8 January 2014
by Anne van Oorschot
This past August saw the long awaited start of the Tilburg International School – TIPS for short. There was, unfortunately, much uncertainty about if the school would open in August, which resulted in several perspective students being placed in other schools. In spite of this start-up challenge, the school opened its doors in the fall and welcomed 3 students. The teacher, Mrs. Fiona Knol, is very experienced and is helped by Fatema, a teaching assistant and their classroom is a bright and cheery spot, located within the Dutch primary school, Jan Ligthart- Huibeven.
I decided to pay a visit to Tilburg’s newest school and when I arrived,2 of the students, 9 year old Toni (Bulgarian) and 5 year old Halide (Turkish) were busy with a craft project: making Halloween witches out of colored paper. (The third student, 4 year old Ksenia (Russian) was absent.) They were about done when I arrived and both children studied me with interest (Toni: “But it isn’t an open day, Ms. Knol…”) and after flying their witches around a bit landed them on a display table where various artwork was shown off.
After tidying up the craft supplies, it was time for a story about Winnie the Witch. The story is available as part of a packet containing video story telling (with/without the text printed in English), a story book(s) for the teacher to read, flashcards of the story that need to be arranged in the proper order and a stuffed Winnie the Witch doll. Since Halide was dressed as a Princess today, she got to hold the Winnie-doll while Toni held the flashcards. It was a charming short story and the children listened attentively, working together afterwards to arrange the colored picture cards in the correct order to match the story they had just heard. Then Fatema read them a Winnie the Witch story as a last activity of the day, with Halide’s little brother – who will start at the school in December – sneaking in to hear the end of the story. Both Toni and Halide grabbed their special folders to take home, containing a notebook with comments from the teacher on their progress, any work they have done, information on an upcoming field trip to a theater in Oisterwijk and a new reading book geared to their level.
Once the parents and children left, my first question to Mrs. Knol was how they managed the different ages in one classroom? “Planning” was her simple reply, as she makes a different plan for each of her 3 groups/children. With 2 teachers, they can devote one-on-one time to the children for portions of each day and the classroom itself has different areas for the groups: a “home corner” with a wooden stove and table and chairs for the youngest, puzzles, Duplo, blocks, books and many other play items geared to a range of ages. While many of the materials belong to TIPS, they make use of teaching materials from the International School in Eindhoven. For example, Toni is about to begin a unit on dinosaurs with much of his learning materials grouped around that theme, while the units followed by the other 2 students might have a different theme.
I asked about the social aspects of being such a small school; was that a disadvantage? One of the advantages of international schools is a smaller class size. Three is obviously very small, but it has its advantages. The ability to devote individual time to each student is greater with such a small group and this has been a huge help for Toni with his ADHD. He has made tremendous strides in his learning and behavior in the short time he has been at TIPS! Despite the age difference, the children interact and help each other. Things like the visit to the theater in Oisterwijk are easier with a small group. The small classroom size has also made the transition from home to school easier for Halide as it is less overwhelming than a class of 24. The kids do play outside with the Dutch students so they have the regular running around as part of a bigger group, as well. There is very good cooperation with the host school and TIPS recently participated in an assembly for the parents that was held in the fall around the theme of kids being more active. Each of the Dutch groups did a little song up on the stage and TIPS students did their little song in English for their parents who were also in the audience.
There have been numerous inquiries and visits to the school from prospective parents, so hopefully the school will grow and flourish. As I headed home after thanking Mrs. Knol for her time, I only regretted that I had no small kids of my own to enroll – what a fabulous education they would have!