Holy Family Primary School, located in Bell Park, Geelong, Victoria, holds a unique distinction as the only school in the world to have introduced the Croatian language into its curriculum back in 1978.
The school implemented two language programs: a Bilingual program for Prep (the first year of primary school) and a Mother Tongue Maintenance program for Year 1 to Year 6 students. The decision to introduce Croatian into the curriculum was influenced by the large Croatian population that settled in the suburb of Bell Park since the 1950s, with many Croatian families sending their children to Catholic schools.
Since its opening in 1955, Holy Family Primary School has consistently enrolled around 50% of students of Croatian descent. In 1979, the Croatian language was officially recognized, leading to the introduction of a third program: Croatian as a foreign language.
These three language programs were implemented until 1990, at which point the Bilingual and Mother Tongue Maintenance programs were phased out due to generational changes. However, the school continues to offer Croatian Language as a foreign language as part of its curriculum. Presently, 149 students at the school are learning Croatian on a weekly basis, in addition to an Italian language program.
In 2008, Mrs. Katica Perinac, the Croatian teacher at Holy Family Primary School, reached out to Mr. Leon Rašić, the consul in Melbourne at that time, seeking assistance in organizing meetings in Zagreb with the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia and other relevant institutions. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss the needs and support required for the preservation of the Croatian language program at the school.
The key objectives for the visit were to secure financial support, establish a Teacher Assistant Program, arrange professional development programs for Croatian language teachers, conduct workshops for students, and foster collaboration between the Ministry of Science and Education and the schools.
The delegation from Holy Family Primary School, in collaboration with the Victorian School of Languages and the Association of Croatian Language Teachers in Victoria, successfully organized meetings in Zagreb with the relevant authorities. Subsequent visits were made in 2012 and 2017, yielding significant achievements.
These achievements include the establishment and success of the Teacher Assistant Program, financial support from the Central State Office for Croats Abroad amounting to 60,000 kuna since 2015, ongoing professional development programs for teachers in both Australia and Croatia, and the involvement of teachers in annual professional development opportunities in Croatia. These endeavors have strengthened the collaboration between Holy Family Primary School, the Ministry of Science and Education, and the Central State Office for Croats Abroad.
To further enhance this collaboration, a recent delegation from Holy Family Primary School visited Croatia from April 17th to April 26th, 2023. The main purposes of this visit were to continue the established collaborations, ratify the agreement between the Ministry of Science and Education and Holy Family Primary School, review the Teacher Assistant Program, and explore opportunities for further cooperation.
The delegation included Mr. Peter Brunt, the Principal of Holy Family Primary School, and Mrs. Katica Perinac, the Croatian teacher and Vice President of the Association of Croatian Language Teachers in Victoria.
During their visit, the delegation engaged in meaningful discussions with various institutions, including the Ministry of Science and Education, the Central State Office for Croats Abroad, the Teacher Training Agency, the Croatian Heritage Foundation, the Faculty of Education at the University of Zagreb, the Faculty of Croatian Studies, Croaticum, and a Catholic primary and secondary school where they observed English lessons.
Noteworthy achievements from this visit include the signing of an agreement between the Ministry of Science and Education and Holy Family Primary School for ongoing financial support of $22,000. Additionally, the continuation of the agreement with the Central State Office for Croats Abroad was confirmed, with increased funding in the future.
Students now have access to an online language platform to enhance their Croatian language learning, and efforts have commenced to develop picture story books for all levels of students learning Croatian as a foreign language. This development project involves collaboration between the Faculty of Education, Croatian Heritage Foundation, Faculty of Croatian Studies, and the Association of Croatian Language Teachers in Victoria.
The professionals involved in the picture story book project include Prof. Lada Kanajet Šimić, Prof. Dr. Sc. Lidija Cvikić, Izv. Prof. Dr. Sc. Rona Bušljeta Kardum, Doc. Dr. Sc. Antonia Ordulj, and Katica Perinac, Vice President of the Association of Croatian Language Teachers in Victoria.
The delegation was warmly received by the Ministry of Science and Education, with special thanks to Mr. Staša Skenžić, Ms. Estera Šimić, and Ms. Ivana Fakač for facilitating meetings and demonstrating genuine support for the preservation of the Croatian language at Holy Family Primary School.
Gratitude was also expressed to the Central State Office for Croats Abroad for their continuous financial support and possibility of future increase in funding. Thank you to Mr. Dario Magdić, Mr. Milan Bošnjak, and Ms. Croatiana Gregurić for their warm welcome and an open constructive discussion.
Furthermore, the delegation visited other primary and secondary schools, expressing appreciation to Prof. Ljuba Duvnjak, Principal of the Archdiocesan Classical Gymnasium, and Dr. Sc. O. Vinko Mamić, Principal of the First Catholic Primary School in Zagreb, for allowing them to visit and observe lessons. The warm welcome and hospitality extended by the principals, students, and teachers were acknowledged, and gratitude was expressed for their time and shared expertise.
Finally, the delegation expressed their gratitude to all the institutions they had the privilege to visit and engage with during their trip. They established valuable collaborative connections with the Faculty of Education, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Croatian Studies, Croaticum, and the Croatian Heritage Foundation. Prof. Mijo Marić, Prof. Lada Kanajet Šimić, and Ivana Dvorneković deserve special thanks for their warm welcome and support.
As a parting gesture, Prof. Mijo Marić presented the delegation with the book “Sasvim drugčiji jezik” published by the Croatian Heritage Foundation. This valuable resource for teaching Croatian abroad was authored by Prof. Dr. Sc. Livija Kroflin, Prof. Grozdana Lajić Horvat, Prof. Sara Milavec, Prof. Diana Čosić, and Prof. Lada Kanajet Šimić, moderated by Prof. Vesna Kukavica, Head of Matica’s Publishing Department.
Photo by: Central State Office for Croats Abroad, Croatian Heritage Foundation , Globalna Hrvatska