“The return of the native”; reflections of an extraordinary academic year. (with apologies to Thomas Hardy)

The first time I returned to the UK from my first ever visit abroad as a school boy, I made sure I stood on the ferry deck, in the rain and wind from the English Channel, to get my first glimpse of the White Cliffs of Dover.  A symbol of “home” for anyone who calls these islands home. I cannot even begin to count the journeys, places and visits around the globe I have experienced since that school trip to Europe as a boy, but each time I get closer to home on any return journey, I need to see the first glimpse of land.  It was no different at the start of this June, many years later, as my Air Moldova flight crossed the North Sea. I knew from the English coastline, I was home. Crossing London on the Platinum Jubilee weekend certainly added a more colourful aspect to getting back to Bristol.  

I even had a premonition that the famous refugee/immigrant who found a home and place at the heart of the UK, Paddington Bear, would feature somewhere and I made sure I took a photo of his statue at his namesake’s railway station on the way to catching my train home before he had his now viral tea and marmalade sandwich with the Queen, tapping along to Queen. I guess no flight in the near future to Rwanda for this famous non-native but much loved British icon. Strange to even think it was only 10 years ago global London welcomed the World to the Olympics in the UK in a wonderful celebration of our international and interdependent community.  A lot of water under the bridge has flowed since then.

Sitting in Bristol in my cabin in June, enjoying the daily routines of getting my children ready for school, walking them to school, walking the dog, fish and chips, toast and marmalade, spending time with Gen, working from home, attending and speaking at conferences, has left a little time to reflect on what has been a tough few months of 2022 so far. It was fitting that my other view from Dacia Boulevard in my other dear home of Heritage, Chisinau and Moldova, at the end of one of the most extraordinary academic years I have personally known in nearly 30 years of working in education, was in the late May sunshine, celebrating education with the lingering sounds of the music, dance and energy from a wonderful International day at Heritage to bring it all together. 

My amazing music teacher colleague, Mariana Mamaliga, coached, danced and supported every class through their performance on international day. I can honestly say, in nearly 30 years of working in schools, I haven’t taken part in a mass hora before of a school community all smiling, joyful and happy in the moment.  Life is full of moments and it was a perfect way to send students and staff into the weekend ready for the last couple of days when we officially ended the academic year in the quad with the ringing of bells.  We needed this at Heritage after this year. 

The last few days were rich ones of opportunity with our first skills and career week for the Lyceum students as they finished their first year of A Levels, the first ever cohort of Cambridge A Levels in Moldova.  Lots of firsts at Heritage. I am not sure if the trip to the AREAL/FOMS animal welfare centre to pet the dogs was the highlight or the amazing life talk my colleague Chris Lux gave about his travels and experiences around the World.  I do know our A Level students are very fortunate to have this in their education and they are now preparing their university applications for universities abroad and here in Moldova. It was a pleasure to walk around the Botanica campus of UTM (The Technical University of Moldova) at the start of June with Professor Bostan, Chancellor and Rector of this brilliant institution of higher learning in education. The partnership that is developing between Heritage and UTM is a key one for education in Moldova, certainly for the next academic year and beyond. 

Our Founders’ Lecture series finished off its 3rd series with a great talk by Valeriu Turcanu, Université Aix-Marseille and now with UNICEF in Moldova. Tatiana Popa is an incredibly inspiring school leader and educator and represents the best of Moldova. Her leadership has created a lecture series in the vision and mission of the school Founders with so many inspiring speakers this academic year with another diverse and impressive range of speakers from Kaufland to NASA. Through the impressive leadership of Tatiana, we have been able to widen this further to our colleagues in state schools across Moldova who have benefitted from the incredible expertise from our outside speakers.  Social responsibility and the national education community partnership as it should be. 

Our mission as a school is to prepare young people for the challenges of the future with confidence and it is through these types of opportunities, we are fulfilling this mission.  We have also had an incredible range of opportunities, virtually daily, as we connect classrooms and cultures around the World with our students at Heritage on a range of topics from sustainability, SDGs, global citizenship, STEM, media literacy and well, literacy.  The Eminescu library is a very valued resource of our school campus and is very well used. Being a COBIS school has brought us access to a very developed network of the best international schools and we have connected to our global partners in competitions from art to debating as well our teachers and leaders meeting regularly with their colleagues across the Black Sea group and globe. Our recent Science Fair unleashed so much talent, creativity and curiosity and was one of the best moments for me of the year. 

It didn’t stop there as we welcomed NASA on the last Friday afternoon and the Mars Mission team of our friends Rick and Bob, as we were joined by schools from all over Moldova as well as our dear colleagues and students from our COBIS sister school, BISU in Kyiv. We all needed to be inspired by the possibilities of future space exploration and where our common collaborative humanity can go further. 

Student leadership has also been one of the best moments for me as director this year, seeing students organising activities, special days and events and making sure we live our values of civic duty, social responsibility and our humanity to support others. Students have spoken in so many arenas for the British Council, Global School Alliance, the UN, the national youth councils and Etwinning. I am so proud of the way we are developing future leaders here. The school’s international summer camp is underway led by my fantastic colleagues Cristina, Alina and their team making sure there is lots of fun this summer.

After two years of adapting, paradigm shifting, hybriding and just getting on with the certainty of education as our resilience developed further, we found ourselves in the Spring of 2022 having to get used to a “new normal” with masks off, seeing faces, smiles, & the return of visits to the zoo, parks, museums and our sports events.  The last weeks of May have also been an absolute pleasure to see so many parents and families joining us for our Primary school graduations to celebrate the passage of rites into secondary school as well as “Family Mornings” in the primary school and I realise how much we have missed this in the 2 years of the pandemic restrictions.  I certainly know that we will be developing this concept further into the new academic year for greater family engagement in school. The IGCSE and A Level art work displayed in the foyer by my colleague Elena Meleca,  showed the marvelous creativity and talent of our students as parents came into school to view the gallery. 

We celebrated with all our Heritage staff at a special lunch in the forest outside Chisinau at Poiana Bradului to mark the end of the academic year on the very final day.  Good food, good company, good Moldova wine, lots of good emotions and increasingly exuberant hora dances from all colleagues   I am so proud of our Heritage team and the incredible dedication and professionalism they have shown to our students and families as we have faced such an eventful year in our young school’s life. I also spoke at the end of May about the strengths and resilience of our teams, of our staff, students, families and governors teams at the Global School Alliance conference to colleagues from around the World.

The shocking and awful events at the tragic and senseless loss of life at the school shooting in Robb Elementary school in Texas made us all stop and think about the preciousness and fragility of our own lives and community.  It is beyond comprehension to think that students would not be safe in their school. We lowered our school flags to respect and honour the 19 children and 2 teachers killed in our global education community. Our values as an international school and our outward facing international mindset mean more than anything right now as we make sense of the World to our students to continue to provide them with certainty, hope and a positive narrative for the future.  I think this is what we have taken from this academic year the most. It will be the foundation for the new academic year on the 1st September.

On February 24th, the World changed forever with the outbreak of war and the invasion of Ukraine.  As an international school next door in Moldova, these last months have not been as easy a time as we all coped with our fears, the unfolding horrors and the uncertainty from this war. Our sense of humanity as an international school came to the fore and the very first thing students and colleagues did was to find donations and support the refugees coming into Moldova.  As it was said about our country, as recently as President Macron’s visit in June to Chisinau, a small country with a big heart. The historic news that the European Commission would recommend Ukraine and Moldova for EU candidate status is a direct result of the changed future trajectory for eastern Europe since the start of the war. 

I am so proud of our school community as we are challenged with this uncertainty these months and all the full horrors and fears of a senseless war in Europe in the 2020s, we found our certainty in our connectedness and our international humanitarian values in 2022 so we can face the future with confidence and hope. Those are the reflections we are all taking into a deserved and restful summer break. 

PS: And guess what famous son and writer of Wessex’s novel I am reading at the moment? I need the challenge and to balance the political and historical tomes I have on the go right now. 

1 thought on ““The return of the native”; reflections of an extraordinary academic year. (with apologies to Thomas Hardy)”

  1. What a pleasure to read and to see the pupils and staff at Heritage School, Chisnau Moldova, rise to all the challenges that they have faced during this last academic year.

    Liked by 1 person

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