by George J Elbaum
Prywatne Gimnazjum i Liceum im. Królowej Jadwigi (Private Middle School & High School named for Queen Jadwiga) was founded in 1997 by a group of teachers who wanted to offer students a comprehensive education in a supportive, friendly and creative environment, a concept still rare at that time in post-Communist Poland. In organizing my visit to her school, teacher Barbara Michalec explained to me its approach in her very first email:
“Teachers in our school do their best to teach our students not only the academic subjects but also to expose them to life’s issues they witness, the problems they face daily, to possible ways of dealing with them and to help them become aware of the complexity and wonder of life unfolding itself before them. One of the best ways to do so is for the students to have first-hand experience, to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears as much as possible, but also to meet people who will share their own experiences in living a meaningful life – this is probably one of the most valuable lessons one can get in life.”
Toward this purpose the school enables its students’ first-hand experiences through organized trips to Polish cities and to foreign countries (Belgium, England, France, Germany, Malta), outdoor excursions (nature hikes, biking, skiing), hands-on art education & competitions, social initiatives & charitable events, as well as a visiting speaker series which included my visit. (Exactly 3 years ago, 9 May 2011, the speaker here was Carl Wilkens, the only American who chose to remain in Rwanda throughout its genocide to protect his local employees. He and I were also speakers on the same day at Charles Wright Academy’s Global Teen Summit in Tacoma, WA, on September 23, 2013.) The school’s focus on academic excellence is shown by its ranking among the top 4% of the best schools in Poland, but it does not neglect athletics as shown by the new, uniquely-designed gym and its associated activities.
Our visit to the school also involved two culinary events: to “sustain” me during the book signing, teacher Barbara Michalec presented me with a box of sugar cubes, echoing the sugar cube given to me by a Russian tank commander in January 1945, and our visit ended with a treat of my very favorite Polish pastries: szarlotka & cheesecake, during a conversation with the school’s owner Grzegorz Szymczak in his office.