Naperville, Nitra Forge Educational Ties as Democracy Begins to Flourish, Slovakian Schools Are Looking to Western Methods to Improve Education. Local Educators Think They Can Help

Article excerpt

Byline: Ray Minor Daily Herald Staff Writer

Learning about it

Students in Naperville's Sister City of Nitra, Slovakia, take a pretty heavy course load. Here's a look at a typical second-grade schedule in both cities.

   Naperville         Nitra
   Reading         Slovak language and literature
   Writing         Writing
   Spelling and listening   English
   Science/health      Physical science
   Social studies      Geography
   Math            Math
   Fine arts and music      Biology
   Physical education      Fine arts and music
               Agriculture/industrial arts
               Physical education

Sources: Naperville Unit District 203, Nitra schools

It's the second day of school and Assistant Principal Jarmila Truskova is nervous.

Six Americans are touring her elementary school in Nitra, Slovakia, and the roof over the new addition is leaking, sending a sporadic water drip just outside a classroom door.

"It's just like in the United States," quips Owen Wavrinek, a board member with Indian Prairie Unit District 204, trying to soothe the anxious administrator. "Every new roof leaks. It happens all the time."

An occasional leaky roof might be typical in schools around the world, but that isn't the only similarity between education in Nitra and its Sister City of Naperville.

New schools and classroom additions are under construction in several of the East European city's neighborhoods.

Money always seems tight, though Nitra education budgets are tighter - barely big enough to cover basics such as new textbooks.

Schools continually are searching for ways to upgrade their computer equipment and are searching for ideas for help.

For example, Nitra's top high school has more than 600 students, but only 18 computers. Teachers struggle to make sure every student gets a few minutes on the computer each week.

But unlike in America, Nitra is just now learning how parents and businesses can play a role in education.

Wavrinek and Donald Weber, superintendent of Naperville Unit District 203, led a tour of three schools in and around Nitra during a Sister City visit earlier this month.

Naperville and Nitra are establishing cultural and economic ties between the two regions, but local school leaders are hoping the links also will include educational ties.

Weber and Wavrinek primarily are interested in learning more about parental support in Slovakian schools and seeing if businesses can create partnerships such as the mentoring programs here.

Generally, parents don't volunteer in most Slovakian schools, which were strictly run for decades by the former Communist government.

Parent-Teacher Associations are nonexistent. But, as democracy begins to flourish, parents are trying to carve out more time to help with the schools.

Parents at an elementary school in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava have been working on annual fund-raisers for their school to buy one or two computers a year, said Susan Mikula, a Benedictine University professor who has relatives teaching in Slovakia.

"I think parents are beginning to get more involved, especially younger parents," Mikula said. "It's part of the mindset, though, that the government was supposed to take care of everything while both parents worked."

Getting more help from the private sector and maybe even from America will be crucial for educational success in Nitra, Wavrinek said.

"I think the business partnerships could really evolve over the next few years, so that the best high school wouldn't have to get by with only 18 computers," he said. "I'm hoping they can come here and tour our schools to see first hand what the partnerships can do. If they can talk to our students and the businesses, they will understand the benefits."

Teacher pay is another constant concern. …