Friday 21st February - And they're off!
Our bags are packed and we are ready to go! Our journey begins today at 1.30pm on the Friday of half term, when we are flying to Dubai for a transfer on to Chennai. When we arrive in Chennai there will be a further 4 hour drive on to Pondicherry, home of our partner school Achariya Siksha Mandir.
We are very much looking forward to seeing what lies in store for us in Pondicherry and at Achariya Siksha Mandir and are ready to learn a lot, as well as sharing our experience of life at school in Marshgate. We will miss our classes lots next week and send our greetings from Asia - be good!
Please check back on this page every day if you can, as we aim to share what we have been up to as much as possible.
Mr. Aylett, Mr. Farrelly & Mrs. Flavin
Saturday 22nd February - A Warm Welcome
After a smooth journey to Dubai and onwards to Chennai we finally emerged through Arrivals at Chennai airport at around 9am local time this morning (Chennai is 5 1/2 hours ahead of UK time so our bodies and minds felt like it was the middle of the night!).
We changed up some Pounds into Rupees (Indian currency) and thankfully 1 rupee equals very close to 1 penny so no complicated mental maths was needed. After that task was accomplished we met Lazar Ramesh and Mohamed Sulaiman, Achariya's International Co-ordinators, who took us to a waiting car. We had a very interesting 3 hour onward drive to Pondicherry, during which our hosts described many sites of interest and explained in greater detail information about the area, the school and what we would experience during the week.
After arriving and putting our bags into our rooms we met Mrs. Geeta. S and Mrs. Rekha Anand - the Principal and Headmistress - who formally welcomed us to Pondicherry (see picture below). We then shared a very tasty meal of traditional Indian food before presenting our hosts with a few gifts from Marshgate and Richmond. All that remains today is to catch up on some sleep and prepare for our first full day tomorrow, which will be spent at a site of great interest called Auroville - all will be explained after our visit!
Sunday 23rd February - A Special Spiritual Sunday
After a restful night's sleep, with batteries recharged, we were collected for an early start to Auroville - Worldwide Centre for Unity. Auroville is a very special and unique community near to Pondicherry where from all nations live equally regardless of religion, social status and nationality. People can visit the site to feel peace and tranquility and to meditate in the Matrimandir (see picture!). Our guests organised for us the special privilege of joining a meditation session inside the building, which was unlike anything we had ever experienced before. We were surrounded by pure white marble walls, soft white carpet and focused on a central spherical glass crystal with a single beam of sunlight shining into its centre from the ceiling. It was a very tranquil place (strictly silent, with no mobile phones!).
We enjoyed lunch and saw a little bit of the gigantic school before receiving a special invitation to a Salangai Pooja. This is an annual event where a small number of girls (7 this year) perform their first Indian dances on stage in front of a very large audience. The girls learn for 2 to 3 years for this moment, with some dances lasting up to 10 minutes and many of the girls performing a dance alone. As UK delegates it was an honour to be special guests on this important day for the students.
We are very much looking forward to our first full day with the students at Achariya Siksha Mandir tomorrow and will report back at the end of the day.
Wow, what a welcome! Despite the rain Achariya gave us an amazing welcome today when we were welcomed by a traditional musical ensemble (whilst being filmed by Honey TV, Achariya's own TV station) and presented a garland of flowers and traditional oil lamps by the children and Mrs. Geeta, the principal.
After this we saw a dance from a very young girl who remembered an incredible number of moves to tell a story through Indian dance (picture below), followed by a rousing rendition of the Indian national anthem.
Next was a yoga lesson from two teachers and ten students. They contorted their bodies into amazing positions, we tried to keep up but only Mrs. Flavin had any degree of success! We were then impressed by the children's presentation skills and questioning in English. They shared the history of Pondicherry and 5A's partner class quizzed us with some very tricky questions about climate change.
Every day before lunch the students and staff take part in 5 minutes of whole school meditation, which promoted happiness and a sense of calm. After a traditional thali-style lunch (a selection of many dishes), children who have been indentified as musically talented performed on a range of instruments and sang traditional songs.
Last of all was ECA (Extra-curricular activities) where each student takes part in a class of their choice for an hour after school. We witnessed Karate, where a boy who holds a world record smashed a clay tile over his head! We also saw and took part in Silamabam, a martial art using a long wooden pole. This ended with Mr. Farrelly being flipped across Mr. Aylett's back (photographic evidence below)!
We had a fantastic first day at school and are looking forward to day two tomorrow.
Tuesday 25th February – Meeting the Reception children
After a morning session of energising yoga, we had the opportunity to spend some time with the youngest children in the school. They demonstrated some of their learning activities and we were particularly impressed with their confident communication and beautiful handwriting. One activity we thought was useful involved the children fastening zips, buttons and hooks. The teachers were as enthusiastic and encouraging as the teachers at Marshgate. We also got the chance to see the children having their lunch in the classrooms followed by a two hour nap (see photo below)
In the afternoon we were honoured to meet the Chief Mentor who founded the Achariya group of schools. We played some traditional Indian games, and developed our martial art skills in the blissful sunshine.
Wednesday 26th February – Exploring the classroom
We started our day by meeting with Principle Geeta to discuss ways in which we can continue our collaborative learning between our two schools.
We then taught a group of students some facts about Marshgate, including where we are in the world and key events in our school calendar. We were then shown a variety of PSHE videos, which have similar morals to those which we teach at school. We were also treated to demonstrations of Rubix cube solving and Scouts knots. One child was able to complete the Rubix cube in 15 seconds!
After lunch we went on our first full tour of the school. The children were doing exams, so we were careful not to disturb them. The classrooms have slate boards and projectors rather than interactive whiteboards, so we are keen to share this technology when the teachers visit Marshgate. To the delight of the reception children, we then played in the playground. We couldn’t resist joining in on the slides and crawling under the bridges!
When the exams were over, we joined a year 2 class for their ‘Power Reading’ session. This involved repetition of the teacher, paired reading and the use of actions to explore a simple text in English. We also learnt some Tamil letters and have some homework to do with our class when we get back!
Thursday 27th February – Student Tours
Today we visited Achariya Bala Siksha Mandir (ABSM), another school in the Achariya family. We had another memorable welcome when three boys dressed as tigers danced us into the school! Afterwards we were honoured as global citizens by the Principal and participated in a morning assembly. As part of our sustainability commitment with Achariya we each then planted a tree in the school grounds to symbolise care for our environment far into the future.
A few of the older students then shared their skills in constructing and programming robots and gave us lots of ideas to take back to Marshgate. Mr. Farrelly has grand plans to design a robotic version of himself to take his place in class (sorry 3F)! Our attentive and fantastic host Mr. Sulaiman (who will be visiting us in July) was called to a meeting so we were given a special impromptu tour by some Standard III children – equivalent to our Year 4. They took us to see some lovely art work, tae kwondo and encouraged us to join in with their running races (we didn’t need much encouragement!).
To end the afternoon we visited the French quarter of Pondicherry, where even the road names are in French. We had some quiet time in a famous ashram surrounded by beautiful flowers before seeing an elephant outside a temple dedicated to the god of success. There were many students queuing up for blessings ahead of their forthcoming exams.
We have seen and learned so much during our stay and can’t believe tomorrow is our last full day here. We can’t wait to see our classes on Monday and share our experience with the whole school.
Friday 28th February – The Finale
On our last full day in Pondicherry we rose at 4am to attend a special celebration at Auroville. It was the founder’s birthday so the people of Auroville construct a large bonfire near to the Matrimandir, which is lit just before dawn. We sat in peaceful silence and watched on until the sun chased the moon out of the sky.
To support our understanding of how our localities contrast we visited a temple site called Mamallapuram, which the Achariya students visit annually. Massive stone temples and carvings are carved from a single stone to create religious scenes featuring such Hindu gods as Shiva, Vishnu and Ganesha.
This evening we are attending a special celebration evening to recognize students’ achievements from the whole Achariya family of schools. Many thousands of people re expected to attend!
We will say goodbye to staff and pupils tomorrow (pupils attend school every other Saturday morning!) before flying back to land in the UK in the early hours of Sunday.
Saturday 1st March - Homeward Bound
The end of our trip came in the best way possible - saying goodbye to the children and teachers of
Achariya Siksha Mandir. Morning assembly began at 8.40am where we were thanked, and also had the chance to say thank you in return, for everything we had experienced over the week.
We started with some interaction time with Standard IV (5A's partner friends) and were so impressed by their confident questioning and knowledge; one boy replied 'a marsh is a low-lying wetland,' when we asked if he understood what the name of our school meant! Mr. Aylett was able to show them some photos of 5A and they were very excited; we made sure we took photos of each Standard IV child to show 5A next week.
Afterwards we took a quick tour of the school to say goodbye to teachers and students, we will miss their smiles and enthusiasm! Before heading to the airport we enjoyed lunch with Achariya's chief mentor, Dr. J Arawindhan, who is an inspiration having set up his first Achariya institution, a teacher training college, while still in his early 20s.
That brought to an end an amazing week in which we have learned so many fresh ideas and seen so many impressive students and teachers from Achariya. We look forward to maintaining our collaborative learning far into the future!