News from the Ananda Marga River School
Ananda Kamala Master Unit
Maleny, Sunshine Coast, Australia
By Kamala Alister
Here in the Southern Hemisphere we are in the final term of our school year for 2014. It’s been a great year with so many interesting projects and events that it is hard to remember them all!
In Term 3 we have had some exciting areas of study such as “Creating Happiness” in grade 6/7, “Sustainable Homes” in grade 4 (part of a Simple Living theme), “The Heavens” in grade 5 (including both astronomy and a study of the worlds’ religions) “Growing Questions” in grade 1 ( a science unit). As part of their Creating Happiness teams, grade 6/7 students have chosen a service project to support based on the idea that serving others brings happiness. The students have chosen an excellent collection of projects including service to animals, overseas and local projects.
We enjoyed our second student exchange with the Sunshine School in Laos. This year seven 14-year old students, two Lao teachers and Principal Didi Ananda Gaorii came for one month to visit our school. Each of the students stayed with one of our school families. We organized many interesting excursions for the students. They taught our students dance and organized an authentic Lao dinner and performance evening for our school. Once again an enriching experience for all!
Love for Animals
Early this year, the Early Childhood Centre adopted two baby goats, who the children named Nibbles and Puddles. Older children come each day to take the goats for a walk around the school grounds. There are also four small dogs that come to school with staff each day, which is wonderful for the children. Recently the grade 6 and 7 boys, with the help of some Dads, built a lovely chicken coop for the Early Childhood Centre. Soon that will be filled with rescued battery hens (chickens that would be killed otherwise as they have come to the end of their egg-laying life.) The Prep class also has guinea pigs in a spacious outdoor cage. Earlier this year an animal rescue organization carefully released two sugar gliders on the school grounds, and we have abundant wallabies, brush turkeys and other native animals and birds who call the school their home. It’s wonderful to see Neohumanism in action!
Each week this year a different class does a presentation on one of our ten virtues (loosely based on Yama and Niyama) for the weekly Morning Circle. These have included videos, posters, presentations, songs and more. It’s been quite an amazing display of creativity and wonderful to see what the classes have come up with. The large posters they made hang in our school library.
The grade 5 class participated in Students Teaching Students for two full, exciting days. They produced a wonderful video about the environment which they showed at the conference. They have been asked to show the video again for a local environmental organization.
The school continues to emphasize service at all levels. One of our ongoing projects is to support the weekly free lunch at the Maleny Neighborhood Centre. Each fortnight the school contributes luscious vegetarian lasagnas, made by students in a cooking elective and fresh salad from our gardens as part of the meal for over 60 people. Three children are chosen from the upper school to serve the meal each time. Our service is greatly appreciated by the Neighborhood Centre who comments on the delicious food and hard working students.
Recently our Principal asked the Neighborhood Centre what other support they needed. They said they needed toilet paper rolls to donate to families in need! In a short time, the school had collected 500 rolls of toilet paper that filled an entire car when the children brought them over to the Centre.
Morning Circle begins with kiirtan and collective meditation with all, nearly 140 primary students and teachers. Included is a candle lighting and blessing ceremony, songs, virtue presentation and announcements. It’s so touching that many parents, who are welcome to come any time, are nearly in tears by the end.
Music and Art
We have a specialist music and art teachers. Children can study guitar, percussion, marimba, keyboard and strings and we have groups for most of these. I loved visiting the grade 6/7 music class recently where the whole class created a band, with children on guitars, bass, percussion, keyboards, marimba and vocals all playing some cool songs together. Each year our students make up a huge percentage of the Musical Excellent Program at the local high school.
We have been holding two “Cafe Nights” each term. Parents, students and friends are invited to the school for a delicious sentient dinner and some kind of performance by the children. This is a good fundraiser for our Parent Committee and builds community at the school.
Sometimes we have an open mic with children and adult performance (although the children rehearse before and we make sure their performances are appropriate.) Other times our music groups or individual classes have performed. We also had a special evening where our past students came back to perform. We had two students who have become big names in music, and they sent in video clips and messages.
We also have a sentient, vegetarian Tuck Shop (canteen) which provides healthy vegetarian lunches and snacks three days a week, run by one coordinator and parent volunteers.
The school inaugurated a new outdoor playground this year, which includes two amazing musical instruments and innovative climbing structures.
In the last few weeks of term three, each class has headed off for school camps – to lovely locations. We ended the third term with our all-school Friendly Olympics, a River School favorite day! (The children get gold, silver or bronze ribbons depending on how much they have improved on their individual times in each event.)
Our annual Spring Festival is this weekend. The entire community is invited and we have exciting stalls (organized by each class), yummy vegetarian food, a big roster of entertainment, a giant water slide, talks and more. It’s organized by the Parent Committee as a fundraiser for the school.
At our local high school in the last four years, at least one of the students chosen as the year 12 student captains has been a River School student. One of our past students, Lij Gilmour, who is making a big name for himself in music said in an interview:
“Going to the River School gave me the ability to be able to express my feelings and my opinions and have confidence in what I thought,” he says. “They also encouraged me to get into music. It was joining the River School choir in grade six that sparked an intense love of music and performance, with a highlight being a performance for 90,0000 people at the Woodford Folk Festival.”