Transition School - some memories of the beginnings
by Suzie, 2010
The origin of the school: A proposal for the project was brought to our attention while we were working at Center School. Sanjeev came from Delhi and together with B put it in front of the staff at Center School. It was Croquette, Jeff, Francoise and Suzie who responded positively to the proposal and began to work on it. We had a number of brainstorming meetings with teachers and those interested in education. With Piero, we began to work on a plan. Jean LeGrand and Ulli were the original contractors, but the work was completed by Pierre E.
The name: There was, naturally enough, quite some discussion about the name to be given. Already the Tamils had fixed on Dana School, but we rejected that. It was Mauna who suggested “Transition” and we all felt that it was the right one. She presented the school with its first large photo of Sri Aurobindo when the Hall was ready.
The beginning: The site was an 8-acre peanut field with a few small neem trees in the middle of it. In order for the project to be accepted by the Greenbelt we agreed that there would be no chemicals used on campus and that we would develop in an eco-friendly way. Jean, B and Vijay were very strong about those guidelines.
We had a great debate about what to build first, because the government grant came in installments. Finally we opted for the small dining area, five small classrooms-cum-storerooms and the toilet complex. The Hall was the second installment.
In July, 1985 we moved over to the new campus. There were around fifty students at that time. Eric, a visiting educator from Belgium, gave us a lot of help that first year. He and Jeff, Francoise and Suzie were the core teachers, the only ones who met regularly. Croquette and Yanne took over one group of mainly French children and began to work along the lines of the well-known French educator: Frenet. Already at Center School we had begun to see how we could integrate the Tamil Aurovilian children, many of whom had been studying at New Creation until then. Sugu came with a group of children around 10 years old and he kept them as a group for a year or two.
How to approach language was one of the first big issues. Our first attempt resulted in separation into groups on the basis of mother tongue, with some overlapping in certain subjects. Within a few years we realized that that approach would not work so we began to form the groups by age. Most of the time they were taught in English and classes in mother tongue languages were held separately.
There were constant discipline and organizational tangles. One thing that helped was to begin to organize ourselves with groups around a main or class teacher.
Development: The completion of the Hall gave us a space in which we could meet as a school. It was built so it could serve as a small open-air theatre and library. We all gave a lot of importance to arts and crafts and music as necessary elements in any formulation of integral education, so a lot of energy went into the planning of the crafts building. During the building of it the small storeroom burned down and all the materials in it were ruined. There was no provision to recover losses in our budget and Pierre claims that there was not enough money to complete the building at the required standard. The result was that endless amounts of money had to be poured into the building over the years to try to right that early wrong.
The program was loose and was very much dependent on which teachers were on hand. We aimed at an integral program, but it took years to put that in place. In the beginning we could offer mainly basic language and math combined with working on topical projects. Meike did crafts and a kind of precursor to ATB, Paulo and Simone led dance, Udo sang songs with the entire school, and Jeff offered theater and carpentry classes. There were cooking classes, and Himal taught a form of mechanics. Bhagavandas and Djaia gave drawing classes for a short while. Many attempts were made to incorporate Tamil into the program. In the early years the children were actually quite resistant. Only Meenakshi could charm them into learning, but she was often busy elsewhere.
Vidya came with a small group of French speaking students in 1987. After a few years she left and joined with others to initiate the Mirramukhi experiment.
A few memories which surfaced and could be explored further:
- The story of the swimming pool which Luigi built directly under the electric line
- Overnights on weekends to socially mix Tamil and other children
- Problems with hygiene (lice, cleanliness)
- Horses that were ridden to school and, supposedly, kept in corrals
- The history of the children's lunch (David and Aurodam, Bharat Nivas kitchen with Ramalingam, Guiseppe, etc.)
- The discovery of dyslexia and development of trained teachers (Julie Poole)
- Heidi Watts, especially her developmental approach
- Portfolios (Rod & Kirti)
- Seminar in Delhi with Kireet
- The history of the sports program (Michael Z and Kirti, Fred, Mary, Ganga, Yves)
- The history of transport
- Relation with Last School (decision to keep children longer at Transition)