The mission of the Jozef Poniatowski Fifth Secondary Comprehensive School is providing education, nurturing, care, pro-health and prophylactic activities at the highest level, in accordance with education law regulations and the mission of the capital city of Warsaw, whose epitome the Fifth Secondary Comprehensive School is.
On 1 September the “Royal Polish School for the Former Military” in Warsaw opened its doors for students. It offered places for demobbed soldiers, veterans of fighting for Polish independence during the First World War (1914-1918), who wished to continue their education interrupted by the war. Students were enrolled for four classes, which followed the curriculum of years V, VI, VII and VIII of an ordinary humanities oriented grammar school. The premises were the Kreczmar Gymnasium building in 41 Wilcza Street. Lessons took place between 3 pm and 9 pm. In November of the same year students of the school, shortly before soldiers themselves, spontaneously and willingly engaged in disarming the soldiers of the German occupational army stationed in Poland at the time.
The school name was changed twice, first to “State School for Former Military”, then to “State Secondary School for Former Military”. “Brotherly Help”, a charity for the students, was also created. The help it offered comprised both financial and learning support (free meals, clothes, assistance with school fees, loans, financing treatment in sanatoriums)
The opening of the academic year 1920/1921 was delayed for two months by the Bolshevik invasion of Poland. Before the school year commenced, all the pupils and almost all of the teachers, led by the example of the school principal, spontaneously joined the army again to fight for their Country. Many of them did not come back to school: nine students died on the battlefield, numerous others had to recover from wounds in hospitals. The fallen were later commemorated by a memorial plaque in the school building in 53 Zlota Street. The plaque bore the inscription DULCE ET DECORUM EST PRO PATRIA MORI, followed by the names of the nine killed students.
A “State Secondary School for Former Military Young People Welfare Society” was created, mainly by the students’ relatives. Its aim was to provide less wealthy students with the means to start and continue their education and to supply the school with teaching equipment. (Among other achievements, four boarding houses were created where students could live and were provided with food.) The money came from contributions from society members, subsidies and charity events.
The school became accessible to all candidates, not only to the ex-military, which resulted in a change of name to “Prince Jozef Poniatowski State Secondary School”. Students were admitted into year IV in accordance with the general state school admittance policy.
The Teachers Council decreed that the school holiday was to be celebrated on 19th November of each year, commemorating the date of death of Prince Jozef Poniatowski, after whom the school was named. He died in 1813 in the Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of Nations.
Władysław Szyndler, a student of the school, painted an oil portrait of Prince Jozef Poniatowski, which is still in the possession of the school.
The President of the Council of Ministers visited the school and also subsidised an educational students trip to Cracow.
A recreational day was introduced each week. On that day students did not have classes; instead, the day was used for sport, cultural and local government events.
On the 2nd of May a ceremony of blessing the school standard was held.
The first issue of the school monthly magazine came out under the name of School Community Council Bulletin (Biuletyn Zarządu Gminy Szkolnej).
The school changed premises to 53 Zlota Street, the building of the Joachim Lelewel State Secondary School. The lessons still took place in the afternoon.
This year the last final exams for former military students were held.
The school changed location twice: first to 39 Jagiellońska Street, where it shared the building with Władyslaw IV Secondary School. The lessons took place in the afternoon.
The next location was 16 Lisa Kuli Street in the district of Zoliborz. The new building was blessed on 29 May 1932.
In January of that year the 14th Warsaw Scout Team, named after Karol Chodkiewicz, was created. On 10 June 1934 the team received their flag.
On 1 July 1938 the Minister of Religious Denominations and Public Enlightenment changed the name of the school to “Prince Jozef Poniatowski Fifth State Upper and Lower Secondary School”. The change was brought about by the conclusion of the educational reform of secondary schools.
As a result of the September campaign commencing the Second World War the German army invaded Warsaw. At first, the occupation authorities allowed the school to begin the 1939/40 year. However, on 15 November the permission was withdrawn. Following closure, the school became an overnight home to refugees displaced by the invading Germans from western Poland, a large group of whom came to Warsaw seeking a new place to live. In the months preceding the German campaign against the Soviet Union (which started on 22 June1941) the school building was taken over by a German military troop. Towards the end of 1941 it hosted a field hospital.
After the school closure in November 1939, clandestine classes started the same month, in small but numerous groups of students. Those secret study groups remained in operation until the first day of the Warsaw Uprising.
Simultaneously with secret teaching, the first clandestine Boy Scouts troops of school students came into existence. Their younger members initiated the “Grey Ranks” (a secret Scout organisation operating during the Second World War) troop operating in the Zoliborz district of Warsaw; the older members joined the underground Polish army.
In this year protection of the Headquarters cell of the Union for Armed Struggle was established, which incorporated many students of the school. They later formed the corps of the Home Army “Baszta” Battalion, which received the Virtuti Militari medal in the Warsaw Uprising.
In September “No. 5 Preparatory Courses for 2nd Grade Vocational Education” commenced operation. The courses covered a limited syllabus (allowed by the occupation authorities) of lower secondary years I-IV (with time extending to year I of upper secondary school). Forbidden subjects (history, geography, introduction to philosophy, Latin, foreign languages, Polish literature) and the second year of upper secondary school were taught in clandestine classes.
Throughout five academic years, from November 1939 to June 1944, organised clandestine teaching continued, covering the curriculum necessary to take the final school leaving examinations. In that time 176 students passed the examinations and received school-leaving certificates. Those were the years of study and military service for the Country, both at risk of life.
In January 1945 Warsaw was finally freed from German forces. From 1st February the Poniatowski School, under the principal Tadeusz Dąbrowski, commenced teaching young people of the Zoliborz district, in the building at 10 Plac Inwalidów. The school occupied one floor of the building housing also the Aleksandra Piłsudska Fourteenth Lower and Upper Secondary, a girls school. This common location brought the two schools and their students together.
The price was the loss of identity of both schools as providers of education for young people with military, official and intellectual backgrounds. In September 1945 the school was changed into “Prince Jozef Poniatowski Male School” and an associated “Three Year Comprehensive School” was organised for older students whose education had been disrupted by the war. The changes affected also the Piłsudska School, which was moved to a different location and had its name changed.
Various school organisations: the students council, a Boy Scouts group, the school shop and a Polish Red Cross unit resumed activity.
The school was joined with School No. 22, creating the ” Prince Jozef Poniatowski Eleven Year State Elementary and Secondary Comprehensive School” and was located at 1 Szymanowska Street.
The school was stripped of its historical name.
A commemorative plaque reading “In Memory of the Fallen, Exterminated and Deceased Professors, Alumni and Employees of the Prince Jozef Poniatowski Secondary School in Warsaw, participants of Alumni Reunion – Warsaw 18 X 1959” was affixed to the wall in the mail hall of the school.
The school was divided again: from 1 September 1961 elementary classes were moved to a new building in 1 Konwiktorska Street, and the remaining classes formed “Jozef Poniatowski Upper Secondary Comprehensive School” occupying the former premises in 1 Szymanowska Street.
School students won the Physics Olympiad of Warsaw schools for the first time.
The name of the school and the name of the street were changed to” Jozef Poniatowski Fifth Upper Secondary Comprehensive School” in 1 Marian Buczek Street.
On 13 May 1967 the school received a new standard, funded by the alumni, parents council and the principal. The standard was designed by Jan Cydzik, a former student.
During the school holiday celebrations on 18 October 1969 the tradition of the first year students’ pledge to the school was started. By taking the pledge the students are truly accepted into the school.
Andrzej Stankiewicz, a first year student, composed the words of the school anthem and Zygmunt Zwyrzykowski wrote the music.
In April of that year the Poniatowski School received a medal of the National Education Committee for work with gifted students.
A physics teacher, Tomasz Tratkiewicz, received a medal of the National Education Committee for educating many winners and finalists of Physics Olympiads.
The school relocated to 8 Nowolipie Street, into a building formerly occupied by a primary school.
The Reading Room of the French Institute in Warsaw started giving French classes at the school.
The 60th anniversary of the school’s establishment was celebrated with the participation of all the students, teachers and principals, over 100 alumni and representatives of local government, the local education board and Warsaw Boy and Girl Scouts. The ceremony included the laying of flowers in front of the statue of Jozef Poniatowski and performances about his life, courage and heroic death, followed by a concert of the school choir and music band. Then a National Remembrance Chamber and a Scouts Room were officially opened. Official celebrations were followed by an alumni reunion.
The pre-war school standard, preserved during the war by the principal Tadeusz Dąbrowski, was placed in the National Remembrance Chamber.
The functioning of the school at this period was negatively affected by the indoctrination of teaching and instructing, frequent changes of the principal and the poor state of the premises. In this situation the educational authorities took a highly controversial decision to temporarily dissolve the school, transfer the students to other schools and completely refurbish the building. This threat to the future of the school completely shook the school community. The parents, the Staff Council and the Alumni Association were spurred into action. A long campaign ended with a success: the authorities consented to a refurbishment without closing the school.
At the time the school struggled to teach the typical secondary comprehensive school curriculum. Classes were held with advanced level syllabus in the following subjects: Mathematics and Physics, General Humanities, Biology and Chemistry, Pedagogy, which meant it was a typical “collective” general secondary school. The crisis was attested by the poor turnout of candidates and their lack of preparation. Braving the difficulties caused by the protracted refurbishment works, the school continued its rich ideological and educational traditions, and the Staff Council was ripe for reform of the syllabus and teaching methods.
In May the school hosted celebrations commemorating the former students of the school: Home Army Officers-in-Training Marian “Quiet” Senger and Bronisław “Lota” Pietrasiewicz, who died of wounds received in Operation Kutschera, the assassination of a German General Franz Kutchera on 1 February 1944. Michal “Teddy Bear” Issajewicz, the only living participant of the operation and one of the executioners joined the celebrations, as did Miss Halina Segner, “Quiet’s” sister, who donated mementos of her late brother to the school’s National Remembrance Chamber: his Virtuti Militari medal and the order stating his posthumous promotion to the rank of Second Lieutenant. The celebrations ended with a memorial assembly and laying of flowers on the graves of the fallen.
The physics teacher, Tomasz Tratkiewicz, initiated an experimental computer studies class. The syllabus was prepared by a group of teachers including Bogna Lubańska, Andrzej Opiński, Mirosław Sosnowski and Tomasz Tratkiewicz. In the academic year 1987/88 an experimental class teaching advanced level mathematics, physics and computer studies was opened.
Finally the breakthrough in school life occurred: the major refurbishment works in the school building reached their happy end, the school was preparing for its 70th anniversary and alumni reunion, the staff energetically engaged in the modernisation of the teaching process, the school computer network was developed and became widely used by both pupils and teachers.
Due to the efforts of the Alumni Association, the full name of the school (including the word “Prince”) was reinstalled and a new plaque bearing the inscription “Prince Jozef Poniatowski Fifth Upper Secondary Comprehensive School” was put by the school entrance. The school community greeted the return to tradition with great enthusiasm.
At the instigation of the Alumni Association the school received the “Golden Mermaid” award for services to the city of Warsaw.
The chemistry teacher, Mrs Irena Zarembska initiated the introduction of a new class teaching mathematics and physics at advanced level. The teachers working on the syllabus included Bogna Lubańska – mathematics, Tomasz Tratkiewicz – physics and Irena Zarembska – chemistry. In the academic year 1989/90 the school could boast two original syllabus classes: the advanced computing class and the physics and chemistry class.
After the „Round Table”, which initiated political and social changes in Poland (affecting also education), it was possible to reintroduce the tradition of opening the academic year with a church service. This time the mass was held at the Church of the Holy Virgin Mary’s Birth in 78 Aleja Solidarności. Both the old and the new school standards were brought to the church for the mass.
Modernisation of the teaching process continued, which resulted in another original class syllabus, this time with extended cultural and language components. The authors were teachers: Tomasz Tratkiewicz, Mirosław Sosnowski (general outline), Krystyna Kizeweter – language teaching, Ewa Jędrzejewska – mathematics, Joanna Zbierska – history, Tomasz Konecki – physics and Hanna Kudelnik – biology and chemistry. The opening of three original classes in the academic year 1991/92 was made possible by the introduction of school fees, which were decided by the parents and paid to the Parents Committee. The government subsidies to the school covered only the salaries of teachers and administrative employees; no money was left for the normal functioning of the school and fulfilling its statutory obligations. The school was financed by the parents, who agreed the syllabus, education and extra-curricular activities.
This year’s first year student’s integration camp was focused on education through art. The program included open-air painting, and students’ works were presented in an exhibition organised by Mrs Jolanta Leśniak, the art teacher and an artist herself. The exhibition attracted a lot of interest.
The sound and creative contribution to the process of teaching and rearing young people on the part of the school principal and active staff members and constructive support on the part of parents and alumni bore fruit. The Poniatowski School enjoyed the well-deserved success, publicly acclaimed in 1993, on the 75th anniversary of the school’s establishment. In the first quarter of the year the local press, especially “Zycie Warszawy”, published detailed information about Warsaw’s secondary schools. Those reports were aimed at helping prospective students with their choice of school. The information about the Poniatowski School was particularly flattering. At the end of the report series “Zycie Warszawy” conducted a survey among the principals and students of Warsaw upper secondary schools to establish which school was perceived as the best and had the highest teaching standards. In the “Warsaw Upper Secondary School League”, published by the newspaper, our school was in the first place in 1992 and in the second in 1993. This high position was especially gratifying for the community of the Poniatowski School. The Deputy Principal, Tomasz Tratkiewicz, took part in radio programmes, gave interviews and distributed information, whereas the principal, Mirosław Sosnowski, took part in a TV programme “Open Studio”, in which he discussed with young people about schools in Poland.
Among this year’s graduates, there was one with the certificate bearing the number 5000. It meant that in the 75 years since the school was established, it turned out over 5000 successful graduates.