Eliza Pszeniczny jokes that she’s not her children’s favorite person on Saturday mornings. “They don’t really like me when I wake them up on Saturday when all their friends are in pajamas until noon,” says Pszeniczny, 40, an office manager from Wantagh.
But if it’s Saturday at the Pszeniczny household, it’s time for Polish school.
Natalia, 14, and Konrad 11, attend the Saint Ladislaus Polish School in Oceanside, one of more than a half-dozen Polish supplementary schools on Long Island that meet for three or four hours on Saturdays to teach the language, culture, song, dance, history and geography of Poland. Pszeniczny is a substitute teacher there.
“I always wanted them to be able to communicate with my family when we go to visit,” says Pszeniczny, who moved to the United States from Poland when she was 17 years old, and whose husband, Robert, 44, a contractor, also was born in Poland. “Thanks to the school, they’re fluent. They can get themselves ice cream in a foreign country. They don’t need me. It’s amazing. They have an American accent, obviously, but they can communicate with absolutely no issues.”
TEACHING A NEW GENERATION
Polish schools keep the heritage of the country alive for a new generation born in the United States for whom Polish is typically a second language, says Agata Strzelichowski, director of the Paderewski Polish School of Glen Head, which will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2020.
That task used to be easier, she says. “In the early days, the parents both were Polish. But more and more, our parents are bilingual in the sense that one is Polish and the other is American. It’s much harder to maintain the language.” This year, the school also opened a class for students whose parents don’t speak Polish; it has five students, ages 10 to 15, Strzelichowski says. Tuition for the schools runs from about $430 to $500 per child per year, with some sibling discounts, and may include additional items such as books or field trips. Students who complete the program "graduate" from the schools.
“I like that I get to be a part of the Polish society,” says Natalia Pszeniczny, a high school freshman who now helps with a class of the youngest students. “You get to be with all your friends and family, and you have a common topic.” Many of the schools meet at a church that might offer services in Polish, but students don’t have to share the religion or even Polish to attend a school, school officials say.
STUDENTS CAN EARN COLLEGE CREDIT
Students who attend the school typically will take the Languages Other Than English exam — known as LOTE — to try to qualify for three- to six language credits they can apply to their college requirements, school officials say. If they are dual American and Polish citizens, they also may be able to attend college in that country for free, school officials and parents say.
Earlier this month, several of the schools marched in the 82nd annual Polish-American Pulaski Day Parade on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.
Here are some of the Long Island schools:
Saint Ladislaus Polish School, Oceanside
Meets at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church, 88 Anchor Ave. Cost is $430 per child; $580 for two children. For information, call 516-743-1878.
“We have Polish language and culture, singing and dancing once a week,” says Margaret Gradzki, principal. The school currently has 38 students who meet from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays from September to May; they are grouped in four levels with ages running from 3 years old to 14. “After that, they graduate from the Polish school,” says Gradzki of Farmingdale.
Paderewski Polish Supplementary School, Glen Head
Meets at St. Hyacinth’s Roman Catholic Church, 319 Cedar Swamp Rd. Cost is $450 to $550 per child. For more information, call 516-399-0565 or visit polskaszkolaglenhead.org.
“Our school is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, school on Long Island,” says Agata Strzelichowski, director. The school opened in 1930; its 50 students meet from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 30 Saturdays during the academic year. Members of the school community especially enjoyed their march in the Pulaski Day Parade in Manhattan on Oct. 6 because this year the parade honored Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the prime minister, statesman, composer and musician for whom their school is named, Strzelichowski says.
Zbigniew Herbert Polish Supplementary School of Long Island, Copiague
Meets at two venues. Pre-K and kindergarten students meet at 1721 Great Neck Rd.; students in first through 11th grades meet at Our Lady of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 1 Molloy St. Cost is $510 per student, with discount for siblings. For information, call 631-793-9532, polskaszkolacopiagueli.org
This is the biggest Polish school on Long Island with about 530 students. "We are so big because the community in the area is very big," says Dorota Szczech, director. The school has two shifts for each age group. Pre-K and kindergarten meet 8:45 a.m. to noon and 12:20 to 3:35 p.m.; the older students meet 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. and then noon to 3:15 p.m. "Most of the students are born here and they come to our school already speaking Polish.They know conversational Polish. We teach them to read and write," Szczech says. The school also teaches history and geography. "We also have a class for Polish as a second language. It's about twenty students. This group is growing." For the first time this year, the school is offering Polish as a second language classes for adults on Monday evenings.
Polish Supplementary School of St. Hedwig’s, Floral Park
Meets at St. Hedwig’s Church Parish Hall, 309 Jericho Tpke. Cost is $430 per child. For more information, call 516-851-0523.
The school day starts with the children singing the national anthem of Poland, says director Dorota Kaczmarzyk. The song is called "Dabrowski's Mazurka," or, in English, "Poland Is Not Yet Lost." “It’s an accomplishment for these children to be there every Saturday. We are so proud of the little ones when they are singing … It’s so beautiful,” she says. The school, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, has 75 students from age 4 to eighth grade and meets from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.
Polish Supplementary School of Long Island, Hicksville
Meets at Trinity Lutheran School, 40 W. Nicholai St. Cost is $440 per child, $820 for two children. For more information, call 516-509-7491 or visit polskaszkolalongisland.com.
“Our school was established by Polish parents two years ago. It’s a pretty new school, one of the newest on Long Island, in New York,” says director Maria Preiss. School is in session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and currently has 55 students from preschool through eighth grade.
Polska Szkola, Riverhead
Meets at St. John Paul II Regional School, 515 Marcy Ave. Cost is $500 per student. For information, call 631-988-5967 or visit polskaszkolariverhead.com.
“We teach the Polish language, culture, history and geography of Poland,” says Ewa Zalusinska. The school has 150 students, who meet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays.
St. Ladislaus Polish School, Hempstead
Meets at the Polish National Club, 329 S. Peninsula Blvd. Cost is $350 per student. For information, call 646-331-0598 or visit pshempstead.com.
The school teaches the Polish language, geography, traditions, singing and dance, says director Barbara Karolak. The school even once taught mathematics, she says. The school's 16 students meet from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturdays.