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‘Even if you’re going through a tough time, you are still one of us.’

The first primary school of this week and it already seems hard to beat this experience. Castle Bridge is a small school, about 170 students, and is one of two schools in the building. They share spaces as the auditorium and playground. We were welcomed in the auditorium to join in on the community sing. Every Monday all the students, teachers and parents gather to sing songs. In Spanish and English for Castle Bridge is a bilingual school. On the third floor (free gym membership included was the joke made) we were shown all the classrooms and had a small history lesson about the school. Our amazing guide of the day, José (teacher of 4th and 5th grade), told us about the songs that were sung that morning and why specifically those songs. The school was founded on the idea of inclusivity and respect, a big community feeling as you could say. The civil right movement that was taking place in America in the fifties and sixties was the inspiration for the songs that the Castle Bridge school sings every Monday. It was a real treat seeing and hearing the students, teachers and parents participate in such a simple thing.

After our initial meeting we were allowed to walk around freely and just enter classrooms. Neither students nor teachers were bothered by the several adults walking around and observing whatever was going on at that time. I couldn’t imagine my own class being that well behaved with so many new faces around. There was just an overall sense of peace and calm. It was like they had no misbehaving students at all. A big difference from what I’m used to. If there was a student misbehaving the teachers always spoke to them in a calm and collected way. Some quotes might explain this better than I can. ‘Are you helping someone right now?’, ‘Sit next to someone that will help you learn.’, ‘Would you pull the hand of your little sister as you did with your classmate?’. They always went back to the ‘why’. They brought it so positive anytime they spoke to the children. I’ve noticed that I (we?) always start from the negative and more often speak about the things that children aren’t allowed to do then the positive sides. This will be a learning point for me.

Of course there were some things we have in common as well. The most obvious would be the day schedule. But more important where the differences. In a class of about 20 to 25 kids there were two fulltime teachers. One that excels in special needs and one excelling in general education. On top of two fulltime teachers there were also other adults helping out. This is all possible because of the many IEP (individual education plan) arrangements. It was surreal to see that many adults in the group all helping and teaching kids at the same time. It’s something to be jealous of for sure. I wonder if we could achieve the same thing that they manage to do here so wonderfully if we only could get extra hands in the classroom. The teachers that share a grade work together almost seamlessly. They can divide their tasks however they want to. By subject, by hour you name it. They even get one hour of preparation time a day! One whole hour during school hours that the children are away to music class or gym. I’m just happy to get one hour a week. But I have to give it to those teachers. They do make the most out of it. They design all their own lessons and create worksheets and such for the children to work with. I haven’t seen a single textbook anywhere. And everything is theme oriented. They have two themes for the whole schoolyear, every lesson is connected to that theme. I was shown some posters that the 4th and 5th grades were working on. They had to do an assignment on civil rights. They selected two countries to do research on and after that they designed a poster. I asked a few children how they did their research and I was really impressed with their answers. Those kids were about 9 to 10 years old and they told me that they used skills that we usually expect from our 8th graders. Are we pampering our kids or are we just not setting our expectations high enough?

During our break, in which we had pizza for lunch (?!), we talked with teacher from the lower and higher grades. These amazing people just glowed with pride in their profession and trust in children. It was enlightening talking to them. I cant even repeat half the questions asked because we went from one interesting answer to the next. The community feeling that Castle Bridge School aspires to teach was woven into every answer given. It is all about the togetherness, the reason for learning/teaching. One of the higher grade teachers gave an answer that shook my mind. When asked about communication with parents after an altercation, sadly the fact that we deal with a lot, she said that the parents are responsible for raising their child and not the teacher. She said this so nonchalant as if it was the most normal thing in the world. I wish we could have this attitude towards the parents of our own class. Something tells me that that won’t fly around here.

Observing the children, teachers and classrooms were of course the highlight of the day. Throughout the day there were some smaller things I’ve noticed. There is no teacher desk in the classroom. All the workspaces for the children are placed in groups. There are a lot of books in the classroom. For general ‘fun’ reading but also information books.

The four principles that are used as a kapstok (how do you even translate this) are body, mind, feeling and classroom. Or equity, respect, empathy and responsibility.

To finish this blog, I will explain the title of this blog. In every classroom there is a chillout corner. If children, or the teacher, decides that it is useful for the student to take a break they can do it in that corner. They can lie in a hammock, read a book, listen to some music or just simply lie there and listen to the lesson from that location. When we find a student to be difficult or disruptive we sent them to another space outside of the classroom. At Castle Bridge School they want the child to know that even when they are going through a difficult time, there are still a part of the group. They don’t have to experience the feeling of loneliness or actually being alone to be a functioning member of the group. 

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2 reacties

  1. Insluiten, in plaats van buitensluiten.
    Inclusief onderwijs! Prachtig mooi gezien en beschreven door jou in deze Blog. Neem mee naar de Evenaar, waar de inclusieve ambitie hoog is! Go, Joëlle!

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