Interview with Jasna Cvetkovic-Lay
The “BISTRIC” Center was established in 1995 with the aim of supporting the special needs of 4-10 year-old children with advanced abilities and standing by their parents and teachers. It was founded by Jasna Cvetkovic-Lay, a psychologist, an ECHA specialist and now the program coordinator of the Center.
“Bistric” is an NGO that provides workshops and extra-curricular enrichment for gifted children, in-service teacher trainings in gifted education and counselling for parents, thus creating a direct professional help to adults and professionals around children in the educational system. They offer playgroups for 4-7 year-old children and activity-oriented workshops for primary school children (7-10 years) and they also provide activities for twice exceptional students based on the principles of project work, deepness, enrichment and raising interest. In the past years in addition to workshops and trainings the Centre was involved in several applied activities and projects supported by national and local educational institutions, they organized an international conference about national networks for gifted children in 2000. In 2016 the Center was officially registered as a European Talent Point and became part of the European Talent Support Network.
In a typical school year the staff of the Center (2 leaders and 4 mentors) carries out about a hundred workshops for 25-30 gifted children , and teacher training courses for about 50-80 participants.
They have published several handbooks and booklets with topics including how to conduct and create enrichment programs for gifted children aged between 4-10, and how to support them in a family and an educational setting.
- Why did you found this institution more than 20 years ago? What were your personal reasons?
All of us are personally motivated to initiate something significant in our own lives or in our fields. It is the situation with me, too: I come from a creative family, with a mother who was a self-taught artist and a “natural talent”, and with an engineer-innovator father, and now I am married to a very creative and talented man, who is well-known in Croatia as a person who has changed and improved the whole domain of informatics and ICT education significantly (https://hr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branimir_Makanec). So, from the very beginning, I was sensitized to the field of creativity and talent, especially the one that manifests itself in concrete products. In addition, I work in a public preschool institution with very specifically educated and talented educators and preschool teachers, who recognize and encourage talent in children through various domain-specific programs. At this point, Croatian schools are not sufficiently adapted to the special needs of gifted students so it is important to offer them quality extracurricular programs and continuously educate teachers in the field of gifted education.
- What does its name “Bistric” mean?
It means a very smart (clever) young child (of preschool and early school age). On Croatian word “bistar” means smart/clever and “Bistrić” is diminutive targeting the young population.
- Why is this age group so important in your opinion?
The preschool and early school years are very sensitive because of the neurological indicators of brain development and the flexibility of the child’s brain, as well as of the latency period when the child is free from the influence of hormones that significantly influence development and intellectual processes in the later years. Children of this age, especially gifted ones, are very receptive, enthusiastic, quick and easy learners, and develop quickly in the intellectual domains. In short, it is a pleasure to work with them.
- What kind of workshops do you offer for children? How do you plan the topics and methodology?
We offer extracurricular enrichment programs aimed at encouraging creative, logical and scientific thinking and digital skills. They consist of wide-ranging types of activities with specialized didactics and equipment included. Methodically, games and activities take place in small groups (up to 5 participants), with mentoring and working in pairs. Many activities focus on team cooperation aimed to develop social skills of the gifted, in addition to challenges in the field of the expressed abilities. Activities are planned in accordance with the principles of enrichment, deepening and encouragement of the most prominent abilities and talents and socializing with children of similar abilities and interests.
- If there are more applicants than you can accept, how do you choose the participant children?
Many schools and kindergartens in Croatia have undergone some form of education in cooperation with our Center, so educators and teachers may offer this opportunity to children nominated as potentially gifted, but parents themselves can also submit backed with their own observations. All nominated children pass through an admission and reception process that includes written observations through checklists, psychological testing, as well as observation in enriched environment.
- What are your biggest challenges nowadays?
Unfortunately, the economic crisis has also hit Croatia, which means that we have lots of gifted children whose parents are unemployed or have little income and can’t provide them with additional high-quality programs. Therefore, the Center launched a humanitarian project through which we find donors to enable such children to attend the program at our Center. Some of the donors are especially sensitive because once they themselves were gifted children and now are successful business people – most often in abroad.
- You also wrote and edited several handbooks about the practical aspect of gifted education. Why do you think it is important to write about practice?
People who work in practice (preschool and elementary school teachers, educators) need a set of specific tips and procedures how to work with the gifted, and need to be familiar with a wide range of games and activities, with specialized methods and goals of application as well. Part of our in-service trainings for practitioners is carried out in a way that they work directly with gifted students in the workshops in our Center and then receive practical guidelines in brochures. Handbooks and brochures are part of our educational materials for in-service trainings.
- If you look over past years’ experiences, do you recognize any tendencies, negative or positive changes in the field of gifted education in your city and in your country?
The changes on a state level are much slower than the experts in the field of gifted education would like them to be, but they are happening. For example, the public preschool institution and kindergarten in which I work, in January 2018 was officially appointed by the Croatian Ministry of Science and Education as an Expert Developmental Center for the gifted, after 30 years of my intensive work in the field! As I say, it is very slow but at least happened. Also, several public educational institutions and non-governmental organizations in Croatia have become part of the ETSN, and an official document at the state level has been drafted that should regulate work with gifted students. But it is still ahead of us to get the appropriate conditions for its application in educational practice.
- How do you see the following years? What are your plans for the near future?
I see the future optimistically. When I started working with gifted pre-school children in 1993, at the First Experimental program of that kind in Croatia with the permission of our Ministry, I was an exception and very lonely. Now, a lot of colleagues are dealing with this topic, and many of them say that I have inspired them. Some are educated as ECHA Specialists also, while I have been the only one in Croatia since 2000. What I plan in the future is to acquire a PhD in the field of Early Identification of Creative-productive giftedness, under the mentorship of dr. Mojca Juriševič from CRSN in Ljubljana.
- What are the benefits of networking within the country (network of preschool experts) and internationally, and belonging to organizations like the ETSN?
These benefits are huge from exchanging experience and good practice to a greater impact on slow state institutions. As Csilla Fuszek and Peter Csermely constantly emphasize, this power of horizontal networking is much larger than we would expect. I am very pleased that our Center is part of this network.