Some of what I´ve learnt during this last year

My initial desire for blogging in this forum was really to share my exoeriences of starting up an ALC in Mexixo. Many of the challenges that one has to face when starting a school are probably more or less the same everywhere you go. Others are cultural and unique to every place. I thougth it could be interesting sharing the process, expecially considering someone ele might find it helpful. Then, obviously, caught up in the daily operations, I found myself with less and less time. However a year has passed, and next week I start Explora´s second year. That is worth celebrating with another post!

The pros and cons of an after-school program

The pros are easy! I think the main thing has been that we don´t feel the pressure that comes with a full-time school. We can focus on only having fun and enjoy the work with the kids.

This has led me to be able to focus more on my kindergarten (which is not an ALC) and assure the economic sustainability for the smaller kids. That´s been very important, because it´s proven so much easier to get families to enroll in my kindergarten than in Explora. They understand the concept and they need it. So, by focusing on the kindergarten I have been able to set up the house, pay the bills – and keep both projects floating. Also, many of the kids in the kinder will continue to Explora once they turn seven., so it makes sense to focus on what eventually will make Explora grow.

Having the two projects in the same house has been great. They share facilities but son´t use them during the same hours. The kindergarten is adapted to 1-6 year olds – which for instance means the gate is always closed so the little ones won´t wander off. In the afternoon we open up the gate so the Explora kids can roam around freely.

The Agile Learning concept works really well for an after-school program. We´ve just had to adapt it since we don´t run it that many hours per week (only nine: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, three hours every day). That means we almost never have the time for change-up meetings. We only do them when we´ve got something serious to talk about. Sometimes the kids don´t see the point in setting their intentions: the time they´re there is short and they want to get out and have fun.

The cons have been many, mainly because I didn´t know how things were going to work out and have had to quickly adapt the project on the go, so to speak (see older posts). The biggest con is lack of parent participation. They simply don´t see the point. If they can just drop off the kids at Explora, why have to particpate in a meeting, or learn about self-directed education? Most parents are not interested in a full-time substitute for a school, and during what other after-school activities do you have to get involved as a parent?

This also means it´s hard for me to promote Explora as a full-time project, because the parents simply don´t get what it´s about. They don´t understand how broad the concept is, and what their children are really experiencing and learning there. They also have a tendancy to freak out with all the freedom we give their children. Since they´re not interested in finding out about self-directed education, they don´t approve of kids climbing the wall, making fires or using machetes unsupervised.

I think Explora is the most diverse program for kids where I live, because they can do so many different things every day. But it still seems I need to add on some chunkier stuff in order to make parents really see the benefits of the program (such as having an English speaking person come in a couple of times a week doing activities in English, or for instance music exploration, dancing or carpentery).

What would I recommend for someone else who wants to try the after-school concept?

I would start with three days a week, and I would do three days in a row.

I´d make those three days mandatory. Letting families choose how many days per week, weakens the project economically and – more important – affects the kids negatively. It´s so much harder to create a respectful culture when not all of the kids are there at the same time, or even know each other. The kids that come in only once a week don´t benefit as much from the agile concept, and we haven´t really seen any changes in those children in comparison to those who come in every day.

I wouldn´t freak out so much about the fact that time is short and adaptations are necessary. You simply can´t have the change-up meetings you might want, and reflection time is limited. But that´s okay. It´s still so much better than any other program.

You can use the after-school format as an incubator for starting up a school. This is probably the thing that excites me most at this moment. The thing is, it gives me another year to learn, plan and grow. And – just because the plan is to turn Explora into a full-time program, it doesn´t exclude the idea of an after-school program.

You see, I want to continue using the afternoon slots for the older kids. On one hand, because I want to go on separating the kinder and Explora. I could rent two spaces for that, but honestly, why? I know for one thing that I have no desire whatsoever to have to deal with TWO houses, TWO rents – well TWO of everything that comes with that idea. It´s just all the contrary of agile.

Then, on the other, I really want to give the kids the opportunity of sleeping in and letting them start the day when they are ready. Not when socitey says they should be ready. Starting at 2 pm makes that possible.

And… that means I´ll be able to run both a full-time school AND an after-school program simultaneaously in the same place. Monday to Friday from 2-7 pm I can have a school. And Tuesday to Thursday form 4.7 pm I can complement that and receive kids who´s parents aren´t interested in a full-time option.

That means I don´t need to turn people down just because they´re not interested in a school. The consequence is I might not need such a big group of kids for the school as I first imagined. The after-school program will grow during this year when more and more people find out about it, and that might actually be what makes it economically possible to run a small scale school at the same time.

Again, I think I´m on to something important here, but only time will tell how it´ll actually work out in reality.

If you have any questions about how to run an after-school program, please feel free to contact me!

Affecting society in unexpected ways

When you start up a school in Mexico, there are so many different aspects you can think about. I mean, after all you will start affecting other people´s lives.

The first ones to experience the difference, are obviously the children. After all, that´s the whole point.

Then you realize, that the families also are being affected. When the children are happy and the parents notice that they develop healthily, a certain openness develops that enables parents to take in new information and start thinking in new directions. Suddenly old mental paradigms are being challenged: things don´t have to stay the same. There might be other ways that work better.

But what I´m probably most proud of having contributed to, is what can happen when a woman without education (dear me, how awful!) is being given the opportunity to develop in a whole new direction.

Seven years ago I met and hired Lucy, a 32 year old woman who quit school at age 14. I chose her for the job as a teacher assistan because she told me she wanted a job where she would be allowed to take initiatives and carry out responsibilities (quite unsual down here).

During the first three years that I coached and guided her daily, Lucy went from being an assistant to becoming the main teacher, responsible for all the kids at the first school I started. Five years in a row, I raised funds in order to send her to the Waldorf trainings in Cuernavaca. Today she is the only vertified Waldorf teacher in the state of Oaxaca, and in the process of becoming the school´s director.

During these seven years, Lucy has gone through a  transformation. Not only has she succeeded professionaly. She has also managed to do something very few Oaxacan women have done: leave an abusive relationship, move from her village into  town and change her life completely.

Now, her entire village is starting to develop in a new direction. Lucy is shining and thriving, and young women are seeing her as an example to follow. She does what she can in order to support and empower them, showing them that you don´t need to learn how to cook and take care of a home in order to serve a man, but because that´s part of what you need to be able to live your life.

It never occurred to me that this could happen. I´ve mostly been very happy to have contributed to Lucy´s development. Never had I thought that a small village would be affected by that.

When I decided to open up my third kindergarten, it was obvious to me that the best solution would be asking Lucy to come down to Puerto Escondido and help me train my new teachers. I wanted to give Lucy the chance to challenge herself again, further develop and share her knowledge and competence with new teachers. And also, I´d pay her and not some center in Cuernavaca.

Three young women accepted the same opportunity that I offered Lucy seven years ago. And a new generation of teachers have just ended their first teacher training, given by Lucy and myself.

During two weeks we´ve worked our butts off in order to implement a new rythm, with a new group of kids, with three green teachers.

To observe how Lucy´s gone from green to mature, has been a real treat. Knowing that three new “Lucies” are on their way, is just incredible!

_20160813_093212

Lucy

13872955_1229097117111477_8324101394747827048_n

Lucy and I on our way to La Casita

What have I gotten mysef in to?

Most of the time I just focus. I don´t have time to waste on worrying. You can be a worrier or a warrior, and I generally choose the latter.

But sometimes it comes creeping up on me. The doubts. The anxiety. The worry. What if…?

What if it won´t work?

What if nobody signs up?

What if I´ve misjudged people´s need for something new?

What if I won´t be able to pull in any sponsors?

What if I´m just ending up with a huge deficit?

What if i´m not capable or strong enough?

What if I had been a man instead?

ARRRGH!!!

I hate when the doubts set in. And since I don´t want anyone to know that I too fall into the Fear, I don´t share how I feel. I´m afraid they too will start doubting and that would just make things worse.

But this is a place where I know I can share. Most people won´t even read it (phew!) but those who do might know what to say.

It´s just one of those days…

 

A new kindergarten is born

This has been a craaazy week! And also a highly fulfilling and satisfying week.

It´s the third time I do this, so at least I was prepared for what I was in for.

I brought down Lucy from Oaxaca a week ago in order to get my new kindergarten in order and help in training the new teachers. Lucy is my first employee ever. She started as a teacher assistant seven years ago at Papalotes (Mexican Spanish for “kites”), and for five years in a row I raised funds to be able to send her off to her Waldorf training in Cuernavaca. She has turned into a real bad-ass teacher, seriously, she´s so good I can hardly believe it even though I´ve been observing her every day now for a week.DSC_2285

 

I´ve done most of the theory with the girls, and Lucy shows them how to turn it into practice. We have 12 kids for the moment: 3-5 years old. The most important thing this week has been to implement a rythm that works for them:

They get in around 9am. We check their heads for lice (once they stick they´re almost impossible to get rid of). Then it´s circle time: we play fun games that train spatial intelligence, gross and fine motorskills and then it´s time for a walk where the kids explore nature freely.

DSC_2310

When we get back home, they have more free play, those who want help us prepare lunch, we eat, they do their dishes and then continue playing.

IMG_20160801_205248

Most of the materials are “unfinished” in order to trigger the kids´imagination: wooden blocks, branches, seeds (tiny and huge!), rocks and fabrics. I love watching a fabric go from being a turban, to a cloak, then a blanket and a tent!

DSC_2289

In the early afternoon, the kids have one main activity: it can be painting, baking, crafts or something else. They usually all want to join in, and the level of concentrationgoes from 3 minutes to 20 depending on the child.

DSC_2296

Then there´s more free play, then a story, rest and suddenly it´s time to go home again!

Except for the teacher team. We stay and analyze what we´ve observed during the day: what worked? Why? What didn´t work? Why? how can we improve it? The children´s behaviours – and loads and loads of analyzing how Lucy does things and why. This part is vital to me, and I´m very focused on helping the teachers develop their pedagogical thinkning: Yes, Lucy managed to solve that fight, but what exactly did she do that worked, and why did it work? This way of thinkning doesn´t come natural. It needs to be modelled and we´ve spent a great deal of time creating conscious awareness around what´s going on in the kindergarten.

We´ve been leaving around 4pm. Time for late lunch “a la Mexicana”, and then we´ve had to run around and get stuff that´s missing at the school. Doing this every day is exhausting!

I sometimes wonder if i´m completely nuts, I mean anyone would have given up by now, but I can´t. The small kids need a place like La Casita, and I just have to give it to them. Seeing them play freely and happily gives my life meaning, and receiving grateful and supportive parents is like frosting on the cake!