65th Anniversary of Polish School in Wellington Review

On Saturday 6 October the Wellington Polish School celebrated its 65th anniversary at St Patrick’s in Kilbirnie. It
was also a celebration of 65 years of Polish Schooling in New Zealand – Christchurch (10 years), Wairarapa (10
years), Palmerston North (7 years), Mt Maunganui (5 years), Auckland (est 1964, current school 2 years), Hamilton
(est 1958, current school 2 years).

The event began with a wonderful lunch fundraiser, which included barszcz with uszka, surówki and of course
pierogi. Thanks to Orlęta for this great effort. It was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and reminisce over
the photos in the slideshow that featured many photos from the 1950s onwards.

After lunch the anniversary even itself began with a blessing from Fr Tadeusz Świątkowski and speeches from the
Polish Ambassador Zbigniew Gniatkowski, Polish Association Vice-President Helena Fagan, Wellington Principal
Ola Zając and Christchurch Principal Sylwia Śmiarowska.

The Wellington Polish School then screened a 10 minute film written by the children about a panda who goes on an
adventure to look for grass to eat. This was followed by performances from Orlęta. The artistic segment ended with
visiting singer Magda Sinoff performing a song in her wonderfully powerful voice.

After group photos of pupil and teacher alumni, Adam Manterys launched his new book Polish Schools in New
Zealand. The two and a half years it took to write the book was made possible by the contributions of many people
in Polish communities across the country. It provides for the first time a comprehensive history of Polish education
in New Zealand, which began in November 1944 with the kindergarten, and primary and secondary school in the
Polish Children’s camp in Pahiatua.

If you would like to purchase a copy for only $20, please contact Adam at adamm@rock.co m.
Throughout the event, the Wellington Polish School ran a “Glass Class”, where they transported all the furniture and
resources and setup a full-scale model for children and their parents to view and learn about how the school’s
classrooms operate.

A couple of interesting historical items emerged while writing the book. In 1973 the Wellington Polish School
children prepared a patriotic play about Polish rivers and tributaries for Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, where it was
reported that he was moved to tears. In 1983 the Parents Committee lodged a proposal with the Ministry of
Education for Polish to become a School Certificate subject. Also, the Wellington Polish School network (which
included Wellington, Petone, Lower Hutt, Upper Hutt and Tawa) has run continually since its establishment in 1953
to the present day. Today it is taught in the Montessori method, which effectively accommodates the perennial
problem of children in the same class with different ages and Polish language abilities.

The book features many other items of interest but perhaps most impressive is a near comprehensive list of the
names of every child that attended a school anywhere in New Zealand since 1953 – that’s more than 1,000 names.
Plus every teacher and committee member. The book is currently being translated into Polish for a possible future
release.

The anniversary ended with the cutting of a special cake prepared by Ela Rombel, which featured a picture of the
book printed on rice paper on top.

Our Polish Schools are still going strong and are well positioned in five years’ time to celebrate the 70th!
This is a good opportunity to acknowledge some of the people who made it possible for Polish Schooling to reach
65 years. This firstly includes the first Parents Committee in 1953 who pioneered the first Polish School in
Wellington. They were Mikołaj Polaczuk (Chair and Secretary), Jadwiga Michalik (Deputy Chair), Stanisław
Kowalczyk (Treasurer), Urszula Poczwa and Jan Wypych. And all the parent volunteers over the 65 years who
worked tirelessly against many odds and changing times as committee members, teachers, fundraisers and helpers so
their children could engage with and maintain their Polish heritage.

Adam Manterys