Brookes School’s Open Days

John Harrison

Brookes School opened its doors to prospective parents on May the 22nd and 26th. This was an opportunity for families to see for themselves how the interior of the school is shaping up, and to ask questions to the school’s staff and directors of the Brookes Educational Group who had flown in specially for the occasion.

Certainly, seeing the school, inside and out with our own two eyes was enlightening for those of us (like me) who might possibly have harboured doubts that the building would actually open in time. Charley King, the headmaster of Brookes Moscow took us on a 40 minute tour of the building. All the building work appears to be complete, all that remains to be done now is the interior decoration and fitting out, and this job for a workforce of 700 seems to be quite possible to achieve within a month.

The first thing to strike members of the group was the use of the large windows which seem to provide natural light throughout the building, which is long and low, reminding me of a large cruise ship. This is a complete world, with canteen, kitchens, swimming bath, even a sports field on the upper deck. Here and there wooden slatting on the ceilings and the odd brightly painted wall gave a forestate of what is probably going to be creative and homely interior design. This is not a traditional school design with uniform, grid-like corridors, rooms and people. There are odd turns and nooks and crannies to make personalised spaces, and even a 350 seat performance space with state of the art equipment which would make any Moscow theatre director drool. Hopefully this space where children will perform their shows and hone  their performance skills will be open to the wider Russian and foreign community as well.

We were shown around some of the rooms, all at various stages of decoration. A kindergarten classroom we visited was partially furnished with desks and chairs, and a couple of young children from the group immediately sat themselves down at the desks and claimed their places, as if saying that they have arrived, and when are you going to open the school for heaven’s sake! Charley reiterated a couple of times that the maximum class size throughout the school is all of 16, meaning that there is space for everybody both physically and mentally. Most seemed impressed.

The territory around the school is being landscaped. Right now it is difficult to imagine what they are going to look like although once the workforce is let loose on the grounds, the transformation will probably be rapid and profound.

The last point of call on the tour was the library where refreshments were served. There were speeches and members of the group asked questions to staff and directors of the Brookes Education Group. Charley King thanked the Pioneer Group (the developers of the school building) for the fact that the work is going according to schedule and that the school will open on time. Charley also stated that Brookes is the newest and most innovative school in Moscow. “We have a very serious, committed and fully qualified staff. We are the only international school in Moscow bringing all three of the IB (International Baccalaureate) programmes together under one roof, and we are offering further opportunities for students to visit our campuses abroad in Canada and the UK and enter upon a guaranteed pathway of successful entry into local and international universities. …I have been very satisfied working for Brooks Education so far; I am able to provide the highest standards of education for your children…”

David Rose, one of the directors of Brookes Education Group said: “It is a rare privilege for those of us involved in education to be involved in a new school start up. Being involved from the very beginning means working with architects, planners, focusing on what kind of school we want to operate, and wondering what kind of an impact we will make on the local and expatriate communities of Moscow and the world as a whole. Setting out to provide students with an education that will enable them to be successful in an ever changing world is an amazing privilege…

“We will ensure that we will meet the standards required by Russian regulations, and will blend Russian language, culture, history and culture into everyday school life.  We are delighted to be able to open a Brookes school in such a dynamic and iconic world city, and it is our sincere hope that Brookes’ students will play an important part in creating an open minded, connected environment where it is clearly understood that people with their differences can also be right. …Students at the school will develop self-confidence, the ability to think creatively, to ask questions and to solve problems. They will master traditional skills, they will be digitally agile, and at least bilingual, and we will aim to discover and extend the unique talents that they have. …We believe that we have the best building and facilities, the strongest team of teachers, the right curriculum.”

Russian/Foreign students’ mix

One of the main issues that came up in questions from parents to members of staff was that of the mixture of foreign children to Russian children. Brice Bono, the Deputy Headmaster said: “I would say that at this point of time, because we are just opening, we have not set a ratio between foreign and Russian students, but at some point of time when the size of the student population allows us to do that, we will be looking to hosting more foreign students than Russians. In September 2018, most likely it will be about 50-50, however the most important thing is multi-culturism and that is something we are really pushing for because all of the teaching staff will be from various countries right around the world… Brice confirmed that teacher’s churn is a problem, but “it is a reality of the whole international school section. We are offering our teachers a real career opportunities and we hope that they will stay with us for long periods of time, but nobody can guarantee what will happen in somebody’s life after a few years…”

Isn’t it problematic to put your child in a brand new school?, I asked. David Rose answered: “I’ve done start up schools a couple of times and actually the children who start first and their families are the ones who get the most out of it. They see themselves as founding families, get very involved with the school, get involved with decision making, and on forming the way the school is going to move forward in many different ways. People say: Well you haven’t done IB before, how do we know you can do it? I say that as a school we haven’t done it, but we have staff who have been involved with IB for 15 or 20 years. It will be the same for some of the teachers who come here. Although it will be their first time in Moscow, some of them will have been in new schools in South Africa, New Zealand or in Ireland, for example. It’s really about building that sense of community which is most important.” Jerry Salvador, another of the Brookes Education Group’s directors added: “It’s the pioneers, they are the ones who set the culture of the learning. We know that the odd thing might not be quite perfect but the families are getting a decent discount which is a good thing. We do that in Canada, that’s standard practice.”

IB Curriculum

The choice of IB as the curriculum reinforces the school’s commitment to multiculturism is something that I heard during the tour of the school. I asked Jerry Salvador to explain: “My background is with IB schools and I feel very comfortable here. I don’t want the Russian children to be Canadian, or British, which is what some of the schools do. What I like is the idea of understanding your own culture well, and putting it in perspective with other cultures. There is a student from Columbia in our school in Canada. Suddenly there was some flooding in his home town. All of the students became aware of that. If the school was all Canadians they wouldn’t care. But this way, the children are concerned and interested… By having that diversity and awareness, it personalises world events. We shouldn’t be in conflict. Why is this happening? How can we work together? So much of it is unnecessary. When you look at the way the world is sometimes, it is so silly. So we look at the children, they are receptive and understanding. OK, it’s going to be different, we are not going to make them Americans.They’re Chinese, so the question is how do we work with those Chinese, how do we collaborate and how do they understand, and they do start to understand about other issues, they are concerned about the environment and other problems bigger than their own country. …I’m hoping to bring a group of our students here in February from Canada. They have to understand how Russian children think. They often have these Hollywood-type stereotypes of what Russia is, and I hope some Russian students will come to Canada, and meet our students, and enjoy our environment. I’d love our students not just to come to the schools but to enjoy the Arts here, but when the students get to know each other, it really breaks down barriers.”

David Rose said: “This school’s home is here, so the school has to recognise the local culture. You know that the Russian curriculum is very linear and quite narrow, but Russia knows that there is a need to have people who are creative and innovative, not just people who can pass exams. They know that, so they support the IB but they still want to have aspects of their own culture ion it. Russian language culture and history has to be taught; it’s not quite a regulation for us but that’s what we will do. Children can do Russian as a language A or B. It is of course a challenge. Some Russian families might ask: ‘Well, how do I know how well my child is doing? Because they aren’t tested as often as I would like, as much as they are in a Russian state school?’ There will be some things in a Russian State School that probably they will do better than we can do. Because of the way that they are driven let’s say in mathematics. But there will be young people in Russian state schools who don’t know how to communicate or present or who only know what they are told….”

Risk Factors?

I was concerned that the Brookes Group may be growing too rapidly, and this may tell on the quality of education in the years to come. David Rose said: “We have a pipeline of projects. This year we are opening  this school in Moscow and in Westshore Canada. Next year we probably have Oman and Bangalore. We pace it, but the most important thing when we decide to open a school, is the philosophy and strength of our partner. The partner can be a family, a government, a university. We have had one or two enquiries where it became clear that what the partner wanted to do was to open up a school and just make as much money as possible, by operating cheaply, not adopting our principles, but that’s not what we are about.

As far as the wisdom of opening a school in Russia at the present time, which is a concern that the Brookes Education Group must have thought very seriously about, Jerry Salvador said: “Look, in Canada, we are a boarding school, we have Russian students, they come, and we get students from all over the world, but the trend is that people want an international background because they know it’s important for children to work in a global market, you have to work with different people and you have to be agile. But they don’t want to send their kids to boarding school, they don’t want to send all their money abroad either, they want to keep the families here. That’s the big advantage. It was the same thing in Korea. You used to have billions leaving the country. The government helped build our school there and the number of Korean international students has declined because there are high quality schools in Korea now like ours.”

Student exchanges

Brice Bono explained the exchange programmes that go on in other Brooks’ schools in other parts of the world: “When it is right and applicable, our students can visit another campus in another country from a month to a maximum of a whole year, and that is something that the parents and the head of the school have to discuss and agree on. This will be at no extra cost to the parents because our fees are all inclusive, and there will be no additional cost for accommodation either.” This was quite a revelation.

In all, the Open day at Brookes School was impressive and I admired the fact that parents were able to ask and get answers for difficult questions. A big plus for me was the emphasis on multiculturism. All involved with the Brookes Educational Group are to be congratulated in completing this mega-project at this time, in this country of suprises.