Inner-city School Meets Ecovillage

Before and After

by William Deighan, then Deputy Headteacher, Rokeby School London.

Picture this: May 2007 and 24 students, all boys, accompanied by six staff make their way across the busy London Underground in rush hour, with bags and baggage for an eight hour train journey to Inverness. The students are exuberant and noticeably so, and the staff excited and slightly anxious for their fellow passengers.

Despite planning many activities for the long expanse of time including best scenic photo competitions, drafts competitions and sudoku, the journey was pitted with discussions around the volume of music players, shouting to friends across the carriage, the sorts of things that might indicate the slight lack of awareness that some people associate with young people as though it were a genetic fault.

The students were aware that they would leave a footprint in a place such as Findhorn, given their very obvious cultural diversity and whilst accepting this, I was keen that the footprint should be encased in bubble wrap, that regard for the pace and ethos of the community be a constant in our peripheral vision.

As the nine day residential progressed it became clear that the structure and range of activities of the week were giving the students space and time to contribute to the community in a way that valued and celebrated them as young people.

The facilitation by the whole community was subtle, inclusive and very warm and I watched the boys from Rokeby grow as sure as giant vegetables grow in the sand. We called the week ‘Tuning into the Student Voice’ and giving them time and space to be heard meant that they themselves were beginning to be able to hear. It sounds simple and in many ways it was; it was the very best of carefully planned and delivered experiential learning.

We learned about sustainable living, Nonviolent Communication, permaculture, designing a carbon neutral school, how to listen, how to live as a community. We visited a local school to hear about how they listened to the student voice.

Picture this: June 2008 and 24 students, all young men, accompanied by six staff, make their way to Inverness station with bags and baggage. The students calm and noticeably so, and the staff the same.

The journey was pitted with individual discussions with fellow passengers asking which school these boys came from and how impressive they were as young people. Two passengers wrote to the school afterwards to congratulate the headteacher.

There were many changes to the lives of these young men individually but most noticeable, from these two journeys nine days apart, was the substantial journey they had made as a group. It was apparent that self-awareness and awareness of others is simply a matter of learning, not genetics, and in this case, experiential learning.

I look forward to a continued learning relationship with the Findhorn Foundation and the young people I work for.

Rokeby students raised £7,500 from the Newham Youth Parliament and a further £15,000 from the educational organisation London Challenge to fund their 10 days at Findhorn. Their week was spent engaged in group sessions which included learning nonviolent communication techniques and how eco-technologies work, visiting a local school, sharing with each other in circle time, eating and socialising with the community and engaging with the Foundation’s maintenance and garden teams.

The two members of the Foundation’s staff who held the week, spoke of the resounding success of the programme: “The boys had a fantastic time! It was an honour to facilitate such an amazing group of teenagers and their teachers and we were impressed by how they had worked over the last year to create a new respect policy to support an active role in how the school is run.”

Rokeby Respect Policy

We start with ourselves

We give respect to receive it

We take pride in ourselves and in our community

We never waste or damage things

We care for each other

We choose not to use language or action that will hurt others

We are kind and thoughtful

We include the needs of others in our thinking and action instead of thinking solely of ourselves

We listen; not just wait to speak

We try to hear and understand others and we talk calmly and politely

We are fair, honest and work as a team

We tell the truth and we take responsibility for ourselves and others.

Rokeby Student Council – January 2007