Imagine a school in a remote jungle village, with a bamboo cathedral at its heart and open-air classrooms with architecture inspired by local animals. Students help tend the various gardens that provide fresh, organic food for school lunches. They also care for endangered species like the Bali starling and the black Bali pig, while the sounds of traditional Balinese gamelans, African marimbas and sometimes a harp echo in the background. At pick-up and drop-off, parents buzz around the raw food cafe, the local cold-pressed-coffee stall or the farm stand where many deep and long-lasting friendships have started.
Green School—in the Balinese village of Sibang, a 30-minute commute from most of the major expat hubs on the island—is not your typical educational facility. Yet for all its beauty, it is ultimately what’s being taught beneath its thatched roofs that has attracted families from more than 40 countries since the school’s inception in 2008.
‘What initially appealed to us about Green School was the concept of living sustainably and teaching our children, and future generations to come, how to take responsibility for their actions on this planet and how to do so with as much respect and appreciation as possible,’ explains Sarah Clark, who uprooted her family from Hong Kong to Bali for the school.
‘Our children being young and new to the school don’t yet comprehend the significance of this aspect of their education, but they are both very taken by their yoga classes, meditation and gardening work. Being outdoors most of the day and being encouraged to express themselves through physical activity is certainly a highlight for them so far.’
Putting down roots
Green School is the brainchild of jewelry designer John Hardy, who established his brand in Bali in 1975 and was later inspired to act by Al Gore’s award-winning 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Like Gore, Hardy felt that education was the best way to change the world and deeply disaffected by his own experience (Hardy was dyslexic, so his genius for design was often obscured by a strict academic system), he wanted a better alternative for his own kids and kids like him—that is, kids who were no longer being served by traditional schools.
Hardy took advantage of the creative landscape that had nurtured his jewelry business to build the school of his dreams: an architectural wonder where kids get dirt between their toes and learn by doing; a school that combines a reverence for the planet with a passion for entrepreneurship; a school that is truly global, in mindset as much as enrollment; but has a sense of being local because it is deeply connected to its cultural context (in this case, the spirit, artistry and agriculture of Bali). While it has a large expat population, Green School also has a 20 percent enrollment target for local Indonesian children.
Teachers are given leeway to plan activities that foster real-life learning, but also to have fun and inspire. The environment is tolerant, and even encouraging, of differences, allowing students to do their their best without being pitted against one another. At fifth-, eighth-, and 12th-grade graduations, for example, students are asked to give a TED-style presentation on a cause or idea that they truly care about. The school community attends in great numbers to support these kids, with tears, and deep shifts in community consciousness, not uncommon.
Green School is also a place where students acquire the soft skills to be the change they want to see in the world, even as they are focused on the hard skills to really make it happen. Bye Bye Plastic Bags was an initiative set up by Green School sisters Melati and Isabel Wijsen in 2013 to ban plastic bags in Bali. So far more than 70,000 people have signed their online petition and the island’s governor has committed to said ban by 2018. Equally heart-warming is the story behind streetwear brand Nalu, a brother-sister team selling T-shirts to fund school uniforms for underprivileged students in India, Bali and Kenya.
A family affair
Not many people just ‘drop their kids off’ at Green School. It’s just not that kind of school. While students amble to their bamboo classrooms for morning meditation or mentorship, parents are encouraged to stay for holistic and educational workshops, or ‘living in Bali’ classes. If you have a skill or expertise (and believe me, there is quite an array in the community) you are encouraged to share it with the kids, and the entire community. Many businesses and social initiatives were born out of the Green School parent community too, such as raw food cafe Living Food Lab, and Kembali thrift store.
These families—the ones who drop out of regular life to trial a new life in the jungle—are the great blessing and curse of Green School; for when it comes to high-achieving, risk-taking parent participation, you have no better crowd for an educational experiment.
The parent body are resourceful and highly educated themselves. They want the best. They are engaged and sometimes exacting about the change they want to see in education, and the world. This can sometimes lead to a glorious mess of opinions, some heated debates and some serious growing pains. For what parent paying private school fees doesn’t take their kids’ education seriously? But more often than not it leads to a vibrant and dynamic mix of what theorists now call ‘education futures,’ and what us parents simply call the ‘Green School Experience.’
What’s your view on Green School’s take on education? Share your thoughts with us on #momentumtravel.
Photos: Green School Bali