One of the aims of Aikiyam School is for students to become fluent in English as well as in Tamil. To achieve this, the school welcomes volunteers, who are either native English speakers, or speak and write English fluently as a second language. Most volunteers stay between one and four months, but each year we have one or two Weltwaerts volunteers from Germany, who stay for a full year, and become an integral part of the “Aikiyam family”.
School Year 2013-2014
I loved Aikiyam School from the very first drive in! Turning off the road from Kuilapalayam village towards Auroville, you pass old trees and banyans that shade cows resting, goats and the local motorbike rental shop.From the gates of the community of "New Creation", the school is first on your left before the road winds into this community featuring the distinctive modern architecture of Auroville. In the school too, the architecture is distinct. Many classrooms are reminiscent of settled space saucers and in size and design, they express something of the nature of the school's culture; creative, unusual, playful, fully child-centered. Being a part of this interesting and fun educational community, where much effort is spent on making the children's learning experience creative, particularly in the early years, has been a delight. Volunteers are made very welcome and many of the teachers, children and volunteers eat together every school day with the children in the communal dining hall where lunch is on offer. Shankar the head of the school went out of his relaxed, but fully engaged, multi-tasking way to show me around and to share his knowledge and ideas about Tamil culture and Auroville, and about creating a bridge between the two in the school, and elsewhere.
My engagement with the school was initially through art therapy. I was working with Tia Pleiman in her integral art studio where children from the crèche upwards to about age 14 come to engage in many and varied creative art processes. Tia is an art therapist from New York, who realized her aims and practice to be very in alignment with the integral philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, the guiding forces of Auroville. Tia has been forging a dynamic practice in the school. It was so interesting to work with her and also to replace her for about three weeks when she went to Orissa to work with tribal children in a Sri Aurobindo Ashram school there. Many adjectives apply to the experience of working with her - inspiring, fun, informative, stimulating and rewarding, personally and professionally.
The children are very delightful and also challenging of course! When any creative process is articulated well, they respond with enthusiasm and as they come from many impoverished families, theyappreciatebeing able to work with art materials and particularly in the fun way Tia facilitates. Many of the class groups will come with their teachers so Tamil/English language issues are alleviated.
Through the art processes thechildren not only have fun, but nourish their spirits through creativity and meditation, reflection and storytelling and also expand their literacy and social skills such as collaboration and patience. For the younger grades, motor skills are also developed through art various activities.
I was also sharing an apartment with Tia and so there was ample time to discuss and reflect and cook up new processes. The Aikiyam Teachers’ Residence where she and other teachers live was also a delight. One of the teachers organized a bonfire to celebrate Christmas, asking village children who attend the local Cultural Center to come. It was a sweet Christmas event.
It was a joy to be there and engaged with art therapy, and then later, as I saw it would help the school, to build the school a new website, which features videos some of the activities of the school.
My name is Kate
Strassman, and I am a third grade teacher in the USA. I came to Aikiyam School for
three weeks in July 2014 to do a writing project called "Real and imagined Ancestors"
with the 6th, 7th, and 8th standard classes.
The basic steps taken to realize this project were for students to pick a person in their family from long ago, ask their family questions about this person, and then combine these facts with what they imagine about that person. The result was a vivid paragraph about an ancestor who becomes very meaningful for the student because the project connects them with their own family history. We made the past come alive through writing. The method of teaching I used for the writing project is called the writing process.
The first step called prewriting involves getting ideas to write about by using charts and questionnaires. We also drew a family tree during this prewriting step. Students gathered their facts, and also went on a guided visualization where they met their ancestor. From here, students write the first copy of their paragraph called a first draft. I modeled, by giving a personal example, how to take their facts and imaginings, and weave them together using sentences that flow in a logical sequence.
After the first draft was completed, we revised it. To do this, I read all of the papers, and gave each student a positive point to be proud of, as well as some points that they could make better. Students also read each other's paragraphs at this stage (peer feedback) to give extra comments. I modeled how to fix common grammar errors, and students then worked to locate their errors and make their writing better.
They then wrote a second copy, called a second draft. I went through each student's paper carefully with a red pen, and edited them for grammar, punctuation, spelling, sequence, and other errors. The last step is called the final draft, and students wrote their paper one last time, fixing all of the editing marks by writing carefully with their best handwriting.
Altogether, this process took two weeks! You may think that two weeks is a long time to write one paragraph, but the result was an excellent piece of writing from each student. As teachers, we need to teach our students that in order to make something really good, we need to fix our mistakes, make changes, and put in some extra time.
After the writing was completed, the students created portraits of their ancestors. I showed them famous portraits from artists like Picasso, Matisse, Frieda Kahlo, and David Hockney. We learned how to draw a proportionate face and also how to layer many colors of oil pastel to create realistic skin tones. Because we talked about how the background of a portrait can tell the story of a person, many students included the Tamil landscape in their portraits.
At the end, we had an exciting showcase of all the work in the dining hall after school. It was a gorgeous and colorful show, full of vitality! I am truly proud of all the students at Aikiyam who completed this project with me.
I also conducted a Saturday
workshop for teachers at Aikiyam, and went
through the steps of the writing process with them. Teachers practiced their writing and went through a mini version of the writing process themselves. The results were truly wonderful pieces of writing. I'm convinced we have some authors teaching at Aikiyam! Teachers thanked me for having them write, and said they would never have experienced this unless they had been asked to try it. It was a positive and new experience for all.
My name is Marie, and I was a volunteer, assisting Tia in the Art Therapy classes for five weeks in March-April 2014. I really enjoyed being in the school, which was not too big, with its nice playground and original classroom shapes. The Principal, Shankar, and the other teachers were really nice and friendly. It was really interesting for me to share my experience with them and with the other volunteers who were there for a longer time. The Art Therapy classes were really fun, and the projects were just lovely. I enjoyed the kids here because they were really motivated to learn, had good cooperation and respect amongst themselves, and were really creative. They also respected the teachers. I also had also the opportunity to go to the Special Needs class several times to see what they were doing and to help the teacher. As a primary school teacher in my home country, France, I really liked my experience in Aikiyam. I learned a lot, and now have new ideas for my class. Thank you so much !
The last ten months in Auroville's Aikiyam School have been a wonderful experience. I enjoy working with the children, first in second and now in third grade. I spend the entire school day with them, assisting with all of the subjects except for Tamil. Five weeks ago I started giving English lessons to fifth grade completely on my own; a big challenge, but a lot of fun! In the beginning it was challenging to teach children with a completely different cultural background, speaking an unfamiliar language. But with time, and help from all of the great staff, I learned, and now I feel I am part of the school.
For me Aikiyam means a chance - a chance for the children to learn something, to develop their skills, and to just be children; a chance for the staff to teach in many different ways what they consider to be important, and to change what they consider in need of change. And it is an incredible chance for me; a chance to learn from these children how they view life, to learn about Tamil culture and language, and to compare all this to what I know from where I grew up; therefore a great chance to learn about myself. Thank you for that!
School Year 2011-2012
This school year (2011-12) 10 volunteers joined the Aikiyam staff for 1 to 3 to 6 months to work with our students. They came from England, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and the United States of America. Some took on the role of assistant to a teacher. Others who have teaching experience gave ideas and coaching to individual teachers or facilitated workshops for all the teachers. In speaking with them they agreed that being with the children was the highlight of their experience. Learning about the Tamil culture and daily lives of village children was an eye-opener. They appreciated the warmth and openness of teachers and support staff. Through their individual contributions they learned the importance of being flexible. The fact that volunteers are taken seriously and treated with respect made their work rewarding. Here are the reflections from most of our volunteers:
Bryn from the United States
“How amazing and motivating it is to see a community empowering its future leaders from within. I was really impressed to learn how many teachers at Aikiyam School actually attended there as students. I just finished a 2 month volunteer-teaching and mid-way through I realized the students' need for more reading, FUN reading; not required or assigned. So I set-up “Reading Buddies”. I worked with a small group of students each morning before school just reading, getting used to books, and developing vocabulary. We played games and talked about how silly some words sound! Upon leaving, I saw HUGE improvements and the program was even expanded. Thank you Aikiyam School, for sharing your light with me and allowing me to learn along side you!”
Caroline from Germany (Weltwaerts program)
“I am very grateful for my one year experience volunteering at Aikiyam School. I have a whole new understanding of what a school is about, how much work it takes to be well-run, and how important it is to create an atmosphere that makes the school the children’s favourite place in the world. Working in the classroom has helped me to understand the Tamil culture better. I observed that the children match the energy of the teacher: if the teacher talks in a calm voice, the students are more likely to be quiet and behave in the same manner; if a loud voice is used, the class will probably respond in shouting. This phenomenon I observed especially in the lower grades. This year has shown me that a teacher is a learner and that I never want to stop learning.”
Hazel from England
“In October 2011 I came to the school to work on a Shakespeare project, “The Tempest”, with the students and the teacher of standard 6. I was impressed with how well the teacher had prepared the students. They understood the plot of the play and had a good sense of who the characters were. Given that English is a very difficult language I had already created an adapted script. Early on my instinct was to discard the script and get them to improvise the situations and this proved the most successful in providing spontaneous performances. All I can say about our cast is that they rose to the challenge magnificently. I can honestly say that I learned as much from them as they (hopefully) learned from me.”
Sandra from England
“This is my fifth year as a volunteer teacher at Aikiyam School and I have enjoyed my time here very much. I spend my days in the library, where teachers come to me to practise English. This can take the form of conversation, help with projects or lessons, or setting them up with email so they can contact their friends, many of whom are ex-volunteers. During my first lesson with Radha Krishna, the Science teacher, I was asked how to use the word pseudopodia* - not a common question! Fortunately I love biology so was able to oblige without recourse to a dictionary! This is a wonderful school and the staff have become my friends. I look forward to my return next January.”
* for especially curious readers: pseudopod (also pseudopodium) Plural pseudopods, or pseudopodia: a temporary foot-like extension of a one-celled organism, such as an amoeba, used for moving about and for surrounding and taking in food.
Siri from the United States
“My experience volunteering as a teacher at Aikiyam School was one of tremendous heart-opening and growth. I will always look back upon this time I spent as part of such an exceptional community of learning with tremendous gratitude and affection. I absolutely loved collaborating with the staff (who made me feel welcomed and like a valued member of the team from day one!) and working with the students, who were so open-hearted, full of great ideas, and eager to learn. I learned so much about Tamil culture from my students and fellow teachers and had so much fun each day! I hope to return to spend more time at Aikiyam in the future, and in the mean time think of it often and with great warmth.”
Spartaco from Italy
“I started at Aikiyam in December 2011. I was asked to help the Science teacher liven up lectures for the seventh and eight grade. The teacher was open to new methods, implemented many of my suggestions, and encouraged me to interact directly with the students. Working with children on a daily basis is not always easy, but the environment at Aikiyam is positive, inspiring, non-threatening, and conducive to the nurturing of the best human qualities. Looking for avenues for improvement, I would suggest that more use should be made of volunteers, to increase both students' and teachers' English proficiency. Teachers should be made more aware of how crucial the level of English comprehension is for the students' progress and education.”
Tina & Alia from The University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA
Alia shared the following,
“My experience as a volunteer at Aikiyam School is one I will remember for my lifetime. I am a graduate student and like myself, the teachers continue to grow and be willing to learn new ways of teaching. I witnessed teachers working cooperatively to cover all the subjects, attending meetings and workshops outside of school hours, and working together to find new ways to meet students’ varying needs. I was amazed at the books and resources available to students and teachers in their school library, in both Tamil and English. I will never forget the children who were so excited to share their school work, their smiles, and their kind and respectful behaviour.”
“Working with the students and teachers was inspirational, rewarding, and educative. As a practicing teacher in Seattle, Washington, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to include my own class and experience with the Aikiyam students and teachers. Writing a partner story with the 2nd standard children and exchanging pen pal letters with the 6th standard students were some of the rich experiences I feel help build a bridge between the two cultures and my own understanding of culture and schooling in India. I am thankful for the welcoming and encouraging environment which allowed me to ask questions, observe, instruct, and feel a part of the family. I plan to continue communicating with teachers over Skype and to have my class connect with students at Aikiyam in the future.”
School Year 2009-2010
In 2009-10 we had 12 volunteers. They came from all over the globe. Here are the reflections from some of them:
From England I came east to change my life, and the work I'm doing with class 3 is a major part of that. The first thing that struck me was how enthusiastic the children are to engage and participate in class – though not always in the way I want them to. Their level of English is impressive and they almost always understand my instructions, and sometimes they even follow them. The children's energy is boundless; I feel like a juggler on a unicycle pushed to my physical limit just trying to keep up with them. I go home each day with the echoes of “Michael! Michael! Michael!” ringing in my ears.
As for me, it's that kind of sink-or-swim situation that comes from jumping into the deep end, so I'm trying to stay calm and keep my head above water. Whilst working hard to at least accept such an alien culture I'm learning a lot about classroom management, organization of people, creativity in education, and the wonderful capabilities of 9 year olds. I wouldn't swap my class for any other in all of India . We're not perfect, but we're working very hard to get better. Though the children will always pay more attention to their class teacher than to me, I won't let it stop me from trying to get somewhere – I'll just keep juggling and pedaling like our future depends on it.
I worked in the Aikiyam school for 3 ½ Months. From 17th August 2009 till 30th of November 2009. I spent the whole time in the Kindergarten of the school. For the first 7 weeks I worked in the LKG with Vijaja and Kalai.
I introduced the idea of running Free Play once a week with the whole Kindergarten. Free Play is a method, which offers the children different activities, such as painting, dancing, ball games, playing in the sandpit, cutting and pasting, etc..The task of the teachers in this case is to open a space where the child can choose one of the offered activities by themselves. Because of the openness of the teacher and their interest in new activities the Free Play project was very quickly established and an improvement process could start. The installation of the Free Play technique was a pleasure for me; now the teachers are able to organize and implement Free Play on their own.
Working with the team of teachers was always a pleasure for me and now I feel like I'm part of the team. I hope that the recommendations I gave the teachers will continue to help them in the future. During my time in the Kindergarten I recognized all the positive and negative aspects of education in the context of the Indian culture. I recognized that each nationality has its own advantages and weaknesses. I hope the different nationalities working together at the school will create a surrounding for the children where they can grow to their full potential.
At last I want to thank the Aikiyam School that I could spend time here at the school. The experiences I had here will influence my future direction. During my time at the school I had the opportunity to develop myself a lot.
I have been primarily working in the 4 th grade, although I also assist in other classrooms throughout the Aikiyam school. Coming from teaching in NYC which is a completely different culture, I found immediately that the children were so open to me, new ideas, and enthusiastic about learning! The children along with Murugan have made me feel that the classroom is my home. Murugan and Mala also welcomed my ideas and suggestions and together we have created a dynamic curriculum. The children have studied all aspects of food, gone on field trips, are caring for their own plants in the herb garden, graphed data about vehicles on the road, put on the play of Alice in Wonderland, written their own stories and poetry- to name just a few things! As much as the children and staff may learn from me, I am also certainly learning equally from them and being a part of Aikiyam. Being in a new school and a new culture brings a fresh perspective to my view of the world and of teaching.
What I love most about Aikiyam is the children and the community that has been built to create the most warm, welcoming and exciting environment possible for them. In the mornings when I arrive at the school, the children from all classes and ages call out my name, the teachers' wave to me or have some piece of information to share. There are children already at work in the gardens. Other children play outside their classroom doors. I feel that I have truly become a part of the school and I am grateful to each child and staff member who has helped me to feel this.
I am 22 years old. At the moment I enjoy my last month of my internship at the Aikiyam School. I study Social Work at the University of Applied Sciences Mannheim. One part of my studies is a practical semester, where I have to gain practical experiences for a job in the future. I feel very happy that it was possible to spend my time at the Aikiyam School. The work with the children is fun, especially because of the openness and the interest of the teachers for new ideas. They welcomed me very warmly and made it easy for me to get into the Indian lifestyle.
In hindsight it is clear that I was always going to come to the land of Saris , henna and bright colours.
Born in Zimbabwe , but schooled in South Africa , while travelling during my holidays to visit my parents in East Africa I thrived off the contrast offered by different places. Being African, the sun, bright colour and warm people, have always been an appreciated feature of life.
Impatient to see more of the world, I travelled with one of my closest friends for a year in between school and university, acquiring a TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate before our departure. My undergraduate degree in Media Studies and Religious studies was no less fun than our year abroad and it was refreshing to take life a little more seriously when I discovered my love for teaching. My Postgraduate Degree in Education was a rewarding year. After qualifying I toyed with the idea of doing substitute teaching in the UK , where my parents have relocated, but it wasn't long before the sun called me to Spain to practise my English teaching. Clear that it was time to live my Indian dream I spent the next ten months as a classroom teacher covering teachers' leave in schools in Oxford and now here I am.
Aikyam has been a great contrast to my experience in the classrooms in the UK and summer camps in Spain . While I enjoyed teaching in the UK , the contented sounds of happy children in and outside the classroom and on the sports grounds here at Aikiyam cannot compare. What a treat it is to teach such eager and curious little people. It is hard not to be sucked into this school because there's a constant sense of greatness displayed in every area. Each staff member takes their role extremely seriously and everyone seems keen to learn and help each other. With this openness to the exchange of ideas, there is massive potential everywhere you look. I couldn't think of a better teaching environment, when there is lots of teaching going on but equal learning…yes please! Chance circumstances or destiny, it doesn't matter. Here I am and I feel I am exactly where I am meant to be, for now J
I am very happy that I worked here. The teachers in the kindergarten were very friendly and open to me from the beginning. If I have problems or a difficult situation they help me. The children have many options to learn in different ways. The project work in the classes is a big motivator for learning.
For me it was a great experience to have worked here !
Here are comments from the Aikiyam staff about their experiences with the volunteers.
Pips brings her interactive methods of teaching English to Saithya's classes. She now uses Pips' method of introducing a new topic by getting the children involved in the topic before teaching new things. For example when introducing the lesson about Stephen Hawking she showed the children pictures of many different people. She asked the children to tell what they say and then moved on to Stephen Hawking who is a disabled scientist. Pips brings many games and motivational activities to the classroom which Saithya appreciates as she sees how the students become more motivated to learn English.
found that having a native English speaker like Michael to teach science was a great way to expose the children to the language.
Murugan has been working with Meghan. He has enjoyed planning lessons with her and developing ideas for project based learning. Their latest project is doing a traffic survey on the Kulipalayam Road to see how dangerous it is for the children who must come to school by walk everyday. Murugan is also starting to change the way he assess students. Rather than rank them by scores for their work he has begun to do observations and note taking to look for areas of progress. He wants to assess students through the narrative method which Meghan has introduced.
Usha, Praveena and Manju
have been working with German volunteers. Dominick, Lisa M. and Lisa K. This is the first time Usha has had a volunteer in the Kg. She was worried that children would be afraid of the western strangers but Dominick and the Lisas were easily accepted by them. All of the volunteers were kind and friendly with the children. The children listen and learn from them. Dominick inititated the Free Play session which all of the teachers are excited and happy about. They continue to develop the Free Play without Dominick which shows the kind of lasting impact volunteers can have. Usha thinks of Lisa M. as an angel who has brought her many gifts this year in terms of ideas and activities for working with the children.
All of the teachers and volunteers agree that on the whole the interaction among them has been cooperative and enriching for them on the professional as well as a personal basis.
“You can send your donation via the Auroville International Centre in your country, or send a cheque made payable to 'Auroville Unity Fund', Town Hall, Auroville, 605101 Tamil Nadu, INDIA. Please indicate clearly that the donation is for Aikiyam School .”