Instead of moaning, “I don’t want to go to school!” young students attending Cayman International School’s new Early Childhood Division might well sing a different refrain: “I don’t want to go home!”
The school’s new, modern, state-of-the-art facility welcomed young students aged two to four for the first time this month. The Early Childhood facility was purposely designed to accommodate Cayman International School’s play-based programme and it will, without question, make learning fun for its students.
Principal Melody Meade said the new Early Childhood school hosts three different age groups: a Nursery Programme with three classes for 2-year-old children; three Pre-K3 classes for 3-year-old children; and four Pre-K4 classes for 4-year-old children.
Cayman International School had previously offered the nursery programme only for half-days, but with the opening of the new facility, it offers nursery for full days as well. There are still several openings for students available for the nursery and Pre-K3 classes, but very few for Pre-K4.
Even though the children attending the Early Childhood Centre will be very young, it will still be a real school experience.
“The Early Childhood school was built around our child-centred, play-based philosophy of education,” said Meade. “We are creating the foundations to establish lifelong learning and positive feelings about school.”
Now in her second year at Cayman International School, Meade has spent her entire career working at International Schools in six different countries. Prior to coming to Grand Cayman, Meade worked at Washington International School in Washington, D.C. She says her decision to come to the Cayman Islands was based on Cayman International School’s vision of education, its leadership team and its new Early Childhood facility.
“I think it is profoundly meaningful that a school has dedicated something specific to its earliest learners,” she said.
With the opening of the new Early Childhood school, approximately 170 more children will attend Cayman International School this year, Meade said.
Every detail of the new 23,000-square-foot Early Childhood facility has been designed with the intention of engaging the school’s youngest learners, Meade said.
Each classroom is designed and furnished for a specific age group and there are areas for learning, playing and resting. Classes are limited to 16 students each for Pre-K3 and Pre-K4 and to 12 students for the Nursery programme. Each class will have a homeroom teacher and a teaching assistant.
“The scale of everything is developmentally appropriate,” said Meade, adding that classrooms can be made larger by retracting partitions in order to accommodate shared learning spaces and collaboration.
Meade said that the design elements fit together well, but some elements still surprised her when she first walked through the facility.
“I knew it was going to be beautiful and have state-of-the-art design, but what I didn’t expect was the lighting,” she said, speaking of the natural light that streams in through the windows that face the playground.
“The light is soft and airy and creates a wonderful and spacious environment.”
Between the indoor classrooms and the central playground is an area that Meade calls “teacher terraces.” These open, covered areas located just outside the classrooms provide spaces where teachers can take small groups of students for learning or exploratory activities while others in the class are engaged in something else.
“The whole class doesn’t do the same things always,” said Meade.
Having these kinds of flexible learning spaces allows for tailored instruction to meet individual needs for differentiated teaching.
“All children benefit from support in different aspects of learning, be that both for their strengths or for areas of growth,” Meade said.
The centrepiece of the outdoor space is the landscaped and enclosed playground that includes a tricycle path, small hills, playground equipment and sand areas in which children can play.
“The outdoor area is meant to enable children to be able to explore and have real hands-on, get-dirty experiences,” Meade said.
The Early Childhood school includes a music and movement room that also has a teaching kitchen that teachers can hide behind sliding doors on one end, and a library built specifically for small children.
In addition, the new facility has an area where teachers can meet to collaborate and plan, Meade said.
With the opening of the Early Childhood facility, Cayman International School has welcomed many new teachers to its faculty.
“We’ve nearly doubled our Early Childhood faculty team, which is very exciting,” Meade said. “We’ve added new voices and new perspectives to the solid faculty base we already had.”
Meade said the teachers are “the hearts and souls” of the Early Childhood programme and she believes the current group of teachers is “professional, dedicated and enthusiastic.”
“It’s probably one of the best teams I’ve ever had as a principal and I’ve come from some very powerful schools,” she said.
Although Meade calls the new Early Childhood facility “incredible,” she said it is nothing until there are people inside.
“A school isn’t a school until the teachers and students are there.”
A version of this article appears in print in the September 2019 edition of Camana Bay Times with the headline: Learning made fun