ALA teachers’ conference in Denver

Denveras Latviešu baznīca un biedrības nams
ALA teacher conference at the Denver Latvian church and society center

The 2017 ALA Latvian diaspora teachers’ conference, organized by the American Latvian Association Office of Education, was held September 9-10 at the Denver Latvian Church and Society Center. Teachers from Latvian schools across the country, from California to New York participated, including Kursa director Indra Ekmanis.

Conference participants introduced attendees to their schools, and discussed the successes and challenges facing Latvian education in the diaspora. Three Daces and one Kristina were the source of much inspiration, leading the primary conference lectures. Kristina Putene (New Jersey Latvian School) discussed strategies for teaching language at diversified levels, Dace Copeland (former ALA Director of Education) introduced a new Latvian literature readability project using LIX methodology, and Dace Mažeika (World Federation of Free Latvians Education Committee) introduced teachers to the wide array of language learning materials available through internet resources. Pedagogical expert Dace Anstrate flew in from Jelgava, Latvia, to share methodological techniques for teaching Latvian as a second language, as well as add excitement to the conference proceedings, engaging attendees in practical activities, educational games, and “fizminūtes” (mini-exercise breaks).

Kursas absolventi
Kursa graduates: Rev. Mārtiņš Rubenis and ALA Director of Education Andra Zommers

The conference was also an opportunity to learn more about the Denver Latvian community and school, which saw to it that conference attendees were well housed and well fed. After the conference concluded, several lucky teachers headed beyond the Mile High City to quickly see the mountains, guided by Rev. Mārtiņš Rubenis — a Kursa graduate. In fact, several Kursieši were in Denver, including Rev. Helēna Godiņa and Andra Zommers — the director of the ALA Office of Education and the conference organizer.

The conference was an overall success, participants went home with new educational materials and contacts, not to mention new inspiration and energy. We will see the influences of the conference next summer at Kursa, but until then, we wish all of the Latvian schools just beginning class a successful new school year!

Echo Lake excursion
Echo Lake excursion
Direktore Indra Ekmane "Atbalss ezers" (Echo Lake) ekskursijā.
Director Indra Ekmanis at Echo Lake.


Student experiences: Thank you to the OLS

Sveiks Ms. Zommere and the Oregon Latvian Society,

I would like to start this letter by saying paldies for the scholarship to attend Kursa. I am amazed how much I learned in 4 weeks! In the first few days of Kursa, I was taught the basic phrases such as “Ka Tev iet?” (For which I often responded “labi”), “Cik Tev gadu?” and “Ka Tevi sauc?” I also learned a little bit on how the Latvian alphabet works and what diacritics do to a letter. As time went on, I began writing the words I learned into a dictionary, and I am proud to say that even though I still have a long way to go, my Latvian vocabulary greatly increased during my time at Kursa.

Along with learning how to speak, write and read Latvian, we learned a lot about Latvian culture. One thing that impressed me about our culture is all the festivals that we celebrate, such as those for the winter and summer solstices. I also learned about Latvian dress, Latvian songs and Latvian dancing. My dad says I became a pretty good polka dancer! In my jewelry and sewing classes, I learned all about Latvian symbols and their meaning. Lastly, I learned a lot about the history of Latvia before it got its independence. Because of this, I now know the meaning of what it is to be Latvian. It means that no matter what happens to your country you must still represent it proudly and never give up on it.

So in conclusion, I loved everything about Kursa! The 4 weeks I spent there were some of the best weeks of my life. Because it was so amazing and because I want to learn so much more about my heritage, I hope to return for the next 3 years and eventually graduate. So paldies again for the wonderful opportunity I was given this summer.


Age 15 | Calgary, Canada

Pancakes in the Park
Connor and Dina dance with their classmates at the Pancakes in the Park event hosted by the Shelton Kiwanis Club.


Week one at Kursa

Kursa Latvian Summer High School began its 42nd year on July 9, a sunny day at the West Coast Latvian Education Center in Shelton, Washington. Kursa gives young people between the ages of 13 and 18 the opportunity to begin or continue their Latvian education, regardless of their Latvian language level. This year, not only have all of last year’s students returned (in 2016 Kursa restarted the program), but an additional 10 students have joined the Kursa family. While Kursa is nominally the West Coast Latvian High School, we not only have students from Washington, Oregon, and California, but also from Minnesota, Maryland, Iowa, and Canada, as well as two returning students from Latvia. Our teachers reflect a similar geography, coming from California, Alaska, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and Latvia. Together, we form a tight-knit community. We are especially glad that students who may not have previously had the opportunity to be part of Latvian society are able to begin their Latvian education and develop their connection to Latvia with other students here at Kursa.

We have already done a lot in the first week at Kursa. All of our students have taken official Latvian language exams in writing, reading, speaking and understanding. We have begun classes (language, literature, history, ethics and folklore), in which students are grouped by their Latvian language level. Already we have become familiar with some of the brightest Latvian authors, including Vizma Belševica an Imants Ziedonis. Our voices and feet are also moving, preparing for our final program: “Sun and Moon.” We have even made it to the seaside, where we spent a nice day enjoying the Pacific Northwest coastline.

Why have these young people come to Kursa? In their own words:

Ella (14, California): “I want to dance folk dances, improve my Latvian language, and bake pīrāgi.” 

Elmārs (17, Riga): “I want to refresh my folk dance skills, learn Latvian metalsmithing, and help other students learn to speak Latvian. I’m at Kursa because it is a great place to spend time.”

Roland (17, Portland): “I want to learn new words, folk dance, and Latvian history, and meet up with my old friends.”

Zippa (13, Minnesota): “I’m at Kursa because Kursa is great! I can learn about Latvian language, music, and culture. I would like to meet new friends and learn new songs at Kursa.”



21 days in the Kursa atmosphere

Kursa is the first summer camp I have ever been to. I never had any interest in them before. But Kursa is no ordinary summer program, it is something much more than that. My time at Kursa has been full of value and emotion. In just a few days, it felt like one big family. Although I already speak Latvian fluently and am from Latvia, I learned a lot at Kursa: how to forge a new ring, dance folk dances, play chess and write poetry. Kursa is a place for anyone who wants to feel close to Latvia in America. It is a little Latvia, you can see it in the surroundings and in the people. But Kursa also has its own traditions, which I learned about later – or should I say, at night. A big part of Kursa is the “nightlife,” with pranks (good-natured) or walks. After these three wonderfully-spent weeks I can say that Kursa is a place to connect with your Latvianness and meet American Latvian young people. I really hope that I will have the opportunity to come back next year, so that I can continue to enjoy Latvian folklore and life at Kursa.

I would like to thank all those who gave me the opportunity to attend these three weeks at Kursa, especially the initiative of new director Indra Ekmane.

See you soon!

— Erlands Griezītis, 14 (Liepāja, Latvia)
LBVŠ 2016 scholarship recipient

Rotkalšana Kursā
Erlands Griezītis and metalwork teacher, Andris Rūtiņš, create an ethnographic-inspired ring.

Caleb Beideck: First year at Kursa a wonderful experience

My first week here at Kursa has been a wonderful experience full of fun and learning. During even such a short time, I have already learned so much about the language and culture of Latvia. I’m sure that thanks to the wonderful teachers, I will continue to learn tons more over the rest of my stay. The staff here are all wonderfully supportive and talented. The food is always absolutely delicious. Every day is a new adventure in my culture. I’m so excited to keep working with my Kursa family. Read more at ALJAziņas.

— Caleb Beideck, 16
ALJA 2016 scholarship recipient

Latvian kitchen 2016
Maija Atvara leads the Latvian cuisine interest group. Students: Anna Akots, Aleks Brainerd, Krišjānis Lūsis, Caleb Beideck, Erlands Griezītis, Lauren Barlow