“We tell our teachers that their number one priority is to have fun with the pupils,” says Gita Lotz, Co-Director of European School RheinMain (ESRM). “Our success lies in proving every day that the children love coming to school.” The school also ensures that its 1,400 boys and girls are protected and guided by staff to achieve their individual goals.
Just as important is the fact that the children, aged from four to late teens, become confident learners. “Because nothing else matters,” says Lotz, “unless they’re confident in their own ability to learn.”
Based in the German spa town of Bad Vilbel, ESRM opened its doors in 2012. It is the first privately funded institution within the European Schools system, a network originally created in the 1950s for the children of European Commission employees.
Pupils from all backgrounds are welcome at ESRM, which charges fees but operates on a non-profit basis. For students from poorer backgrounds, there are assisted and even free places available. This offers some disadvantaged children the chance of a better future, such as the young African refugee who joined the school recently. “This year he’ll take his European Baccalaureate exams and he is now competent in German,” says Lotz. “For him, it was a ticket to life.”
Mind your language
All aspects of the school, from the building to the curriculum, are designed to provide the best chance to learn. For example, pupils can choose how many hours of classroom learning they do for each subject. Unlike an international school, ESRM places the focus firmly on the national language of each child while teaching them a “working” language, such as English, French or German. As students progress through the school, they spend more time learning in their working language. The success of this approach is demonstrated by the fact that many go on to study at British universities.
Creating a light and spacious environment is another priority at ESRM. The school’s corridors feel like large galleries, where pupils can work together and access Wi-Fi. Interaction is encouraged, rather than sitting all day. “Anyone can sit in front of a computer,” says Director Tom Zijlstra, “but we strive to create a personal approach with direct contact between teachers, pupils and managers.”
A global education
There is also an emphasis on internationalism. With students from 52 nationalities including American and Dutch, the school puts a high value on everyone learning from and tolerating each other. “Our philosophy is we all have our own origin and culture and language,” says Zijlstra, “but we should be working together as Europeans sharing European values.” Those values include being open to others while keeping their own cultural backgrounds alive.
In just four years, this institution has already achieved significant success. In July 2016, the first Baccalaureate exams took place at ESRM with the school achieving a 98 per cent pass rate. Pupil numbers have also more than trebled from just over 400 in its first academic year. The plan now is to build on this success and look at ways to improve further.
This is a school whose success can be measured not just in results but in the happiness of its students.