The Ananda Marga River School in Queensland, Australia is an example of schools run by Ananda Marga in prosperous communities in order to offer education with a strong spiritual and moral base, in addition to the academic and physical emphasis of conventional education.
The River School opened in 1995 with 23 students. Today we have over 200 students and 36 staff members.
Children who attended a preschool at this site previously came up with the school’s name while playing in beautiful Bridge Creek that runs through the property. They called it the “Wet and Wild River School”.
The primary school is divided into six “family” classrooms, some of which include multi-age groupings: Lillipillies (Year 1), Gumnuts (Year 2), Kingfishers (Year 3), Currawongs (Year 4), Regents (Year 5), Silky Oaks (Year 6) and Red Cedars (Years 6/7).
Many activities in the school are collective, with mixtures of ages, to encourage a sense of unity. The mixing of ages helps older students learn leadership and responsibility, while young children benefit from the guidance and help of the older children.
Morning Circle: The school week begins with an all-school morning circle that incorporates singing, meditation, a candle-lighting ceremony, small performances, our virtues program and general announcements. Parents often attend these uplifting gatherings and are always welcome to take part.
Body awareness: In Term 2, in preparation for the annual “Jump for Heart,” primary school students learn, develop and practice jumping rope skills and techniques. In preparation for our Olympics Day in Term 3, all primary children participate in a body awareness program three mornings a week, which incorporates a variety of activities such as body warm-ups and stretches, brain gym, cooperative games, sports, sports integrity, and specific training for our annual non-competitive Olympics.
Meditation and Yoga: This is our daily “quiet time”. Children benefit from early use of their imagination and intuition in creative visualization and meditation exercises. Yoga exercises help children stretch and relax, and discussions at this time centre on the “virtues” and other introspective topics.
Virtues program: Every week each family focuses on a specific virtue. Topics such as Courage, Teamwork or Compassion are covered. Children do artwork, role-plays, journaling and participate in brainstorming and discussions to fully integrate the qualities of each virtue.
Enrichment music: We have developed a music program with fun and feeling, giving children a broad range of instrumental and vocal experiences. This leads to opportunities for individual tuition, group ensembles and performances through the school. Additionally, songs that reflect our themes of universalism, ecology and positive concepts are an important part of everyday learning, especially in the lower primary. We also offer small group tuition in violin, cello and double bass with teacher Sue Moxon. In 2006 our string ensemble was formed.
Languages: Languages studied vary from year to year. Some of the languages already covered are Indonesian, Japanese and French. We intend to develop an all-school language program as resources permit.
Arts, crafts and performances: Art classes are a highlight at the River School with art teacher Tracy Lewis. Tracy’s program compliments the individual class programs. Art is integrated into many different learning areas, from mathematics to English, plus special art classes. Projects have included batik, cubby-building, sewing, candle-making, print-making and more. Occasionally local artists come in to teach specific techniques, and children have the opportunity to do more in-depth projects during electives. Children plan, design, direct and participate in performances at different levels – including role-plays in exploring different virtues, busking in town to raise money, skits at school camps, class speeches and presentations, musicals, plays, puppet shows, debates, and full-scale stage performances such as our 2003 CD launch for over 300 people at the Maleny Community Centre and our 2004 10th year celebration at the Showgrounds Pavilion with over 400 people enjoying food and performances.
Electives: Our whole-school elective program gives children a chance to study a wide range of subjects in depth such as video-making, lead-lighting, puppetry, cooking, outdoor adventures and dance. Teachers, parents and local experts are invited to teach subjects of interest.
Computer skills: We have excellent computer resources in our upper primary classrooms. Through practical projects, children learn necessary skills such as internet research, typing, web design, report-writing, layout and more.
Special themes and project-approach learning: In order to integrate the various learning areas, and make learning interesting and relevant, teachers and students choose regular themes and projects. For example, a theme of “ponds” in Year 1 included water testing, poetry writing, painting, nature studies and many other activities. A Year 3 class decision to raise money to help injured wildlife inspired a play about the “Council of Animals” for the public, with many related activities such as costume and stage design, advertising, fundraising and budgeting, learning about animals and their habitats, and more. Other themes have included study of the world’s religions, ecology and recycling.
School camps: Once a year the entire school goes on a school camp. In the third term the lower primary traditionally spends 3-4 days at the House of Happiness on Bribie Island to enjoy water sports and goes on excursions to learn about local history and wildlife. At a different time in third or fourth term, the upper primary will either have their camp at Bribie Island or at another location. Every second year the Red Cedars (Years 6/7) attend a Challenge Camp in Term Four. The children fundraise during the year to prepare for this special week that features outdoor skills, a high-ropes course, orienteering and many opportunities to learn group interdependence and develop resilience.
Excursions: Excursions are also an active part of our learning. We have explored many parts of our local environment, from hikes up the creek to examination of the town rubbish bins to learning about recycling to visits to the beach and local waterfalls, museums, zoos and more.
River School Olympics: Each year in Term 2 we hold our full-day River School Olympics. The children train hard in various events, including obstacle courses, hammer and javelin throw, long jump and sprints, then compete to beat their own scores from earlier in the term. Parents and families turn out for the day of fun and competition, which begins with an Olympic march around the oval and ends with silly races.
We also offer a learning support teacher as well as specialist teachers for children with special needs, and have had excellent results integrating these students into classroom life.
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