Blooming

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At the end of summer 2004, funding for the school dried up entirely and all of the SBMA teachers were transferred. Cyril ji then gave full responsibility of the school to Anand Ji and Mohan as long as they could find their own funding and staff. They took the challenge, finding a teaching corps of young individuals who were inexperienced in the field of teaching yet dedicated and interested in bringing new ideas and energy into the outdated norms of education. From this new freedom, Anand’s educational philosophy and ideas of intelligent living communities expressed in his literature started blossoming quite organically.

In the beginning, the teachers had a disjointed living situation scattered across the SBMA campus. It was decided by the teachers that they needed a shared living space where all could focus their energies towards their student’s education and their own inward path of self discovery. Although not entirely planned by Anand Ji, this shared space soon evolved to become what he envisioned in his writings as a ‘mindful community,’ where the community as a whole functions as a single, collective organism towards a common goal while maintaining individual eccentricities of those who make up the community. Soon, all of the teachers became involved with the processes of maintaining the school and their own living environment, whether it be cutting vegetables, sweeping the grounds, or scrubbing the toilets. In their time off from teaching or preparing for school, the teachers strived to beautify their surroundings, erecting walls, terracing the hills around the school into land which are now used for organic subsistence farming for the ashram, and creating play structures for the students. The grass play field in the front of the school is another important testament of the teacher’s hard work. Previously there had been many attempts to plant grass on the field but all had failed, leaving a dirt field as the children’s only play-space. The dirt was a significant problem; everyday children would kick it up during recess and track it into the classroom, coating everything with a thick layer of dust. Despite the dissuasion of other SBMA staff and no assurance of future success the APV team set out in correcting this problem, spending literally weeks nurturing the field. Their dedication and constant supervision finally paid off bearing a beautiful grass field that to this day is used daily for play and instruction.

The lifestyle was (and still is) demanding of the teachers, requiring them to devote all of their attentions to the education of their students and to the community with little in return in the form of monetary compensation. What has kept these teachers motivated has not just been a dedication to the children and each other but also a dedication to living mindfully; not excessively dwelling on the past or future, but rather experiencing every moment fully, in its truest form (for further explanation, see APV Philosophy). The teachers start and end their days with mindfulness exercises and strive to allow this state of mind to permeate through all activities that the day may bring. It is this mindfulness that has been most intrinsic to the school’s development guiding it towards the many successes it has achieved.

With this rigorous lifestyle and centrality of mindfulness, the school and teachers began an impressive metamorphosis. The militaristic standing assembly was transformed into one where students, teachers, and administration all sat together on the same floor. The assemblies began with children and students participating in mindfulness activities and soon evolved to include music and singing. Anand Ji and Dheeraj Ji, the APV Principal, wrote songs about APV philosophy and performed them with the children during the assembly, playing harmonium and tabla, respectively. The songs became very popular and the kids began to demand more (to date, APV has written over forty songs, see APV Music). The teachers worked hard to deconstruct their student’s engrained perspectives of educators and to create meaningful relationships with their students. Fortunately, past learning conditions faded fast and soon a learning partnership and friendship was formed. Standard rote-memorization based learning was abandoned for a more experiential model, linking concepts to familiar local materials and sensibilities. Children were able to choose the subjects that they wanted to learn about while the teachers connected all these subjects via interdisciplinary teaching methods. The teachers also made sure to cover concepts from governmental syllabuses so that children could perform well on their exams. With the hard work of both parties involved, the immediate benefits of the pedagogy surfaced quickly: children and teachers were happily engaged in their studies and learning more daily about themselves in relation to the world around them; and so were the teachers.