The aim of the project "EXPLORING.BELONGING.ACTING.- Youth integration end empowerment Project" is to provide diverse opportunities for young people from minority schools to engage in interactive, meaningful experiences and learning about Latvia, European and global values in order to improve critical thinking, media literacy, debating and other skills, and so strengthen sense of belonging and civic participation in the life of school, community and state.
Project is designed using capacity approach as this is how sense of belonging, social cohesion and integration gradually develops through personal experiences, critical thinking and reflection connecting real needs with the skills and capacities and available resources. It includes following activities: 1) selection of the participating schools, 2) national capacity building 3-day workshop, 3) local school and/or community activities organized by 12 schools, 4) 6 field trips to the unknown places in Latvia with the focus on exploring 100 years of Latvian state, 5) five days summer school with participation in the Democracy festival “Lampa”, 6) PR activities and dissemination of the information and collected/developed best experiences.
This Project is funded by the British Council.
Thinking deeper, doing better – some highlights of project development
Spring and summer months have been busy and fulfilled for the participants of the project in all 12 schools. Design and implementation of the project has been based on careful balance of different elements, such as providing new content input, and providing opportunities for sharing and networking. Project participants continued to visit different places and events, had meetings with professionals and civic activists from different fields.
Sharing and networking took place among schools as institutions, teachers and students from different schools and students and teachers of the same school . Involvement of school administration has been crucial in building grounds for sustainability of the project activities and results; new ideas and experiences have been elaborated in the strategies and everyday work of schools; innovative actions, such as The night in the school or Historical quest in the fortress have been approved and appreciated. The fact that schools from different parts of Latvia with different socioeconomic backgrounds and language environment has been successful as well as many ideas for cooperation projects were developed, borrowing ideas from other schools took place etc. special value of the project has been participation in the one team students and teachers of the same school; it has improved mutual understanding and laid foundation for meaningful partnership in the following school year and further on.
Special attention was given to improvement of media literacy and critical thinking skills as well as of opportunities to apply creative ways in communication project content. Several interactive games were created in the project schools, promoting knowledge about Latvia and Europe and strengthening sense of belonging, cooperation and inclusion.
Diverse project events included:
- Organization of school and community events, based on the content and activities of the project. Approximately 30 activities were organized including impressive all-school events (White table cloth celebration on May4th, end of the school year event outside the school together with parents etc.) and events involving surrounding communities (exploring history of the areas where diverse groups of students come from, cooperation with local Youth centers etc.);
- Participation in the field trips to explore different parts of Latvia and different areas, such as history, culture, entrepreneurship, social responsibility and civic participation etc. It was eye-opening for students from Riga to go outside capital city and to discover treasures of the world class in Daugavpils, Cēsis etc. It was also impressive for students from Latgale to learn about places and events in surroundings of Riga, such as Vecmīlgrāvis, Ziemeļblāzma, Purvciems etc.
Participation in the democracy festival “Lampa” has to be mentioned among the most impressive moments in the project. Approximately 60 participants of the Summer school of the project were brought to the festival; for all of them it was not only first participation there but most of them also admitted that they have not heard about such event at all or few who have heard had rather negative (this is not for us) impression. After the participation (both as presenters and participants) all admitted that it was impressive, interesting, they have learned a lot what to bring to their schools and communities, they will tell about this event to their friends and families and probably will consider coming again next year.
Important aspect of the project has been ongoing methodological support for teachers and schools in general; all activities were also analyzed from the pedagogical point of view in order to help to link it with the everyday work in school and implementation of the National standard for education. As a result collection of the schools’ experiences has been developed and published on the EDC website, available for all teachers and others.
As many participants expressed in the final evaluation, the project has been valuable contribution to personal, professional and civic development of each person. It has helped to think deeper, to realize better one’s sense of belonging in different levels, to act with more courage, to have new friends and desire to learn more. As the famous Latvian chef Mārtņš Rītiņš says: “What can be better than this?“
More information is available from the video materials and publications on the Latvian language section of the EDC website.
Good start of the ambitious project
Meeting new friends and respectful experts, active learning, lively discussions, exploration of the community history and current situation, exciting fieldtrips, tasting lamprey for the first time, experiencing music, theatre, arts and history of automobiles – to name just a few of activities and experiences from the first four month of the project where students and teachers took active part. From November till April all planned activities have taken place with involvement of 12 schools from Latgale region, Riga and surrounding territories. Schools with significant number of minority students providing instructions in Russian not only increased their knowledge about Latvia but also used their senses.
After selection of the participating schools first significant event– capacity building workshop took place where significant input was provided on the focal topics of the project: media literacy, critical thinking, cooperation, community involvement etc. Each school has been represented by the team consisting of 2 students, representative of the school administration and 2 teachers - all together 60 persons. According to the evaluation and informal feedback knowledge about Latvia as a state and part of European processes was increased after the workshop; students started to plan local activities and joined activities with other schools. “It was lots of laugh and joy but it was also time for serious discussions and thinking,” shared students. Teachers increased their methodological skills to organize lessons and extracurricular activities on such topics as media literacy, critical thinking, citizenship education and community involvement.
Further in the process each of participants was involved in organization and implementation of the local activities at the class, school and community level reaching in the several months more than 820 students and more than 130 teachers. Based on the gained training during capacity building workshop, school teams have formulated goals for the local activities, such as, to promote sense of belonging to the school, community and state, deeper understand and personalize national and European values, increase skills and motivation to express and defend one’s own opinion, based on trustful and complete information from diverse sources, diminish distance between minority and majority students, erase mutual stereotypes and engage in joined actions in order to solve topical problems and improve community for the benefit of all youngsters. Appropriate methodological tools were chosen and applied, such as, discussions, debate, interactive presentations, video, group work, brain games, workshops, quizzes, community investigation, professional development events for teachers etc.
Here are some examples of the implemented activities:
30.01. – 03.02. in the Viļaka State Gymnasium during the Project week students of the 7th – 10th grades (aprox.80 students) created presents to Latvia in its centenary. The idea was to come up with the action plan for more specific events and civic participation projects that will be implemented until November 2018 when Latvia will celebrate its 100th anniversary.
06. - 10.02. students of the 5th – 11th grades of Riga Secondary school No.31 during the Project week created “Vecmīlgrāvis Story Quilt” – textile project consisting of small pieces telling stories of the surrounding community. Approximately 300 students were involved in the local project activities.
22. – 23.02. in Olaine Secondary school No. 2 practical workshops “Stories about Olaine, Latvia and myself” with participation of the approximately 140 students from 8th and 9th grades took place.
28.02. discussion “Topical issues in the school and Latvia” took place in Riga Secondary school No. 74; approximately 80 students participated.
09.03. 50 students from the 1st – 12th grades of the Riga Secondary school No.31 participated in the meeting – workshop with Enriko Plivčs, head of the initiative “1836. Fly, walk, drive around, love Latvia!”
09.03. in Olaine Secondary school No. 2 practical workshop was conducted by the experts of the improvisation theatre; 50 students from 10th and 11th grades took part in it.
10.03. in Rīga Zolitūde gymnasium approximately 80 students from surrounding schools with Latvian and Russian language of instructions took part in the interactive game “Let’s brake stereotypes!”. The game was developed and organized by the Students’ council and students of the Rīga Zolitūde gymnasium.
15.03. approximately 60 teachers and school administrators from Viļaka district took part in the methodological workshop devoted to the issues of the citizenship education in schools. Event was organized by the Viļaka State gymnasium and led by the members of the project team of the school.
16.03. practical workshop in Olaine Secondary school No. 2 for 32 teachers of the school. The goal of the workshop was to share knowledge and skills learn within the project “Exploring. Belonging. Acting”.
30.03. activity “We in Vecmīlgrāvis” organized by the Students’ Council of Riga Secondary school No.31 devoted to the exploring of the sense of place. Approximately 60 students from 8th – 12th grades took part in the event.
More activities and events will take place in April and May.
Approximately 20 representatives of the community, such as community youth counselors, members of local NGOs, local entrepreneurs etc. have also been contacted already in each location as they will take more active part in the following stage of the project implementation when local activities will start. Number of involved partners will increase significantly as only 10 local activities have taken place so far and this activity will continue in all locations until the end of May.
Another important step in the project has been first field trip to get to know Latvia in order to promote integration and cooperation among youngsters from different parts of Latvia. Agendas for the trips have been developed in the way to combine variety of information and experiences about history and nowadays of Latvia within one day. Each agenda include attendance of the museum, meeting with other youngsters from project schools and theatre or musical performance revealing important features about culture, history and values of Latvia. As a result youngsters who have been less exposed to the Latvian culture have a chance to develop first-hand experience about values and current events in Latvia and internalizing gained experience to strengthen sense of belonging. In the first trip students and teachers from Viļaka State gymnasium and Daugavpils Secondary school No. 9 took part. They visited small family enterprise in Carnikava where they not only tried the taste of lamprey but also learned about strong people who have created their lives themselves. Actually stories of their lives are very much story about the history of Latvian during the last 50 or so years and it was very interesting for youngsters. Next stop was in the Rīga Secondary school No. 31. In the less known area of the city – Vecmīlgrāvis, place with exciting history as it is port area and also has had different situation under different political systems. Students from eastern part of Latvia were happy to say hello to the sea despite of the rainy and cool weather but they were also happy to visit Ziemeļblāzma cultural center – magnificent place built by entrepreneur and one of the first Latvian philanthropist - Augusts Dombrovskis. In the conclusion of the day students enjoyed concert by famous Latvian singer Aija Andrejeva in the beautiful concert hall of Ziemeļblāzma. Rich and exciting programs are expecting students of other involved schools as well.
All activities implemented so far are described more in details in the Latvian language section of the EDC website where one can find also a lot of audio-visual materials. It is pleasure to see that schools are active in dissemination of the information – posts with stories are on several school and municipality websites. More information can be found also in the EDC Facebook profile https://www.facebook.com/iac.edu/.
Let’s continue our adventure to explore Latvia and ourselves!
Aija Tūna, Content expert of the project