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The main features of social schools
What is a social school? And how is it different from other non-public schools? There are several features of social schools that distinguish them and make them stand out from other non-public schools in Poland. Although not all social schools have all these features, many have quite a few of them.
1. A school founded by a social organization
Social schools are often created by social organizations and associations. These are normally non-profit entities.
The name “social school” may stem from the fact such schools were often founded by the Social Education Association (STO) in Poland. However, this name may also come from the fact these schools are often founded by parents, and that they’re meant to improve the social skills and competencies of their students (among other things).
2. A school involving parents
The hallmark of social schools is the strong involvement of parents. Parents, often members of school-based associations, help decide how to spend school revenue, and work closely with staff.
The first social school in Poland was founded in 1989 on the initiative of the Krystyna Starczewska Secondary School, on Bednarska Street, in Warsaw. Currently, it’s called the “Bednarska Social School Complex,” which includes schools of all educational levels.
In the Bednarska schools, there’s a democratic system with three bodies of power: there is a school seym, a school board, and a school court. Members of each of these bodies are elected each year by students, teachers, parents, and graduates. Overall, students, parents, and teachers decide on school matters. The school has its own constitution. The school’s governing body is the Society of Friends and Society of the High School.
The Social Education Association, which currently has around 80 field clubs throughout Poland and runs 150 different schools, defines the purpose of its activity:
“The STO, founded by parents and teachers rebelled against unified communist education, was born of a strong desire for freedom, in which new generations should grow. Thanks to this desire was created a system of education, which didn’t exist before.
The STO concept is a harmonious combination of education and dedication. This clear goal requires a number of conditions, among which the cooperation of parents and teachers is based on mutual trust. Teachers, students, and parents together form the school, accepting the basic principles and rules, such as honesty, mutual respect, and empathy. These are general principles that neither religion nor a favorite political option conflicts with, and are so specific that they can be the basis for the creation of a genuine civic community.”
3. A school shaping the social skills of students
Social schools focus a lot on building the social competences of their students. “It’s about shaping a student as a person: in a mental, social, cultural, and physical sense,” says the STO.
The values of social schools are reflected in their statutes, and are displayed on school websites in the form of quotations and mottos. They’re also sometimes incorporated into school logos and other elements of a school’s visual identity.
For example, in the logo of the Social School Complex No. 1 St. Urszula Ledóchowska, in Poznań, there are the words “love” and “wisdom.” In the Waldorf Social School, in the same town, the words of Janusz Korczak are displayed: “First of all, teach the child to look, reason and love.” At Social Complex No. 1, in Rzeszów, the words of Jan Twardowski are written on the school banner: “truth,” “goodness,” and “beauty.”
4. Small class sizes
Many social schools have small classes, of between 15 and 17 students. Intimacy gives students a sense of security, eliminates anonymity, and fosters individualized instruction. In schools taken over by associations (due to the small number of students), the classes are even smaller and different grade levels are sometimes combined. Teachers often use innovative approaches in these schools.
5. Lots of extracurricular activities
Social schools often have a rich variety of extracurriculars. In particular, many have extra hours for foreign language studies and sports.
6. School uniforms
In some social schools, students wear school uniforms. These uniforms often have a special style and colour, and bear the school logo. There may also be different versions of uniforms —for example: daily, special events, and sports uniforms. Parents normally must pay for school uniforms.
Social schools vs. private schools
Social schools in Poland are most often set up by associations, foundations, or social organizations. They are non-profit—if they charge tuition fees, the funds raised are exclusively for the functioning of the school, and the operator of the school doesn’t earn profits. In this way, social schools contrast with another type of non-public school—private schools—which are set up partly to make a profit.
Private schools in Poland tend be more expensive than social schools. Most social schools charge tuition fees, but not to turn a profit. And all the funds raised from tuition are used for the operation of the school.
Yet, there is lots of variation in costs among private and social schools. Tuition fees depend mostly on the location, size of the school, size of the area where the school operates (large cities tend to have more expensive schools), and school offerings (e.g., extracurriculars, resources, amount of language instruction, sports activities, and more.)
The reputation and prestige of the school will also affect price. Social schools with a recognized “brand” often have high tuition fees. This includes some schools run by religious organizations.
For example, in the First Children of United Europe, in Gdynia, in 2016-2017, tuition ranged from PLN 760 ($265 Canadian) to PLN 830 ($290 Canadian) per semester. In the School of Social Sciences No. 2, in Poznań, monthly tuition amounted to PLN 720 ($252).
On the other hand, for a month of studying at Kwidzyn Primary School, the fee was 250 PLN ($87) . In the School Complex No. 1 STO, in Warsaw, the fee for the year was 1, 300 PLN ($455).
Some social schools offer a sibling discount, for families that send two or more children to the school. For example, in Poznan Social Dwójce, the fee for the first child is 720 PLN ($252) , 630 PLN ($220) for the second, and 90 PLN ($31) for the third.
Consider, for comparison, some private schools. In the Primary School No. 92, in Warsaw, the annual tuition fee is 15, 000 PLN ($5245). It’s payable in 12 equal installments of 1, 250 PLN ($437). In the Warsaw Private Primary School No. 69, monthly tuition is 870 PLN ($304). At the Primary School No. 1, in Kraków, the monthly tuition fee is 500 PLN ($175). But in the same city, Open Future International School costs 1, 122 PLN ($392) per month (if paying for 10 months) or 935 PLN ($327) per month (if paying for 12 months).
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