It’s been a year since the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of the Czech Republic authorized a new elementary school in Brno, called “Filipka”, and the school’s director with her team of co-workers managed to meet all the demanding conditions required by the state administration: negotiate an advantageous lease agreement in suitable premises and rebuild these to fulfil the needs of elementary school students and teachers. A successful media campaign was also launched to support the Filipka school.
According to the latest information from the area, there are already parents of first-graders or older children that are interested in applying to attend the future school – which could happen from as early as the 1st of September 2019. Several successful meetings have also taken place with teachers who would be willing and happy to teach at the new church school. None of this would have been possible without the enthusiasm of Mr and Mrs Konvalinka, their friends from the ECCB’s Husovice congregation and other volunteers that have been assisting in negotiations with local authorities and helping with the construction work. Advice provided by other directors of our schools has also been helpful. The Synodal Council has decided to support the school and has approved the allocation of significant funds from Diaconia and development projects to provide for the basic operational needs: renovation of the premises, salary costs for the director during the preparation period, as well as the purchase of the equipment necessary for enrolling the first students. We are truly grateful that the preparation of a new school – already the seventh under the auspices of the Evangelical Academy – is unfolding as planned!
The Church Education Support Fund Providing Aid Wherever Needed
Thanks to the generous contributions of church members, the Synodal Council was also able to allocate the money from the collection organised for the Church Education Support Fund. This money will enable the schools to run projects and programmes they could not afford to pay from their basic resources that come from pupil/student “norms”. This is good news, as we will continue to be able to finance time-proven, regular and meaningful activities for the pupils and students.
What did you manage to achieve with the help of this Fund?
Members of churches can look forward to more musical treats performed by students of the Olomouc Conservatory of the Evangelical Academy, which are planned also for cities further away from the Olomouc region – we might point out that that during Advent, for example, concert visitors had an opportunity to enjoy great orchestral and voice performances in Prague and Brno. The Medical and Social Work Vocational School in Náchod will be able to enhance its education thanks to new laboratory equipment for the subjects of physics, chemistry and biology. Children from the School of Brethren will have the opportunity to spend some fun time in the Jan Amos Komenský resort in Běleč nad Orlicí. The Evangelical Academy in Prague and in Brno has received funds to cover students’ and teachers’ field trips and internships in Germany: they will be acquainting themselves with the latest developments in the area of social services in Diaconia’s centres in Dresden, Potsdam and Stuttgart. These long-term relationships not only improve the language skills of the students, they can also motivate them to come up with creative ways of helping.
The funds gained through these donations are a significant encouragement for the directors and teachers that have been facing an unfavourable, even discriminative attitude from the current political representation.
We interviewed the founder of the new Filipka school in Brno, Ruth Konvalinková, who has also been appointed the school’s first director.
What sort of school are we talking about?
It’s a Protestant elementary school in Brno. Its official name is “Learning Through Stories”, but we usually call it “Filipka”, because it is located in Filipínského street in Brno.
How did you come up with the idea of establishing the school?
I’m a grammar school teacher, my husband is the deputy director at a secondary school, and we have four more teachers among our closest family members. This is why I daresay I know quite a few things about our education system. Also, we are parents of three children, so we also have the “other perspective”. The longer I spent teaching, the more I realised that there are things which are very difficult to “correct” within an existing institution. I also gradually came to understand that many of my colleagues and education experts shared the same view. After many unsuccessful attempts, we found it easier to establish a new school than to reform the existing ones.
What do you dislike about the Czech education system?
I can only briefly describe a few of the system problems that are very difficult to change: Czech schools are rather rigid, they react very slowly to the turbulent era we live in, where the education system faces new challenges all the time. Teachers who would like to teach in innovative, interesting ways often find themselves in opposition to all involved – colleagues, parents, often even the actual students. Integrating children with various disadvantages is extremely slow and complicated – despite the fact that it is often more than necessary! What I am saying here does not apply in general: there are of course a large number of teachers and even schools that are doing an excellent job.
Why a church school?
As a teacher of Czech, I was able to assess the level of text literacy of the kids coming to grammar school from elementary school. Sometimes it was almost frightening how poor their skills were in this respect – especially keeping in mind that the era we live in is hugely demanding in terms of understanding and processing information, particularly in the civic arena. The language abilities of the children coming from a church environment was in stark contrast to this. I think that’s when it hit me: our church has deep respect for the word, it has a high-quality system for teaching catechesis, there are rich resources for Sunday school teachers, and it has extensive experience in working with children. In addition, our church has a very significant tradition of education – this has, in fact, always been one of the church’s major benefits for society. The contribution of the Unity of the Brethren in this field was a strong factor in determining the future of the nation. Despite all this, our church only has one elementary school (apart from Diaconia’s special education schools) and five secondary and higher schools. I witnessed the founding of several interesting, innovative schools and for a few years, I talked to my friends, especially people from our church, about how great it would be to establish a new Protestant school. I spent such a long time talking about it that my friends started to share my enthusiasm and support me. The moment my husband embraced the thought, the decision was made: we would give it a try.
How did you find out about the possibility of drawing funds from resources designated for Diaconia and development projects?
I found out from one of the members of our presbytery, who was representing our church at a convent. He drew my attention to a training which was taking place on a Saturday in June 2017 in the Blahoslav House in Brno, led by the Synodal Curator, Vladimír Zikmund.
Are you facing any problems?
First of all, there is unfortunately not much interest in the school among people from the church: we have trouble finding colleagues, for example. Secondly, there is also a lack of confidence that the whole project will really work out, people tend to be sceptical. However, as things are moving forward, we have seen improvement in both of these areas.
What does the practical aspect look like?
Last year in July, we asked the Synodal Council for approval on the grounds that we were planning to try to establish a new school under the auspices of the Evangelical Academy. In September 2017, we submitted an application for drawing funds from the subsidy system used for Diaconia’s and development projects, and the request was granted. In late September, we filed a request on behalf of the church to have the school registered by the Ministry. It seemed the largest difficulty would be finding suitable premises in which to run the school – until the Židenice local authority offered to lease half of an old school building which was just being vacated by a vocational school. When we gave the ministry the future address of the school, we had to gain a hygiene permit stating that the premises were fully compliant with the relevant regulations. This meant renovating the sanitary facilities; we had to use a church loan to pay for this. We managed to get everything done by the deadline, and as of 1 September 2018, the new school “Learning Through Stories”, was registered with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, which means the school now officially exists.
What comes next? When will you welcome your first students?
We now have a building, an identification number, and we are entitled to state subsidies. We are planning to open our school to students on 1 September 2019. I will be working part-time for Filipka starting on the 1st of September, thanks to the subsidy from Diaconia and development project funds: I am in charge (with significant help from my husband) of the school building and the equipment. I am negotiating with the management of the Evangelical Academy, the local authority and other entities. Most importantly of all, I am trying to bring together a team of teachers.
How are you going to deal with the financial demands that lie ahead?
We are still going to need lots of money, the interior of the building will require renovation. The school is also quite demanding in terms of equipment: we are still missing a lunch room, which will be very expensive, locker rooms, various furniture, musical instruments, sports equipment, a copy machine… just to name a few examples. We would also like to revitalise the school yard and build a playground here. This is why we have filed further applications for drawing subsidies from Diaconia and development project funds, but we are also trying to send requests to other possible donors. We have established a foundation fund which will organise a public collection. Our project’s advantage is that once school starts, the financial demands will significantly decrease: since it is registered with the Ministry, we are entitled to state subsidies, which we will start receiving once the children start attending. The subsidies should cover most of the costs, and we will collect any missing money from parents in the form of a low tuition fee.
What is the most important aim you are reaching toward?
We intend to create, with God’s help, results that would serve our church with honour.