Let Us Care about the Polish Language

I wrote about the dismissal of Ms. Marianna Owinski by the Polish Mission in the Polish language portion of The Polish Weekly on January 9th, 2019. Ms. Owinski had been employed by Polish Mission and was the coordinator of the project to institute the STAMP4S Polish language exam in American schools.

The STAMP4S test is an official examination of the knowledge of the Polish language. Students who pass this exam successfully receive a special bilingual literacy stamp on their high school diplomas as part of the “Seal of Biliteracy” program.

In order to realize this important endeavor, the Polish Mission by the Orchard Lake School consortium created a contract with AVANT ASSESSMENT, an American company specializing in the creation of language proficiency tests. Thanks to the support given by enlightened individuals and by Polish diaspora organizations, over 30 thousand dollars had been raised to cover the costs of creating a test of Polish as a foreign language. This project was supported financially by the Consul of the Polish Republic in Chicago, the Union of Polish Teachers, and several Polish diaspora organizations and individuals.

Since March 2018, the Polish as Foreign Language test has been available to every American school in all of the states. However, continued collaboration with Avant and assistance with the promotion of this test in American schools are still necessary.

It seems that this project, which had been coordinated and authored by Marzanna Owinski, should be continued. I wrote to Mr. Arkadiusz Górecki, the director of Polish Mission, to ask whether the STAMP4S exam of Polish language would take place.

I received the following response:

The subsequent exams, projects and initiatives that are important, as you state, for the Polish society in America will be continued by a group of specialists in various disciplines. I assure you that we are working on assembling such a professional group in OLS [Orchard Lake Schools].

I later learned that the exam in fact did not take place. Why? I hope to receive an answer from Chancellor Father Mirosław Król as soon as possible. I will inform the readers about the outcome of this conversation.

I hope that the director of the Polish Mission realizes the importance of promoting our mother tongue.

The previous Consul of the Republic of Poland, Konrad Zielinski, spoke in support of the Polish Mission’s project. In his words:

“The Polish language is one of the most important European languages. Americans of Polish descent are the fifth largest ethnic group that had created America. Why then wouldn’t we have the opportunity to take the Polish language exam and to receive credits from institutions of higher learning?”

The current Consul of the Republic of Poland in Chicago, Piotr Janicki, likewise confirmed the importance of the language examination that was being created when he attended the Polonia Forum in Orchard Lake in 2018.

Our concern about the continuation of the project is justified. The Polish Weekly has followed the process of instituting the STAMP4S exam of the Polish language into American schools from the beginning. The editor of The Polish Weekly, Frank Dmuchowski, has been involved from the start in the initiation of action to have Polish language added to a list of important foreign languages by the various states department of education.

Mr. Dmuchowski who has written several articles regarding the Seal of Biliteracy has said that “Ms. Owinska deserves 100% of the credit. Without her personal effort, commitment, leadership and initiative this project would never have gotten off the ground and come to successful completion”.

Furthermore, he went on to say: “What Ms. Owinska has done is one the most significant accomplishments in Polonia in many years by making the study of the Polish language recognized nationwide through a standard nationally accepted test by boards of education with the potential for university credit for those who pass the test.  She is worthy of great recognition by the Polish government and Polonia.

He went on to add “Ms. Owinska has always said, ‘The success of the project was also due to the financial aid and participatory involvement of so many in Polonia’. It was gratifying to work with so many wonderful Polonians who all believe, as I do, in the great importance of encouraging our youth to learn Polish very well”.

When shown Mr. Gorecki’s response to me, he said: “Mr. Gorecki’s response is very puzzling. The project is completed, and merely requires the administration of the already developed test/exam at the different schools throughout the United States in a way that a states board of education requires. This is nothing more than an administrative detail for a state.”

 Mr. Dmuchowski went on to say: “there are already a number of different languages within the same national Seal of Biliteracy program structure that are already operational. Any state that accepts the test developed by an acceptable organization like AVANT for one language must accept the test developed by AVANT for any other language.

The belief in the need for continued work by a group of ‘specialists in various disciplines’ is difficult to comprehend given what was required. All the necessary work to be done has been done.”

 He goes on to say: “Perhaps Mr. Górecki would benefit from a conversation with Ms. Owinska in order to more fully appreciate what was required to get the program underway and completed”

Mr. Dmuchowski asked, “Could Mr. Górecki please explain in a signed detailed article his reasoning as to why ‘a group of specialists in various disciplines’ is required at this point to develop and implement the Seal of Biliteracy for Polish? That would be really interesting to read and compare against what Ms. Owinska has done and was required to do to make the Seal of Biliteracy in Polish operational. For Polonians it would be very interesting to read what Mr. Górecki has in mind”

 Now for the first time in the USA, Polish has been added onto the list of important foreign languages in all of the states. Knowledge of such a language is confirmed by successfully passing the language exam. This confers benefits to those who undertake the exam.

Historically, the first Poles had arrived by boat in the USA in 18th century. It is now the 21st century, so some time has passed before we have asked as a national group for the recognition of knowledge of a foreign language, in our case, the Polish language.

Ms. Marzanna Owinski is a state licensed teacher, the only such teacher of the Polish language in Michigan. She is a member of the commission working on the integration of the Seal of Biliteracy into Michigan schools at the Michigan Department of Education in Lansing. Until its closure, Ms. Owinski taught in the Polish language program at St. Mary’s Preparatory School. This was the only secondary school in Michigan with the Polish language program and it closed for the 2018-2019 academic year. Ms. Owinski also no longer serves as the director of the Fr. Dabrowski Polish school in Orchard Lake.

Currently, STAMP tests are offered in eleven languages and utilized throughout the world by elementary, middle and higher-level schools. Given this, the decision of the Polish Mission to let go of the coordinator and the initiator of the state exams in the Polish language, a person who is unusually active in the promotion of the Polish language in Michigan and in the USA, gives pause. What will happen to the implementation of programs that promote the Polish language?

Promotion of Polish culture is written into the purpose of the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake Schools. Teaching and dissemination of the Polish language are inseparable elements of this goal. Has anything changed in this regard?

Chancellor Father Król had promised to respond to these questions posed by the editors of The Polish Weekly. We will share the response with our readers without delay as we receive it.

Alicja Karlic

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