The 2nd short term joint staff training event of the project I.D.E.A.! Together We Can! – Individuals with Disabilities Education Aim – took place in Bytom, Poland from 03rd to 9th March and successfully accomplished.
There were 27 participants – teachers, coordinators, education staff and students – during the event at Szkola Podstawowa Specjalna nr 40 in Bytom. Several training sessions and workshops, concerning Polish Educational System, Biofeedback Therapy, use of Technology in class, Art Therapy, cooperative commitments to University of Third Age or Vocational High Schools, Local Heritage and National Culture were implemented during the event. In return, enhancing knowledge and the exchange of good practices will enlarge as well as teaching methods and European citizenship in each partner’s school.
All planned activities focused on how to teach students with special needs and promote their developmental skills and social inclusion. The Polish team was dedicated and tireless throughout the mobility, planned and organized all activities carefully, following the project’s plan, gave support to partners at all time, ensuring their safety and well-being; they were always present, escorting the group and providing translation for each activity and immediate communication with and within the international group.
It was arrival day for partners although at different schedules.
In the evening, we all had dinner at the Kawiarnia Suplement, a restaurant in the heart of Bytom, located in a typical square. It was an interesting place with excellent dishes, also a moment to start tasting Polish gastronomy and socializing.
This was the first contact that we had with Polish culture, a mix of multiculturalism and gastronomy. Gastronomy represents an important element of social differentiation, therefore knowing and experiencing other food practices is a valuable element for integration and inclusion, values that we would like to have very much present in our project and schools.
At Bytom, school Szkola Podstawowa no. 40.
At 8:15 a.m., the group arrived at the host school. The reception moment began with a special education student kindly welcoming visitors at his school. Then, the school headmistress – Mrs. Romualda Procek – presented herself and gave her official welcoming speech. The coordinator, Patrycja Pytlik, introduced partners to students, parents and staff gathered in the school hall for the reception meeting.
The whole school was decorated with works that called our attention. The works showed the concern in portraying each partner country, but there were also some items of the I.D.E.A. project – Together we can!
Then, we were offered to attend “The Selfish Giant”, a theatrical play with music, mime and dance superbly performed by the students of the school. It was very pleasant and conveyed the appropriate message that “Only those who are good are happy,” which delighted us.
After that, each country involved in the project were asked to present themselves briefly, gifts portraying the different partner’s cultures were given to the school by each coordinator. A moment to show that those partners they had been learning about in class were real and that their language, cultural icons, souvenirs would stay in their school for them to observe, play and learn.
There was also time to visit the school premises. As it was only aimed at teaching students with educational needs, it was not surprising that the classrooms and support offices (where therapies were developed, namely occupational and speech therapies, as well as the “Biofeedback” therapy) were small, since the classes were made up of a very small number of students. We did not find a canteen but later we realized that students do not have lunch at school, since they have two “reinforced snacks” and are free at 3 pm. It was nice to see that the spaces were warm, so the school turned out to be welcoming and cozy.
Mid-morning, there was time for a coffee break, nicely served in the teacher’s room, and some “getting to know each other” integration activities between visitors and hosts.
We had a meeting with Deputy Mayor of Bytom – Mr. Adam Fras that due to a last minute official commitment – was represented by the Vice President responsible for education and culture at 10:00 a.m., took place in the Town Hall. First, there was a brief speech by the main coordinator of the project, Mrs. Tanja Nikolovski, explaining its goals and objectives, then the vice-president of Bytom, welcomed the group, stated the importance of such exchanges for the local community and the pride of hosting different countries in Bytom; gifts were exchanged between the schools and this representative of the local authority, strengthening bounds between people and cultures. A photo was taken for future memory and shared within local official media, which can be seen in www.bytom.pl/razem-mozemy-wiecej1, publication date 5th march 2019.
Back in school, it was time for “getting to know each other” activities in classrooms. Each country joined a class, groups presented themselves and visitors taught a dance/music from their country. There was time for some rehearsal, translation of lyrics, showing and learning dancing gestures and steps to the rhythm of the music. It was a lot of fun because the students joined with enthusiasm. It should be noted that the rooms were decorated with information from the different countries, namely posters done by students. Later on, the whole school gathered in the entrance hall to watch the presentations – dance/music – that each country had rehearsed in class with students. It was a very special moment, since all were united by the melting pot of different traditions and cultural performances, a very brief showcase of the project.
After lunch, served in school, partners attended a presentation about the Polish Education System and could notice differences, or not, in comparison to their own Education Systems. In Poland, formal education starts at the age of 7 throughout 7 years of schooling, divided into two stages, three years in which teaching is guided by one teacher, and 4 years, fragmented in different subjects with different teachers. With regard to special education, students with needs (cognitive, social, behavioral problems…) usually start their course in mainstream education schools, but end up, at their parents’ option, attending special schools.
The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to workshops. The participants were divided into groups and went around the rooms to participate in different workshops:
Workshop Using Technology to motivate students – It consisted of the presentation of technological tools that can be used in the process of teaching and learning with the students or as means of motivation for learning. Among the various options presented, we experimented: Tellagrami – a tool that presents a doll in which we can put, according to the options presented, hair, color of eyes, clothes, etc. With this doll each student can make a presentation of himself to the class, which is still interesting and motivating. Garage Band – Tool that allows you to work the attention / concentration through beats of music that students will have to repeat, among many other potentialities. Math Game – Tool that allows you to develop mental calculus, therefore great for the subject of mathematics. Jigsaw – Tool that allows you to build puzzles and then play.
Workshop – Biofeedback therapy – In this workshop, teachers learnt about Biofeedback Therapy – is a non-drug treatment in which patients learn to control bodily processes that are normally involuntary, such as muscle tension, blood pressure, or heart rate – and its importance to help students control stress, attention, concentration; teachers were given the opportunity to actually try it and learn how a real session is organized. Among participants, there was recognition that this therapy must be very beneficial for the teaching and learning process of SEN students.
Dinner was served in a typical restaurant “Zalipia”. The group tried traditional Polish food, namely “zurek”, a soup on bread, the popular “Pierogi” or “dumplings”, a type of ravioli with various fillings. Another moment to relax, interact and get cultural awareness of polish gastronomy and habits.
In the morning, the group visited a Private Institution for Adult Disabled Persons, a response of Polish Special Education System to try to integrate adult disabled people. Although private, this institution has some state support. In this institution, there were various workshops where adult disabled persons performed useful activities: painting, clay modeling, metal, wool, embroidery… The group was able to visit each workshop and appreciate the work being done in there. In fact, these persons, despite all the difficulties inherent to their limitations, were able to produce various artifacts and materials to be sold in community sites, the income to be optimized to cover the necessary expenses of the maintenance of the institution. We learned that some students were even able to develop some craft work outside the institution, in one or another company that employed them. Through handicraft, the institution was able to improve self-esteem, professional guidance, integration in society and working market for adult persons.
Visitors were invited to participate in the workshops, which they did with great pleasure, under the curious and attentive look of the students of the institution.
At the end, they offered us a small souvenir – a handmade necklace – and all the visitors returned the gesture with a contribution to the institution, besides making other purchases of unique objects especially handmade to be sold.
Back to the host school, teachers and students continued participating in workshops, this time on Art Therapy:
All these workshops made it possible to raise awareness about how art can be used as a therapy in regards to the development of skills and abilities of SEN students or after all of students in general.
At the end, the group walked back to the hotel, but not before mingling into the host city of Bytom, after all one of the oldest cities in Upper Silesia, 80 km from Krakow. Thus, we walked along streets with beautiful Neo-Renaissance buildings and churches which stood out for the reddish brick and green domes of the bell towers, side by side with more recent buildings. Naked trees, with dry trunks and halted by the cold winter, suggested that at any moment the shoots of new leaves would be born, announcing the spring that was already knocking.
For dinner, the group moved to NiKiszowiec, in Katowice, to one of Poland’s National Heritage sites: a housing estate with houses, streets, shops and church, built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where the miners used to live. It was as if we were back in time, walking in a quarter flanked by red brick houses in a row with its red and white windows. Magnificent!
The restaurant, Slaska Prohibicja, located in the Nikiszowiec neighbourhood served excellent food. Once again, we had the chance to taste Polish specialties, namely Silesian dishes as the famous dessert Pavlova in Nikiszu. Food being indeed a powerful communication tool; through food and the act of eating, values and culture are communicated and identity meanings related are produced.
The day was dedicated to discovering and understanding the historical and cultural heritage in Krakow, the second largest city in Poland. This city was for centuries the capital of Poland. It is an extremely beautiful city, with hundreds of years of history perpetuated in its magnificent buildings. The group was able to visit emblematic sites as the Wawel Castle, the Old Jewish Quarter Kazimierz, the Ghetto, the Schindler Factory, Rynek Glowny Square, the largest medieval square in Europe, among other places and monuments. All this central part of Krakow was considered World Heritage in 1978 by UNESCO. We were dazzled by its incredible architecture: historic houses, palaces and sumptuous churches. We got acquainted with local legends and traveled back in time to World War II, a time of horror, as could still be felt in the ghetto’s Bohaterów Square, where each of the 65 chairs fixed there aim to symbolize 1000 Jews exterminated by the Nazis.
Visiting such place gave way to an opportunity to witness history and reflect upon the urgency to preserve premises such as understanding, respect, endurance, multiculturalism, segregation, acceptance in a world still “at war”.
The purpose of this day was to visit Auschwitz, one of the world’s main Nazi concentration camps, where thousands of Jews, gypsies and other minorities were wiped out in a cruel and inhumane way.
Everything can be history, however, ‘He who does not remember history is condemned to live it again’ (George Santayana; recorded on one of the walls in Auschwitz).
So no one goes to Auschwitz with impunity: let us confront the inhumanity of humanity. A guide was waiting for us and with a low paused voice she described life in the camp. At the entrance of the camp, the infamous “Arbeit Macht frei”, for a place where the “Final Solution” was rehearsed amongst barbed wire.
Auschwitz I is the smallest camp, but perhaps the place where the most “shocking” objects are shown: loads of suitcases, glasses, shoes, baby cloths, dishes and tons of hair from victims, cells, places for hanging, long empty corridors, photographs, records of entrance and death dates.
In Birkenau, a few minutes’ drive away, the group was crushed by the vastness of the camp, its iconic façade through which the trains entered; followed the platform, stopped where prisoners were selected: to the right, the gas chamber, to the left, the forced labor; the huge gas chambers and crematoria… an effective and efficient killing machine. A memorial, 23 languages, “a cry of despair, a warning to humanity”.
Silently the group wandered through the camp, entered tents and became aware of the humiliating and inhuman life that reigned in there.
A much disturbing visit, the absolute lack of human spirit. Memory, perhaps the only truth that must be preserved from such obscurant, insane and exclusive action of man against man.
In a project that aims at fostering inclusion, these cultural visits represent an opportunity to preserve Memory and reflect upon values such as equality, acceptance, respect, friendship, family, solidarity, its fragility and vulnerability.
Schools and teachers have the means to teach about Memory, raising awareness to good vs. evil, inclusion vs. exclusion; I.D.E.A. schools stand for Together We Can! and together in Auschwitz we thought about making the difference in a growing multicultural society, where people from many different backgrounds live together. The lack of knowledge or close-mindedness can issue bullying and victimization of those perceived as “different”. Erasmus projects create opportunities to promote positive attitudes towards the importance of human relationships and a shared Europe of diversity.
After a quite trip back to the hotel, dinner was served in the Brick Krakowska 18 restaurant in Tarnowskie Góry – a famous city recently inscribed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List – where the first steam engine appeared in Europe, also known for its Polish but also Silesian cuisine.
Activities started at 9:00 am in professional school Branzowa Szkola I Stopnia nr 8 in Bytom – the oldest school building in the city – attended only by students with special educational needs and another example of solutions of the Polish Special Education System for inclusion.
This school offers more than 10 professional courses, like pastry, cookery, tailoring and others. The group was nicely hosted by the School Headmistress who led us to a guided visit to the school’s various facilities and workshops.
Slovenian and Croatian students were invited to interact and participate in the making of cookies, which happened with a lot of fun, curiosity and even skill.
Then, teachers attended a presentation about the school: pupils are prepared to pursue a valid occupation mainly a practical one, however, as they apply for jobs under similar conditions as other pupils, a significant number of pupils in this school end up overtaken; notwithstanding, many get smaller staff positions, sometimes, not before several attempts to enter the working world. It was said that the school was participating in an Erasmus+ project which main objective is to strengthen teacher’s knowledge and pedagogical skills to deal, particularly, with autism spectrum students.
In Poland, vocational schools like this one seem to fiercely strive for solutions in order to guide and teach teenagers with special educational needs, trying to promote student’s inclusion in the working world, most of the times on unequal terms.
At 11:00 am, it was time to start saying goodbye.
In the host school, it was time for the mascots to be exchanged among partner countries. Each coordinator introduced the mascot that had been in his country since the 1st mobility to Istanbul, described briefly its life during those three months – some experienced activities, new friends, new schools – and explained what souvenir/symbol the mascot had received from the country where it had been; there was also time for showing and sharing the mascot’s diaries which were richly fulfilled with stories, adventures, happy moments in different places, cultural experiences – a set of experiences that the mascots had the chance to experience.
Amazement and curiosity could be seen on the face of each child and adult that watched attentively each coordinator’s statements. A delightful moment that abridged three months of the exchange within partners of this project, a single moment that breathed life to the numerous photos, videos and words posted on project’s blog or Twinspace.
The host school invited all partners to dance, – a funny traditional Polish song – it was an amusing farewell moment, filled with laugh, smiling faces, loud united voices that sang by same tune. Time to say that it was not a goodbye, but a thank you! All the group were conscious that two of the hardest things to say in life are “hello” for the first time and “goodbye” at the end.
But for the I.D.E.A.! Together We Can partners this is a kind of never ending journey: the train stops but goes on again till the next station; each single passenger stays aboard no matter what!
Thank you students, teachers, staff of Szkola Podstawowa Specjalna nr 40 in Bytom!
After lunch, the group participated in the last visit of polish hosting program, Guido’s Coalmine in Zabrze.
With more than 100 years of transformation, the Guido Mine comprises the Coal Mining Museum and modern areas – K8 area – for leisure, business and culture. The K8 area is a place where anyone can explore the region’s mining heritage.
Armed with helmets and guided by a guide, the group went on a 320 meters depth journey, walked along several tunnels evidencing the harsh conditions in which miners worked in the past and even today. Deep down a stop to visit the miner’s chapel inside the mine, a testimony of the miners’ devotion to Saint Barbara, their guardian.
Poland is the largest coal producer in Europe: 80% to 90% of the energy it uses comes from coal. The intensive exploitation of coal in the country has caused major problems like pollution, environmental problems, landslides and cracks that very often put people’s lives at risk.
It was time for the formal farewell dinner in the evening which is an opportunity to mingle, chat, dance and prepare to go home.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)
Many thanks Poland for this marvelous experience!