How Apni Shala’s values of compassion, equity, and trust come alive in the day-to-day actions and design of the school?”

“कैसे अपनी शाला के करुणा, निष्पक्षता और विश्वास के मूल्य दिन-प्रतिदिन के कार्यों और स्कूल के डिजाइन में दिखाई देते हैं?” – इस ब्लॉग को हिंदी में पढ़ने के लिए यहाँ क्लिक करें

Coming from a very different background and environment, I was unaware of how other parts of the world function. Growing up in New York and continuing schooling in Geneva has given me an open-minded perspective and allowed me to immerse myself in different cultures with people from around the world. From what I have witnessed, education is a necessity many children don’t have access to. Hence, my mission from a young age was to make a difference in the lives of the oppressed. Social impact flows through my veins, and Apni Shala offered me an opportunity to explore my growing passion. 

While driving to Khoj, I noticed the disparity between the different areas in Bombay. I saw so many parts of the city with poor living/working conditions, and it saddened me to know that so many people cannot reach their full potential.

With little to no good living/working conditions, it severely hinders someone’s well-being and development. So, parents in this situation in such poverty-influenced conditions can ensure their children will have access to Khoj and have a stable education because the school practices impartiality and access to all. Especially since Khoj is a Social-Emotional-Learning (SEL) based school, it would help students access their emotions to manage the struggles they face in their lives and turn them into strengths. It would help them understand others and learn in an environment that promotes self-growth.

I was keen to observe the students’ behaviors and the teaching method present at Khoj compared to where I was brought up. Through many observations, conversations, and questions, I understood Apni Shala’s core values which are visible in day-to-day actions at Khoj, are summed up in three words: compassion, equity, and trust.

COMPASSION:

Apni Shala defines compassion as “to express love and care based on an understanding of the needs and emotions of all (self, partners, students, and the environment).” I noticed at Apni Shala, compassion is their foundation. It makes it possible to build strong relationships and create an environment of well-being for all. 

Khoj defies traditional schooling norms and sets itself apart by implementing a method called SEL (Social-Emotional Learning). Apni Shala teaches students how to access their emotions and communicate effectively, which helps them develop a holistic mindset, allowing them to excel and learn the required syllabus with a unique approach. 

A standout moment during my visit to Khoj was when the third-grade teachers asked the class to form a circle and told the students to think about a time when they showed and received kindness. She then asked them to draw those memories on the ground with a piece of chalk. The intimacy of sitting in a circle, which promotes interactiveness, combined with thinking about their actions and being able to imagine and visualize them, were powerful techniques used to help students understand the power of their experiences and actions within their community. 

I was surprised to see the results by the end of the activity. Each student had become engrossed with their task and revealed how compassion and kindness play a significant role in the daily parts of their lives. 

*one of the students showed sympathy by helping someone open their umbrella as they struggled with it. *, another student, showed thoughtfulness by including a student who felt left out during their free time. 

As an outsider to the Khoj community, when I first came to the school, I didn’t know if the students would make much effort to include me in their free time or even acknowledge I was there. 

I was proved wrong as they requested me to sit with them during lunch and even offered me their food, pleading with me to enjoy it. They asked me to play games with them and asked me multiple questions about myself. They made me feel at home, even on the first day. 

Compassion, thoughtfulness, and kindness are all traits these young kids acquire, and leaving was a struggle for both the kids and me. By the end, I felt part of the Khoj family on the last day. As a goodbye, they all made me farewell cards, telling me, “I love you, bhaiya.”

EQUITY:

Equity, at Apni Shala, is defined as “making decisions related to all (people/students/environments) that are based on transparency and a recognition of lived and historical experiences of marginalization and privileges in society.” I soon noticed the equity mindset was found beyond class activities and present within a large percentage of students. 

In the latter part of my time at Khoj, the person who cleaned the equipment and floors to ensure a clean environment for the students fell ill. Without hesitation, multiple hands went up across the classroom. Young students offered to do the staff’s usual chores to ensure the class remained a practical, hygienic learning community. 

At the end of lunch, the two volunteers started sweeping the floors and collecting all the garbage without being asked. 

Actions like these show equity/fairness. These kids thought of this duty as fair and not only the cleaning staff’s job. They didn’t complain and showed impartiality. 

Fairness and impartiality are very hard to maintain in this world; they are not commonly seen in most children, let alone adults. Even experts sometimes struggle to uphold these values, so it shows that the values Apni Shala tries to teach are well practised and upheld through times of unfamiliarity. 

As Khoj tries to find solutions to problems students have, I realized fairness and impartiality are two tools they use to resolve the problem. One of the days, two students got into an argument over a particular board game; instead of shouting at both students or blaming one over the other, the teacher sent them out of the classroom for a civil yet fair discussion. After letting the students express their feelings, she asked them if they thought their actions were the best way to handle the situation. Upon reflecting on that question and listening to the other student’s perspective, both students learned to listen to understand and not listen to respond, an essential skill in self-growth. Not surprisingly, the issue resolved itself. 

Matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion are also discussed and taught in the classrooms. For example, I noticed how teachers continuously focus more on gender norms and equality studies/activities to try and disrupt traditional roles. During a free play session, the girls in the third-grade class said, “Boys don’t belong in the kitchen. Only girls do,” as they fought over a toy cooking set. I witnessed how the limits of education and traditional thinking impede equal opportunities for all. I mentioned that I also cook and clean at home, and the kids started laughing. The teacher responded calmly but effectively, explaining why everyone should be allowed to play with the set. Now, shifting away from their traditional thinking will be a long journey. Still, I am sure the consistent efforts by teachers and other adults in the Apni Shala community will find innovative solutions to encourage a modern-day mindset.  

TRUST:

Trust at Apni Shala is believing in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone so that feeling vulnerable in front of that person is comfortable. Trust is a powerful word and fundamental to Khoj. It creates a safe space for teachers and students to work together to build a more robust environment, and most importantly, it creates a sense of belonging and love. It is found through courage and mutual respect, which are the building blocks for meaningful relationships. The Khoj community focuses on working together toward a collective mission: creating a safe space for young students to build trust for themselves and every other member of the community. 

I asked Priyanka Shrivastav, the Teacher Leader at Khoj, “how do you deal with conflicts between students, whether it is physical or emotional?” She replied that trust is the critical factor. After countless hours spent with the students, Ms. Shrivastav and the rest of the Khoj teachers are thought of more as a family than their superiors. So, the students trust their teacher’s advice, or sometimes their firmness, as they believe it is for their benefit. Instead of creating chaos, the students calmly resolve their issues with the facilitation of their family members.’  

Rohit Kumar of Apni Shala mentioned that a couple of years ago, some parents often engaged in physical hitting to correct their children’s behavior, as they may have been brought up similarly, like many families worldwide. He said, “outbreaks of violence or abusive language usually are learned from an external party, such as parents.” This is why Apni Shala not only uses SEL to nourish the well-being of children but also holds a monthly meeting for the parents and caregivers to support them in their well-being and SEL journey.

Using the concept of trust in the monthly meetings, the Apni Shala team worked with the parents to recognize that, in most cases, abuse is a tool used only because, in those moments, people cannot manage their emotions. Once parents realized this, it became easier to ask – what can they do then? 

They worked with school teachers, social workers, and counselors to learn how to use words and other techniques when their children’s actions pose difficulty. Soon parents understood how much more effective their change in methods was. Tackling the problem from the root has helped many students feel more comfortable in and out of school. 

Due to this, fights amongst some students have decreased considerably. They imitated what they saw at home; once their environments shifted, so did they. 

A CLOSING NOTE:

I have seen compassion, equity, and trust visible in the day-to-day actions and design of the school. These core values are each unique to find in a world of growing unjustness and inequality. Khoj has done a great job of finding innovative methods to teach these values within the curriculum. The students embody these traits and are very much capable of spreading them. 

I am grateful I got to be a part of a prosperous community filled with self-growth. I am proud to call the students of Khoj my family, and I will cherish these memories forever.

AUTHOR:

My name is Ansh Barmecha, and I am a senior in high school at the International School of Geneva. I am originally from India but grew up in New York and moved to Geneva four years ago. From a young age, I’ve had a passion for social impact. I’ve worked for Share and Care Foundation, Doctors Without Borders, and Apni Shala. I hope to quench my growing hunger to make more of an impact in this world. My hobbies are sports; I am an athlete. I play tennis, basketball, golf, skiing, and boxing. 

Hindi Translation by: Sannidhi Shetty

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