Yvonne Baron is headteacher at Etz Chaim in Mill Hill
It has been a real privilege to be the headteacher of a new school and with our first cohort graduating, it is truly wonderful to see how our vision became a reality.Our journey began as one of the government’s flagship free schools and as the guinea pigs we had a lot to prove.
We started with 48 children in temporary accommodation which was barely fit for purpose. Our funding agreement had been signed days before our children started and as a result much of our furniture and IT equipment, arrived after our first day.
Despite this, we were passionate about Etz Chaim and determined to make it a success; schools are about good teaching and learning, not buildings so we were not going to let this deter us.
Looking back now and reflecting on those first few weeks and months, I am immensely proud of our journey and what the school has achieved. We took risks, we had a go, we were determined and did not give up at the first signs of difficulty.
These are all key messages we try to instil in the children to prepare them for their future and as the first cohort leaves us, I couldn’t be prouder of each and every one of them. Of what they have achieved and who they have become.
They have exceeded our expectations and are ready for their next steps of learning. They have been a superb group, showing determination, support for each other and acting as role models to their younger peers.
They were literally at the centre of every decision we made, from the colour of the lunch trays to the height of the furniture. Everything from the annual talent show to the Tzedakah Tzevet were their ideas and Etz Chaim has flourished.
We now have eight classes, 41 staff, 126 families and 211 children. As we move forward in our Etz Chaim journey, we reflect on the input and impact our first cohort has had. Class of 2018 – Please don’t forget us – we certainly won’t forget you!
Etz Chaim Reflections by Pupil Madison Grant-Gold
Being a student at Etz Chaim for seven years means I have learnt a lot. I’ve grown up with both the teachers and other pupils by my side, with a few changes along the way. As well as learning the primary curriculum and Jewish studies, I have also learnt a few lessons for life. Me and my fellow classmates are going to tell you a few of them.
“Wearing a kippah is as important as wearing trousers, so if you’re not wearing a kippah, it’s like wearing no trousers!” said Max Teacher.
“Try for yourself. You can’t rely on other people you only get one shot,” says Mya Bitan. “You’ll never know unless you try,” student Ruby Ambrose said. “You have to try in order to succeed.”
“Treasure your time at primary school – you only get it once,” advised Rocco Lewis, age 11.
“Be grateful to the older generation and respect them,” said Louis Peters, who learnt this from all the class visits to Clore Manor.
“I have learnt to be a leader,” added Elisa Galan, and Sophie Yardley said: “I learnt what it means to be a Jew.” “And I learnt that anything is possible,” said Hollie Michaelson.
“Don’t crack eggs on chairs!” is a lesson Mia Greenfield learnt when fellow pupil Zac Levene cracked an egg on a chair in Year 4.
“Smiling is the most contagious illness,” stated Noa Lefton, 11.
I also asked my classmates what they will remember in five years.
“The lunches we had some days,” said Noa.
“Kingswood!” exclaimed Amy Sherrick. To explain: Kingswood is the residential trip my Year 5 class went on back in November 2017.
“Great friendships,”replied Mia Fraser, 10, enthusiastically.
Then I asked some of the teachers, both present and past for some of their memories.
“ Choreographing dances in the playground for you, it was loads of fun! When you joined the school your parents helped to make us a community,” remembered Mrs Levy who taught us when we were very small in Reception.
“Playing the donkey game with Miss Feiner,” said Miss Coren. “I love your class!” exclaimed Mrs Fraser. “Moments on the Shabbaton watching you guys bonding and looking out for each other,” remembered headteacher Mrs Baron. Mrs Levy who taught us in Years 4 and 5 had lots of memories, but her favourites were: “The excitement I felt setting up the first Year 4 and 5 classrooms – something most teachers will never experience. Going on a fabulous trip to London following in Mary Poppins footsteps, visiting Jewish News, those amazing deep conversations with my lovely class, which made me feel especially close to them all, and completing the Holocaust studies, which was difficult to teach but interesting to learn.”
Rabbi Herman recounted the Moat Mount trip when the class “made me do all the activities!”
“Watching you all supporting each other at Kingswood,” remembered Mrs Osborne, as Miss Shentob shouted: “Shabbat UK was amazing!”
Now you know what my classmates and I learnt in our years at Etz Chaim and as our time here is coming to an end, the memories will stay forever. We will miss everyone. Goodbye Etz Chaim.
Poems by the class
We had three teachers who were so fun, Miss Coren, Mrs Ovits and Mrs Hutchinson
We started circle meetings when we were in Year three, and one of our outings was to the observatory.
We had a flood so we moved to year six, It took ages for a classroom to be fixed.
In our Chaggigah we went back in time, We had songs to learn and lots of lines.
We made a Time Capsule to future us, when we went to Clore Manor we rode on a bus.
Every we we made a parisha play, everyone had something to say, One of our topics was the Amazon River, we learnt that snakes can slither.
Year 3 was the best time ever, we will always be together
By Mia Fraser and Mya Bitan
This fantastic year started off with a job to remember. We had green bags and we put things in that described us. This way Mrs Levy and our new teacher would get to know and each and everyone of us. Later in the year one of our topics was the History of Fashion. We took up the challenge to recycle old clothes and make them in to new products. It was really fun. Mia said when we look back on that year it was an amazing thing to do. We learnt about the 60s, 70s and 80s fashion and the different styles. We also learnt dances that were popular in those years. I think everybody loved that experience..
By Isabelle Schofield
First Farewell continued:
Jo Sassienie is headteacher at Eden Primary
“Eden opened in 2011 in temporary accommodation adjacent to the site on which our school was then built.
Unbelievably, time has flown by and in a few weeks our first cohort of Year 6 children will move on to secondary school. Their amazing parents made a brave commitment to a school that had a strong and inspiring vision, but no headteacher, no staff, no building, no results or proven track record of anything at all. It was a huge leap of faith!
In their first year, these 30 children, alone in our school, watched as the building grew next door and they visited each week complete with high vis vests and hard hats…looking down into the foundations, watching the skeleton walls appear and discussing the colours and furniture we chose for the interior. In September 2012, we all moved into a beautiful new space.
Very soon, these pioneer children will leave Eden for the next stage in their education at many different secondary schools. It will be a very significant milestone for them and for our school. Our first children, our first leavers, our first graduates! Their absence will be felt by all and they will be missed by the whole community.
However their presence and strength will be felt every day and will remain in our school for ever more. As the very first pupils they played a very important role, alongside our growing staff, in building, creating and leading our school. As we envisioned each new year and each new project, the children inspired us to create the best possible school and educational learning experiences, every year and every day for the past seven years. They built a wonderful community of friends and families and played a hugely significant and responsible role as leaders in the building and development of Eden Primary.
Their passions, brilliance and struggles motivated me, as headteacher, and the whole staff to dedicate ourselves to hard work, to thoughtful process and to always doing our very best.
It has been a joy and a privilege to lead the exciting challenge of building a new school and to watch the children grow in parallel with our school.
One child wrote for me this week: ‘I came to Eden with infinite curiosity and many questions that I asked that led to more questions. I thought there was too much to know. I’m now taking away with me a Jewish education richer than our chef’s cakes, with more detail than a tree’s bark. I feel that Eden has expanded my curiosity and accepted my questions. It has refined my skills in Sport and Creativity. I’m leaving behind irreplaceable adults, who have helped me along the way.’
Our dream as Eden staff is that our first graduates and all who follow, will grow to be thoughtful, respectful and compassionate engaged with learning throughout their lives; busy with meaningful Jewish life, deeply committed to their chosen paths and sensitive to all those around them however difficult.
As the name of our classes suggest our children and our school have grown from tiny seeds (Garinim) to blossoming fruit trees (Ilanot). I am proud of our flourishing school and our graduating class.”
Listen to this week’s episode of the Jewish Views Podcast: