Today we visited the Currambena School in Lane Cove, Sydney. Tom had contacted the school and asked if they would be willing to let us come and volunteer in the classroom or observe for a day but this was not welcomed and instead we were invited to attend the open morning.
I had been unsure as to whether or not the children would be welcome but nonetheless we all arrived at the school gates for the 10am start.
Just inside the gate we were greeted by 2 year 5 students behind a small table with pens, name badge stickers and welcome packs in coloured folders. With our names on our hearts we entered the school grounds and marvelled at the play structures that greeted us. Bas was very impressed but when he struggled to pull himself up the ropes and into the tree house he declared that he would not be going to this school.
I left Tom with the kids and made my way into the classroom that had been designated for the initial welcome and information session. The 2 teachers welcoming the 20 or so parents were a little officious and cold in their welcome. We gathered in the space behind the ‘do not cross’ line of masking tape and listened to the first teacher explain a little about the primary school. Established in 1969 by a group of parents seeking an alternative to mainstream education, Currambena operates in a flat structure being run by a council, teachers, parents and students. We were informed of the class structures being grouped with 2 ages or ‘grades’ per class. I liked that each class had a unique name especially the final class and its students commonly referred to as the elders. One teacher described the non competitive nature of the school and its focus on encouraging students to create personal goals. Assessments are used to track a child’s individual progress and the school does not take part in NAPLAN testing. The school believes in fostering relationships and teachers are spoken to on a first name basis. The children have some democratic rights, one teacher explained the process of class nominated P.E activities from an impressive selection of yoga, dance, martial arts, horse riding, ice skating and bush walking. There was a big emphasis placed on the conflict resolution process used by the school although no details were really given beyond this. It was also stated that the school offers parents workshops in the same conflict resolution approach.
After this initial sharing of information a group of students arrived at the back of the classroom to act as tour guides for us. I found myself 2 girls who seemed a little nervous about the task ahead and we set off into the school grounds.
My guides were elders at the school one of whom had been at the school for 3 years and the other just 2 months, previously having been homeschooled before that. It didn’t take long for one of the students to begin sharing her pain and frustrations at the school. From a catholic background and structured catholic school before Currambena, there were many areas of frustration in her current school. She longed for a school uniform and structure to work on her projects. She spoke of her pain and suffering regarding bullying and when questioned about the conflict resolution approach she explained that to her it felt shallow. She was apologetic that she was making the school sound awful but I was glad to have been able to hear what she had to say. My other guide danced around seeming quite lost in her thoughts and didn’t share the feelings of the other student. The tour highlighted the beautiful grounds of the school, beautiful as in child heaven. We passed the pre-school area of the school where Tom, Basil and Wren had settled right into. Basil was busy in the play kitchen and Wren was content not far from his side.
I thanked my guides and returned to the now question and answer session. Parents were eager to know if the school had before and after school care, I guess a very necessary component to its inner city location. One parent raised a concern that she knew a student who had graduated from the school and the school hadn’t come recommended unless the parents were wiling and able to fill in a lot of gaps in the child’s learning. The teacher responded in defence of the school and explained that the transition to high school is tailored to the individual child. She also raised attention to the child’s desire to learn and that if there is reluctance to learning there may be something much bigger going on for the child endorsing the importance of trusting relationships. I asked about the class sizes and student teacher ratio; this being approximately 22 children per class to one teacher with the added support of 2 assistants that float between the classes. The teachers were asked about how they manage different abilities in the classroom to which they described the process of observation that occurs alongside many open ended activities and the ability for students to move to their text books once they have completed a task. The teacher also explained the different outcomes she expects from different children based upon her observations and understanding of where the individual child is at. I liked this child centred approach. The question time was abruptly brought to an end as we were guided towards the morning tea in the staff room and told we needed to be off the premise in 15 minutes.
Back in the pre-school Basil had made himself very cosy. I arrived to find Wren on the trampoline and Bas adding the finishing touches to his art work. The teachers had welcomed our children’s involvement in the morning and allowed them to participate. I asked Basil to describe what he liked about the place to which he responded “I like the tree house and making things and painting that picture and the sand pit and that giant slide is my favourite thing.” anything bad? “No”.
We left the school grounds and I felt a little buzz of excitement regarding this incredible research project we have embarked upon. I didn’t necessarily share Basil’s rave review but it had been an interesting morning. I liked the school grounds very much and ‘on paper’ the school’s approach sounded child centred, non competitive, somewhat democratic and full of intent. I felt a personal reaction of unease and separation to the authoritative air around the teachers which I didn’t like so much. Maybe the teachers just didn’t enjoy the open morning? Maybe the mix of authority and democracy allows for a broader experience? Either way I didn’t feel that I was able to grasp a true insight into how this school truly works from the open morning alone. This highlighted how much I had been able to absorb from my morning at The Pine school in Brisbane and that the more classroom time we can get during our trip, the better.