BRESTNITSA COMPETITION THRILLS


“Gramotko” Literacy Competition took place on 18 May 2017 in the village of Brestnitsa, organized by Teach for Bulgaria Program teachers in the region of Lovech.

When Denitsa Moskova,  second-half-of-day teacher at “Vassil Levski” School in Oreshene Village, called the home of second-grader Vasko the evening of 17 May, she was surprised to find that he was… solving problems. Because, as he explained to his parents, his progress in mathematics was the smallest. The reason Vasko spent his evenings at the end of the school year with his math problems was the “Gramotko” Literacy Competition. It took place on 18 May in the village of Brestnitsa and four teams from three lower-secondary schools from the Lovech Region faced one another — “Lyuben Karavelov” School in Zlatna Panega, “Hristo Botev” School in Brestnitsa and “Vassil Levski” School in Oreshene.

It was Bilyana Asenovska, a second-half-of-day teacher at the Brestnitsa school and a second-year Teach for Bulgaria Program teacher, who came up with the idea about “Gramotko”. She also involved her Program colleagues from Zlatna Panega, Denislav Dimitrov, and Oreshene, Denitsa Moskova, Iglika Atanassova and Svetlana Nikolova. Other teachers from “Hristo Botev” School also volunteered for the competition, and Vessela Zvezdelinova, one of the alumni of Teach for Bulgaria, participated in the preparation of the math problems.

Throughout the school year, the teachers at the three schools worked to prepare their students from grades I-IV for the competition. The goal was to develop their reading, writing and mathematics skills, as well as teamwork and the ways to overcome challenges. An important part of “Gramotko” was for the children to behave as one team, to independently distribute tasks among themselves and to help one another.

Schools in the Lovech Region have experience with similar initiatives from the “School Wonders” Inter-School Project, set up already in 2013 by Teach for Bulgaria Program teachers. Its aim was for students from small towns and villages to break their traditional constrains, meet classmates from other villages and towns and exercise key skills. The teachers also involved students’ parents, colleagues, and people from local institutions to turn the school initiative into a community event.

AT THE START OF “GRAMOTKO”
“Children need someone to work with them and their parents. To introduce them to others outside their community. Someone to believe in them and to show them that there is a world outside the neighborhood and that there is another way to live,” Bilyana, who will continue to teach in Brestnitsa next school year too, said.

“Do you know what my advice to you is?”, Bilyana asked before officially starting “Gramotko”, and a contestant wittily replied: “To win?” The teacher explained that the most difficult problems brought the highest score and recommended that children start with them. Each team would allocate the problems among the members, with the condition that each competitor would have a problem to solve. If someone was ready, he or she could help a teammate.

The competition consisted of three rounds — reading, writing and mathematics, and included reading comprehension, dictation, retelling, math tasks. Bilyana Asenovska believes “Gramotko” and the preparation for it answered two primary needs of the children in the region — gave them the opportunity to broaden their horizons about what they can do as a job in the future and about their level of literacy. The world of the students from Brestnitsa, Oreshene and the other villages nearby usually ends with the boundaries of the neighborhoods in which they live. Like in a worryingly large part of the country, the problem of functional illiteracy there, meaning that students do not understand the meaning of what they are reading, is serious. This is why initiatives such as the literacy competition, which motivates children to make further efforts in preparation, are key to enhancing their achievements.

“Gramotko” consisted of three rounds — reading, writing and mathematics.

Staring even last year, Bilyana began introducing her students to the various professions by inviting external guests to visit and discussing with the children in class what they need in order for them to have such a job too. She worked with them according to their individual needs, but wanted them to also have a common goal to unite them. This is why students participated in “Gramotko” as a team.

“I wanted everyone to feel significant and to realize that his of her progress affects the victory of the team,” Bilyana explains.

Denitsa Moskova also emphasizes teamwork skills throughout the year. Initially her students had difficulty doing this, and often quarreled, but in the end, they got so busy working together, that Denitsa had to explain them how to work independently. “When they sat together as a team at the competition, they felt the energy. It was the first time I saw them so united,” Orestene second-grade teacher says.

THE BIG WINNERS

Although the copetition trophies were only two, the winners were far more. Having an ultimate goal made students ambitious during the school year, made them more focused during the lessons, and motivated them to engage in additional tasks. Their participation helped them measure their knowledge in reality and understand that in order to succeed, they had to make efforts. According to Oreshene teacher of mathematics Svetlana Nikolova, apart from the development of team work skills, the competition has made students believe in their own potential and not give up in the face of difficulties. “The children communicated freely and unworriedly with others and participated in common activities,” Svetlana noted. Denitsa added that the meeting with the two other schools showed students that there were others like them who work hard at school.

“You will be better next year”, Denitsa Moskova, a teacher at “Vassil Levski” School, Oreshene, turned to her disappointed second-graders, who remained third.

“Gramotko” excites not only students — parents are also happy that their children are involved in something different from the classroom. “I saw pride in the eyes of parents and gratitude to us, teachers,” Svetlana Nikolova says. This way, she thinks, they have seen in practice the outcome of both children’s and their teachers’ efforts.

Bilyana’s colleagues in Brestnitsa also got enthused to work actively to raise students’ literacy skills, and the principal of the “Hristo Botev” School saw this as a step towards developing the whole school in this direction. Bilyana herself has ambitious plans for the next school year. She will continue to be a teacher in Brestnitsa even after the two years of the Teach for Bulgaria Program because, as she put it, “there is more to give to the children.” She wants to work on raising awareness about and prevention of early marriages and has developed a project for an extra-curricular activity group for the most needy children, and the plan is for more schools in the region to be included. “The school is an institution created for nurturing literacy,” Bilyana is convinced. And for all children to have equal access to quality education is up to all of us.

A long-time regional partner of Teach for Bulgaria in the Lovech Region is Titan Zlatna Panega.

Don’t miss to see the photo gallery from the event here:

 




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