A teenager who did not speak English when he arrived in the country three years ago says he plans to put a smile on his fellow pupils’ faces after they elected him head boy.
Polish-born Jakub Klosowicz will begin his duties as head boy of Shirebrook Academy next term following his election to the post last week, alongside the school’s new head girl Kirsty Bradbury, 15.
Jakub is the school’s first Polish head boy and only arrived in the UK in 2013. He moved to Shirebrook from a tiny village called Lichnowski Drugie, near to the town of Malbork in the north of Poland.
Every day he had to get up at 5am, walk 20km to a railway station to catch a train to school and then walk a further 15 minutes in time for class. Some days he would then attend a nearby music school before retracing his steps all the way home again at the end of the day.
His life changed in 2013 when his mother announced that she, Jakub and his two brothers, Damian and Bryan, would follow their step father to Britain, where he was working at Sports Direct.
The family settled in Shirebrook and Jakub was enrolled as a pupil at Shirebrook Academy, beginning his new school career speaking very little English and knowing nobody.
He said: “I had never been to a foreign country but I was excited about coming to England, everything was different, the buildings, the way people dressed, the weather. The school looked like an airport or shopping centre, which wasn’t what I was used to, as well.
“My first day at school was a disaster for me. I was put in normal lessons but I didn’t have a translator and there were no Polish people there either. I was just given a timetable and put in a maths class and that was it.
“I had written lots of English words like ‘where’ and ‘when’ on my hands and arms ready for when I needed them and I was shy. It was a big shock and I was only 12 and little.”
Jakub had approached his life in the UK with the attitude that he would aim to complete his schooling as quickly as possible before returning to the life he was used to in Poland. He admits that although his classmates and neighbours were friendly and welcoming, his early months were hard and he often felt lonely.
Then, a year after he arrived in the country, he returned to Poland to stay with family members for a month in the summer. While he was there he realised how much his life in the UK held promise for him with opportunities that he would not get back in Lichnowski Drugie.
He said: “I travelled home to Poland on my own and I felt stronger for doing it. I decided that I wasn’t going to waste my time at school. In Shirebrook I was learning French and I was having music lessons and I decided to take on another challenge to play the violin.
“Everybody should have a passion, especially when they are at school and it is giving them opportunities to enjoy it, so I took advantage of that.
“I also decided that I would talk to more people around school, so would learn English and make more of an effort to get to know them.”
The arrival of Sports Direct has coincided with an influx of Polish people to Shirebrook, a process which has created some well-documented unrest in the town. Although Jakub acknowledges that there are tensions in the community, he has never personally experienced any ill-feeling, saying that everyone in the town has been friendly and welcoming.
“I have a lot of nice experiences in Shirebrook,” he said. “I have learned English there with help from the people, so that when I go into the shops I say ‘hey up me duck’ and they all talk to me.
“I feel that Shirebrook is my home now and I am happy. I realise to feel that way you have to be open with the people around you. I am more open in that way than many other Polish people are.
“I know that there are good and bad people in both communities but most people want to get along with each other. To do that, you have to learn the language and make an effort. I tell my Polish friends that it is very important they learn English and talk to people - there is no excuse for not doing it.”
Jakub has also been helped by his love of expressing himself in art and music, which has helped him to break down barriers. He has ambitions to be an actor and spent this week doing work experience at Derby Theatre.
When he starts school again next term, it will be as head boy and he is looking forward to the experience.
He said: “I was encouraged to apply for head boy by teachers and staff, they said that I would be a good role model for Shirebrook. Being head boy or head girl is a big responsibility, you have to have a perfect uniform and be a good example to the other students.
“I had to have a campaign and put up posters before being elected and I said that I wanted to show people that school should be enjoyable and share my happiness and enthusiasm with everyone.
“It is very nice of the students to have voted for me and my family are very proud. I am looking forward to being a role model for the students and I hope that I will set an example to make the most of school and get people to smile more. Life is beautiful, so people should be happy.”
New head girl Kirsty Bradbury, 15, was also elected to her position by her fellow students, having played an active role in the life of the school since she joined the Academy and represented the school in a recent Rotary Club Musician of the Year competition.
Described as compassionate and a person who puts others before herself, Kirsty is a talented linguist, having completed her French GCSE this year, and is predicted to score A’s in her GCSEs next year.
Mark Cottingham, Principal of Shirebrook Academy, said: “Jakub is very popular with staff and students alike, always has a smile on his face and an infectious enthusiasm for learning.
“Given the result of the referendum and the large leave vote in Shirebrook, and the well-publicised tensions in the community over the scale of EU migration into the town, Jakub’s election gives us all hope that our young people can forge a cohesive multicultural society where people are judged by the quality of their character and their actions, not by their nationality.
“Jakub’s story is quite remarkable. He came to England just three years ago with no English and is now one of our top academic performers as well as being an accomplished musician and composer and budding actor – his ambition is to be in Hollywood.
“Both Jakub and Kirsty embody our values of being hardworking, having a growth mind set, showing determination and resilience to overcome barriers and showing compassion and integrity. This makes them great role models.”
PICTURED (from top) Jakub Klosowicz, Shirebrook Academy principal Mark Cottingham and new head girl Kirsty Bradbury.