Maironis School in Lemont, Illinois, is one of four Lithuanian schools in the Chicago area – the historic center of Lithuanian diaspora following World War Two and the subsequent Soviet occupation.
Parents bring their children to Lithuanian schools so they can retain their “identity and roots,” says the principal of Maironis Lithuanian School, Goda Misiūnienė.
“Our goal is that when they leave the school, they love Lithuania even more and are proud to say they’re Lithuanian,” says Misiūnienė, who has lived in the US for 20 years.
Alongside teaching the country’s history, geography and culture, the Lithuanian language remains the main discipline.
Yet children find it easier to speak English, she says.
“If the children who come to the US are under five years old, they speak perfect Lithuanian, since the native tongue is spoken at home,” she told LRT Radio, “but if they attend an English-language school, everything turns upside down in less than half a year.”
Maironis school is now hosting classes on Fridays, as well as Saturdays, according Misiūnienė, as “there were already 60-70 children that wanted to attend, but we couldn’t fit them all in, physically”.
The children also take exams to receive foreign-language school credits.
“We are happy that many of the kids decide to work in this school when they get older; it’s nice that they want to remain part of our community.”
The parents hope this knowledge can then be passed on from one generation to the next, says Misiūnienė.