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Published: November 30th 2009
The building where the youngest class was located was formerly the house of a noble family and was several centuries old.
I recently made a trip to visit a second school for Roma in the region around Roznava. A few kilometers outside of town is the village of Brzotin, which has a population of a few hundred and a large percentage of Roma (gypsies). I struggle with the use of these kinds of terms (gypsies versus Roma, etc) because they all carry various political meanings. I have found that in academics, one must be rather careful with the use of such terms since they can be considered inappropriate or offensive in certain contexts. So with this said, I will continue with the term "gypsy" because of its familiarity, although "Roma" is perhaps a more precise word.
My Slovak language teacher taught Slovak and Russian at the school in Brzotin many years ago before it was designated as a gypsy-only school. At that time, it had about 200 students. Today, it serves exclusively the gypsy population and the white children in the village commute into Roznava. The school begins with kindergarten-aged children and ends at the 10th grade. In addition, there is a 'zero' grade which is focused on children with learning disabilities and mental handicaps. Unlike the gypsy school in Jasov however,
The students took turn reading from their Slovak literature books.
the children in Brzotin all speak primarily Slovak and not Romany. In Jasov, many students are placed in this 'zero' grade not because of learning disabilities but because their total Slovak vocabulary is around 200 words (kind of like mine).
Sylvia was not able to go with me, so I went to tour the school by myself and everything had to be conducted in Slovak, which was of course a struggle for me. When I arrived, I found that the director of the school had invited the mayor of the town to have a meeting and discuss the school. I was unaware that this would happen however, and was not entirely prepared. They sat across from me and waited for questions which I slowly asked. The issues the school faces are not unlike any that an American school might face. They are always short of funds, they struggle to generate parental involvement, and they struggle with infrastructure issues. A major difficulty however is the number of children who regularly skip school. A large portion of the assistant director's time is dedicated each day to making home visits and ensuring that 'sick' children are actually ill and not simply staying home.
The school year represented as a tree.
Another major issue is the cleanliness and responsibility of the children. The school is provided special funds from the Slovak government because of its mission to the gypsy population. The director actually interrupted our meeting so he could show me how two of the students showed up in the office to ask for replacement notebooks. He told me that it is a weekly and even daily occurrence that students take materials home and don't bring them back, or lose them and require replacements.
We toured the classrooms (each class stands up when a visitor enters the room to show respect) and talked with some of the teachers about the issues the face. The students showed off their work in art and literature classes and I was able to visit the geography class while they used Google Earth.
Before I could leave however, we went to the school cafeteria for a lunch of soup and buchty (fruit-filled rolls). This visit was helpful as it allowed me to compare the conditions that exist for gypsy children in two nearby villages which face very different social and cultural situations.
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