You may have heard that there’s a school there but as you drive by it’s not exactly obvious where it’s hiding, so I made an appointment with Heavenli Roberts, one of the school’s 4 directors, to show me around.
Suffice to say that with a name like that I was excited to meet her. I’m pleased to say that she lived up to her name. Heavenli is quite lovely.
She’s also quite a mix of things. Her dad is half Cuban and Jamaican and her mum is half Canadian and Ghanaian, however, Heavenli was adopted and grew up with her English parents in Tunbridge Wells. She’s been here in the Algarve for 11 years and has 4 children who all attend the school and who I met in due course. She teaches art and dance classes on the weekends and she even told me she’s written a book, or shall we say a series of books. 26 in fact. One for every letter of the Alphabet. The books feature her fictional farmer ‘Al Phabetz’ who tells a tale for each letter. The drawings of Farmer Al and his alphabetic animals are still being designed. But hopefully the books will come out soon.
I met Heavenli at the Café at the Algarve Tennis Centre behind Villas and Vacations. I had been here before and except for the odd tennis player it had seemed quite empty. But not now, since AIS has opened it has given the place an explosion of life. Quite literally, as happy shouts of children could be heard all around as they used the basketball, football and, of course, tennis courts for their P.E lessons. They also have access to a beautiful wooden cabin that is used for yoga, mindfulness, dance and drama, and as we sat at the café shouts of encouragement to jump up and down could be heard echoing out of it.
The Algarve Tennis Centre seems transformed and totally abuzz as they also provide healthy and nutritious lunches for all the students.
After trying to keep up with Heavenli’s complex family history and soak up how lively this place has now become, she asked me if I would like a tour? I certainly did as I was still a little unsure about where the school actually was? After visiting a few classrooms in the Villas and Vacations building I thought that perhaps that was it and I was a little confused when Heavenli walked me out into the dirt car park. “Where are we going?”, I wondered silently. Turns out the new school is in a building on the hill behind, the entrance is still under construction so it’s a little bit of a hike to get to it, but once we got there I was quite taken aback at what I found.
The AIS building has 3 floors filled with students from 5 to 18 (years 1 to 13). The younger students can be found downstairs and the other ones all over the place as they make their way from classroom to classroom.
As we toured around interrupting spelling tests and math classes I noticed the school had drum kits and musical instruments for their music classes, and was excited to see science projects of paper volcanoes just waiting to be set to explode and bubble over when the right chemicals were added.
It was also rather spooky. The whole month of October had been declared the month of the dead and the place was decorated accordingly. This was all set to culminate with the shooting of a Michael Jackson’s thriller video. And on the last day before half term the school would have been filled with monsters of all shapes and sizes.
On our tour I met the other lively and dynamic directors of the school.
Ian Bailey, Kathryn Germain and Walter Mendonça. They all seemed charged with some kind of invigorating energy that can only come from when you are doing something you are very passionate about. As it says in their brochure they want to create a school where ‘children are given the opportunity to become the best versions of themselves with self belief and confidence’.
They certainly seem to be doing this very well. The students all seem quite confident and together. One of the students, Indher Schoemaker, insisted on taking my email so she could tell me the story of how she moved from Utrecht in the Netherlands, a place where she said she only interacted with a lot of the same people, to coming here and attending AIS where she now feels like a citizen of the world and has made what she thinks will be lifelong friends. She said in her email that, “The four directors put literally their sweat and tears into everyday work to help me perform better academically and feel better mentally. An example is that I went from grade 5 for maths at GCSE level to a 7, thanks to Mr Bailey. Or when Miss Germain pushed us to do one more redraft on one of the many essays in English and it paid off. Mr Mendonça taught us about the natural world and it’s fundamental role in our lives as human beings. Or Miss Roberts who has never not succeeded to put a smile on my face.”
I think if your students take it upon themselves to write in such rave reviews you must be doing something right.