Interview: Hazel Cox from The Earth School

Hazel Cox, The Earth School

Hazel is an experienced educator who finds herself currently as the principal of The Earth School here in Kigali. The school uses the innovative Montessori teaching system and you can find out more about them and learn about their open houses on their Facebook page or website.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m originally from the UK. I have 12 years’ experience in education, teaching across different year groups in Newcastle. I specialized in Early Years Education and enjoyed being a member of the Senior Leadership Team as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator.

What originally brought you to Rwanda?

I came to Rwanda in 2012 with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas). Volunteer service was a dream for me and I had reached a point in my career where I thought ‘It’s now or never’ and I decided to apply! I worked as a Literacy and Numeracy Education Advisor, in a rural Teacher Training College in the Eastern Province.

What did this work entail?

I worked with the tutors at the college to improve teaching methodology, which had an impact on Rwanda’s new Primary Teachers.  Using locally available resources teachers could then apply a sustainable model in their own practice. My outreach program included English and literacy skills in the community as well as the incorporation of active methodology and child-centered learning in local schools.

What were some of the highlights of this job?

I lived in a small local house on the top of a hill and collected water in a bucket every day. There were frequent power shortages! However, I loved life in my village and integrated well into the local community, learning basic Kinyarwanda and becoming involved with village life.

When did you start working at The Earth School?

After my volunteer work ended, I felt there was so much more that I wanted to do in Rwanda, and I definitely wasn’t ready to return to the UK. At The Earth School I found an incredible opportunity to grow professionally.  The school sponsored my Montessori training and I started with teaching and administrative responsibilities.  Within two years I became School Principal, a position I thoroughly enjoy.

How does working at The Earth School suit your teaching philosophy?

I truly love every day working at The Earth School. We have students from more than 20 different countries, as well as local students, so the school is vibrant and culturally diverse. I enjoy meeting and working with families from around the world and we incorporate a wide variety of cultural traditions and celebrations into school life.

In your opinion what makes The Earth School special?

We follow a Montessori Curriculum, so learning is active and child-centered, something that I enjoyed incorporating into my teaching in the UK. Our students are very motivated and independent and we observe them becoming passionate about their learning, following their interests and seeking wonder in the world around them. Our curriculum is holistic, so children learn social and emotional skills and practical life skills, in addition to our academic areas of learning. We also have a strong environmental focus, and our students grow to be conscientious and responsible young citizens in today’s world.  The facilities are amazing with open spaces and sunlit classrooms as well as nice outdoor play areas with a vegetable patch and rabbits!

We work closely with the families of our students and this is something very important to me. We have frequent family events and knowing the parents of every child means that we can develop a shared and consistent approach to each child’s development.

Our staff is fantastic and brings rich experiences from around the world. It is a pleasure to work with such a fabulous, caring, supportive and hard-working team every day.  I also appreciate the support I receive from the school leadership.

What have been some of your special experiences in Rwanda?

There have been so many incredible experiences since I arrived in Rwanda four years ago.  I have enjoyed exploring the country during my time here, from kayaking on Lake Kivu, to gorilla trekking, doing the chimpanzee trail in Nyungwe Forest and going on safari in Akagera. As a volunteer I visited many small rural schools and loved the adventure of exploring different parts of Rwanda, far from the main roads!

Living in a remote rural village will always be a highlight for me during my time working as a VSO volunteer, but everyday life in Kigali is also a pleasure, whether I am buying fruit and vegetables from the market, or choosing fabric for a new dress! Being part of The Earth School community, as well as part of the wider community in Kigali, is a special experience and I really feel that I am building a life here.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.