Interview with Marzanna Owinski of The Polish Mission
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 by Carl Falsgraf
“My kids are in Poland now, using their Polish to communicate with family, make friends, really connect with people there.”
The proud mother, Marzanna Owinski, is also a language educator leading efforts to improve and expand Polish language education in America. Her organization, The Polish Mission, has worked for 130 years to preserve and promote Polish culture among Michigan’s abundant Polish-American population. The next step towards that goal is establishing a Seal of Biliteracy in Michigan.
“If a child’s heritage language is recognized and rewarded, they are more likely to maintain and develop it,” says Owinski.
Her campaign started with a pitch to the Michigan Department of Education. Now she is part of a multi-language task force establishing criteria and standards for a Michigan Seal of Biliteracy. But Polish lacks a key piece of the puzzle: a reliable, accessible measure of proficiency to certify student literacy.
“I attended ACTFL in Boston and learned everything I could,” she says. “We needed something that would be accepted everywhere in the country. Something accessible and affordable. So I talked with David Bong of Avant Assessment. They have been great to work with.”
Avant doesn’t have a Polish assessment, so they began working with Marzanna and the Polish Mission to develop a new Polish STAMP 4S based on models from other languages.
“This is a great opportunity to support Marzanna’s efforts to establish a Seal of Biliteracy in Michigan while creating a tool that will be useful to the 30,000 students studying Polish all over the country,” says Kyle Ennis, Avant Vice President of Education and Assessment.
Owinski says she researched a number of different organizations and found Avant to be the most flexible and responsive. She also loved the STAMP model and wanted Polish STAMP 4S to be available to Polish students nationwide. “I called people all over the country — Minnesota, New York, California — they all said, ‘Yes, of course we accept STAMP 4S in our state.’ That convinced me that this could be a national asset for Polish.”
Partnering with Owinski and the Polish Mission, Avant plans to make the Polish STAMP 4S available in 2018.
Owinski has her sights set on even bigger goals than STAMP and the Michigan Seal of Biliteracy.
“I want to build stronger Polish Teacher Associations. We need to develop Polish language standards for ACTFL, work on being more visible to American educational institutions, promote learning Polish among Polish-Americans. So many of the previous generation regret that they didn’t learn from their parents. Where there is enough interest, we should create Polish immersion programs.”
Marzanna Owinski sets her big dreams aside for a moment and imagines a more personal kind of success. “I hope my kids can take the Polish STAMP 4S and earn a Michigan Seal of Biliteracy when they’re older.”