Alternative schools: “Supporting our children instead of educating them” – In Rennes, the challenges for the start of the 2022 school year

The Graines de joie school opens in November in Chateaugiron, in Ille-et-Vilaine. What kind of pedagogy are you going to put forward?

Céline Pageot, co-creator of the Graines de Joie school: We are not going to base ourselves on a specific pedagogy, we allow ourselves the freedom to go fishing at Freynet as well as at Montessori. We have a 2000 m² garden by a pond. The idea is not to limit learning in the classroom. For example: you can learn to count outside, with acorns.

How many students are you going to accommodate?

We will be working with two multi-level classes – with a maximum of 20 students per class: one for 3/6 year olds who will be called Kindergarten and another for 6/11 year old children who will be the Grande Classe. It should be noted that we will also be an inclusive school that will welcome children with disabilities.

Why did you choose to settle on the outskirts of Rennes?

Actually, it was our wish to settle in Rennes Métropole. We had the support of elected officials and we had even found a house with a large garden, but that held us back administratively because the Rennes Métropole PLU (Local Urban Plan, Editor’s Note) does not authorize a school to cover a large tract of land like the our to settle in this area. We finally found the current location last May and we are very happy with it.

Do more meaningful work

A school like yours… it is above all a school without a contract. What exactly does that mean?

This means that we do not receive funding from the National Education to function. Because we are an association, we are financed by private foundations, donations and school fees paid by families (€4,000 per year for Graines de joie, ed.). In order to balance the structure financially, we will also offer a leisure reception on Wednesdays and during school holidays. By being approved by the CAF and the municipality for this particular position, we can have other sources of funding.

How did you come up with the idea for this project?

As a child I failed at school and I had a dream to create a school where everyone can find their place. In 2018 I traveled through France to visit major alternative schools. I was able to germinate my project more accurately. And then in 2020 I found Anne-Hélène Sero, an old friend who is a special education teacher. She also had a creative project, but more for families supporting children with disabilities. While discussing, we decided to collect our ideas to create the same project.

Anne-Hélène Sero (left) and Céline Pageot (right) are the bearers of the project for a new alternative school on the outskirts of Rennes. (Seeds of Joy)

Non-contract schools attract an increasing number of pupils to Brittany every year. How do you explain this phenomenon?

I think there has been a real change in the role and place our children have taken in society. We really evolved from an educational point of view by telling ourselves that we were going to mentor our children instead of educating them. Society is changing and people are adapting by changing their priorities.

We know that National Education has difficulties in filling certain teaching positions. What about your side?

The truth is, we had a plethora of uses. We feel that there are teachers who are looking for something different, who want the freedom to teach differently. We work with teachers who have left the National Education and who are trained in alternative pedagogy. The pay may be lower, but they feel that they are doing more meaningful work.

With the separatism law passed in 2021, many families who had opted for homeschooling are no longer allowed to continue. Will this lead to an influx to non-contractual establishments?

With this twist, many families felt mortified and began contacting non-contractual private schools. Parents who have chosen to take their children out of the mainstream system want their needs to be taken into account and to make it easier for them to return to these types of institutions. Moreover, these are not necessarily resource-rich families, which means that they sometimes have to make great financial sacrifices.

Public school is not free

We talk a lot about the prohibitive price of certain schools outside the contract… We find some of them exceeding €10,000 per year.

I think the issue is not fair because the public school is not free. Our taxes pay it. We are never confronted with the real price of what a child costs in the public system. And then, it’s not the world of Care Bears, we have to pay people. A school like ours, charging $400 a month (over 10 months, editors note) is barely breaking even. In retrospect I also understand people who say it is elitist. In an ideal world, I would want the cost to be based on the family quotient. It would be great fun, except the teachers would have to agree to be paid according to the kids attending. It’s not an option.

Don’t you think that can create a certain mutual contact?

We hear it a lot… This is certainly the case in some schools, but it is something that is harmful. With what is happening in the world it is no longer possible to operate in isolation, this is not the model to be shown to children. Some schools operate out of fear… On the contrary, I think we should be transparent about our methods, then we can trust each other better.

With regard to the Graines de joie school, have you managed to create a social mix between the children already enrolled?

We do indeed have a certain mix of incomes for the coming school year. There are of course people who are financially well off, but there are also families who have few resources and who make a very strong choice of study. It’s not easy, but we still manage to have a little social mix.

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