Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interview with Majda Cimperman, Principal: Sodrazica, Slovenia -- Quality in Education Series

Welcome to an interview with Majda Kovačič Cimperman, who lives and works in Slovenia. She is principal of a school that offers instruction to students grades 1 through 9, and also includes a kindergarten. The school, OŠ dr Ivan Prijatelj Sodražica, was named after a distinguished scholar. In this new series, we share the experiences of successful educators as they discuss their unique circumstances and their programs. In addition to sharing educational philosophies and approaches to teaching, the series gives educators the chance to compare notes and see where there are insights to be gained by taking a look at the opportunities and challenges that face each school. In this interview, Majda Kovačič Cimperman describes experience of the school and the winner of the a nationwide essay contest in conjunction with the children's novel, Good Deeds Society.

Where is Sodražica, Slovenia?
Slovenia is a small, yet diverse country with many points of interest and natural beauty. Sodražica is one such place located in the Lower Carniolia region of Slovenia and borders with the regions of Loški Potok, Velike Lašče and Ribnica and is situated about 500 m above sea level in the lowest region of the valley. It has an area of 49.5km² with 23 surrounding villages and approximately 2200 inhabitants. The villages are mostly in the lower region of the valley near the River Bistrica but 10 villages lie about 800 – 900 m above sea level.

Please describe your school: OŠ dr Ivan Prijatelj Sodražica.
Education / Schooling in the Sodražica Valley dates back more than 190 years with its beginnings as a Sunday School, developing into a Public School, surviving both W.Ws all up to todays' Primary School.

The school is named after Dr Ivan Prijatelj who was born in a small village Vinice and was named amongst the first university professors in Ljubljana in 1919. He was a literary historian, essayist, theoretic, translator ……..

There is also an affiliate school in Sveti Gregor about 5 km away with 15 pupils.
It caters for pupils from grade 1 till grade 5 and then children are included in the home school in Sodražica.

What are the ages of your students, and the grades? How many students do you have?
Children are obliged by law to attend school at the age of 6. We have a total of 221 pupils from grade 1 – grade 9.

Special assembly of students at OŠ dr Ivan Prijatelj Sodražica in conjunction with celebrations to honor the Slovenian writer France Prešeren.

What are the general demographics of the surrounding area? What are the major sources of employment? What types of diversity exist?
15 villages are demographically endangered. The population from the time of WW I is less and as a result there are less births, but the migration of the population has also contributed to the depopulation of the area. (America, Argentina, Germany)

The latest statistics show that there are about 908 active workers (614 employed and 65 in private enterprise), 39 farmers ( sheep, dairy,beef, rabbits,goats,..) and about 190 unemployed.
People make a living by working in factories in the valley: (FIPIS d.o.o producing metal, plastic and cloth filters for the automobile, pharmaceutical, rubber, petrochemical, building industries as well as in the field of ecology; FRAGMAT – IZOLIRKA different types of insulation and building elements; POS – a private company making products from plastic and FIBRAN-NORD producing insulation material). People are also employed in services like cafe bars, reaturants, post-office, bank, school, kindergarten, shops, bakery, hairdresser's salon, butcher's, greengrocer's.

Because the younger generation has attained a higher education many are unable to find jobs according to their qualifications in the home environment and therefore there is also a daily migration of people to work in Ljubljana (45km away) or nearby Ribnica ( 10km away), Bloke, Lož (20km away), Kočevje (27km away) .

It is worth mentioning here that farming doesn't represent enough income for a comfortable living probably because of the harsh weather conditions, so, many farmers compensate and manufacture the famous wooden-ware for which this region is well known (souvenirs,toothpicks, sieves, basket weaving, flooring, wooden tools, etc. ) Some pedal their goods all over Slovenia and some have placed their goods on the international market even to China.

What is your schools mission and vision?
Knowledge, respect and honesty are the foundation stones of our school.
I believe that school is a place where we learn and work together – weaving trust, respect and the feeling of belonging into the everyday life of our school.

I would like this everyday life to be filled with optimism and happiness. The time that we dedicate to education and upbringing – with the cooperation of teachers, pupils and parents- we build the mosaic of children's values which they will hopefully carry on into their future lives.

What do you view as your core instructional strategy? How do you accomodate and reach out to diverse populations?
The People's University of Kočevje promotes the education of grown ups in all life learning. It carries out education programmes with professionals and has a net of »Education points« at local primary schools in the region. Every second Wednesday of the month the doors of our school are open to the public hosting different seminars,craft groups, computer studies groups.

Who is the principal ? What is the principal's role in your school?
Mrs Majda Kovačič Cimperman is the principal of the school and adjoining kindergarten.
She is the leader and coordinator of the school's life. She plans and leads work in the school and kindergarten, prepares the yearly work plan ; is responsible for seeing that children's rights are respected and that the pupils are made aware of their responsibilities to the school and learning; follows the work of teachers and is present in class offering an evaluation and advise for future work; responsible for enhancing cooperation between the school and parents ( parent – teachers's meetings, lectures for parents,..) and informing them of developmnets within the school and kindergarten; enhances the cooperation of the school and health care institutions; employs personnel; above all she ensures that the working environment is pleasant and healthy for all those employed as well as for the pupils and parents and carries out the demands made of her as stated by the law of the Republic of Slovenia.

How is English taught at your school? How are books in English made available ?
Children begin learning English at lower primary school level – last year we started in grade one and have followed through to grade two with one hour of English every week. The formal teaching of English is planned (formal curriculum and graded ) from grade 4 onwards . Because there is quite a lot of new material and a totally new subject for many, an extra curricula activity is offered to children in grade 3 – once a week . We believe that the introduction of a foreign language then, makes learning English in grade 4 less stressful and the children build their self-confidence as they have already met some vocabulary and continue building on this foundation in grade 4 .

In grade 4 we have two lessons per week. In grade 5, three lessons per week with one hour devoted to differential study ( ranking of »competent« and »less competent« pupils – two teachers ). In grade 6 four lessons per week with one hour devoted to differential study. In grade 7 four lessons with one hour of differential study. In grades 8 and 9 pupils have 3 hours of English per week. This year we have heterogeneric MIXED groups( »very competent« , »competent« and »less competent« pupils). There are also extra froms of work - like preparing for county and state competitions in English.

We use textbooks authorized by the Ministry of Education in Slovenia which are bought by the school and lent to the students for use and returned at the end of the year. Workbooks are bought by the students. Teachers have resources such as teachers books, CDs, DVDs that accompany textbooks and ofcourse internet sites for additional information and exercises for students who want to know more!

English books are made available by purchasing them via catalogues or from sales persons when visiting the school. There is however a limit associated (money alloted) to the buying of books. English teachers also bring their own books and share them with students whenever they feel student enthusiasm.

Please describe the contest that your school ran in conjunction with the release of the book. Good Deeds Society, and the activities that were held.
In September of last year, the teachers of Slovene received an invitation from KUD Sodobnost International and Vodnik Publishers to participate in a literary competition associated with the translation of the Good Deeds Club written by Susan Smith Nash and her visit to Slovenia.

Entrants had to write in the form of a »thinking essay« on one of the following themes:

· Kithie and her mother: who is the child?
· When does the internet hurt the most ?
· As the President of the school's Good Deeds Club I would…

Pupils from grade 6 to grade 9 were invited to enter, however the greatest response came from pupils in grades 6 and 9.

Every year we remember our famous writer France Prešeren the author of the official Slovene Anthem –( Slovene national cultural holiday, 8th February ) and this year we included Susan's visit into the school's activities . On Thursday 5th February pupils met with Susan and listened to her introduction and presentation of the Good Deeds Club- listening very attentively to her every word and trying to understand. Whatever words they didn't understand were translated .

The students who took part in the essay competition were given the opportunity to ask Susan some questions about her life and work in English. Pupils were also very eager to attain Susan's autograph which she gave with delight and also added a personal message for each pupil.
The day was made even more memorable by the fact that Blaž had his birthday on the same day as Susan came to visit . Who would have thought that receiving a prize and having a birthday happens all at once / at the same time? – quite an unforgettable experience!

Who won the contest? What were some of the themes the essay touched on?

Essay contest winner Blaž Kranjec, with principal Mrs. Cimperman, and Alenka Urh, from Sodobnost (l to r).

The contest was won by a pupil in grade 6A Blaž Kranjec - one of five pupils from the whole of Slovenia who were awarded with books and a visit from the author in person at their school.
The theme he chose to write about: Kithie and her mother: who is the child?

Blaž opened his essay with the thought » Age is not necessarily associated with being grown-up/ or an adult: what's important is responsible behaviour.«

He believes that the roles are questionable and that at times Kithie and her mum even change roles as far as responsible behaviour is concerned.

He presented descriptions of both mother and Kithie in different situations: their relationship as mother and daughter ; the relationship with her step-brother; the time Gus's father went missing, the Good Deeds Club - showing how both coped with the same situation.

He concluded his essay with a question, inviting Kithie for a comment – maybe to agree with his overall thought of the book- » Not everything is as dark as we see at first, from every bad experience you can learn something new and in this way steer clear of future difficulties. It is very important that we give one another support at these times, combining knowledge and the will to solve problems and thus get through/over hardships.

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