The Polish Saturday school in Aberdeen celebrates its tenth anniversary this month and recalls its beginnings as well as how times have changed that have led to its expansion as it meets the needs of its population in the city, and helps people to make a valuable contribution to Aberdeen and beyond.
The Scottish Government recently acknowledged its contribution by stating “the Parliament congratulates the Polish School St Stanislaw Kostka in Aberdeen on its 10th anniversary… the school is a vibrant part of the community and supports the young people by helping them becoming bilingual not only through language, history and culture classes, but also through other activities such as its youth club, a choir, theatre and football team, and looks forward to many more years of Polish language education, cultural and sporting activities in Aberdeen.”
Over 70 staff currently work at the Saturday school (formally known as Polska Szkola im. sw. Stanisława Kostki in Aberdeen), and the school now gathers together over 500 Polish people that attend. It is now so successful that it has become the biggest Polish Saturday School in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Back in 2007 there were just over ten thousand Polish people in Aberdeen, which caused Fr. Piotr Zieliński, Arleta Jasinska and Joanna Schmitz to think about establishing the ‘Saturday school’ which has survived to this day. In the course of that first year the number of pupils increased from 30 children to over 130.
Fr. Janusz Wilczynski, SAC, the current Polish Chaplain in Aberdeen said “Polska Szkola im. sw. Stanislawa Kostki in Aberdeen has been for over 10 years helping the young generation to deepen their faith, it teaches respect for history and culture, and also promotes friendship”.
Initially, the school was located at St. Peter’s church in the city centre. The then parish priest Fr. Keith Herrera, was very supportive of this initiative and kindly offered to let local Poles use the church’s premises for classes. A year later, the growth in the number of pupil enrolments forced a move to St. Mary’s Cathedral where the school remained for another year and the number of pupils increased to 150.
The principal aim of the school is to teach Polish language, tradition and history but this is supplemented by religious education at all levels. There are in addition, English for Adults classes, with around 30 students. The school also provides other formation opportunities but from its very beginning the school worked closely with the Catholic Church and has always been supported by its clergy and bishops, not least today by Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB. The school holds charity events, fairs, retreats for children, pilgrimages, music workshops and they recently invited two Polish artists to conduct a workshop on painting and an exhibition of famous Polish painters of the XVIII-XX centuries. They also organise meetings with historians, authors and musicians, and with Polish actors. Music is an important part and a liturgical music choir will be visiting the School and offering a thirty minute performance in November.
Bishop Hugh stated “this month we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Polish Saturday school. We thank God for the care and blessing over the years, and we thank all parents, children, all staff, priests, the Polish Government, and all the other local organisations for their support, including the City Council.”
Joanna Schmitz added “Children play a big part in the school, along with adults. Not only does the school prepare children for sacraments, but it also helps the Polish chaplain to organize the ‘children’s Mass’ – with a childrens choir, children helping with offertory gifts, ensuring people are welcomed to church, and in conducting the universal prayer, along with Mass readings. All these are prepared and executed by children of all ages. They also help prepare the weekly parish newsletter in Polish, especially for children. The children’s mass is a wonderful sight with the children sitting at the front and singing songs and performing.”
Joanna Schmitz said “Last year our school won first prize at the Theatre Competition in Edinburgh, but central to our provision is preparation for the Sacrament of Penance (last year 100 pupils were prepared) and preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation (over 20 teenagers were prepared in 2017). But on a lighter note, we also have a Polish Football Club – FC Brave Eagles which is registered with the Scottish Football Association (with over 100 members)!
“Entertainment shows and other school events are important elements of the curriculum: each year there is a show for Polish Independence Day (on the 11th of November), a St Nicholas Day, and a nativity play for Christmas, along with an end of the school year presentation. As an alternative to Halloween the school we will hold an All Saints Ball.”
It certainly looks like the school is going from strength to strength. With increasing demand, in 2009 the school was forced to move again, this time to a local high school – the Aberdeen Grammar – where it partly remains today. But further growth (in May 2017, over 300 pupils attended) has caused the school management to decide to spread the school’s classes over two sites and, thanks to the generosity of the City Council and Harlaw Academy Rector David Innes, some of the classes were moved to Harlaw Academy.