Interview with Zuzana Révészová, a supervisor of the ETP Slovakia’s Criss-Cross after-school clubs, run in a partnership with three local elementary schools in towns/municipalities (Stará Ľubovňa – Podsadek, Veľká Ida and Herľany/Rankovce) with a high proportion of pupils from segregated Roma communities. The after-school clubs are part of the project Building Hope – Improving life in Roma ghettos supported by the Velux Foundations.

“I enjoy teaching very much. When I started, I was mainly interested in making sure that children learn from me. The older I get however, the more I’m interested in the actual process of learning,” says Zuzana Révészová, a pedagogue with twenty-four years of experience in teaching, of which twenty years have been devoted to children from marginalized Romani communities in Košice region; currently in a special school Odborárská in Košice. Since last autumn, she has also been supervisor of our Criss-Cross clubs.

Why the name Criss-Cross?

At the very first training for teachers who began to work in our newly open after-school clubs, we played the game Criss-Cross. The aim of the game was to demonstrate that to find the key or the meaning is not always easy. The players could answer only yes or no. The catch was that they needed to identify the difference that represented one or the other answer. When we played the game, Lenka from ETP asked us to come up with the name for the newly open clubs. Immediately, Criss-Cross came to our mind. The aim of our clubs is also to look for the key – the key to a child’s soul. With the help of the key we can easier approach the children and work together successfully.

How do you look for the key to a child’s soul?

Of course, through a good relationship and willingness to find a level at which we begin to work with them. Generally, teachers tend to begin to work with children at the level where they expect them to be. In our case, it is necessary to familiarize children from lower social classes with the cultural language code used by the middle class.

Why is the cultural language code so important?

The code includes commonly used terms, such as phrases, naming colours, scales, orientation in time and place. Children from segregated communities are not familiar with those concepts. They do not see their parents using time management, as they usually do not go to work or anywhere else, only once a month to collect social benefits to the post office. It is not common for them to use calendar, because they do not need it. Time is measured by events such as weddings and funerals. Without understanding the code – so common for the middle working class – it is not possible for them to be further educated.

How can you decrease the knowledge and information deficit?

For instance, through regular daily work with the calendar. Via this activity we learn the numbers and maths; clarify and shape the meaning of the following terms: week, year, yesterday, today, and tomorrow, spring, summer, autumn, winter and anything else related to these terms. We observe the names in calendar, learn to write them and speak about them. Talking, talking and talking – that is the only way to activate the code.

Children from all three Criss-Cross clubs rehearsed a theatre play and performed to their parents before Christmas. In the second half of the academic year a new play is being prepared. What is the meaning behind it?

Drama club creates the opportunity for children to experience a sense of accomplishment and a sense of responsibility for oneself and for joint work. These are very important experiences for a child. In winter we played the story How a Boy Tricked Bear and at the end of the school year we performed a fairy-tale Three Little Pigs. Children with the help of teachers also create scenes and costumes which gives them chance to practice drawing and fine motor skills.

What curriculum is used in Criss-Cross clubs?

I am preparing everyday methodology and worksheets based on two platforms – innovative and effective educational practices created by the Slovak teachers that have not been put into practice; and a training programme Step by Step that focuses on the development of children from minority groups. This training programme originated in the United States. I am very glad to see that the teachers of all the three Criss-Cross clubsRankovce, Stará Ľubovňa –Podsadek and Veľká Ida, work with my instructions in a very creative manner.

As a supervisor, you visit all three clubs once a month. Are you satisfied with them?

Children are making great progress. While ago little Zuzka from Stará Ľubovňa – Podsadek said that she would like to sleep in the club, it was clear that she enjoys attending the club. Furthermore, one day her classmate Libor was looking at one of the worksheets and began to name the subjects on it. It was a nice shock for the whole class and the teacher because previously he had not talked at all.

Which areas the work in after-school club develops?

Cognitive thinking, fine motor skills, maths, language and communication, as well as social skills.  Everything happens via game, in the spirit of Comenius’ idea: Learning by playing. We also follow the Comenius technique in engaging into education process all senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Together we are discovering the wonderful world around. This way is very attractive for our children. They are keen to explore and are grateful for what they receive.

It seems you are a big fan of Comenius. Perhaps you read his work in the evenings?

I do read his books and highly recommend them to everyone. They contain great timeless ideas. We still have much to learn from Comenius. And not only that, we should practice his principles. Our primary school curriculum is very difficult for the children. It is too wide-ranged. It is very sad that the curriculum does not take into account the needs of all children, for example the disadvantaged children from a low-stimuli environment. For teachers who work with these children, there is not even a university degree course. Course on special education is aimed at work with children with disabilities.

Why is the learning process appealing to you?

When I know how education process works and what the principles are, it is better for me. I know what follows, if something is skipped, and how it should be corrected. Hence, when teaching my pupils at Odborárská School I apply the confluent reading methodology that was developed by the Czech expert Dr. Navrátilová. In the Czech Republic the methodology is widely used. It is out of the question that the children taught in this methodology, in which each letter is perfectly drawn and fixed, would not learn to read with comprehension.

In every Criss-Cross club a teacher works with nine children from half past one to half past three. In the morning the children attend school. Isn’t it too much for them?

In the clubs, there is different, more playful atmosphere, than in school. Also the sitting arrangement is altered. I have not noticed even one child rushing away from the clubs.