One of the great pleasures and privileges of our big adventure trip in January was the time that we spent with Jackie Alexander and Giovanni Piazza in Bangkok, Thailand. We met Jackie for the first time in the mid nineties at an international conference to honor Loris Malaguzzi in Reggio Emilia, Italy. We met Giovanni when we lived and worked in Reggio Emilia in 1991-92. Louise was an intern/fellow at La Villetta School where Giovanni was the atelierista. She worked primarily with Giovanni in the atelier and with Amelia Gambetti who was teaching the “grandi,” the five and six years old children.
Jackie is originally from Toronto and has lived in Bangkok for 33 years. Her early career took her to Southeast Asia and she never left. She taught in a school for young children, then became director and set out to shape the school to her own vision. That first school was such a success that she has now opened three others including one elementary school, The City School. The group of schools are called Early Learning Center schools or ELC. Jackie studied the Reggio approach and visited Reggio Emilia in the 90’s and she and Giovanni began to get to know each other through those visits. Giovanni visited Bangkok at Jackie’s invitation to further the understanding of her teachers in many aspects of the work in Reggio Emilia. And eventually, their relationship turned toward more than education and they were married in 2005.
Giovanni is now the atelierista at The City School, the one school of Jackie’s that goes through 5th grade. Giovanni works with a partner atelierista, Marco Paladino, who focuses mostly on technology. Giovanni and Marco are close partners with the teachers in helping to design the course of project work as well as the documentation of student work.
The City School is a campus with many buildings. Jackie has worked with architects to renovate and to transform existing buildings on the site as well as to save and restore some colonial Thai buildings that were moved to the school grounds. The grounds are green and welcoming and the outdoor classrooms and play spaces are beautifully conceived. An aspect of the campus that immediately strikes visitors is the presence of transparency and glass as well as the feeling of authentic, and unique Thai architecture and style. Another impressive aspect is the presence of all the ateliers in all kinds of places. There is an atelier dedicated to light and the exploration of light and shadow in complex and layered ways. There is an outdoor water atelier where children experiment and explore the physics and the beauty of water. There are ateliers for expressive languages and for digital work. There is a music atelier and an atelier dedicated to the natural world. Classrooms are open and are easily accessible to the ateliers and the outdoor classrooms.
The children's work in many media and the documentation of their thinking and their theories, their poetry and writing, their wonderings and questions, their designs and ideas for the future of our world are impressive! We see the work of older children flourish as they master skills and abilities in this kind of rich and diverse environment. We could have spent a week their just reading the walls.
One of the most striking aspects of all is that this is truly and international and diverse school with children, teachers and families from all over the world. Giovanni told me that he was continually fascinated and curious about the collaboration that he witnesses among children from different cultures who have different perspectives and ways of seeing and solving problems. One project of the older children was focused on maps and boundaries and space beyond our world. The students wanted to write messages to the universe and were able to send up a balloon with a camera so that they all could see the earth from an ever expanding perspective as well as deliver their message.
It was heart warming to find friends so far away from home who we have known for so long working in such inspiring schools. We wish we could have spent longer with them and with the children. Jackie and her team have created the kind of schools that you don’t want to leave. I know that many of us are working to create schools that are worthy of our children's intelligence and creativity. May we work for schools like this for all children everywhere.