The origins of the Czech and Slovak School of Atlanta, honoring Karel Velan date back five years to when Ivana Valkusova visited Atlanta from Paris.
Curious to learn more about Atlanta’s Czech community, she contacted George Novak, the honorary consul general, and impressed upon him the need to open a school that would teach the American born children of Czech parents the Czech language, culture and traditions.
Ms. Valkusova was acquainted with the Czech School Without Borders program that began in Paris over a decade ago creating a program for families that wanted their children to learn the Czech language.
Mr. Novak told Global Atlanta that many Czech families in metro Atlanta — he doesn’t have an exact count but there are thousands — were interested. Most of the families are mixed with the majority of the wives from the Czech Republic while the husbands are Americans.
Such is the case of Lenka Mohwish, who now serves as president of the school located on Saturdays at the Sandy Springs Charter Middle School in Sandy Springs.
She first left Czech Republic for London as an au pair and then moved to the United States where she married and now heads the school that teaches children up to 16 years old to speak, sing, read, write and think in Czech and Slovakian as well as explore the culture, heritage and history of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. The school’s goal, she told Global Atlanta, is to shape and improve local and global Czech/Slovak communities through the committed participation of its multilingual students, parents and volunteers.
Founded in 2013 as a non-profit institution with the financial assistance of successful Czech businessman and engineer Karel Velan, who settled in Quebec in 1950 from where he launched his company Velan Inc., a manufacturer of industrial valves, after the Soviets took over control of Czechoslovakia.
Adopting the charter of the Czech School Without Borders program, the number of students at the school has almost doubled from the original 32 attending the three classes for the “Bumble Bees,” ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 4, for the “Sunshines,” from 4 to 6, and for the “Wizards,” from 6 to 12. Since 2015 the school has added two additional classes for Slovakian students and one more for the Czechs for a total of six.
While the Czech and Slovakian languages are similar, Czech Republic and Slovakia separated in 1992 following negotiations between Vaclav Havel, who was the first elected president of Czechoslovakia once communist rule collapsed in 1989, and Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who led the movement to disband the federation.
The end of communist rule is often attributed to the success of the “Velvet Revolution,” while the split between Czech Republic and Slovakia may be referred to as the “Velvet Divorce.”
Despite their separation there was no bloodshed involved in the political divorce and the 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s independence from the Austro- Hungarian Empire is being celebrated this year in both countries which are now members of the European Union.
In Atlanta the independence celebration has provided an opportunity for the renowned jazz pianist Emil Viklicky to perform here in a series of concerts on behalf of the Czech and Slovak School with the first being held free of charge at Saint Bartholonew’s Episcopal Church at 1790 La Vista Road at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 1. A second concert is to be held at the Georgia Public Broadcasting studio, 260 14th Street NW, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 2, which also is to be free of charge.
In addition to being a skilled jazz pianist, Mr. Viklicky is a composer blending the folk music of his native Moravia, a region in eastern Czech Republic, with jazz.
Although he grew up under communist rule, he was drawn to the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Count Basie by way of the Voice of America, and eventually decided to pursue a career as a musician instead of mathematics in which he received his university degree.
Three years ago he played to appreciative audiences at Georgia State University’s Florence Kopleff Recital Hall and then at the Lovett School.