The River School Turns 21!
By Kamala Alister
The Ananda Marga River School in Maleny, Australia is an early childhood and primary school with close to 200 students. In 2015, we celebrated our 21st year in style! It was a wonderful year with tremendous expression of art and creativity, community involvement and increasing recognition of the River School and Neohumanist Education throughout the Australian education community.
Some highlights of the 21st Year Celebrations include:
- The school has a new, massive mosaic that took all year to create. First the children submitted designs expressing their feelings about the school and NHE. These pictures were integrated by a well-known mosaic artist into a whole drawing. Panel by panel the children constructed the mosaic in the art room and it was finally installed in time for our huge 21st Anniversary Reunion. (see mosaic back cover of this issue).
- We had our first school Reunion! This took all year to plan as we wanted to invite all our past students, families and teachers. We held the evening in November and had a wonderful time! There was a welcome by Dada Shuddhacittananda, a school tour (our oldest families were amazed to see how the school had grown), performances by past and present students, a presentation of the school history as a fairy tale with slides, a delicious Indian Feast and the unveiling of the mosaic. When we gathered for a group photo, I started to sing our old River School morning circle songs. Everybody joined and we sang and sang! Finally we walked, singing, to the fire circle, where there was a ceremonial burning of the “wishing tree” parents and students had created and worked on for months. And we kept singing around the fire! The whole evening was held outside under the night sky with special decorations all around. A night to be remembered!
- We held a special day for the children to honour “Our Past, our Space and Our Land.” It was an entire day of outdoor workshops guided by Aboriginal teachers including Aboriginal dances, boys and girls business, adding our wishes to the wishing tree using hand made paper, tree planting and more. At night all the parents were invited for a Cafe Night (we hold these twice a term) with a delicious meal and special presentations by the children. It seemed to me that day the children were happy every minute.
The school also had some wonderful creative and artistic projects:
- We increased the music program so that students could study a vast range of instruments including guitar and bass, piano, marimba, bamboo flute, percussion, violin and cello, plus join choirs and small ensembles. Each Cafe Night for the parents was a special treat. The Maleny High school sees the benefits each year when nearly half of the students in the Music Excellence Program come from the River School.
- The school, under the guidance of a dedicated parent artist, initiated a River School Paper Project. During the year, the children recycled their scrap paper and each class took turns to turn it into new paper which they could use in their classrooms. It is such high quality it can be used in printers and photocopiers! Then, under the guidance of our Arts and Cultural Studies teacher, students in the Media Enrichment group made a video about the Paper Project that went on to win awards!
- The River School Pottery Project was initiated by a parent who is one of Australia’s top ceramic artists. She came twice a week and sat with her potting wheel on a veranda at the centre of the school. Children were mesmerised watching her throw pots and make bowls and got a chance to try. Later students were chosen to learn the skills of decorating and glazing the lovely creations. Everything was then sold at a special exhibit to raise the money to pay for the project.
The Ananda Marga River School is developing a strong reputation as a leader in alternative education under the dynamic leadership of Principal Jenny Oakley, now in her third year and school Acharya, Didi Ananda Devanishta. They are supported by an Advisory Committee of local professionals and a Board of Directors who are members of Ananda Marga. Some of the achievements include:
- Our Early Childhood Centre is truly a child’s paradise with a large outdoor covered area, outdoor play areas, a special meditation space, an “atelier” where children are free to do their own artistic explorations in many mediums, pet chickens and dogs, a huge sandpit and an inspiring Neohumanist learning program. It was a huge recognition of the staff’s dedication to achieve the highest possible rating: “Exceeds Government Standards!”
- Throughout the year we had over 15 student teachers who applied to do their practical teaching at our school. They all loved it, and two are now teachers in 2016.
- In 2015, the AMRS completed a Cyclic Review which is a government process required every five years. It needed massive focus by the Principal and staff. It was so successful that we were chosen as one of only five schools in Queensland to be visited by a government committee in charge of Independent Schools. The Committee loved their visit and asked Jenny to mentor other school principals in the future.
On our public Facebook page, you can see many of our activities and more photos, even if you are not a member of facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AMRiverSchool/