Author: Agnieszka Kemerley
Polish Educational Solutions of Minnesota (POLESOM) was established in October 2013 out of a desire to provide and inspire creative and outstanding educational activities that resonate with the Polish-American community. This 501(c)(3) non-profit organization has consistently focused on teaching the Polish language to children while seamlessly incorporating Polish culture and traditions into various activities such as monthly kids clubs, weekly classes, camps, and musical performance groups. POLESOM's endeavors have revolved around creating engaging events that celebrate all things Polish, promoting the Polish language, art, culture, and heritage.
Reflecting on those early years, it's astonishing to think that three individuals with already busy lives were able to accomplish so much with so little time and no resources to start with.
"The organization's beginnings were humble. We had a great idea but lacked funding and a physical location to make it a reality. In fact, time was in short supply as well. Yet, our passion and commitment were our driving forces, and that proved to be enough," said Agnieszka Kemerley, the Founder of POLESOM.
In the fall of 2013, we initiated events for the Polish-American community. Our monthly Kids Clubs took place in parents' homes or community spaces we managed to secure. We are forever grateful to those who opened their doors to our programs. Additionally, we organized events outdoors, such as a Children's Day celebration in a local park in June and the inaugural Polish Bilingual Day in Minnesota in October. We didn't shy away from Minnesota's winters either, organizing dog sledding events for families and group skiing outings.
In the fall of 2014, we began offering regular Saturday morning classes, with three classes taught by two instructors at the LDA Minnesota building in Golden Valley. The facility, located in a quiet suburban area, was a great place to launch weekly language classes. During the first year, our student numbers were at most 20. Despite the program's small size, we continued developing curricula and educational materials, believing that a program founded on the core values of integrity, innovation, and community was bound to grow.
We remained active during the summers. In June 2014 and 2015, POLESOM hosted "Get to Know Poland" day camps for children. The concept of day camps was well-received by parents seeking summer programs centered on language and art and by the participants who experienced Polish regional traditions, created art, learned about famous Poles, tasted regional food, and reenacted legendary stories. These week-long events were held at the Polish National Alliance (PNA) in Northeast Minneapolis, which generously provided us with space for summer camps and Kids Clubs. The PNA building also became the home for a preschool immersion class offered through the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
The 2015-2016 school year marked a period of tremendous growth for POLESOM. We conducted six Polish language classes every week: five on Saturdays at the LDA Minnesota facility and one preschool immersion class during the week at the PNA building. We welcomed dedicated teachers into our organization and kept hosting Kids Clubs at PNA, although less frequently. Our primary focus shifted to the regular weekly Polish language program, demanding a significant time commitment to execute as envisioned.
The subsequent school year brought growth both inside and outside the classroom. Inside, we witnessed young minds developing and maturing as lessons were introduced and reinforced. Kids engaged in a variety of activities, crafts, and tutorials. Some encountered the language for the first time, while others expanded their mastery, developing stronger reading and writing skills. All students were introduced to many of Poland's finest and most renowned traditional authors, poets, and artists throughout the year. The children were rewarded for their hard work with several seasonal and enjoyable Kids Clubs to provide periodic relief from academic pursuits.
Outside the classroom, the POLESOM organization experienced more than a threefold increase in the number of registered students over the next three years. The growth in enrollment prompted us to seek a larger facility to accommodate additional classrooms and spaces for larger gatherings and events.
The 2017-2018 academic year brought numerous changes. We found a new home at the Eastside Neighborhood Services building in Northeast Minneapolis, at the heart of the Polish-American community. This facility was a perfect fit for our program, offering a conducive learning environment and excellent recreational facilities. Our weekly classes, now taught by seven dedicated instructors, experienced significant growth, with a fourfold increase in participants compared to the previous year. We continued introducing the Polish language and culture to children of various ages and abilities, reinforcing more complex vocabulary and dialogue among older groups.
The subsequent two academic years kept POLESOM's Board of Directors, teachers, parents, and students equally occupied. We welcomed new families into our POLESOM community, with students continuing to grow and learn. We consistently improved our operations and procedures to run classes as efficiently as possible. In March 2020, our program was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak when Eastside Neighborhood Services had to close its programs. Given that the majority of our students were young children, POLESOM chose not to transition to online learning and instead planned to resume our programming after the pandemic.
The 2021-2022 school year witnessed a reduced number of enrolled students, but the new Board of Directors and five teachers faced the post-pandemic challenges with determination and enthusiasm. Over time, POLESOM realized the need to reassess the demand for current weekly programming. The Board of Directors made the decision to pass the baton to the Minnesota Polish Medical Society, enabling them to build upon the educational foundation established by POLESOM and continue serving the Polish-American community.
Reflecting on the past decade of POLESOM, we couldn't be prouder of the dedication and commitment exhibited by so many individuals serving our Polish-American community. It has been an incredible journey for the Board of Directors, the exceptional teachers, the fantastic students, the supportive families, and the friends of POLESOM. As we used to tell new students who joined us over the years, "POLESOM is where your Polish language adventure begins," and we hope it continues throughout their lifetime.