The John Paul II Polish Language School’s 50-Year History in the San Francisco Bay Area
In 1966, Poland celebrated its 1000-year anniversary as a nation and the millennium of its conversion to Christianity. To celebrate these auspicious occasions, Bay Area Poles formed a committee to celebrate Poland’s Millennium, which was formed by members of various Polish organizations in the region. Representatives from these organizations determined that there was an urgent need to form a Polish Language School in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the January 20, 1967 meeting of the Millennium committee, an ad hoc School Committee was established. This date is recognized as the official date that the John Paul II Polish Language School was established.
The first action of this new committee was to assess the feasibility of developing the school. Members of the committee polled parents of potential students and conducted a search for qualified teachers. Flyers were sent to all members of San Francisco Bay Area Polish organizations, soliciting ideas and support. The flyer campaign was an overwhelming success and gathered a pool of 40 children from 18 families.
In the April 21, 1967 meeting of the Millennium Committee, the first Polish Language School Board was established. The Board members were: Tadeusz Bulter – President, Irena Mrozewska – Vice President, Wladyslawa Grycz – Secretary and Anna Bogucka – Treasurer.
The first Audi committee was also selected, and members included: Anna Brachaczek, Stefan Jankowski and Franciszek Słonina. The new faculty included: Anna Goldwin, Olga Izdebska, Helena Lazowy and Bronisława Zaroda. Mrs. Krystyna Chciuk volunteered to take on the role of organizing and leading a dance group and choir. Because parent participation was recognized as a key element to the success of the school, on May 5, 1967, a Parent’s Committee was formed, and its first members were Jan Smelski, Jana Phillips and Czeslawa Sawicka.
The newly formed Polish Language School officially opened on August 20, 1967 as the “Polish-American Educational Committee of San Francisco, Inc.” (PAEC). At first, the school was held at the Polish Club Hall in San Francisco, sponsored by the Literary-Drama Society, and the new students participated in Polish folk-dance classes. These children were the first official students of the school. Starting in January of 1968, classes were held in Sanchez Elementary School, also in San Francisco, on a bi-weekly basis.
On September 6, 1968, the School’s by-laws were executed, and on February 7, 1969, the Polish-American Educations Committee of San Francisco, Inc. became registered as an official organization in the State of California. In the same year, the PAEC was recognized as a state and federal non-profit organization.
Also in 1969, a design contest was held so that a school emblem could be selected. The judges recognized a colorful entry submitted by Halina Muller of Campbell as the winner. The School Board judged a black and white emblem, designed by Janusz Kowalski of Concord as a finalist. This black-and-white drawing was used as the basis for the school emblem. Unfortunately, the entry by Halina Muller is no longer available.
Thanks to the hard work, enthusiasm and good planning of all involved, the school flourished and continued to grow stronger. The student body increased in size, and a larger facility was required. Several locations were used. Many students completed the classes, thus strengthening their knowledge of Polish history and culture.
In 1976, Father Wojciech Baryski formed the first Polish Roman Catholic parish in San Francisco. At his suggestion, a catechetic program was added to the school’s core curriculum of Polish language, history, geography and folk-dance. Faith formation remained an important aspect of the Polish Language School and in 1986, for the school’s 19th anniversary, the school took on the name of Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Roman-Catholic pope in the history of the church.
In the 80’s, a wave of immigrants from the “Solidarity” Era settled in the East Bay Area, including Oakland, Berkeley, Concord and Walnut Creek. For this reason, the school was moved to Oakland in 1998. From year 2003, the Polish Language School meets at the United Methodist Church in Walnut Creek.
Parents, of course, will always be the foundation of every child’s development, and the development of Polish Language skills ideally should begin at home. Parents should take as active of a role as possible in the development of their children’s language skills so that there is a strong inter-generational transfer of knowledge and culture. This may always be possible for all families. However, the John Paul II Polish Language School strives to enrich the knowledge of its students, including both the parents and the children. Classes are always open. In accordance with guidelines established for Polish-American Schools, the John Paul II Polish Language School emphasizes Polish History, geography, literature, language and fold dance, as well as religion in its curriculum.
The students, through their activities and performances, help enrich the Polish community and events sponsored by other Polish-American organizations. Traditionally, the students from the Polish Language School perform at the Annual May 3rd Polish Constitution Day organized by the Polish American Congress, the Annual Traditional Polish Christmas Eve Celebration organized together with the other polish organizations, as well as many other events.
To fully keep alive the tradition of passing on the knowledge of history, culture, morals and values to future generations, a sound knowledge of the Polish language is necessary. Each individual family and the Polish Language School have the challenging mission of passing along a proud heritage to its children.
The Polish Language School also provides children and youth with the possibility to meet friends from Polish-American families, which helps their motivation to learn Polish and participate in the Saturday classes. Every year, a summer vacation camp is organized jointly with the Polish Scouting organization. During this one-week camp, young people learn about nature and ecology, and have a chance to further develop their knowledge of Polish language and song.
One key form of communication between the Board and Faculty of the school was the quarterly Informator, as well as the bi-weekly Apel, distributed both in hard copy and email. We encourage the involvement of our school’s alumni, along with anyone who is interested in participation. The school strives to issue formal reports, and the most recent was issued for the 40-year anniversary of the school. The school reports contain a collection of correspondences with the Polish Community, along with documents, photos and other information about the school.
The founders of the school, as well at the current Board, Faculty and parents, believe that the core mission of the institution is to teach the language, culture and history of Poland in the spirit of the Roman Catholic Faith. This mission has been, and continues to be, an ambitious goal. The school has accomplished this mission in the past, and with the support of the Polish-American Community in the San Francisco Bay Area, the goals of the school will continue to be achieved in future years.
The John Paul II Polish Language School is located at:
1543 Sunnyvale Avenue
Walnut Creek, CA 94596
Please send all correspondences to:
PAEC of SF, Inc.
P.O. BOX 5439
Walnut Creek, CA 94596