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Music helps the ‎children of the Bulgarian School in New Jersey learn Bulgarian

Elena Antimova and the chamber orchestra of the Sunday School
Photo: Roden Krai Bulgarian School in New Jersey

On September 10, the school bell rang to announce the start of the new ‎school year for Bulgarian children in central and northern New Jersey. The ‎doors of the Roden Krai Bulgarian School New Jersey are open to all our ‎compatriots who wish to maintain the Bulgarian spirit in distant America, in ‎order to preserve it and pass it on to the future generations.‎

This year the school will welcome nearly 30 children with Bulgarian roots, we learned ‎from pianist Elena Antimova who will be teaching music in the Bulgarian ‎Sunday school for the third academic year. The youngest are five years old and ‎will join the preparatory school group, and the oldest are in the sixth grade and ‎quite understandably speak Bulgarian the best.‎

‎"They have had the opportunity to visit Bulgaria most summers, ‎that's why ‎their language is at the best level. With small children, it is extremely difficult ‎to recreate the language environment with this one day a week when they come ‎to us”, explains Elena Antimova, who is a guest on Radio Bulgaria before ‎leaving her homeland after another family vacation here. 

Elena Antimova in the studio of Radio Bulgaria, BNR, in Sofia
"Most of the children were ‎not only born in the States, but also come from mixed families, where only one ‎of the parents is Bulgarian. I think that learning the language is really extremely ‎difficult for our children, and the colleagues who teach Bulgarian language and ‎literature are doing a very good job.”‎

It is precisely the recruitment of qualified teachers of the Bulgarian language that ‎is one of the great challenges for the team of the Roden Krai school. They ‎admit that the funds that the Bulgarian state allocates for its activities are of ‎great help, but not enough so that the school can afford to create additional ‎events that motivate the children, unite the Bulgarian community.‎

The team of the Roden Krai school at the concert before the closing of the previous school year
However, despite all the difficulties, this relatively small Sunday school ‎succeeds in realizing its great goal - to make the children of Bulgarians in this ‎part of America feel Bulgaria with their senses. At the moment, five teachers ‎work with the children, but Elena hopes to soon new colleagues. She herself ‎became part of the team after she took her own children to Roden Krai school ‎and was invited by the head of the school, Milen Rusanov, to take over the ‎school choir. Her professional expertise as a pianist, specializing in the States ‎and accompanying several choirs, gave her the confidence that she would ‎succeed.‎

The children from the choir of Roden Krai School earned the 3rd prize at the 2023 Lyubka Rondova Singing Contest
‎"I had no idea that my activity would be very different from what I thought I ‎would be doing. The challenge turned out to be quite an interesting journey for ‎me”, Elena Antimova tells us. "The creation of a school choir was the ‎school's number one goal two years ago, because it is another way in which ‎children can be motivated to learn the language. Not with the textbook, not ‎with the notebook, not on the board and under dictation, but through another, ‎more entertaining form of activity that will also help them develop their ‎language abilities."‎

That is why the songs must be well chosen - they should correspond to ‎children's nature, be fun, dynamic, with the folklore element being an essential ‎accent. "I think it is very important for children to learn Bulgarian folk songs," says Elena ‎Antimova. ‎

The Bulgarian School in Cranford was founded by several Bulgarian families ‎who felt the need to provide children with a place where they could ‎purposefully study Bulgarian language and music, combined with our unique ‎folklore, traditions and culture. The city is located in close proximity to New ‎York, where there is a large Bulgarian emigrant community. However, the ‎distances prove to be the main challenge to having a cohesive Bulgarian ‎community in New Jersey - we learn more from Elena Antimova:‎

‎"Being in the Bulgarian school, I met so many Bulgarians, that I had  never  ‎imagined that there could be in one place. Not everyone lives in or around ‎Cranford, we are much further afield. My family ‎lives about half an hour by ‎car, which is not much by our ‎understandings of distance, but we have several ‎families who live about an hour - an hour and a half drive from the city, ie. ‎they come from quite a distance every Sunday for their children to be at school. ‎So the school is definitely a uniting factor.”‎

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English translation and publication by Rositsa Petkova
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