As enthusiastic parents of three children who are attending your school for the first time this year, I am reaching out to you with the desire to introduce your wonderful and child-friendly teaching approach to parents in our home country, Slovenia. Given that I have been professionally running an educational and didactic institution called Minicity in Slovenia for the past 10 years, where children learn real-life skills through play, I am even more interested in how your school operates. The purpose of this conversation is for me, as a parent, to better understand the “secrets” of your success and also to inform the Slovenian public about a different school system. Who knows, perhaps you will soon see an increase in enrollment from Slovenian students in your school 🙂
How far back do the beginnings of your school go, and who designed the system your school operates under?
We opened in 1971 and use the English Curriculum, however we have evolved to include the best practice as seen across the world.
Do you have statistics on the percentage of local students who are citizens of El Salvador versus the percentage of foreign students?
95% Salvadoreans and 5% international students.
Does your leadership and key management ever gather information about other successful education systems around the world, such as in Scandinavian countries? If so, could you mention any system that personally impresses you? Perhaps you, as a student, attended a similar school or experienced a good educational system?
Yes we do, I have been very impressed by the Reggio Emilia system which inspires our early years education. Some of our staff have had the opportunity to visit other Reggio Emilia institutions abroad to share best practice.
In Europe, Scandinavian countries are known for having top-quality education and developing successful and happy young people. Are you aware of this? Despite the positive reputation of the Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish school systems, their approach is quite different from yours. Could you honestly comment on the fact that children in Scandinavia play until almost 7 years old, nap daily, and serious learning begins very late, around 6 years old? In your school, learning starts much earlier, at age 5. How would you comment on this? Is it merely a different approach, or do you believe that children are mature enough to grasp serious content earlier?
Research shows that play is the best approach to learning until the age of 7 and we use a play-based approach. Learning through play begins when babies are born, the key to learning through play is to follow the child’s interests and needs. Many of our children start learning to read before the age of 7 because they have shown interest and are ready. Our 1st Grade is a transition from a play-based approach to student-led topic-based learning.
I don’t know if you’re aware, but in Slovenia, it’s now publicly known and academically acknowledged that the school system is extremely outdated, not adapted to the modern world, unfriendly, and competitive. It often creates a race for good grades and burdens young people with an enormous amount of theoretical data, causing significant stress. It’s often decided very early that a child will never become a doctor or lawyer because they didn’t have the best grades throughout primary school, making it difficult to gain admission to a good university. How difficult do you think it is for the country to change such a rigid system, requiring a complete overhaul of teacher education to move forward? Is such a change even possible within 10 years?
We changed our approach to learning in the early years very dramatically from one year to the next, it took 5-10 years before we had embedded the approach. Change can happen quickly but it takes time for the community to see the impact and embrace the new approach.
During the parent orientation this year, you emphasized the special achievements of your school, which holds IPC Accreditation. What exactly does this mean? I heard that only one other school in Mexico and one in New York have this title, is that correct?
The IPC is a cross-curricular topic-based curriculum that is used from Prepa to 5th Grade. The ICA accreditation confirms that we do a great job delivering this curriculum. This link will explain more about the IPC.
As a parent or friend having coffee with you, I’d like to ask: What do you think about this real situation? Our son Jaša turned 5 in May. In Slovenia, he would now be attending the last year of kindergarten, where children take daily naps on beds, are served food, and spend about 90% of their time playing. They don’t learn letters, read, or do math. Perhaps they learn to write their own name throughout the year. Your educational goal for Jaša, according to Slovenian standards, is 2-3 years ahead. Jaša’s teacher told me that all children will be fluent in reading in both Spanish and English by the end of the year, will be able to do addition and subtraction of double-digit numbers up to 100, and will write longer sentences in both languages. When I heard this, I was in shock. But when I learned that there are specific methods and approaches that work through play, are not theoretical, and don’t require 5 hours of practice every day and entire weekends and more – achieving these goals was confirmed by all parents of older children. Despite all of this, I see that Jaša goes to school with joy and returns extremely happy. And – you won’t believe it, well, maybe you will, but I still can’t fully comprehend it – Jaša can count to 20 in both languages in a matter of days. How is this possible? What would you say to this if you weren’t from an academic background and I told you this as a friend over coffee? Would you believe me?
It is hard to believe it until you see it, but the research is very powerful. I like this presentation from UNICEF.
Another significant difference at your school is that students don’t receive grades 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 until the 5th grade, unlike in Slovenia. Do you believe that it doesn’t matter how high a student jumps, but that you should individually and personally show each student how to jump even higher? Can everyone jump higher? And do teachers provide advice, steps, and techniques to help students jump higher?
Yes we value progress more than attainment, with the focus on how a child can achieve their next step, but we do let parents know how the child is doing against age-exepectations and developmental stages.
How about later on? In the end, when athletes really train, it still matters who is the best at the Olympic Games, who is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on. How do you ultimately assess who is the best, who is worse, and who struggles? Are measurable grades not important for university admission? We are not familiar with this system; please provide a brief explanation.
The children at our school will take the IB Diploma or IB Certificates, we support our students to prepare for their next stage in life which may be university, but which may be on other pathway.
What knowledge must teachers have to join your ranks? It’s likely not just knowledge of the English language or being a native English speaker and knowing mathematics. They probably need to be familiar with your method and system, right? Is there training for this?
Our local teachers our recruited from our pool of qualified teaching assistants, which means that all our teachers have been internally trained and have experience of our approach before taking on a teaching role. It also means that we have an excellent team of teaching assistants. Our expat teachers are recruited for their alignment with our approach and how their previous experiences can contribute to the development of our school.
Today, I understand why your school is expensive, and the amount seems entirely justified, perhaps even low given the number of staff and activities you offer. In Slovenia, teachers don’t have assistants, but in your school, every teacher has an assistant. Additionally, our schools don’t have as much specialized staff for emotional, social, and academic support. Also, in our country, we don’t have separate teachers for more specific subjects like art, music, robotics, languages, dance, IT, swimming, and a whole host of staff that you employ. How many people in total work at your school?
In Primary we have approx 90 staff which gives us a high staff to student ratio.
Despite working in the business world and feeling confident most of the time, I have great respect for Slovenian teachers. This respect likely stems from my own time as a student, but it’s different at your school. Even your leadership, teachers, and principal greet us parents with kisses, engage in relaxed conversations, and appear more like friends than authorities we look up to with reverence. How do you manage this?
We are a values based school, we believe in mutual respect, empathy and transparency. We work in partnership with parents and welcome challenge as it helps us to grow.
Our daughter Mija, who is in the 4th grade at your school, is going on a school trip this year, which she’s already looking forward to, and so are we. You take the children on tours of New York City’s landmarks and on a one-week skiing trip to the American mountains. Such trips are not common in Slovenia, and with such well-planned, quality travel programs. Is this a regular practice, done every year?
Yes we offer an optional ski trip in Grade 4 and the UK trip in Grade 5. We also have local overnight camping trips, which start in Prepa with a night activity, then go to a sleepover in 2st Grade and camping on campus in 2nd Grade, 3-5th Grade camp off-site.
I am fascinated by the values of your school that you incorporate into the daily education of our children – honesty, empathy, acting as responsible global citizens, endeavor, respect, fairness, humanity, community, etc. Personally, I believe that no one knows how the world will develop, what we will do and need in 20 years, and what knowledge will be required for work. However, I believe that as a civilization, we will only thrive if we follow and live these values. What do you think? What role do these values play in your school?
We are a values based school, every four years we review our values and reflect on how successfully we are delivering our mission. Our mission and values may change but our commitment to being a values based school is constant.
I remember the quote, “reading is fundamental. Now you are learning to read, so that later you will read to learn.” How would you comment on this, and what practical advice do you give to children regarding when, how much, and what to read, where to find material, and why reading is so important according to your perspective?
This is a fantastic quote and our goal is to instill students with a love of reading. Our literacy curriculum is called the power of reading and helps us deliver this goal by reading really great books with students and learning through the text.
You advise inviting all children to birthday parties. Bravo. I remember the pain when my daughter was not invited to certain classmates’ parties. But you know what – I was too narrow-minded to suggest inviting everyone myself. In our culture, this is not a common practice, and parents probably also think about costs; they might believe that less is more. However, we don’t always consider the feelings of others. How did you come up with such a great solution? Whose idea was it?
Pinatas are a fantastic tradition in El Salvador and big celebrations, as a values based school we always reflect on how we can ensure an inclusive approach to everything we do.
If you were a wizard and could create the best school in the world by yourself, what would you take from abroad? Can you mention any small details, experiences, adventures, or practices from other schools around the world that have impressed you with a technique or method?
I would like to learn more about forest schools and provide our students with more opportunities to learning in and from nature, for example grow their own vegetables.
Thank you for your time and willingness to share the secrets, recipes, and ingredients for creating happy, intelligent, and value-rich children. Good luck going forward, and we remain your fans.
|Na vprašanja odgovarja: Marianne Taylor|