Dispatch from Julianne Wagner, a former Eagle's Wings choir member now teaching in Slovakia:
"On my high school graduation day, 999 other seniors and I gathered in a nearby college’s basketball arena, walked across the stage, and got our diplomas, and even after four years, I still only knew half of them. Being from such a large American public school, it is very interesting for me to learn the ins and outs of a small Slovak private school.
There are a few key differences in the school system in Slovakia. First of all, kindergarten is not included in their primary school- it is basically the equivalent of American preschool. Primary school starts with first grade and ends with eighth or ninth grade (depends on the student and their needs). After primary school, students can choose to go to various specialized or vocational schools or a grammar school (gymnasium). Gymnasia are selective and students must be accepted into them, but they are similar to traditional American high schools as they are intended to prepare students for higher education. Most students who attend gymnasia intend to go to university afterwards. EGMT, where I teach, is a bilingual gymnasium, so students attend the school for five years and study many subjects in English. Students take a secondary school exit exam called the Maturita, where they are tested on four different subjects, two of them being English and Slovak language.
When I was first assigned my schedule, they told me I would be teaching sixth, first, and fifth graders. As an American, what do you think of when someone says “first grader”? A six or seven-year-old, right? Yes, but… also no. There are first graders in primary school, but there are also first graders in the gymnasium. They don’t use terms like freshmen and seniors- instead, the freshmen are first graders, the sophomores are second graders, and so on and so forth. At EGMT, each grade has about 50 students, and they are split into two classes, AG and BG. So, for example, there is I.AG and I.BG, II. AG and II.BG, etc. For the most part, they stay in these groups for all five years and take almost all of the same classes. Since I teach both first graders and fifth graders, it is quite clear that my reserved and bashful first grade class will be bickering like old friends by the time fifth grade rolls around. It’s a stark contrast from the high school I went to where there were no class groups, no homeroom teachers, each student had a completely different schedule, and you would see an entirely new group of 30 people every single period.
There are also some other minor differences, like the classroom setup. In high school in America, most teachers have their own classrooms and their students come to them for each class period. Here, each group (like I.AG) has their own classroom and the teachers are the ones who move around from room to room. Schedules are different every single day, whereas in America I had the same schedule of lessons each day. There are also longer breaks in between lessons. Most are ten minutes, but there is also a 20-minute break, which is considered time for “morning snack.” The school also does not have organized sports, and I must say I miss the atmosphere of going to school on a Friday where there was a football or basketball game later that day.
I used to insist that I would hate going to such a small school, but it actually seems like it would be a wonderful experience. You have the opportunity to make genuine connections with both your classmates and teachers. It is a much more intimate setting, which I think sets the students up for success. The more comfortable you feel in a learning environment, the more you are willing to participate, try, fail, and try again- which in my experience is the best way to truly learn something. It is clear that the school truly cares for their pupils and wants to see them succeed as both students and members of their communities."
"I have been living in Martin, Slovakia for almost two months now and working at Evanjelická spojená škola v Martine for about one month.
Where to begin?
Perhaps I should begin with a little background. I first came to Martin in 2016 with the Eagle’s Wings High School Choir and I think I speak for everyone on that trip when I was say that we felt welcomed with open, loving arms by the Center for Christian Education community. They were eager to introduce us to their culture and teach us about the many incredible things Slovakia and its people have to offer; of course, that entailed trying Kofola (like Slovak Coca-Cola, but better) within the first few hours of arriving. Although we were only here for a short week, we met friends that we have stayed in contact with despite the distance and memories that would last a lifetime. Eating goulash, singing songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” in both English and (very poor) Slovak, and sliding down muddy hills during a rainstorm with the Slovaks were little moments where I could feel God’s love radiating. I even chose to get baptized in the rain while I was here- one of the happiest moments of my life.
And now after six years, I am back. Seeing the places I was only vaguely familiar with but had thought about since my first trip here was a little bit odd. Of course, when you’re here with a group of 50 people who have an hour-by-hour agenda versus alone with no job or real obligations for three weeks, it’s a little bit different. I had plenty of time to explore before school started. On my third day here, Bohdan Hrobon took me mountain biking. Bohdan, if you’re reading this, I’m not trying to call you out or anything… I appreciate you taking me on this adventure and it will be a story I look back on very fondly for the rest of my life. Anyway, when Bohdan said we were going on a bike ride, I was thinking it would be a scenic, calm ride where I could enjoy the sights of Slovakia’s nature. And yes, it was stunning, but calm? Not so much. We “biked” (quotation marks because I mostly walked my bike rather than rode it) up the mountain, paused for a few breathers to enjoy the serenity and view at the top, and began our descent. Leisurely biking around the paved, flat path at Whalon Lake in Naperville, Illinois is no match for speeding down a mountain with rough terrain! Long story short, I fell on the way down and had to get a few stitches on my legs, arms, and stomach, but luckily that was the worst of it. After I got stitched up, I joined the Kacian family for a birthday party celebrating their youngest son, and they were sure to give me extra meat, cake, and beer, so I felt much better. I must extend my deepest gratitude to the Kacian family and the Hrobon family for all their help along the way and for making me feel at home in Martin. Their kindness, generosity, good humor, and hospitality has meant the world to me.
Apart from my mountain biking accident, I have been settling in, hiking in local spots, and growing accustomed to life in Martin itself. School started a few weeks ago, and so far, I really love teaching. I teach sixth grade Science in English and English Language, and I am always entertained by the eagerness, curiosity, and open-mindedness that they all possess. In the Gymnasium (secondary school like high school) there are five grades because it is a bilingual school. I teach fifth year English Conversation, which prepares them for a final graduation exam at the end of the year, as well as first year English Language. On my first day of school, the receptionist mistook me for a student, and a lot of my students wonder if I’m old enough to be teaching them, but I think they enjoy practicing English with someone who understands internet trends and slang. I love having candid conversations with my Gymnasium students about differences in Slovak and US day-to-day life, traditions, school systems, etc. They are all incredibly intelligent and I often forget that they aren’t native speakers. Although I’m the teacher, I know I will learn so much from these students. I love the atmosphere of ESS- The school prioritizes the success of the students both in school and in their communities, which will make for well-educated and worldly alumni. It has been such a pleasure to get to know my students and the other staff this past month, and I am looking forward to developing even deeper connections. I am eternally grateful that OSLC’s connection to CCE brought me back to Martin after 6 years to be a part of this wonderful community and experience everything Slovakia has to offer. Adjusting to living in a new country alone has its difficulties, but I feel incredibly supported and cared for. I can’t wait to tell you more about my time here in Martin and am looking forward to all that is to come!
Ďakujeme za čítanie! Dovidenia!"
Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Nitra Slovakia
The relationship between Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Nitra Slovakia and Our Saviour’s Church in Naperville, IL began in 1998 with the goal of helping a small group of faithful Christians rebuild their church after the Communists confiscated the property and destroyed the church building. These faithful few were donating funds as they were available and building the church, literally "one brick at a time". They estimated that it would take 12 years to complete. Our Saviour's committed to help and through our donations and prayers, the church was completed in two years! Holy Spirit Lutheran Church was consecrated on Sunday June 11, 2000, with a huge ecumenical event. The church has grown to over 2000 members and now are delivering a diaconal ministry to the elderly people in their town. They will soon break ground for a live-in care facility for those people.
The Center for Christian Education (CCE) in Martin Slovakia
This relationship between The Center for Christian Education (CCE) in Martin Slovakia and Our Saviour’s Church in Naperville, IL began in 1998 As well. The CCE took an education approach to restoring Christianity. They have built a full Bi-Lingual Academy spanning from pre-school through high school. The Christian education component brings children to Christ and the students then minister to their families and bring parents and siblings to Christ. The CCE now has 800 students and had the first graduation of 36 students from high school in 2018. Future plans for the school include adding special programs including a music studio, an art studio, additional labs, outdoor facilities for learning and recreation.The CCE is a top rated school in Slovakia.
The Slovakia Ministry team hosts the Slovakia Ministry Dinner each year where guests can taste traditional dishes and raise money for this important ministry. The Slovakia Ministry Committee is currently looking for additional members.
Interested in getting involved with the Slovakia Mission? Click here.
Check out the latest Progress Report from the Center for Christian Education HERE.