Sunday, June 10, 2007

Richmond Road Primary School

Quite possibly one of the best and most unique school in the Southern Hemisphere.

But I might be a bit partial.

Richmond Road is unique in that it is made up of four different learning units (ropus). Each ropu teaches children in a different language, either French, Maori, Samoan, and English.

I remember coming to Richmond Road and at first being shocked that students were learning three days a week in Maori and Samoan and only two days a week in English. It was my (somewhat obtuse?) view that English should be the primary language taught in an English-speaking country, and that the ratio should be three days English and two days Maori or Samoan (French, I reckoned, is a more worldly language, and could be taught three days a week).

My views have changed.

For the most part, most students speak to each other in English at most times (with the exception of a few little Frenchies who don't speak any English). Useful for the playground especially, as every playtime is the whole school together. I soon realized that students are everyday getting so much exposure to English, that the more they speak in their native tongues the better off they'll be.

It truly is unique and amazing.

I have had the fortunate opportunity to teach in EVERY classroom in the school. My main classrooms are in the Kiwi Connection ropu, which are the English-speaking Kiwi/Euorpean kiddos. When I do go into the other ropus, I teach in English. Always.

It is a treat to teach in the Maori and Samoan ropus when the opportunity comes about. Both cultures are very tribe and family oriented, and each day begins and ends with prayers, with prayers before every meal as well. To hear the children pray and sing in another language is such a joy. It's one of my favorite parts of the day. In fact, when Salu calls to see if I can relieve in a Maori or Samoan classroom, the first thing I think is, 'Ooh! I get to hear prayers!' It's also fun to listen to the other teachers speak to the whole group or discipline a small group in Maori or Samoan. It's interesting to me to try to infer what they're saying based on the (VERY) few words I know. And as a future resident in a non-English speaking country, I better get used to this.

Each week the students have assemblies where rooms take turn sharing their work. Community singing and dancing follows, and there are quite often special treats such as tribal groups who come to perform. Last week, the French ambassador to New Zealand came. He was greeted in four languages, including a Maori call and answer greeting done by two of our Maori teachers. I had such goosebumps!

The kids have 20 minutes of morning tea/play time and an hour for lunch/play each day. All students play together, from year 1 to year 6. Sometimes teachers just don't show up for duty, and that's ok, because the kids are very self-reliant. There are very few issues to deal with. The kids play and work hard together, but the school keeps a very casual atmosphere that is calm and welcoming. A little disorganized, yes, but that itself has helped me grow a little as well.

In all my life, I'll never forget my time at Richmond Road. I have learned and experienced and seen so, so, so much.

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