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Hungarian School Seattle’s 2020 Retrospective and A Peek Ahead

Summary by Julia Deák-Sandler, the head of Hungarian School Seattle and Chair of the Educational and Cultural Committee of HAAW

This year was not the first time in Hungarian history that we have faced circumstances we can only deal with by saying, “This too shall pass.” The coronavirus shutdown can’t last forever. In the “Before Times,” we saw our children have so much fun chasing each other and chatting that we had considerable difficulty corralling them into their classrooms for Hungarian school Saturday classes. Unfortunately, the lack of live playtime is really hard on the little ones, but this has not prevented the Hungarian school from fulfilling its mission to provide opportunities to everyone in Washington State who wishes to develop Hungarian language skills and cultural familiarity as well.

It is true that we were a bit paralyzed by uncertainty after the shutdown in March and were not sure how to proceed without in-person classes. But by May, we had started meeting via Zoom, and we ordered books so that children and adults could read in Hungarian at home through our OlvasSeattle summer BINGO reading challenge.

Our formerly large pre-school and kindergarten groups have declined in numbers, but some areas of our school have grown. Our Hungarian class for adults continued through the summer and had doubled in size by the beginning of Fall. Thanks to the online format, good friends who had moved away from Seattle were able to join back in, and we realized that the teachers could also lead from anywhere as well! Starting in midsummer, our one adult group was led by Gergely Nemeth, a Hungarian as a Foreign Language teacher located in Miskolc, and he has now expanded to two groups in January, serving a total of 17 students. All of them are using textbooks from the MagyarOK series, which we were able to procure with the help of the Bethlen Gábor Foundation grant.

Similarly we are very glad to report that with support from the Seattle-Pécs Sister City Association, we have been running monthly classes for advanced learners of Hungarian, led by Vanda Erdősi, a Hungarian as a Foreign Language teacher and textbook writer located in Pécs. Every month from September to December 2020, she discussed topics relating to Pécs with the group and compared local Hungarian traditions, landmarks and institutions with analogous ones in Seattle. Food proved to be a popular topic, especially around St. Martin’s Day in Hungary and Thanksgiving in Seattle, not to mention the Christmas goodies that came afterwards. Among these hardworking students are several who have been HAAW members since the 1990s, when they studied Hungarian with Lucy Fueresz. We welcome new students into this group, specifically anyone who can discuss a variety of topics fluently in Hungarian but may just be feeling rusty. The group meets every third Sunday of the month from 8:30-10pm.

Since the summer break, more than 25 bilingual children have also been studying online via Zoom. The BGA grant, which up until now was a great help in paying for our classroom space in Redmond, is now helping fund those software subscriptions that makes these classes and other Hungarian association events possible. In the Fall semester, we learned through play, with stories, crafts challenges presented by Dori Peller, Kahoot quizzes compiled by Julia Sandler, and an epic grammar Jeopardy game by Barnabas Bede. We enjoyed this playful format while getting used to the corona quarantine, but starting in January we are resuming some more formal study with age-based groups and appropriate textbooks for all.

Our other big news is that in January, we launched a special beginner Hungarian class for young learners ages 7-11, also taught by Vanda in Pécs. We procured Kiliki a Földön textbooks for this group with grant funds and are very glad that this important program can also now begin to grow.

Our class offerings have proved so popular, that many have reached the maximum capacity that we can successfully accommodate in this online format. We still welcome pre-schoolers and kindergarteners to join, but for others, the next registration periods will open in March for adults (age 15+), summer for beginner kids (7-11), and September for bilingual kids 7-14. You can rely on our webpage to show the most up-to-date information and links for registration.

We always welcome new volunteers to join the Education Committee and more specifically the Hungarian School. This year, circumstances did not allow us to organize a school camp, but we hope that it will be possible in 2021. For that and for the continued operation of so many programs, we need the help of everyone in our area who thinks it is important to teach Hungarian language and culture. If you can help with grantwriting, administrative work or teaching, please join us! Here’s to a very happy new year for all.

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