Bringing cultures together

CHS students, teachers travel to Poland to teach conversational English

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When Stephen Baranowksi graduated from Camas High School in 2006, he had a unique opportunity to be a student volunteer at the city’s first conversational English Language Camp in Poland.

Eight years later Baranowski, now dean of students at Liberty Middle School, went back to Poland as the team leader of a group of several student and teacher volunteers. The 23-day trip included a teachers’ workshop in Zabierzow and annual high school English Language Camp in Morawica, with more than 40 Polish students in attendance.

Additionally, the group went on numerous tours and excursions all over Poland so they could learn more about the culture and history of the country.

The trip is organized through the Camas Sister City Organization, which has sister cities in Krapowice, Morawica and Zabierzow.

“I had an opportunity to be a student volunteer on the second Sister City exchange to Poland and had my eyes opened to what a tremendous program this is for participants on both sides,” Baranowski recalled. “Having had this experience, it made it an easy choice when speaking with Lloyd Halverson about the possibility of being part of a team of teachers to make the trip this last summer. We put together a great team, full of energy and enthusiasm for the students, and created a program that we felt made a real impact on both the teachers and students we worked with in Poland.”

Halverson is the partnership coordinator for the city and has been involved with the Camas Sister City Association for several years.

“I’m very proud of what the teams have accomplished, and how the program positively touches people’s lives,” he said.

Traveling with Baranowski were Liberty Middle School teachers Rebecca Hamlin and Alexis Loveland, Hayes Freedom High School teacher Corinne Lorch, CHS graduate Carson Dunn and senior Abigail Engel. Baranowski’s sister, Amber, who is a teacher in California, also made the trip.

The main focus of both the teacher training and the camp was to get students comfortable speaking in English, which was accomplished through laughter, interactive games and singing.

“A lot of their instruction in school focuses on writing and reading English, and we wanted to get them comfortable speaking in English,” Baranowski said.

The teachers noticed right away that there was a definite difference between Polish and American methods of instruction and learning.

“I am very outgoing and there were times I would do things and the kids looked at me like I was crazy,” said Loveland, a math teacher. “One girl told me, ‘This isn’t America, we can’t just dance wherever we want to in the classroom.’ Their education and idea of what school should be is very traditional. Here in America, I almost feel as if my job is an entertainer. I did not get that at all over there.”

However, within a few days the students were playing interactive games and singing silly songs, which were designed to help them become more conversational in English.

“You know that they understand what you’re saying because they have taken English since kindergarten, but getting them to open up and express themselves was one of the biggest obstacles,” Loveland said. “But by week two, they wanted to do it all.”

Engel worked alongside the teachers during the camp and made several friends that she now speaks with regularly.

“I really enjoyed getting close to the people there and forming those relationships,” she said. “I spent a lot of time with them, so getting to really know them was a highlight of the trip for me.”

All of the members of the Camas delegation noted that the Polish hosts were extremely hospitable during their stay.

“They put us up in great hostels and hotels and set up numerous tours and excursions for us to go on and learn about the Polish culture and to see the beauty of the city and the country,” Baranowski said.

Hamlin recalled the trip as “amazing.”

“I just loved the hospitality, architecture and history of the country,” she said. “We were treated like celebrities and they were always putting our needs ahead of theirs. It shocked me.”

During the evenings, everyone would gather in the one area of the hotel that had wireless internet access and compare what they were viewing on their Smart phones. It was a modern day way of connecting with different cultures, participants noted.

“One of the most impactful things for me was being with the kids and comparing our culture to theirs,” Loveland said. “The history in Poland is so rich and so deep.”

One of the group’s favorite memories of the trip was the last night. They were asked to go upstairs in the school where the camp was held. There, they found all the students and teachers dressed in costume, the school decorated with different themes and a fog machine going. The group had to do different challenges throughout the evening to “test” their knowledge of Polish culture and language.

“That was definitely a highlight for me,” Lorch said. “Each of the students who attended the camp had something to do with this event. We even learned how to do a traditional Polish dance.”

“The fact that they went through all of that trouble for us was insane,” Hamlin added. “It was so much fun.”

Baranowski noted that the camp is a good way to bring together different communities and open up outlets for growth in education and in life.

“We really had a tremendous group of individuals who came together to make this a great experience for the kids and teachers in Poland,” he said. “Each member put their own stamp on the program and made this something that will impact the lives of those involved for years to come. I can’t say enough for how grateful I am for each person who decided to come on this adventure and put in the time and work that they did to make this a great experience.”