A good day to see the sights in Warsaw
Trip Start Jun 17, 2009
27Trip End Jul 18, 2009
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Today's schedule was light on lectures and more focused on seeing Warsaw and some of the neighboring attractions. We met in the hotel lobby at 8 am and then boarded our charter bus for the short trip north of Warsaw to the village of Lanski, where we were scheduled to meet with the school administrators and some of the faculty.
The Laski School is a private school formed in 1922 by the Countess Roza Czacka, a woman from a prominent family who lost her sight at the age of 22. She came up with the idea of developing an educational system that would teach the blind and special needs students how to become self-supporting. She had previously formed the Society for the Care of The Blind, and in 1918, she founded the Order of Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross to carry out her plans to support the needs of the blind
We arrived at the Laski campus and were greeted by the president of the Society for the Care of the Blind, an attorney whose name escapes me (see photos). The principal also greeted us (Mr. Piotr Grocholski) and he explained the school’s mission while Ola Augustyniak, our Fulbright host, translated his comments. After coffee and a question and answer session, we were treated to a detailed tour of the campus and all that if offers students with special needs.
300 students (from Pre-K to high school) live at the campus, which is located on the grounds of an old nunnery, the order founded by Roza Czacka. Members of our group inquired about what happened to the nuns and students during the Second World War, as the Nazi Army controlled most of this area of Poland. Our guide showed us the buildings that were destroyed and later rebuilt after the war. Over 70% of the buildings on this serene, beautiful campus were reduced to rubble, and at the time, the nuns often hid the students and wounded Polish soldiers who had been sent there (where there was a hospital) for treatment of their wounds, particularly those soldiers who had lost their sight as a result of their wounds.
The Laski School has a philosophy that differs slightly from what we perhaps deal with in the United States
One of the most impressive aspects of the Laski program was the technology assets they had in their high school. The assistive or adaptive technology was really impressive. The school prints their own documents in Braille, as well as provides students with technology to use the internet and virtually any software application. Since the blind can’t see the monitor and use a computer mouse like a sighted person, they teach students to use a totally different keyboard and device, which activates the different software applications the students, might need (see attached video). Totally fascinating stuff, made me wonder if we should think about adding this to our school district website for those parents or members of the community, current or future members, who might need this type of application. If any school district in Northeast Pennsylvania is willing and able to do it, it certainly will be the Western Wayne School District based on what I have seen in our technology capabilities recently
After we finished our tour of the Laski school, which included a tour of the nunnery and the chapel, we boarded the bus and headed back to downtown Warsaw where we picked up Anna, our tour guide for a bus tour of the main sites in Warsaw. We truly enjoyed her take on the history and sites in Warsaw. One of the first stops was at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto. It was pretty sobering, knowing what had gone on here from 1939-1945, and even more disturbing when you learn that of the 1.2 million residents of Warsaw who lived here during the war, more than 1.1 million perished at the hands of the Nazi army and the SS. 800,000 residents were killed in the ghetto uprising, another 300,000 residents died in 1944 during the ill-fated Polish uprising, when the Poles thought that the Soviet army, just miles away, across the Vistula River, would come to their aid. The Soviet army eventually arrived, but not until so many residents of Warsaw died. By the way, the city was completely destroyed during World War II. Everything that I have seen this week in this city is rebuilt, only 60 years old or less. Finally on this topic, think about the numbers of people who perished - the 800,000 figure is more than 266 times the number of people who died during the 9/11 tragedy. That is really a sobering thought.
After lunch, we went to the Palac w Wilanowic (Wilanow Palace) in Warsaw. It was modeled after the Versailles Palace in France. Impressive place, and probably the most notable collection of priceless works of art I have ever seen, literally hundreds of pieces. I continue to be amazed at the lengthy history of Poland, a country that truly ranks up there with the most advanced civilizations. When we in America were just a forested, undiscovered content before Columbus, the Poles already had an orderly society with a profound and clear vision for a lawful and productive society, as evidenced by their early constitution
Dinner tonight was shared with a few of my fellow Fulbrighters at a Mexican restaurant about 5 blocks from the hotel in a quiet neighborhood. Food is cheap and plentiful here, good thing we are walking everywhere. You walk a lot in Europe. We ought to do more walking in the U.S. and obesity might not be such an issue.
Enough for today’s blog. We head to the Ministry of National Education., Warsaw University for a lecture on American Studies in Poland, and a visit and dinner reception at the home of Polish actor, theater and film director, Wojciech Siemion. Should be interesting, stay tuned.