We are now two months into our inaugural middle school Life Skills course, in association with the Living Wisdom Online High School. We have a wonderful group of 7 students, hailing from many parts of the world: India, Iran, Italy, and Uganda.
The purpose of the class was to give potential incoming students to the high school to get an experience of EFL’s unique approach to education, even in an online format. The past two years have given students around the world ample opportunity to become accustomed to taking classes online, which gives us the chance to show an even richer contrast between EFL and other approaches.
Already we (Niyatti, one of the wonderful teachers from LWS Pune, is leading the course with me) have had a wonderful time learning about and from our new students. We’ve done will power challenges, games to discover our likes and dislikes (and try to transmute them), and even some affirmation and meditation.
One day per week we give up something that we enjoy, with some notable examples being television, Instagram, and even milk! There has been much laughter in figuring out the best approach to building the will power necessary to overcome these challenges. One student gave up sweets for the day, then found themselves caught in a rain storm, taking shelter in what he later discovered was a sweet shop. When the proprietor offered free sweets, rather than succumb to temptation, he opted to run home in the rain!
Through the experience in this class, Niyatti and I hope to offer more such classes for students in India, to give them a taste of what school could be. We are now seeing that offering these “Skills for Living” is a great way to bridge the gap between what we offer and what most students are receving, both in terms of content and of marketing. Parents are interested in trying to bring balance to their child’s academic-focused education, and the children (especially at this age) are enjoying the fun that comes in new challenges. We feel this could be one model for expanding EFL’s reach throughout India, and perhaps abroad.
In the Fall of 2018 we were trying our best to rejuvenate the high school at Ananda Village. Our program which had started in 1997 had fallen on hard times with enrollment shrinking to two students. As part of our outreach, we received an outstanding application from Mahnoush, a student in Iran. Since all of our classes at that time were taught in-person here at the Village, we began the process of getting her a student visa. Due to the political climate at that time, we continually ran into roadblocks. At one point Mahnoush was having an encouraging conversation with an agent at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi (there is no U.S. Embassy in Iran). He told her that everything looked to be in order, but that he would need to make one last check with his supervisor. When he returned, his face looked tense, and he told her that her application was not approved. Mahnoush was devastated. When I heard the news, I took my frustration into meditation with a conversation that went something like this. “Master, I know you want your approach to education to continue to grow. Here is a perfect student who would benefit greatly by joining us. Why can’t it happen?” When I got calm enough, the thought came to me, “Why don’t you try to work with her online?” I immediately got up and went to my computer. There, in my inbox was a message from Mahnoush’s parents that said, “Is there any chance that she could join you online?” We forged ahead and a year and a half later when Covid hit, we had an up and running online program that could serve our students seamlessly.