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Our Kids Interview: Get to know Polish British Academy of Warsaw

Our Kids speaks to Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota, the headmistress of Polish British Academy of Warsaw

Polish British Academy of Warsaw (PBA), which belongs to the Council of British International Schools—COBIS, offers its students bilingual education based on two curricula—Polish and British, from preschool through Grade 8. It operates in two buildings in the Wilanów district of Warsaw.  continue reading...

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Our Kids spoke with the school headmistress Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota.

Please watch and listen to this video conversation, which also includes many photos from the school. Its transcript is below.


Our Kids: How many years of education does the school offer?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Right now we offer education from Reception to Year 8. We first started as a preschool, but then the owners decided there was a need to push the kids a little bit forward. We just had our first graduates last year.

Our Kids: Your school implements two curricula: the British and the Polish curriculum. How do you manage that?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Obviously, it means a bit more material for the students and more time spent at school, but we have made some adjustments that have been approved by the Ministry of Education, so about 70-80% of the two curricula correspond with each other. That means that we have around 20-30% of additional material, which we try to incorporate in our lessons. The kids who start at our school from the very beginning, from Reception, find it completely natural. They feel very comfortable in this environment, and without even noticing, they go from one lesson in Polish to another in English. They are completely bilingual at some point, which is amazing and which is exactly our goal.


Our Kids: At what stage do they achieve bilingualism?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I would say it starts from the very beginning and they reach the level of a native speaker around Year 2 or 3. Some teachers from another country who visited our school compared their Year 2 to our Year 2, and they said we have an amazing level of English here. I was very happy and proud to hear that.


Our Kids: What is the proportion of Polish students compared to international students at PBA?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: The majority of our students are Polish—about 70%, some also are from mixed marriages, where both parents don’t necessarily speak Polish. These students are usually bilingual, and English is the third language for them. The rest are foreigners.

Our Kids: Do the students who come from other countries need to take classes in Polish?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Yes, they do. Sometimes with those who joined us later it's a bit of a struggle, but we offer PFL (Polish as a Foreign Language) lessons, where they get this additional push in the language. We try to support them as much as possible. If they join us in Year 6 or 7, it's a bit tricky, but we manage. We try to decide based on our interviews in the recruitment process whether the child will actually be able to handle that or not. We don't want to force anyone into the system. So if we see it's not going to work, we just ask the parents to find something within one language only.

Our Kids: Where do your students go after they finish your school?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Our students from last year actually went to very good high schools. From what I know, none of them went abroad, which is also an option. Some went to very good Polish high schools with IB Programmes or with bilingual classes. Some went to English-speaking schools, such as an American high school nearby.


Our Kids: Who are your teachers?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: We have a variety. In the Polish system, it's mostly teachers from Poland. For our English-speaking classes, we have a mix varying from Great Britain to Australia and New Zealand, the US, and Canada as well. Some of them have lived here for a very long time, so they're bilingual as well. But they never inform the students about that (laugh).

Our Kids: So that's a top secret and the kids don't know?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I think they may suspect it, but they don't have the courage to ask the teacher to speak Polish in front of them.


Our Kids: English is the language of instruction, isn't it?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Half half. So if we have, for example, math in Year 4, we have three lessons in Polish and three lessons in English. The teachers work very closely to make sure that the curricula actually blend. It would not be possible for them to teach two separate curricula, one Polish and one British. That would mean sitting here for 12 hours. That's why our students are bilingual really from the very beginning, because they learn half in Polish and half in English.

Our Kids: You also teach another foreign language, don't you?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: From Year 3 onwards we offer Spanish. In Poland, foreign-language instruction is obligatory from Year 7, but we try to introduce it earlier as a fun way to start knowing the language. In Year 5, it gets more serious. But that gives the students an additional skill.

The uniqueness of the school

Our Kids: What would you say to parents interested in enrolling their kid in a Warsaw elementary school with a lot of English? How would you convince them that your school is the best choice?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I would say that depending on what you need and want for your child, our school is quite extraordinary. We have two languages, so if you plan on staying in Poland, your child will still have English because of the British curriculum, but also be able to study in the Polish system of education. This will allow them to continue in a Polish high school. So it really depends on what your priorities are. But I would say we’re quite exceptional.

Our Kids: What else are you proud of? What do you think is very special about PBA?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I think one of these things is the size of the classes. I know that other schools also have small groups of students, but we really aim at being a community school. We don't necessarily want to grow into a huge school. We really focus on the individual approach and we want our children to learn as much as possible. We have only 18 students in each class and two classes at each year level. So I think that's quite outstanding. And this size of the school is safe and comfortable for the students. I really like the fact that I can know all of them.

This is, of course, more difficult in the pandemic situation, but I know most of them from Reception to Year 3. I actually see them every day in the cloakroom in the morning, so I already know most of them although I came to the school quite recently. I know them by name and I like that. I think this is what a school should be, rather than having thousands of students where we don't really see them personally. I really like this about our school.

Non-academic aspects

Our Kids: A school teaches, but it does a lot more than that. So what does your school offer to the students in terms of “that other stuff” that's not just academic?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: We focus a lot on soft skills. I pay a lot of attention to the students’ well-being. We started workshops for the teachers, so they learn more about that area. I also want the students to feel their independence, to be responsible for their learning, so that they're able to enter society when they're young adults, when they leave our school.

We teach them responsibility, independence, and tolerance since we have a mixture of students from different backgrounds, not only nationality-wise but in general. They learn how to respect one another, how to behave with one another. They learn about themselves, obviously. Primary school is an amazing period in a child's life, from Reception, when they’re really small, to Year 8, when they're already teenagers and they feel they can do anything in the world. That's a huge transition and we get to see that. It's really extraordinary.


Our Kids: You decided to have uniforms in your school. I wonder why.

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Uniforms in general are for the sake of not being able to show off too much. There obviously are kids from different backgrounds, but I feel they’re more unified this way, although, as I said before, we treat them individually. Thanks to the uniforms, they don't stand out in any way or feel that they're the odd ones out.

Our Kids: And they like it?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I guess so. We have three different colours, our school colours, and the kids get to choose which colour they want. I think they enjoy it, and generally, there’s a variety they can choose from, not just a T-shirt and pants.

Extracurricular activities

Our Kids: Let's talk about extracurricular activities.

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: We offer after school activities. There's always someone to take care of the children after 6 p.m., although they obviously finish much earlier, and within that time we have extracurricular activities and workshops. On Thursday, every single class has workshops that are obligatory. They're offered and led by our teachers. On any other day, we have other extracurricular activities, such as gymnastics, basketball, fencing, drawing classes. Obviously it's a bit limited because of the pandemic, but now we’ve started opening again and we’re allowed to have instructors from outside of the school, so we will definitely grow even bigger.

Cambridge exams

Our Kids: The fact that the school has the British curriculum also means that you administer all kinds of Cambridge exams.

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Yes, we host all Cambridge exams from Year 2 to Year 8. There are two of them that are more obligatory— Starters or Movers in Year 3 and the FCE certificate in Year 8. We actually now started having students from Year 7 do the FCE exam as well. We offered KET and PET before, but unfortunately now the situation doesn't allow us to have these exams. Now we focus on the ones that are there to support our decisions about the levels and give the children a possibility to apply to high schools where FCE is taken into consideration.

School values and ethos

Our Kids: Let's talk about your school values. What is your school about, what is its ethos?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: I would say it's about students working together, understanding their learning and how to use their skills. We give the students the skills to be good citizens and not only to speak the languages, but also the ability to share with others, to empathize with others, and to be independent.

Special needs students

Our Kids: I also hear that you provide support for students with various special learning needs.

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Yes, we definitely pay a lot of attention to differentiation in the classroom. We’ve started training our teachers how to deal with all kinds of kids. There are no groups where everyone is exactly the same, so we want to make sure that all the students have the ability to access the lessons and the knowledge presented to them. We also have shadow teachers for students with diagnosed disabilities who support the students in the classroom. Recently, I started hosting pupil progress intervention meetings with the teachers, where we discuss all the children, one by one. If they have some learning gaps, we discuss how to support them, or if they're gifted and talented, how to push them even more forward.

The pandemic

Our Kids: And how do you deal with the pandemic?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: We had online classes for everyone at the beginning. Now we have Reception and Years 1, 2, and 3 back to school. Year 4 to Year 8 still learn online, but we have the complete timetable for them, so they have their classes as they normally have in the regular school setting but through distance-learning.

Our Kids: Do the students have access to your extracurriculars?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Only some of them are available, for example, drawing classes, but if someone wants to send their kid to the school for, let's say, basketball classes, they can do that, too.

Our Kids: Are you happy at PBA?

Maria Fiedorczuk-Piechota: Yes I'm very happy. It's a new role for me as I just came back from the United Arab Emirates after living there for seven years, but I'm definitely happy and I think it really is a special place for me. I already feel this is where I can see myself growing and going into the future. Like in any other school, obviously there are issues and there are difficulties, with the parents and with the students, but I am a person who always looks for a solution, who believes that there is always a solution, and hopefully together, if all of us cooperate, we will solve all the problems and will only grow stronger every day. This school has even more potential than it actually shows now, so hopefully I will grow together with it.

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