This month, Manhattan Country School hosted four teachers from MiSK Schools in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia as part of an exchange program that also included an additional three MiSK teachers at Bank Street School for Children. MCS’ participation in this program is one example of how the school fulfills a public mission that includes educating teachers-in-training from area colleges and hosting visitors from schools across the country and the world.
Like MCS, the pre-k through 12th grade Saudi school has a strong emphasis on educating the whole child using experiential and project-based learning. The school opened in September 2016 with the goal of providing a world-class education based on the best practices of international and progressive education.
Through the exchange, the Saudi teachers, who are new to the profession, received an introduction to MCS’ progressive education philosophy and practices. Takeaways from their time at MCS included ways to organize a classroom and how to build an integrated academic program and a strong school community.
Kholood Alturky, a kindergarten teacher currently pursuing a master’s degree in early education and well-being spent her first week at the MCS Farm; the following week she joined the two 4-5s classes. Amjad Alnufaie spent time in the 4-5s the first week and the 8-9s for the remainder of her visit. Nada Alhazmi, an international baccalaureate primary years program educator, spent the entire visit with 6-7s Oeste. Art teacher Meshari Alawdan, who spent just five days at MCS, worked with both Art Teacher Janice Movson and Shop Teacher Leo Reynoso.
The children quickly became comfortable with the new faces in their classrooms. The 6-7s students and Nada exchanged letters through the Rock and Roll Postal Service. One very hospitable 5-6s student extended an invitation to Meshari to visit his home. Lower School Director Mary Trowbridge remarked that the teachers’ integration into the classroom was so seamless that it was as if they had always been there. The MiSK teachers at MCS and Bank Street easily immersed themselves in the challenges of Community Math Night, an annual tradition that highlights Math Coordinator Robert Berkman’s innovative approach to engaging young learners.
Not only did the Saudi teachers gain knowledge during their visit, it was a learning opportunity for MCS teachers and students as well. The Saudi teachers shared books about their language and culture with the students. Meshari led a class in charcoal drawing and showed students calligraphy using Arabic words.
“I was astonished and amazed by the amount of independence that the kids have, the language that they have beginning at the tender age of 4 to 5,” said Amjad, reflecting on her time at MCS. She says she was particularly impressed by the home visit curriculum, which she plans to share with her colleagues at MiSK.
Nada appreciated the opportunity to observe how MCS bridges the gap from abstract idea to real work. She offered the 6-7s’ post office as an example. “Some people would say maybe it’s simple, but I think it’s really a big thing to connect children to the real world outside,” said Nada.
Kholood gained critical insight from her time at the MCS Farm and sees many opportunities to continue working together. “It’s the first step for developing evidence-based practice and continued cooperation between the two schools,” she said. “I’m going back home with many ideas to share with our organization” One is having a sister farm in Riyadh as a way to foster an exchange between the students at MCS and MiSK.
MCS Director Michèle Solá agrees that this visit is just the start of a mutually beneficial relationship between the schools. “
“To have an exchange with people who are at the beginning of the road and who think that there is the opportunity for collaboration and exchange makes us feel like we are being true to our mission by sharing and learning from people who have been as bold as MCS’ founders in starting a school.”