The Malta Independent 20 August 2017, Sunday

Believe, aspire, succeed

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 17 May 2017, 07:56 Last update: about 4 months ago

Some weeks back in this same Column I wrote about how important a village is for the nourishment and sustenance of our morals.  Villages, I claimed, teach us how to connect with the community.  In fact, village life has the privilege of preserving the skills of how people can live together, that otherwise risk being lost.    

The village the way I see it is a ‘nest’ that promotes these values and vital lifestyle skills.  A strategic player in this dynamic that can guarantee success, is the school.  Perhaps State run primary schools, which one can still find in just about all of our towns and villages, have an exacting role in all of this.  One primary school, like many others I am sure, that has been working hard in triangulating student development, parental involvement and a community rendezvous is Ħaż-Żebbuġ Primary, implanted courteously in the College dedicated to one of my favourite Saints, St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits.

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Now, those of us who have crossed paths (possibly not swords) with the Jesuits know well-enough that St Ignatius was all about embedding oneself in the community and bringing the change ‘one’ wants.  Their charisma was founded on performing real-world hands-on actions.  St Ignatius was not just about praying and meditating but about leading transformative acts - small deeds but which in multiples bring about a considerable change.  Now this school, Ħaż-Żebbuġ Primary, led by Ms Sue Azzopardi together with a team of assistant heads, Ms Leontine Spiteri, Mr Mark Muscat and Ms Claire Bezzina, in tandem with the College Principal Ms Maria Pace are closely affianced with these ethics.  They know that teaching is not just about using books, pencils and tablets, which their teachers, KGs, LSAs do so well, but it is about this constant link with the community and the grit to bring about difference. 

In effect, they persistently embed in their students this desire to believe in themselves.

They entice their students, to aspire to higher levels, not necessarily in terms of careers and material wealth but to become better people, more sensitive, more considerate and more socially engaged. 

They encourage their students to capture the school’s ethos which is very clear about success.  Success is not just about accomplishments but about the process.  It is not about banking more and more but about increasingly investing in oneself. 

That is why the link with the community is so intense. 

This school is in no way parochial, in fact it is very cosmopolitan if you had to ask me, extremely interested in global and not only local issues.  But if we want to make change, it is useless ‘looking up’ if you do not ‘look around’ and that is what this school community takes on. 

What I like about this school is its intensity.  

Once again, I’m sure this spirit is present in many other schools.  The way the activities are developed come from the bottom-up.  It is the students’ in their conversation with their educators and leaders that come up with the needs, the desires, the curiosities that they want to augment and expand.  Then, it becomes the ardours task of the Head of School with her Team to convert and translate these ideas and concerns into an objective. 

For example, recently they were involved in creating awareness on how to eat responsibly.  They weren’t content talking about it amongst their class mates, but they engaged the Village.  It took the form of a celebration, they bunged up the traffic, went on the Church Parvis and through drama and other forms of art spoke to the adults on how to do things well, to eat well and to consume responsibly. 

This is the heart of social activism and active citizenship.  It is when the little ones speak that we need to stop and to listen. 

One could go on and on, with a calendar that is packed with these activities

For example, a lovely initiative was to get community leaders, namely, the notary, the artist, the mayor, the nursery coach, amongst others to come and read to them and at the same time link up with these important stakeholders in society. 

This Boalian way of doing things in this school is fascinating, absorbing and intriguing.  All shifts from ‘spectator’ to ‘spect-actor’ and back again.  The dramatization of the issues becomes the accent, expression and opinion of the students.  It is a mix of street theatre and political activism, of civic awareness and sharing of voices.

The fundamental here is that children are re-calibrating their communities, refining their neighbourhoods and humanising their dreams. 

This is schooling at its best, education at its finest.

Like the renowned Paulo Frere claimed, it is not about banking or about looking at children as if they are empty helpless vessels, but about allowing children to express themselves freely, talking their minds but above all walking the talk.

Congratulations to St Ignatius College Zebbug primary school.

 

 

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