About Our School
I.The Origins of the ZPA
The Poles who ended up in the United States after World War II had decided to come here mainly for political reasons. They were unable to accept the fact that Poland found itself under Russian control and in the hands of a communist government. Roughly 200 Polish families (around 400 people) settled in Perth Amboy at that time. On this foreign land, they stuck together to the best of their ability – supporting each other in finding jobs and housing, regularly meeting within their close-knit groups to discuss matters of concern and to simply enjoy the comfort of each other’s company. Their bond was based on their language and their past, especially the shared trauma of the war and Nazi occupation. In 1952, these immigrants came together to form an official Polish organization – the ZPA, which initially had only 48 members. Their goals were quite ambitious: they were determined to preserve their Polish heritage and ensure its continuity in the future, for the sake of younger generations. They were hoping to, at some point, form a Polish school, a Polish choir, and a Polish folk dance group. Their dreams began to take on a more tangible shape when they successfully secured their first official location. Although not particularly impressive – a gloomy, neglected rental at 479 State Street in Perth Amboy, which had previously served as a store – the immigrants decided that it would do. The place included 3 rooms: 1 large hall, 1 small hall, and a tiny room on a side. The oldest ZPA members still fondly recall how their initial organization ”funds” boiled down to $58, while their monthly rent was $50 plus utilities. Needless to say, it was a lot of money for their modest means. But Poles pride themselves on their famous resilience, and for good reason. Many ZPA members, determined to maintain their official location, reached into their own pockets and were able to put together just enough money to cover the rent and utilities. When one is an uprooted immigrant, having a stable ”home base” matters. They renovated the place themselves, with men installing new floors and painting the walls, and women supporting them by preparing meals and cleaning. Their significant grassroots effort paid off, and the first official ZPA location quickly turned from a dark, gloomy former store to a clean, cozy, welcoming meeting place for the Polish immigrant community.
II. School starts
Now that the official ZPA location was secured and ready, the next goal became the formation of a Polish school. After all, the immigrant children attended American schools where only English was spoken, while their parents worked hard to make ends meet and were unable to properly teach their children the Polish language. Without a school, there simply would be no feasible, effective way to systematically transmit the crucial knowledge about Polish history, geography and culture, and above all – it would be impossible to cultivate the future generations’ ability to communicate in Polish, or their appreciation of the language. Forming a dedicated Polish school therefore became a necessity. Polish Supplementary School of ZPA was founded in 1953. In the first year of its existence, it served 20 students, from 7 to 12 years old. Although the school had a dedicated location, there were no textbooks, chalk boards, or any other important resources. There were no certified, qualified teachers either. The classes were taking place in the large ZPA hall at State Street, with all the children (regardless of their age or grade level) seated at a long table. At the head of the table sat an adult in charge of teaching a particular class, typically one of the more educated ZPA members or one of the parents. The children were learning the Polish alphabet, writing simple words and phrases in Polish, and memorizing Polish poems and songs. With time, the school started ordering its first Polish literature, history, and geography textbooks from England and hired its first professional educators: Mrs. Dorothy Grzankowski, Mrs. Maria Dziadowicz, and Mrs. Jadwiga Marszalek. Mr. Antoni Siemak became the first school director in 1958. A school year would start in October and end in May. All classes took place on Saturdays from 10am to 12pm- roughly 60 hours per academic year. The adults in charge went above and beyond to create a pleasant, friendly atmosphere to allow all children to feel welcome. During recess and after classes, the students could even watch TV – which at that time was a real treat considering the fact that very few Polish immigrant households could afford a TV. The point was to ensure that the Polish school was a place that everyone enjoyed.
III Polish Supplementary School of ZPA – evolution
The school director reached out to the Polish Supplementary School Council of America, which turned out to be an important milestone in the school’s development. Thanks to this newly established relationship, the school received actual curricula and financial assistance ($27) towards the purchase of additional textbooks.
At that time, the school was already serving over 70 students. Some of them spoke Polish more fluently than others, so a decision was made to form two separate instruction groups – one for beginners, and one for intermediates. This proved to be a great, effective solution that quickly brought tangible results as the students made progress that surpassed everyone’s expectations. Teachers and parents worked together to ensure that the lessons were not only effective, but also interesting. Mrs. Henryka Stankiewicz formed a folk dance group for children, and 46 students enrolled. Polka, polonez and krakowiak were among the most popular types of dance. The school participated in the Polish School Day celebrations in New York, where four girls recited a poem ”Polka” and two boys played traditional Polish folk music on their accordions.
Students were rewarded for their diligent school work with the opportunity to enjoy a field trip once a year. Younger children would often go to The Bronx Zoo, while the older groups had the chance to visit Washington DC, Philadelphia, and the United Nations building in NY. In July 1960, the children enjoyed their first summer camp.In 1965, the ZPA purchased a building at 281Grace Street in Perth Amboy, and shortly afterwards the school was relocated there as well, taking over the two halls downstairs, one small room, and a library upstairs. The school director, Mrs. Ludwika Ostrowka, replaced the 2 level instruction with a 4 grade level program. The level of instructional delivery was higher now, and encompassed Polish language arts, history, geography, social studies, singing classes, Christmas carols instruction, folk dance, games and other fun activities, riddles, and poetry. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, the school worked in two shifts, with classes taking place on Saturdays from 10am-12pm and 12pm-2pm. As more and more students enrolled over time, the ZPA realized the urgent need for a new location that would allow unobstructed expansion. In 1993, 118 students in grades 1-8 started their school year in a new building: St. Stanislaus Kostka School in Sayreville. Due to the growing demand, additional locations were needed and soon classes were taking place in the Sacred Heart Catholic School in South Amboy, as well as a Middle School building in Sayreville. After a few successful years, the school decided to permanently return to its St. Stanislaus Kostka School location in Sayreville, where it remains today. Another Polish school was formed in 2012 in the nearby town of South Amboy, and a number of students were accommodated there as well. The proximity of our two Polish schools continues to motivate us all to provide the best possible educational services for our students and their families and to further our goals and hopes for the future.
IV. Polish Supplementary School of ZPA –today
At this time, the school employs 13 highly qualified teachers who deliver instruction in Polish language arts, history, and geography. In addition, we have also been fortunate enough to employ a music teacher, and students can opt to participate in religion and Physical Education classes. At parents’ special request, we have formed PSL Class (Polish as a Second Language) to teach language foundations, thus serving students with minimal or no previous exposure to the Polish language. Our youngest students are 3 year old in the Pre-K group, while our oldest ones are enrolled in 10th grade (high school level).
Every November, our students participate in the Pulaski Parade in NYC, and prepare beautiful, elaborate performances celebrating Polish Independence Day and Constitution Day in May. We also cultivate Polish traditions such as Nativity play, Easter performance and Mother’s Day celebration. A newer but no less exciting occasion to celebrate is the Polish Bilingual Day, which combines fun and learning.
The ZPA Polish Supplementary School has become a very important cornerstone in the life of Polish immigration. Not only does it teach children how to appreciate the beauty of the Polish language, but it also familiarizes them with the rich complexity of their native culture. The ongoing effective cooperation between the school and parents allows our students to develop an authentic understanding of and a deep respect for Polish traditions.