Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Akshar School

Kolkata-  July 5, 2013

I celebrated the fourth of July by learning cricket, a precursor of our great American pass time.  Not sure if that qualifies as patriotic.  The pictures show clearly different skill sets as I got schooled on the makeshift rooftop pitch where the students play during every break.  I’ll offer an ultimate frisbee lesson soon.  

Having left a week ago, I’m finally settled enough to know how to get around and what I’m teaching. I’m also through the initial travel euphoria and into the adjustment phase.  Does everyone need to honk constantly?  Is there a salad somewhere I could eat safely?  What does it mean that my hotel is guarded by a sandbanked sentry and requires passing through a metal detector?  Some of these questions are softened by the cappucino and cookies delivered to my door each morning.  Others are only made more pointed.

The Akshar School sits near what passes for the river Hooghly wedged between a working marble factory and an empty British one.  The remarkable 70 year old founder began the school 15 years ago in this former warehouse donated by a family who wanted a better education for their disabled son.  The school’s mission is to educate students of all abilities in an inclusive, empathetic community. Their approaches include smaller classes, differentiated assessments and timelines, and some extracurricular courses that offer occupational skills.

The kids are open and adorable, and it does feel like a much more tolerant environment. Downs, autistic and physically disabled students participate as they can in classes and activities.  On the first day the 6th graders peppered me with questions and gushed in response to my pictures.  I wasn’t sure if they responding to me or something I represent.They wanted to know what sports and music I like, what hobbies I enjoy, and what kind of cell phone I use.  The last question revealing a level of privilege not present on the streets.  

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