Monday, November 25, 2013

The Latvian School of Chicago

One of the cornerstones of the Latvian society in Chicago is the Krišjāņa Barona latviešu skola (KBLS), the Latvian School of Chicago. The elementary and high school was founded in 1950 by Latvian immigrants who fled to the United States from Latvia after WWII, and moved to the present location at the Chicago Latvian Zion Church on Montrose Avenue in 1976. The stated objective of the school is to “involve children and youth in Latvian community life, and to provide interested families and their children a program of instruction in the Latvian language, culture, history and current events.” The school uses the American Latvian Association curriculum as a basis for its program, and there are a growing number of children who homeschool through KBLS in cities that don’t have Latvian school programs.

I graduated KBLS in 1998, after 14 years of Saturdays spent in the kindergarten, elementary and high school classrooms learning how to dance traditional Latvian folk dances, play the kokle (a wooden string instrument most similar to the zither), soldering silver jewelry with Latvian motifs and amber inlays, and making friends and connections that will stay with me for years to come. In a sense I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunity, as there are only 10 to 15 year-round Latvian schools in the US, in addition to the 3 summer programs and one or two preschools. However, none of these are in South Carolina, and short of starting up a program ourselves, Lauris and Mikus will not have this opportunity – which is why we jumped at the chance to visit the Lāčbērni preschool class while in Chicago.

Lauris sporting a Nīcas costume

It was like a French reunion as our friends from Chatenet, France were also in town visiting. All three boys spent the morning working on their counting and sorting skills, practicing their letters and phonetics, and learning about the traditional Latvian folk costumes. Lauris immediately recognized his old friends from the Biz Biz program he attended this summer in Gaŗezers, and even though Mikus preferred the train table to the school table I believe he did get something of value out of the morning’s lessons.

After lunch in the cafeteria we stayed on to bake some piparkūkas (the Latvian Christmas cookie), lending a hand with the community cookie bake. The results will be sold at the annual Christmas market, with proceeds benefitting the school. The next bake will be on December 7th, so I urge all you Chicagoans reading this to pencil it in your calendars and go pitch in; it was a fun time socializing over a cup of coffee and the cookie cutters, and everyone is welcome to join in.

Lobster claws!!!

Then snow pants, gloves and hats went on, and the three friends ventured out to the playground. The boys had prime spots to watch planes passing overhead on their approach to O’Hare airport, but soon even this couldn’t distract them from the cold wind on exposed noses and cheeks…

After helping decorate the scout and guide Christmas tree we watched folk dancing rehearsals, laughing at our polka memories as both of us moms had danced similar steps in the very same room many years ago. Another cup of coffee, more antics on behalf of the boys and soon it was time to head to grandmother’s house for time with family and a delicious dinner. A big thank you to the Latvian School of Chicago for so graciously accepting us into their fold Saturday, and maybe one day we’ll be joining the ranks of Latvian school students homeschooling with the KBLS materials.


  1. What a great opportunity to visit the preschool! And there's nothing wrong with traditional Christmas cookies. =)

  2. That looks like such a fun experience. How nice that you got to take the boys while you were in Chicago.

  3. Mmm, piparkukas! Nez' kada recepte tika lietota? Zeberinas, vai cita?


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