It had been a somewhat frantic morning gathering ourselves from our second night in Tasmania and our friend’s back garden camp spot. We finally hit the road with not much time to spare for our 9am appointment at Peregrine School about 45 minutes south of Hobart. The rolling hills and windy roads to the school’s front door had me again wondering how this school would compare with what we had already seen and experienced.
A gap in the trees appeared and up on the hill sat the school. The setting spectacularly picturesque and basically, in a forest. We made our way through the car park and in through the school gates, being led by the sound of children’s laughter and singing. We entered a door and were greeted and pointed in the right direction by a lady who introduced herself as Imogen. Around the corner we found our contact Penny who welcomed us warmly. Basil and Wren wasted no time in making themselves cosy in the enormous sandpit full of fun. Tom made his way over to join them as I began the tour with Penny.
“What lies at the heart of Peregrine is the fundamental development of relationships. From this core we develop learning experiences that truly engage learners. At Peregrine we do not believe that ‘understanding and skills’ are the only outcomes we should strive for in a child’s education”.
The school has three mixed aged classes. “ This approach to co-operative learning broadens relationships between students, creates a family atmosphere and provides opportunities for the students to help one another in social and academic areas”.
With the morning meeting underway, the school rooms were all currently empty. Penny showed me the learning spaces, three reasonably small rooms all with large window walls leading out to the garden. In 2 of the rooms the furniture seemed to have been pushed to one side, leaving plenty of open floor space. This part of the school used to be a house which explained the cosy feel.
Across the playground I was then shown the school’s very cute but well stocked library and a room used for one to one teaching. It was all seeming very sweet indeed. Penny showed me the school’s hall which she explained was used for concerts, the whole school meetings and lunch time when it rains. I enquired about whether children bring their own lunches just as we walked into the most spectacular commercial kitchen, alive with activity.
“The provision of shared lunch at school reduces peer pressure and issues of individual family definitions of healthy food. We aim to develop life long skills, values, knowledge and attitudes around making healthy food choices. Students learn about cycles, seasonality and change and the environment and personal impact of food choices”.
Penny introduced me to Mel the school’s chef who makes all the morning tea and lunch for the children, staff and any parents averaging at about 60 mouths to feed per day. I enquired about the dietary requirements Mel caters for to which she rolled off many. Penny explained that the children all eat together in tribes that are randomly drawn at the beginning of each year and remain the same for the whole year. Each tribe has a bench and a designated teacher allowing students of all ages to get to know each other and the teacher. This being integral to the school’s strong value of relationship building.
With that concluding the school buildings we made our way towards the barn as Penny explained the school’s approach to fees. Keen that the school be accessible to as many families as possible Peregrine offer parents the option to work for a reduced fee rate. If they are unable to do this due to time restrictions they simply pay more. Some parents, Penny explained work in the classrooms, others maintain the grounds, work in the library or work on the school’s enterprise of making bags from old donated boat sails. We entered the barn and made our way up the stairs to where the bags are made. Inside the little production station were two very happy, loving parents who greeted us with such warmth. They were very interested to hear my story, share their glowing and rave reviews of the school and up-sell their local community. My heart glowed as I heard how their children had integrated so smoothly into the school and their willing our relocation and attendance of Peregrine. The bags looked great and I looked forward to visiting the stall and supporting the school at the Salamanca markets the following Saturday, a regular stall staffed by parents.
We returned to where we had started and where Basil and Wren were still fully involved in their sandpit fun. I asked Penny if she would mind if I spent a little bit of time in the classrooms. She returned from clarifying with Imogen with a smile on her face and welcomed me to go where I felt called and that I should feel free to wander through the space.
Walking into a classroom that isn’t expecting you is never an easy thing but after wandering the perimeter I felt called to the little ones room. I entered the space to find the class of 14 students all seated on little cushions on the floor in a circle with their teacher, Chris. I asked if I could join in to which I was welcomed. I found myself a little spot behind some of the students and sat down.
The class sang and chatted before Chris asked me who I was. I introduced myself and felt the warm curiosity of the students as they scanned me and then the playground as I mentioned my children were outside. After the circle Chris explained that she would be working with 4 of the children and opened up the options to the other students to either do some threading or some art work. The students naturally split as they all eagerly jumped up and moved into their different activities. One student asked if she could go outside to which Chris agreed. I followed the young girl outside and sat with her while she began her oil pastel artwork. We chatted about a few things, she as interested in me as I in her. After some advice on the best tree’s in the grounds to climb I left her to her work and made my way inside where Chris was sat on the floor with her 4 students each with a small white board, pen and eraser. The students were practising their spelling some sitting and some laying on the floor next to their very present teacher.
Suddenly the class was also filled by a group of students and clip boards which I assumed must be the next class. The students moved through the youngsters which they all seemed to know by name asking which was their favourite picture from 4 images. Having marked off as many as they could on their tally’s they vanished as quickly as they’d arrived followed lastly by a young student with downs syndrome, clip board in hand, accompanied by his teacher.
I moved around the class a bit engaging with as many of the students as I could whilst the delicious smell of morning tea wafted through the room. The kids were so sweet! All of them so happy and focused on their activity. The bell rang and after a communal clear up the children were released to their tribes.
I thanked Chris for having me and got to ask a few questions. Chris’s energy was equally as sweet and gentle as her students had been as she explained that she had been at the school for over 10 very happy years. She spoke about the literacy program and how this is taught initially by the music teacher who spends a whole year bringing the children’s awareness to sounds and the skill of listening. With a tribe and her morning tea waiting for her, Chris headed out to the grounds.
The delicious smell of pastries had tempted Basil and Wren from the sandpit and together we all made our way around the corner to the tables. We were quickly found some cheesy pastries and Tom explained Imogen was waiting to speak with me. I joined the table as the fruit platter was being passed around and negotiations we’re underway as to how much fruit needed to be eaten before they could start on their pastries. When we first met Imogen outside the hall earlier that morning I wouldn’t have placed her as both the principle and the founder of the school but in her close company I now sensed both her intelligence and deep relationship with the school. She explained that her decision to start the school had come partially from her own experience as a former student at an alternative school, combined with their being no alternative option available at the time for her children. She spoke a little of the journey that the school had been on from its very small origins and its differing degrees of ‘free learning’. Imogen knew of The Pine School and every other school I said we planned to visit. Extreme alternative education is great for a small margin of children who’s families are willing and able to support the approach and fill in the learning gaps she explained. Peregrine had sat much closer on the scale to being extremely free in its approach but some students had been left behind. Imogen explained that not all students need lots of ‘teaching’ but others really do. Through their continuous flexibility and awareness combined with a dedicated team of teachers all on the same page, the school has now reached what Imogen believes is a good balance but one continually in review.
We left the school dragging our children from the sandpit and to Basil’s assured desire to attend this school. I have to confess I felt the same, Peregrine School had won my heart.
What I loved…
- The use of tribes to connect students across the whole school.
- The school’s serene location and grounds.
- That all students and staff eat together and eat the same food and the school’s overall philosophy towards food.
- The school’s enterprise and approach to parental involvement.
- The opportunity for parents to work for a reduced fee rate.
- Experiencing happy, confident little learners and their warm, loving teacher.
- The school’s moto ‘enjoy the journey’.
*all quotes taken from the Peregrine Prospectus.