SAIIER 2020:Deepanam School
Inspired by the Integral education described by the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, Deepanam School aims to offer the children an atmosphere of freedom and creativity which supports the natural development of children and imparts the joy of learning with independence and responsibility. Our ultimate objective is to help identify in each child their full potential and bring out their best. Each child is given a chance to develop at his/her own pace and children are divided into mixed age groups.
Deepanam is one of the 3 primary/middle schools of Auroville. As a small community school it aims to provide a balanced program of academic study, arts, play and exploration to children aged from 7 to 14 years. The subjects taught include: English, maths, science, history, Awareness Through the Body (ATB), crafts, painting and clay. The students work on different projects during the year allowing them to explore various areas, and they go on field trips within Auroville and beyond. Additionally, this year, the school aimed to include further aspects of social and emotional learning (SEL).
Activities of the year:
A teaching team of approximately 13 full time and 5 part time paid staff worked in Deepanam school this year. A further handful of adults from across the community come to offer certain activities with the children. The total number of 59 students was split according to age groups as follows:
- Light (7 & 8 year olds): 16 children
- Peace (9 & 10 year olds): 11 children
- Grace (11 & 12 year olds): 18 children
- Faith (13 & 14 year olds): 14 children
Specifically, according to the four class groups, the highlights of the year were as follows:
Light group (7 & 8 year olds) highlights:
- Our Water project which integrated academic learning, field trips, science experiments, and Watsu sessions. The project culminated with a presentation on water and water bodies.
- Our reading program with reading buddies, where older students act as reading partners.
- The talent show for the Christmas celebration.
- Creative writing & story building.
- Stories have played the most vital part in reciting Sanskrit shlokas. Through songs and rhymes children also learned Tamil, Sanskrit and French as second languages.
Peace group (9 & 10 year olds) highlights:
- Social and emotional learning (SEL): working on sharing, emotions and agreements in morning circles. For example, creating an ‘emotions meter’ for daily check-in and offering a space for each child to add drops and drips on the “How Full is your Bucket?” wall. Also, while reading ‘Way of the Warrior Kid’ as a read aloud book, after each chapter, the students enacted the scene adopting roles of their choice and ‘trying on the characters for size’.
- Sanskrit as a spoken language: learning through listening and improving concentration through daily chanting of slokas.
- Project work over the school year including:
- My Country & Culture: learning more about each other’s countries, family traditions and cuisine. They worked with parents and presented in the school assembly. Culminating in a potluck, it was also an opportunity for the parents to know each other better.
- Know Plastics: Working with the WasteLess team, over 8 weeks, we shared about safe and unsafe plastics, the impact in the environment and encouraged a switch to alternatives used at home. We worked on reusing plastics by growing plants in PET bottles and creating crafts using bottles and bottle caps.
- Auroville & The Mother: We studied the history of Auroville, the symbols, the pioneers, the Charter, the Mother’s symbol and invited Aurovilian ‘B’ to share anecdotes with the class. Each child created a scrapbook with reflections and participated in a whole school offering for parents to celebrate the Auroville Week.
Other work included:
- Origami with Tomoko (developing dexterity, concentration and spatial intelligence);
- Hands-on Science experiments with STEM Land;
- Planets and the universe with Monica;
- Yogasanas with Delphine to develop flexibility and strength in the body;
- Connecting to the peace within at Matrimandir on Tuesdays;
- Cooking local recipes while learning Tamil;
- Theater and improvisation with Veronique and Didier respectively;
- ATB, clay and craft doing basic stitching and embroidery;
- Field trips to La Ferme Cheese, Svaram Sound Garden, Eco-Service, Natura, Savitri Nursery, Savitri Bhavan.
- STEM was introduced from age 9 onwards for the first time this year. It was optional for the students. Kids were curious and interested to explore electronics and fundamental science concepts. These students were able to build small electronic circuits. We will continue to do the same next year.
Grace group (11 & 12 year olds) highlights:
Social and emotional learning and team building was the biggest challenge with this group because of their age, diversity and this year’s gender imbalance. Each week Gopa (school counselor) did social and communication skill development. It greatly helped children to have a space to open up and share their feelings. Students learnt about how the brain is the control center of our thoughts and feelings and understanding how it works can help us manage some big emotions. We made mindful jars with glitter which worked as a metaphor of how our brain feels like when we’re upset.
- Reading the book “The 1000 year old boy” by Ross Welford. We read it collectively in the class along with discussion, dictation, vocabulary, historical references and related grammar.
- Local plants and farming with Solitude Farm. Children did planting, harvesting, cooking, learned medicinal plants and permaculture farming. It helped them concentrate and work in a team.
- Peer learning was a beautiful experiment we did this year. The older group (Faith class) started coming regularly to the class to teach poetry and arts, which went very well. Both the groups had learnt and developed wonderful connections between them. Children awaited that class every month.
- Reading buddies where Grace group started reading with younger ones (Light group), which created a learning experience for both the groups facing different challenges.
- A monthly magazine, “Microscope”, was published by the children which included their creative writing and artwork done in the class.
- The class teachers communicate with parents via a monthly newsletter to update on activities happening in the class.
- Career project: for students to explore the idea of future careers. They went through a process of self enquiry to understand their strengths and interests and to find a career that might interest them. We looked at the skills needed for their chosen career and how each child can enhance the skills and qualities needed to achieve their goal. We invited people from Auroville to come and share about their career and profession.
The idea behind the career project is to show the children how the skills they are learning in school will be important later in life and to motivate them in their learning. They took up the challenge to overcome certain weaknesses and each took great initiative to bring out their best!
- Due to the lockdown we transferred learning of English, science and French online with Google classroom.
Faith group (13 & 14 year olds) highlights:
The year of 2019-20 was so far unlike the previous years, that it was hard to believe that it came to such an abrupt end (due to Coronavirus).
The dynamics of the class were very different. There were students who had attended Deepanam since grade 1, others have attended only in the past 1 or 2 years. Some were homeschooled and had never been to school. It was an all-girl class and each one had their unique personalities and talents and made significant contributions to the class.
There was hunger for knowledge and willingness to try to do their best. There were some significant creative projects involving theatrical and other types of expression, research, writing.
- “Kaleidoscope”: we were excited to run the magazine for the second year. The production of this magazine is a project-based learning experience, where the students are put in a situation of the real project of writing, editing and publishing a magazine. The students were successful in selecting the monthly theme, creating the written and artistic content, designing the layout and in general establishing a fluid organization. Students also managed well when faced with the real life situation of delayed receipt of funds to produce the magazine. They learnt to adapt. (See project report.)
- Novel writing: This was our second year participating in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where the challenge is to write a novel in a month. The students took on the challenge, maintaining writing each day and then finishing with editing and publishing. This year we published the novels “Beauty and the Beast”, a high school romance by Manya; “Perfect Imperfect“ by Noor; and “With the Wolves” by Gayatri.
- Theatre: Over years we have striven to connect literature with theatre. Theatre has always been a much loved activity of this group. In our English literature class we studied Greek mythology. On completion the class was divided into two groups, and each had a play to perform for the end-of-term open house. The myths enacted were “The Gods Must be Crazy” (the story of Cupid and Psyche) and “Vanity Fair” (the story of Echo and Narcissus). The students enjoyed the costumes and acting out the roles of their favourite characters. A theatre project always proves to be a great project to bring the group together, and to allow new and less confident children to blossom and shine.
As some of the kids are avid readers and also being an all-girls class, it was agreed that we would adapt L. M. Montgomerry’s “Anne of Green Gables” as the end of term play. The students put in a lot of hard work, even coming to school on Saturdays. But alas! Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hopes of the students were dashed as eight students are graduating and this was their last performance as students of Deepanam.
- Understanding Sustainable Forest Management in Araku valley: This project was a continuation from the previous year’s visit to Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary, Kerala, where we learnt about the Muthuvans and other archeological and environmental particularities of the region. Encouraged with this success, qualified through the learning outcomes, this year the course continued with the project in Araku valley of Andhra Pradesh state. The focus of the course was to understand how people live in and understand their environment (soil, topography, flora, fauna, climate) and how this is translated into their culture.
The school group stayed in a tribal school and learnt through a local NGO how mining of minerals is disturbing the sustainability of the forest people’s livelihood. The students visited the weekly tribal market, made an inventory of the produce and a map using GPS. During the trip the group visited a government supported eco-tourism resort, run by the youth to facilitate economic independence, as well as the Borra caves (one of the largest caves in India). The stay was culminated by visiting the Araku tribal museum and participating in Dhimsa, a tribal dance of the region.
The project allowed students to observe a traditional culture firsthand and thereby to reflect on their own culture. They started thinking of how to empower and bring change in the life of these tribal people. It has inculcated a sense of value and respect for human culture and the environment. Some expressed that they want to pursue anthropology as their field of study.
Travel and fieldwork allowed students to stretch beyond their comfort zones. They had to be together, away from home for a week, travelling long hours by train, living on basics with respect to accommodation and food.
- Genius Hour: The main objective of Genius Hour is to allow students to explore their passion and encourage creativity. They engaged in learning new languages (Korean, Hindi and German), photography, bird watching and creative writing. It was successful and self-motivating for students.
- Teachers Day: On 5th September, Faith students took up the role of the teachers for the younger class groups. The younger students were very happy with the Faith students as teachers! It was so successful that by popular demand, four students continued to assist Grace group each month for art and poetry.
- Poetry evening: Faith group had a few budding poets in the class. The effect was such that it inspired the other students to write and appreciate poems. In October, on a beautiful, candle-lit evening, all the students of Faith recited their creations in front of an appreciative audience of parents and teachers. “We enjoyed this experience. It was a great opportunity for us to go on stage and increase our confidence. We hope to do this again!” – Manya and Aiyana
In general across the school, the outcomes included:
- Clarifying school's values through establishing school agreements – to bring increased clarity to the values and expectations for behaviour in the school. The three agreements agreed upon are: care for self, care for others, care for the planet. The teaching team also drew up a document clarifying the school guidelines/rules so that the team could be more clear in communicating expectations and intercepting any unacceptable behavior at its outset. The whole school came together during a morning event where the oldest students facilitated a small creative project based on the school agreements within mixed aged groups.
- Supporting teachers, students and parents through a support group: The support group allows both children, teachers and sometimes parents, to feel supported to help understand and manage any behavioural issues that may arise.
- Recording student observations: This year the teachers started recording detailed student observations to better understand each child and to explicitly note where the student is in terms of his/her learning. This helps to better define future goals and areas of focus. It also allows each child to have a written history of observations that teachers can look back on and share with other teachers.
Most meaningful this year was the constant effort to drive the students towards taking responsibility for their learning. Progress was achieved with the help of self-driven projects like magazine publications, Genius Hour and research oriented projects.
Next year, teachers look forward to creating student portfolios and learning more from the children, engaging more with parents and with other units of Auroville.
- Integrating Sanskrit language in Deepanam School
- Knitting, crochet, weaving, stitching and spinning project
- “Microscope” & “Kaleidoscope” – Creative Writing at Deepanam