Rooms to grow in

The Prague Post

Riverside moves program to new Bubeneč campus

Kids need room to grow, which is exactly what Riverside School intends to give its youngest pupils when it moves its early-years program to a new home in September.

“Currently, they [the early-years children] share the facility with the rest of the school,” says Graeme Chisholm, Riverside’s deputy principal. “It’s been the board’s hope to have a separate building for them.”

Riverside offers an early-years program, primary school and high school. Chisholm says the school has been looking for a suitable building for the early-years program for about four years and has seen about 11 properties. The one that was eventually picked, however, is special.

“We were surprised to find this in Bubeneč – a big villa with lots of land and a park beside it, away from the main road,” Chisholm says. “This has access to a garden. It’s suitable for children and close to the current site, only four minutes away [by car].”

Some work needs to be done before Riverside can start welcoming students. Chisholm says the school is lucky, as structurally, not a lot of work needs to be done. The plan is to open the space up and portion off areas instead of having walls, which will make good use of the natural light that floods in from the big windows. The opportunity for both children and teachers to “grow” is an important component as well.

“We’ll have places for 60 kids. Currently, we only have space for 30 and have had a waiting list in the early-years [program] for three years,” Chisholm says. “Plus, we’ve had to share the facilities with older kids, so it’s not always suitable. This building matches their needs.”

Carol Jelinek has been teaching 4- and 5-year-olds at Riverside for the past three years. She’s thrilled with the new site’s possibilities.

“It’s really exciting,” she says. “Riverside has grown so much, [and] now we have the option to grow the early-years program.”

The early-years program is for children between the ages of 3 and 5. Three-year-olds are put in the nursery class, while 4-year-olds attend the reception class. The Bubeneč villa’s ground floor will be converted into a lobby and welcome area plus a parents’ room.

The parents’ room will act as a meeting ground for parents to meet other parents with children enrolled in the program, Jelinek explains. “With little ones, you are always getting together with other parents,” she adds, noting “there will be a toddlers’ room attached to keep [the kids] amused.”

The first floor is given over to the nursery classes. Jelinek says one big room will be turned into a multipurpose area for lunch and other group activities. There will also be a “wet area” in another spot, covered with linoleum. Here, kids can do art projects and other potentially messy activities. There’s also direct access to the garden. Jelinek and her fellow teachers are excited about what they’ll be able to do with the children in the great outdoors.

“We’ve been making our own healthy snacks this year and planted a ‘salad bowl’ garden,” she says. “The kids are looking forward to picking it. … The building just makes our program organic all the way around.”

The reception kids will be on the second floor. A multipurpose room here will be used as an ESL activity area. The rooms have three balconies, which Jelinek says can be used for terrace gardening or places to set up easels for painting. There will be a staircase added off of one of the balconies, both for fire-safety reasons and to provide direct access to the garden.

The top floor is going to be administrative and will include a teachers’ room, supply closets and a staff lounge. There’s also a kitchen where the school plans to install a couple of stoves and a dishwasher so kids can try their hands at cooking.

“We try to get the parents involved. Parents come in for cooking lessons once a week or to help with the garden,” Jelinek says. “One of the great things about Riverside is the family involvement. It’s always encouraged, and parents are excited to help.”

The staff has been busy showing off the new space, and parents seem to be receptive.

“As we’ve shared our excitement, they’ve gotten excited, too,” Jelinek says. “There’s a family atmosphere at Riverside, and [we] want to make sure the new school will still have it.”

Riverside will have two nursery classes and one reception class next fall. About 10 staff members will be making the move to the new campus, as well. So parents are pleased, and the kids should be thrilled, but there’s another group even happier about the new building.

“It’s the teachers that are the most excited because of the opportunities they have to extend their practice,” Chisholm says.

Chisholm believes the new building offers the children so much more that there’s no question it will be better.

The students will “see the outdoors as part of their learning for life by the age of 5,” he says. “It’s the kids that make a school, and we are very lucky.”