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I Am School of Excellence supplementary school making waves

ENGAGEMENT: Pupils getting involved during lesson time at the I Am School of Excellence (image credit: I Am School of Excellence)

EXTRA-CURRICULAR Saturday school, I Am School of Excellence is enjoying a great 2017 so far, with local and national newspaper coverage, a National Diversity Award praise for its personal approach to providing workshops in black history, African and Caribbean food and dance plus much more.

The school opened in January and caters for children from the ages of 7-12.

Founder Julia Kibela explains more about the vision:

Q: What is the ethos behind the I Am School of Excellence?

A: The ethos behind the school is to follow our x5 core values of Education, Respect, Inspiration, Optimism and Motivation towards our aim of Excellence. We believe that the words 'I' and 'Am' are two of the most powerful words one can use in a sentence because what follows them can be self-defining. We aim to shape the 'I am' sentences of the children that attend the school as it’s no secret that some children have negative self-defining beliefs. Currently following a rich black history, dance and food lesson curriculum, the children that attend will develop their knowledge of self, pride and confidence as amazing individuals in today’s society.

Q: Who's the team behind the school?

A: The school was started by myself, a fully qualified teacher and subject leader and so I run it with a handful of dedicated volunteers who specialise in history, dance and cooking.

GETTING STUCK IN: Children learning how to cook (image credit: I Am School of Excellence)

Q: What was the inspiration behind setting-up I Am?

A: The inspiration started when my son was around seven years old and he came home from school and said they were doing Black History Month in school. Being a working parent, it’s difficult to have consistent teaching of black history with your child at home, so I was happy to hear that his school was remembering the importance of this. My son then went on to explain that they had changed the name to ‘World History Month’ and that he was confused because they didn’t teach anything about what he felt was black history. It was at that point that I realised something must be done for children at around the age of seven as this is when the current curriculum starts to confuse them.

At the time I was also working as a teacher at a school in south London and had planned a trip for my students to attend on a Saturday. However, one of the students who happened to be Chinese said she couldn’t attend my trip because she had to go to Chinese School. I was instantly intrigued because I had never heard of it. She explained to me about what she learnt whilst there which ranged from learning about her ancestors, her language, how to cook her food and so on. As a result of attending this school, she was so proud of her culture and had been able to develop knowledge of self. I knew this would be also passed down to her children.

I then started to notice all of the schools for other communities and wondered what there was for children from African and Caribbean descent. It was at this point that I decided to start researching into starting my own idea for a school that catered for African and Caribbean children in the UK. As explained earlier, the use of the words 'I' and 'Am' are used to inspire the children that attend to self-define positively.

EVERYBODY DANCE NOW: Children learn African and Caribbean dance (image credit: I Am School of Excellence

Q: What gains have you made so far with the children that you work with?

A: The children we work with have all steadily developed into confident boys and girls that have bonded with each other as a family and who all believe in the values of I Am.

They have also developed a better understanding of their importance in society and worldwide through learning about their rich amazing history from Ancient Africa to pre-invasion Caribbean.

They have also become confident in preparing and cooking food from each other’s cultures from scratch. The most important thing I have noticed is the respect the children have developed for each other’s cultures and the understanding that although we may have immediate origins in different countries, we are all bonded as beautiful children and descendants of Africa.

I love the fact that we have also been able to collaborate with other amazing black-owned organisations and individuals who all share the same value of supporting these children with their self-confidence as African and Caribbean children, from the popular illustrator Dapo Adeola who discussed black representation in comics, to completing a Black History Walks from St Paul's and having a food lesson run by special guests, Original Flava. Through doing so, the children can already see how amazing it is for black owned businesses and individuals to work together.

One of the highlights for all of the children, I believe, was being sponsored to see the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures.

Q: How have parents responded to the work you're doing?

A: The parents and carers of children that attend the school have responded so positively. They are truly some of the most amazing dedicated parents I have ever met. They attend the trips with their children and continue the teaching we have put in place at home with their children, by cooking the dishes with them and discussing the history that was learnt that week as a family. They truly understand that it takes a village to raise a child and so are very supportive in what we do by being as involved with suggesting ideas and volunteering when possible.

Q: What can parents expect for their child during a typical day or session at the school?

A typical day at I Am School of Excellence starts at 10am with one hour of black history which will involve teacher-led lessons that are geared towards a particular learning aim. With a rich history curriculum, the children can expect to learn about history in a way that is not taught in school as it focuses on the facts, and is designed to inspire the children as well as help them to understand the global community as it stands today.

At 11am the children then have a one hour dance lesson in a dance studio which teaches choreography from both African and Caribbean backgrounds.

Finally at 12pm, the children take part in a two-hour teacher-led food lesson which will either be an African dish or a Caribbean dish (on rotation every fortnight). So far children have learnt how to cook a range of dishes from Jamaican patties, Ghanaian spinach stew to brown stew chicken with rice and peas and so on.

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