussion was very important because several parents had not been at school for a long time and it was very important for them to be able to get over the „barrier”, as well as the language barrier.
We also created an „idea map” on languages where we showed associations we had with a language. I use such „idea maps” to start a new topic. They help the participants to learn vocabulary and serve as „warm-ups” („ice-breakers”) to initiate successful study process and create favorable environment in the class.

Language

To promote understanding of mastering the Latvian language I have used the method of SWID analyses:

My Latvian

Strengths (+) Weaknesses (-)
Opportunities Threats

During the classes I make use of various brief or five-minute activities. The above mentioned „idea map” also belongs to these brief activities. It is useful to enrich the vocabulary, promote the ability to involve separate words in sentences and build a narrative. In order to enrich the vocabulary, improve the pronunciation and simply to relax during a class I make use of an activity called „Microphone”. We imagine that a felt-point pen is a microphone; it is passed from one student to another alongside with a special task. For example, the teacher asks a question „What did you do yesterday?” and passes the „microphone” to the first student. The student answers: „I watched TV”. The next student repeats the previous answer and tells the others what he or she did: „Ann watched TV, but I studied Latvian yesterday”. So the „microphone” is passed all around the class until it returns to the teacher.
Before starting the course I wrote a plan for the course and agreed upon it with the participants of the course at the first lesson. Questioning the participants I made out their needs in order to be able to plan the classes more successfully so that the participants could benefit the most from them. The participants are interested in developing conversational language and improving their writing skills. To achieve these goals I made use of the above mentioned activities, as well as lexical and grammatical exercises („complete the sentences”, „arrange the sentences and the text”, fill in the gaps”, etc.) and various questionnaires.
Difficulties arose because of the very different language level of the participants. That was the reason why I used discriminative exercises and individual approach. I was very pleased by the interest participants had in learning the language and their understanding of the necessity to study the language. So, well-planned classes and versatile exercises are the key to success in mutual respect and cooperation skills, as well as in eliminating the language barrier, when mastering the Latvian language.”
During the Project implementation Balvi Elementary School was transformed into a multi-functional resource center where improved free time opportunities and life-long learning activities for adults were provided in Balvi. We would like to thank the Soros Foundation – Latvia for that very much.

Working in the Parish and District Interest

Inga Leikuma, Izvalta Elementary School Project director

Since the 18th century Izvalta has been a culture and historic center. Local people who are the soul and pride of the parish have always been doing their best to bring their parish out into the open. It is under human control to make any place and anything heart and eye catching – or on the contrary create an impression of desertion and indifference.

2009 was a year of changes. The territorial reform had just been finished, funding for schools and interest education was cut down. A lot of questions and contemplations appeared; solutions were being looked for.

The Project application competition for the Soros Foundation – Latvia Initiative „Change Opportunities for Schools” was announced just in the right time for our school. A working group was organized. We can only look up to the people who, trying to make life more and more colorful and exciting with each moment, were into the Project with all their heart and soul.

We set a target for ourselves as to what we were going to promote within the Project framework; main target groups we were going to cooperate with; events and how we were going to arrange team work. Meeting our targets we managed to transform Izvalta Elementary School into a multi-functional education center.

The cooperation within our Project went on in several directions:

– with children, schoolchildren and young people;

– with adults, including retired people;

– with Krāslava State Gymnasium, Sauleskalns Primary School, Auleja Elementary School and Krāslava Elementary School;

– with Izvalta parish administration and Krāslava region deputies;

– with organizations on the territory of Izvalta.

So inhabitants of Izvalta were involved into improving their life quality, encouraged to cooperation and creating lasting values for themselves and the community.

To our minds, the cooperation with the parish administration is the main asset of the Project which, thanks to the Project was much quicker and more effective; we would like to mention the Soros Foundation – Latvia care about all the 53 projects – seminars, informative letters, Summer school and very responsive coordinators. When writing the Project application we thought that everything was clear about its implementation. But we must also confess that we did not have experience in working on a Project of so wide scope. But a person finds the new, chooses the best and implements it in practice exactly when doing things.

We advise:

– arrange the working group from real enthusiasts;

– at the beginning decide on everyone’s role or job, and evaluate the potential burden for every team member;

– provide for adequate costs for goods and services, checking the optimal pricing before;

-It must be taken into account that sometimes it is very advantageously to make use of municipal partners who already have signed agreements and give discounts;

– there can be one main educator or activity leader and his or her assistant; it would be more effective when working in groups;

– alternatives for unplanned cases must be foreseen;

– transport issues must be planned before – for participants and activity leaders;

– when planning improvements, the municipality must be consulted. Don’t make sole decisions;

– poll local inhabitants; find out their wishes and needs;

– state working hours taking into account possibilities of the particular interest group;

– content – original programs;

– draw in all groups of people;

– cooperate!

 

Our Project team discusses the current actions regularly; we listen to Project participants’ opinions, give consultations and help each other. Now, when so much has been achieved positive changes are going on; there are financial gains as well – the whole team understands the process and has suggestions for Izvalta further development through families, through the school and well-being of every particular parish inhabitant. Great part of local people got involved into working out and developing Izvalta future strategies: specialists from the municipality and local organizations, farmers and simply active people. Being engaged into the Project is an invaluable experience at work not only for the company good but also in the whole parish or district interest.

The role of the school increased in the parish in the spheres of culture, sport and education. Cooperation between organizations started. Our Project experience is that cooperation between community, parish administration and school must be developed within the region. We have understood that when planning representatives of various groups must work together. That way you can get the best! Working together life is getting better! Invite others to visit you! Don’t hold a candle under the bushel!

The work input and responsiveness of local people have justified the purpose. This year the municipality has granted a little funding to children’s interest groups in order to proceed with the work started.

Main cognitions we have learned during these activities:

– Organizing interest classes for children and young people in the afternoons and evenings is very important to avoid differences in the opportunities for rural and urban communities. It is a possibility for the so called „bus-station” children to get involved into various activities. Need for communication was the reason why we organized tea parties and chatting after the classes.

– Interest classes and further education for adults (parents, grandparents, and lonely people) gave them an opportunity to acquire necessary skills and abilities of working on a computer, communication in English; they had a possibility to learn different crafts. It was an opportunity to leave house, get to other people who long for knowledge and communication. All the groups developed like a kind of clubs.

– Before organizing an event we always sent information to neighboring schools, published it on the Internet or communicated it personally so that as many people as possible attended the event. It always paid. The events were attended not only by local people but visitors from the USA, guests from Denmark and others. The most attended event was Miķeļdiena celebration (Michaelmas) (approximately 400 visitors in two days). For a school with 72 students it was a great event.

– The main society cell is a family – it does not matter if it is big or small one. What matters is several generations united in one common event. All the concerts were nice: Easter, Mothers’ Day, Midsummer Festival and Michaelmas. The evaluation of relatives is very important for children; every child is the very best for his or her parents. Having rest together on an excursion, working together or cleaning at home – these are the ways how they can devote time to each other.

– Folklore and drama circles delighted Krāslava Town Festival guests.

– Within the framework of the Project two rooms have been redecorated. One of them has become a home for interest groups and circles, the other one has been arranged as a Monk’s Room – museum. This is because the school is situated in a building of a Jesuit monastery.

– We have bought fixed assets which were used during the Project implementation and will remain in our resources further on too.

– We have our own MEC logo and a charm Bee. A wonderful outfit has been made for her. It must be noted that since the first „flight” on 24 September this year the Bee has already twice been invited to different district events.

This Project encouraged, opened for cooperation and new ideas every single its participant – a child and a granny, a teacher and a municipality servant, a parent and a visitor to Izvalta. People now find time for being together even in everyday hurry – both small and big ones. If we had an opportunity to get a glimpse of the deepest corners of every person’s soul we could find and see so many amazing things there. Every person has a value. Some of them will stay in their place of birth and they will be the ones who build the parish image and the future. Joy picks up people above the commonness and fills up their souls.

The Project „Phoenix: Briežuciems Elementary School Rescue Mission”

Briežuciems Elementary School Project team

When starting the Project „Phoenix: Briežuciems Elementary School Rescue Mission” in January, 2010 we chose the following spheres of activities:

– Further education for adults (computer courses, English courses, educational lectures);

– Meaningful free time activities for schoolchildren, their parents and all the interested (cycle of classes „Raibās pupas” „Motley beans”);

– creating an „Information Bank” in order to make the internet and computers as a source of information and self-education easier accessible for all the local inhabitants;

– cognitive-creative summer school „Experiment 2010” – an opportunity to acquire new skills and spend free time meaningfully for 60 children at the age from 11 to 17.

While being actively involved in the implementation of the Project activities we have come to several conclusions and acquired enormous experience in Project implementation, in gradual transformation of a school into a multi-functional resource center; initiated cooperation between the school and the local municipality; investigated and estimated local resources and challenges for further increasing of the productivity.
Summarizing our experience for the experience collection of the Initiative we, the Project managers’ team chose three areas which will be analyzed and estimated with reference to the compliance between the original intentions with the real work done within the Project framework:

– Meaningful free time opportunities for schoolchildren and their parents;

– Development of the „Information Bank”;

– Project administration experience (we consider this to be a very essential area, taking into consideration wide range of our Project activities) and knowledge and skills acquired during the Project implementation. This is one of the most valuable gains although it has required unexpectedly much patience, persistence and skills to adapt to some unpredictable situations, which arouse during the whole project.

The Cycle of Educational Classes „Raibās pupas” for Children and Their Parents and the Cognitive – creative Summer School „Experiment 2010”
The intention – while organizing various activities provide for culture, sport and social needs of local people, especially children, youth and their parents, as well as the unemployed.
25 different classes have been organized within the Project framework; at least 200 people (from others regions as well) have been drawn into and activated during these classes. Organization of the classes did not cause any problems as it did not really differ from the basic function of a school – teaching and lesson planning. Lesson participants interviewed were also a hundred per cent satisfied with the choice of themes for these classes and their quality.
Organizing the summer camp was one of the biggest challenges for the Project team as it was the first time when classes were organized during the summer period. During the summer camp some practical tips for those who are only planning to organize this kind of camps sometime in the future, emerged:

– all the documentation on participants of the camp must be prepared until the start date of the camp as there are too many other formalities to be done later;

– one person must be nominated from the camp leaders who undertakes the role of the „caterer” – the raw materials stock, toilet paper, towels had to be supplemented; we regularly missed something for a class or another;

– Everybody must be in the mood for a lot of unpaid hours which have to be spent together with children (unplanned but asked for discotheque, night camping, excursions). Thus we may say that a summer camp is not a well paid job but a way of life which one can be taken to during one single camp. There are two summer camps already included into the next year plan for Briežuciems Elementary School (one for children under 11 and the other for young people from 18 to 23);

– vasaras nometnes neatņemama sastāvdaļa ir brīvprātīgie jaunieši, kuriem ir daudz vairāk drosmes un prasmju, nekā to bijām iedomājušies. Viņi bija vislielākie palīgi nometnes realizēšanā;

– neformālas mācību metodes ir lielisks veids skolēnu apmācībā, aktivizēšanā un saliedētības stiprināšanā.

The pleasant atmosphere, a great sense of unity and spirit of adventure that characterized the summer camp gave glory and happiness for the coming days not only to us but to children as well. Although we were worried before the camp the progress surpassed our expectations.

Creating an „Information Bank”
The intention was to arrange a special place in the school premises with Access to the Internet where everybody could acquire the latest information on job seeking and further education opportunities free of charge.
This idea which originally was meant only as a possibility to provide the Internet Access to the local people has also changed completely:

– local people use the Internet much more than we had planned – they check emails, do internet banking and make use of consultations given by our computer teacher for free (just an example from everyday life at the „Information Bank” – an elderly lady from the parish came to look for photos of a health resort in Turkey where her son with his family had gone for a holiday);

– The „Information Bank” is used as a place where advertisements (buy, sell, etc.) are placed; people use a decorative stove as a message board;

– The Internet is now used for lessons at school too, for example, great materials (audio visual) can be found on the internet for English classes. They are very important in learning a language;

– On October 28 the first distance learning lesson is going to take place in the „Information Bank” in our school. During the lesson young people will learn the basis of web page development and maintenance under the guidance of a SFL expert J. Baltacis. The lesson will be organized through Skype;

– the „Information Bank” has enriched ideologically and substantively its functions during the first year that from time to time sighs can be heard in this room – it has become too small for all the activities that are taking place in it.

The Project Administration
The intention was to do the Project documentation. But a lot of challenges and conclusions appeared during the Project implementation:

– The Project documentation and its flow in a peculiar quadrangle the school – the parish administration – the regional council – the Soros Foundation – Latvia demanded much more efforts than we had ever expected. Actually the documentation had to be reconciled in three places and, strange as it may seem, the most time consuming and therefore the most obstructive were the relationships „the school – the municipality”. However now we have acquired huge experience. We have started a dialogue with the municipality hoping that we will be estimated as a small but capable partner. Thanks to the Project we have gained recognition not only in our region but also on a much larger scale;

– we have acquired knowledge in writing various agreements and contract, drawing up acts of storage and depreciation of goods, preparing documents, procedures for submitting requests for municipal meetings, etc.;

– We have understood that we do not have to be ashamed to make use of one of the advantages a small parish has – free of charge consultations given by various specialists (a lawyer, an accountant, a member of a procurement commission, etc.).

The most essential conclusion is – we have become stronger, wiser and more able to see.

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.

Live Your Life, Learn Your Life, or Promoting Lifelong Learning on Varakļāni Region Murmastiene Elementary School Project „Murmastiene – Our Home”

Tāle Greine, Project Director

Any schoolchildren learn a lot and acquire new knowledge at school. There can be no abilities without these skills. This is the way children learn for life.
It turns out that adults also learn for life, and they do it life-long. The skills acquired let them cope with difficult everyday situations in communication with others easier; help them to overcome indifference, apathy and melancholy in themselves. It is especially topical nowadays when unemployment, alcoholism and lack of intellectual values rule the society. So we learn something new every day, thus enriching ourselves and finding an opportunity to live creatively. What is a creative life like? First of all it involves joy for what we can, may and are allowed to experience. It is the feeling of comfort at being necessary to somebody. And what is most important – it is fulfillment of life and happiness.
Murmastiene Elementary School has been teaching schoolchildren for 45 years, but last seven years it has been educating their parents as well.  During this time we have organized „Little Parents’ University” the aim of which is to help parents. Our task is to coordinate the school and parents’ attitudes and interests, as well as strivings to provide personality development; promote improvement in schoolchildren’s socialization processes by achieving acquiring of existing social and cultural values, and social norms of behavior; raise the family teaching potential.
Why do we pay so much attention to educating parents? Each of us must learn to straighten out the past and the present, thinking of the future and form a dialogue with the time. We also must be able to create our new EU identity, correct our emotional experience and appropriate inner resources, self-update, build self-esteem and develop self-motivation skills.
As modern pedagogical experience shows, a lot of families face problems in bringing up their children due to various reasons. Limited living room (floor space) does not provide for an opportunity of simultaneous communication in everyday life thus limiting transferring experience to children. Adult family members spend more time at work and organizing everyday life than they used to do in previous decades therefore time of communication between parents and children decreases; children spend most of their time outside families.  Traditional methods in upbringing children have also been interrupted; uncritically assessed „modern” methods have taken up their place which can be characterized by one-sided or marginal tendencies. Parents apply contradictory methods simultaneously which creates additional problems only. Mutual estrangement is characteristic of modern society. It is especially characteristic in towns but these tendencies enter rural life as well. Therefore the school control becomes the only way of controlling children’s social behavior.
Parents have difficulties, but sometimes it is even impossible for them to find answers to a lot of their children’s questions. It brings about misunderstandings and mutual distrust in families. Problems in upbringing are caused also by parents’ pedagogical incompetence and adverse impact of separate features of character in communication with children. Non-supporting parenting approach can be manifested in setting excessive demands, in showing absolute indifference towards children or “blind” love towards them. Personal problems of parents are often solved on children’s account. Parents often try to realize their own unfulfilled dreams and illusions by sending their children to music, art or sports schools at any price. Educational failures are often connected with parents’ strivings to prolong their children’s childhood. As observed at Murmastiene Elementary School, educational failures can arise in those families where children of different gender from that expected are born. Girls’ toys are bought for boys; girls are forced to play with autos, etc. Sometimes parents are not sure of their educational abilities, they are afraid of their own social role. The younger the parents, the more incomplete their experience in educating children is. Very often parents experience exaggerated fear about the health or even life of their child. Children, who can “professionally” in detail describe the reasons and process of their illness etc., come from families like that. And finally – those parents who have underdeveloped parental instinct and feelings usually have education problems; they are mostly young parents who have not reached social maturity yet.
This is why it is so important to find an opportunity for parents to learn what can be useful for their children too, let them know children and young people’s behavioral disorders the reasons of which can be very often found in family education failures. Before the Project „change Opportunities for Schools” we searched financing for educating parents at local farmers and entrepreneurs. It was rather problematic as many of those addressed refused to participate in financing educating parents. Alongside with the beginning of the Project implementation, new opportunities opened for us. Now we have arranged activity system of „Little Parents’ University” at school. We are active in the following areas:

  • issuing leaflets four times per academic year (school administration);
  • thematic parents’ meetings twice per academic year (class teachers);
  • culture events during holidays together with schoolchildren (school administration);
  • „One Day Together with Parents” twice a year (class teachers);
  • parents’ day once a year (teachers);
  • excursions together with children twice a year (class teachers);
  • joint work once a year on Forest and Garden Day (school administration);
  • meetings – trainings with psychologists, lecturers, specialists;
  • individual meetings with subject teachers once a month;
  • individual consultations with a psychologist (at parents’ initiative).

Leaflets for parents. They give topical information on what is new at school in instructional and educational work, thanks to parents for their support and well-educated children, latest cognitions in pedagogies and psychology; there is also a page for reflection and brief news (about assessment, teaching materials, etc.). Leaflets are given to each family (this year children from 53 families study at school). Parents highly appreciate this information.
Thematic class parents’ meetings. Class teachers offer thematic meetings to parents where they discuss various education issues. The school has developed an instructional program, where career education is a part of it. At the meetings parents are reminded to pay proper attention to their children. Unfortunately these meetings are not very popular with parents. They support only those meetings where their children’s marks are discussed as they consider that the most important topic is traditional schooling. Class teachers write a special invitation to the meetings for every family, parents are served tea or coffee as conversations are more natural and parents can feel more welcomed and important.
Culture events during holidays together with schoolchildren. As we do not have a Culture house in our parish all the biggest events in the parish take place in the sports hallo f the school. Parents are invited to take part also at the events organized by the school. The school has been a culture and education center not only for schoolchildren but for their parents as well since the very beginnings. Concerts at Christmas, various exhibitions, Puppet theater performances, concerts given by amateur groups of neighboring parishes, a concert given by the Igauņi family. Those are just the most recent and the most attended events at the school. Schoolchildren’s concerts on Grandparents’ Day, Mother’s Day and at the event which is called „On the School Honor” are popular with local people.
It was exactly during the Project that we had an idea of organizing „One Day Together with Parents”. Schoolchildren themselves and their parents were happy to introduce this form of cooperation. It means visiting museums, meeting the elected executives and entrepreneurs of the new region and school leavers. Lessons are not organized in traditional way on these days. The event takes place in the parish library, local history room of the neighboring parish, vocational school, museum or somewhere else. Sometimes parents themselves conduct lessons – they exchange experience, make salad, decorations, etc. They learn together with their children. Such activities unite families.
Parents’ Day at school. Every year it takes place during the second semester. Parents get invitations – stickers in their children’s diaries. The presentation of the school activities is given on this day; there are exhibitions organized on this day where children’s work can be seen, parents and teachers’ work exhibitions are organized. Meetings take place both ways: for parents together with their children and parents alone. The meetings are always meant to be interesting for parents. We do not arrange open lessons any more, but parents are allowed and invited to visit lessons whenever they want (letting teachers know before). They are asked to analyze the Parents’ Day and put forward their suggestions as to organization of the future work. Mostly all the suggestions are very similar: „Go on like this!” „Thank you for the warm welcome. It was interesting.”
Excursions. As Murmastiene school is situated in 16 km from the regional center Varakļāni and 32 km from Madona it is not easy for us to make use of the town offers. Every year we organize at least four excursions. We always invite parents to come with us. This is very popular as many parents do not have an opportunity to go on excursions together with their children. Family trips are mostly connected with shopping or visiting some relatives. We attend exhibitions at Varakļāni and Madona Local History Museums; we try to combine visiting museums in Riga with circus shows or plays at theaters. And if the travelling expenses are covered by the Soros Foundation – Latvia, responsiveness is really remarkable. Last year we went on a very nice excursion around Latgale visiting metal artist Jānis Lubka and ceramist Pēteris Gailums.
Parents are thankful to the school for an opportunity to see something new, be together with their children and acquire knowledge which was not possible before.
Joint working on Forest and Garden Day. Thanks to this event the surroundings of our school are very tidy, blooming and attractive at any time of the year. We have planted an orchard, decorative shrubs, wintergreens, etc. It is mutual work parents together with children. Every parent considers it to be their responsibility to participate. Tasting soup, joy for the achievements, receiving a certificate „Nature Friend” attracts a large number of volunteers. It is a way of educating parents about nature protection and „green living” too.
Former school leavers and grandparents also take part in joint working. Schoolchildren enjoy this day as the atmosphere is really non-formal. And if the leader is one’s Mum or Dad, the joy becomes double.
Meetings – trainings with psychologists, lecturers, specialists. As there is no psychologist at the school we are offered only separate individual conversations with parents. It is very often not efficient. Parents long for coming together, spending time together as isolation creates indifference. We do not organize meetings for all the parents simultaneously. Conversations in small groups where we invite specialists to give talks are more efficient. Parents listen to Kaspars Bikše with great pleasure. The lecture delivered by the lecturer-mentor Anda Pēkšēna from folk school „Nameda” seemed too difficult for them. To my mind the lecture was well-considered and qualitative.
Now parents understand that schoolchildren have their responsibilities first and only then are their rights.
The children’s rights officer Līga Bērziņa, a healer Jānis Urtāns, probation center workers were very welcome and the conversations with them were very necessary. The parents’ judgments are very different. But what is most important – there are no indifferent participants.
Due to parents’ education the quality of educating children in a family is encouraged where the main attention is paid to the needs of children, the scope and content of restrictions, the style of educating children, the scope of requirements (responsibilities) toward a child in a family and at school.

And finally – thank you for accepting Murmastiene Elementary School Project! Although it was a lot of seemingly extra work, it was worth it. We are the winners! Our main asset is people – big or small.