For the past thirty-five years, the Bhaktivedanta Manor School in England has given children a loving Krishna conscious education, earning its moniker “The Small School With a Big Heart.”
A year ago, the school moved into its own dedicated building. And now, with committed longtime head teacher Guru Charana Padma Dasi set to retire, it’s looking for a new principal to oversee its exciting next phase.
Over the years, the school has contributed much to the community. It first relocated from the now defunct Chaitanya College in the UK’s Midlands to Bhaktivedanta Manor, where it received government registration in 1982. In 1992, it dropped its ashram component and became a day school only.
At the same time, Guru Charana Padma, a Canadian devotee who previously served as a book distributor and married preacher Kripamoya Das, took on the role of head teacher.
“I love seeing the process of children learning,” she says. “It’s just wonderful that you can make a difference in a child’s life, and see their progression.”
Especially in recent years, the school, which teaches children aged four to eleven, has strived to balance joyful spiritual experience with academic achievement.
The childen have a strong Krishna conscious curriculum
“We want them to have the ambition to go far in their lives and careers, and to be able to give something back to the community and to society at large,” says Guru Charana Padma.
Over the years, Bhaktivedanta Manor School students have become teachers, speech therapists, and actuaries. Some who excelled in music entered specialist music schools and acted in West End Musicals like the Lion King. Former student Anapayini Jakupko runs her own dance school. Guru Charana Padma’s own daughter Jahnavi produces a half-hour religious program on BBC Radio Four, “Something Understood,” that reaches 12 million people. Last year, four out of eight new graduates overcame tough competition to get into some of the nation’s top universities, based on their academic credentials.
Graduates also remain connected with the ISKCON community, and offer strong Krishna conscious contributions to the world. Bhaktivedanta Manor School alumni run Kirtan London, an organization which shares kirtan with the public at top venues, and has spread to twenty countries around the world. They also organize Kulimela events as well as local gatherings for themselves so that they can come together for more hearing and chanting.
The foundation to achieve all this is based on the English government’s national curriculum, but uses a thematic approach to make it more holistic and relevant for the children. Drama, music and art are also brought in in a big way to teach through creativity, rather than simply having students sit at their desks all day.
An after school environmental club, meanwhile, helps the children feel at harmony with nature. “They study trees and birds, make mud kitchens, build dens, fires and bug hotels, and learn how to use tools,” says Guru Charana Padma. “It’s a great way for them to mature and build character.”
Getting ready to perform a play at Bhaktivedanta Manor - the arts are a big part of the curriculum
Of course a Krishna conscious “faith nurture” program also runs throughout the year. As part of this the students learn Bhagavad-gita verses and stories from the Bhagavatam, spiritual songs and bhajans, and instruments like mridanga and harmonium. They worship their own Deities, hold a morning program and chant japa together. And on festival days at the Manor they participate by putting on dramatic and musical performances.
“We also have a multi-faith week where we take them out to meet with other faith communities,” says Guru Charana Padma. “And we develop a relationship with some of the other 30,000 school groups that visit Bhaktivedanta Manor every year – we make pen pals, or go visit them.”
In December 2017, due to major construction work on a new Haveli building at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the school moved from its onsite facilities at the temple to its own building five minutes away. As a private rather than public space like the Manor, the new building is a more secure, safe and dedicated facility. Converted by professional architects using all the required standards for a school – shatterproof glass, proper fire exit signs, etc – it includes four purpose-built classrooms, a main hall with an altar for kirtans and after school activities, a staff room, and beautiful grounds and gardens.
The new school is set to be a hub for its community of parents, who are very involved and provide a lot of input. It has a capacity for sixty students, with forty-three currently enrolled. Caring for them are four full-time teachers and a total of fourteen staff, including teaching assistants and specialist teachers.
It’s an impressive facility, thanks in no small part to Guru Charana Padma, who saw the school to this point through so many developments over the years, and nurtured so many children into the high-achieving young adults they are today. But at this stage in her life she’s now looking to retire to focus more on her spiritual practice.
Students work together in the holistic curriculum
The Bhaktivedanta Manor School hopes to find a talented and passionate new head teacher to replace her in time for the beginning of the next academic year in September 2018. Th is person would take on the vision and direction of the school with Guru Charana Padma’s help and encouragement. The position is open now, with a phased hand over.
The ideal candidate would have experience working with the English National Curriculum and in the classroom, preferably with qualified teacher status (also Early Years Foundation Stage). They would be experienced and competent with an ability to take initiative; willing to be an active part of a team striving to educate and nurture the children; and have a methodical, organised, calm and creative approach to teaching and working with children.
In addition, they would have a respect and understanding of Krishna conscious philosophy and Vedic culture.
Guru Charana Padma feels that the right head teacher would have a lot to look forward to. “It’s such a pleasure to see the children happy, dancing in kirtan, or making progress with their academics,” she says. “And seeing the graduates blossoming and maturing in life, and then giving back to society, gives me great joy -- as I’m sure it will the new head teacher, too.”
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To inquire about the head teacher position, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bhaktivedanta Manor School
Hartspring Cottage, Elton Way Herts WD25 8HB
Tel: 01923-851005 FAX: 01923-851006