The Australian Latvian Summer High School
The Australian Latvian Summer High School (Annas Ziedares Vasaras Vidusskola) was established in 1975. Its director was Anna Ziedars from Melbourne who, along with a group of like-minded teachers including Austra Eichmanis (Sydney), Kārlis Bremanis (Melbourne) and Baiba Muzikants (Melbourne), among their suppoters, recognised the need to provide young Australian-born Latvians with an opportunity to develop their language and cultural understanding in a formal setting. The school primarily catered for students between the ages of 13-18 who were completing secondary schooling. An important adjunct to the school was the pedagogical course for young teachers, providing many young people with instruction in pedagogy, and studies in linguistics, politics, history and other areas.
The first summer school was held at "Kursa", a Latvian-owned site at Aldinga in South Australia. Fifty-five students from across Australia attended the first year, with five teachers and a number of volunteers who staffed the kitchen. Students were housed in dormatories, but the staff lived in tents, and lessons were held at the beach. The school grew steadily, and in order to cater for this growth a number of refurbishments were undertaken. These included building an administration area, a communal staffroom, rooms for staff accomodation, classrooms, and workshops for silversmithing and leather work. The school also invited young adults to work as group leaders and mentors; this is a tradition which is still an important aspect of the school's administration today. Sadly, the school was not able to stay at "Kursa" and a new venue was required.
Anna Ziedare (seated right) with teachers from the first summer camp in 1975
Classes sometimes occured outdoors
In 1986, the school, with 120 students and 58 personnel, moved to its current location at Dzintari in Normanville, some 100 kilometres south of Adelaide. Once again some difficult years were weathered, as teachers were housed in caravans and the area was either an extensive mud puddle or a dust bowl. Resilience and optimism reigned, however, and it is a testament to the Latvian community and Anna Ziedars that this facility was successfully redeveloped. Dzintari provides a purpose-built permanent home for the school, which continues to function in a manner not much different from its beginnings 40 years ago. The most recent additions to the site have been an outdoor church and sporting hall.
Please visit the Dzintari website for more information: www.dzintari.com.au
Leaders and teachers
The year 1986 is also significant in the history of the school, as on January 29 shortly after the school year ended, its longtime leader and guiding light Anna Ziedars passed away. As a result, new leadership was required: 1987 - Kārlis Brēmanis and Austra Eichmanis; 1988 - Andris Auliciems and Sarma Priedkalns; 1991-1994 - Sarma Priedkalns; 1995-1997- Maija Upenieks; 1998-2007- Zinta Ozoliņš; 2008-2017- Lilita Daenke; 2018-2019- Markus Dragūns; 2020 - present, Iveta Laine.
It is not possible to state accurately how many people have been part of the Australian Latvian Summer High School, but it would be in the many hundreds. Longest serving teachers include Kārlis Brēmanis, Austra Eichmanis, Valdis Krādziņš (still teaching to this day), Zinta Ozoliņš, Māra Saulītis, Sarma Priedkalns and Ārija Zusters; their combined years of service amounts to well over 100.
The school operates a relatively conventional program, which originally supported the work of the Latvian Saturday schools throughout Australia. Students undertake formal lessons in language, literature, history, geography, folklore, drama, singing and religious instruction. They have a homework session and undertake a course of silent reading. Students attend choir practice in preparation for the closing ceremony, and participate in special interest groups, including the production of a school magazine. Students attend church services on Sundays, go on an excursion and participate in exhibition sporting matches during "Guests Day". In the early years, the students competed against the local Yankalilla team in annual basketball matches. One of the school's real strengths has been its ability to attract specialists and expert instructors from overseas - Latvia, Germany, Venezuela, England and America. These talented people have been conductors, folklorists, historians, academics and educators. All have contributed greatly to the diversity of experience that the students attending the school can have.
Caravans provided temporary accomodation at Dzintari
In its heyday, the school's closing ball was an important event on the Adelaide social calendar. It was a fitting end, as students and guests celebrated the success of their time at the school. Today, the graduation ceremony is attended by parents from interstate and members of the local community. It celebrates academic success, rewards endeavour and enterprise, and acknowledges the contribution of the many volunteers who work towards the school's ongoing success. The drama group performs a play and the choir ensures that the audience is left in no doubt about the valuable role that Annas Ziedares Vasaras Vidusskola continues to play in strengthening the cultural identity and language skills of Latvian youth in Australia. This was a mission that was undertaken by the school's administration 45 years ago, and is still one of its most important and enduring aims today.
Arturs Uskans from Latvia running a music class
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