Relaxed approach to learning

  • Outdoor lesson: students Jordan Smith, Charlie Sweeney and Jayden Lambert making a duck coop with Clare Sweeney (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Chatmore students Delano Hanley and Jayden Lambert, Charlie Sweeney, Machai Davis and Jordan Smith gardening (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

With an open house sign at the gate, visitors often pop in at Chatmore’s new location unannounced.

It is not unusual for them to find students tending the garden or lounging on beanbags in the midst of lessons.

It is quickly obvious that it is not a traditional education centre.

“Some people assume that if the child isn’t sitting at a desk they aren’t learning,” Clare Sweeney, principal of Chatmore British International School, said.

“We operate as a low-stress, high-challenge environment. We think children learn best when they are relaxed, but alert. Giving them that flexibility helps them figure out their own learning style.”

The six-classroom school on St Mark’s Road in Smith’s is an amalgamation of Chatterbox Preschool, Chattertots Discovery Zone and Chatmore Preparatory School. Students range from 2 to 16 in age.

“We were ready to have our own identity and ‘front entrance’,” said Angela Fubler, who opened the first, Chatterbox Preschool, in 2004.

“The schools were located in three different spaces and we wanted to work together on building one school vision.”

The co-ed facility is spread over four acres and includes tennis courts and a working garden. At the moment, there are seven teachers and 29 students — but there is room to expand.

“Every day is a real blessing for me,” Ms Fubler said. “I drive in and see the progress and daily give thanks for all those who have helped the school become what it is so far.

“I have had this vision since 2001. It has not been easy getting here, but seeing the vision come together in this place is deeply encouraging.

“Knowing that students have the opportunity to experience learning in such a beautiful location with teachers who care about the specifics of their personal and academic learning, and to enjoy the company of parents who support us and each other like a family, is an incredible experience.”

The mix also seems to work for the students.

“Everyone at the school feels like family,” said 15-year-old Simeon Winters-Pearman. “And there are only five students in my grade, S2, so we get the teacher’s full attention.”

Mrs Sweeney moved to Bermuda in August having taught in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for five years.

“I’ve always been focused on using the outdoors in education,” she said. “The property just has so much opportunity for outdoor learning.”

The younger children garden and cook what they grow. Kale chips were on the menu when Lifestyle visited.

Mrs Sweeney takes her dog Rosie to work with her most days. She is also hoping to introduce Muscovy ducks to the campus; the middle and primary school students are building a coop out of a damaged trampoline in preparation.

“We chose ducks rather than chickens because there are enough feral chickens in Bermuda,” she said. “And this type of duck will tolerate the children handling them.”

“It was the first thing I’d ever built,” said ten-year-old Jordan Smith. “I was really nervous the first time I used a drill. I’m really accident prone and was afraid I’d drill right through my hand.”

The school also tries to connect what children are learning with the real world. With some of the students learning about oil and gas, there are plans to talk with an engineer working on an oil rig in Norway.

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