Playground challenge – Los Albares School, Spain
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Playground challenge – Los Albares School, Spain

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The schoolyard of Los Albares is a spacious but empty place with a lot of unused space. For them, having students concerned about the environment has always been important. So when they decided to start their NEMESIS project, they decided to collectively modify this common space to combine learning, creative reuse and group work. Each group of students involved in the project made suggestions about what they wanted to build. The community decided a series of improvements that will be developed as small projects within the main one, the so-called  Playground Challenge: an organic vegetable garden, giant Twisters, a minigolf, a ping pong table… This year some new ones like the maths corner have been added. 

The second pilot: a jungle and social distance

Obviously, the coronavirus pandemic sadly interrupted their NEMESIS project. But fortunately, Los Albares hadn’t stopped. Moreover, now the majority of the school is involved in it. We have talked with Ana Echevarría, the headteacher, Verónica Gonzalo and Rosa Moscardó, from the teaching staff, about how they have managed and even expanded their project during these challenging times. 

In September, after the lockdown, when they came back to the school, the vegetable garden looked “like a jungle” after months of abandonment. The initial idea of the teachers was to drop out of the project. Even with the available safety measures, many teachers were frightened of returning to the project. But the students and families were unwilling to give up: the students asked a lot for their NEMESIS project and many parents commented that they missed going to the garden in the evenings. So they decided to resume the collabs: 

“The enthusiasm for improving our playground and our environment has not waned; on the contrary, it has spread to the whole school. This year all the pupils of the school are doing their bit to get to June with the projects finished. In March we had to stop, lock ourselves at home and stop playing with our classmates, but we have come back with a lot of strength and desire  to carry on with the projects.” – Ana, headteacher of Los Albares: 

In this new phase of the project, they will continue improving the schoolyard. Their aim is that next year pupils will have many more possibilities to play and that every year the pupils who form part of CEIP Los Albares will be in charge of maintaining and improving everything that is being built. Los Albares school has the advantage that its project takes place outdoors. Respecting the social distance, the project is progressing thanks to two weekly meetings: one in the morning, in which the pupils organise the work, and one outside school hours, in which the families come to school to work in their collective playground. Every Sunday they send messages via My Colegio App to all the parents about what they are going to do at the afternoon school meetings and those who are going to sign up beforehand. This helps new families to join as the project progresses. 

Community involvement and a special Christmas wish

The involvement of the teachers has been fundamental: teachers were asked if they wanted to join this second year and almost all of them signed up. Now almost the majority of the school teachers have joined NEMESIS. While last year many teachers collaborated in an indirect way (making sure students attended the meetings, collecting the info etc.), this year, all teachers are directly responsible for a project: working on it, measuring it, asking for help when needed, etc. 

So in December, they had a training for the teachers, pointing out what NEMESIS is and what is not, helping them to understand the leading role of the pupils, that they are the ones who make the decisions. Every Wednesday the representatives of each class have a meeting with Verónica Gonzalo, the coordinator of NEMESIS in Los Albares. Her story with NEMESIS is a curious one: 

“When the NEMESIS project was proposed in 2019, I was the only one in the school who didn’t want to participate. It seemed like too much work, and I totally dissociated myself. But I saw that many things I wanted to work on in the class were already being done in NEMESIS. I went from voting against being the coordinator.”

On Wednesdays, at break time, the representatives of each class, a girl and a boy, meet with Vero and tell them what they have done, how the project is going, what kind of help they need, and how they are going to ask for help. The groups exchange ideas with each other and help each other. They are informed about what they have done on Tuesday afternoon in the afternoon meetings. They record the meetings and send minutes to the teachers. 

Rosa Moscardó, another teacher who at first did not want to take part in NEMESIS, has also ended up being a key player in the development of the project. She is a religion teacher, and has handed over part of her classes so that the students can carry out NEMESIS: 

“I decided to get involved in NEMESIS because the school is very happy with the project, the children are very excited, I think it’s great that the students decide how they want to live and what they like, but I was worried about whether we were going to take care of everything that was being created.”

She liked the idea of looking after the school as if I was their home: doing things, but with a commitment to look after them on the part of the children. Once a month, they use the religion class to give the students the opportunity to explain what they have done, what they have failed to do, and what they would like to do. The rest of the month, students give her small updates on how they are progressing. On Tuesday afternoons families, pupils, teachers and experts meet in order to carry out the tasks that cannot be done during school hours. They come with their kids. Anna comments that they enjoy meeting their teacher in an environment outside the classroom. 

“There are days when we have even up to twelve primary school children working. One girl asked for gloves for her Christmas gift to be able to work in the vegetable garden. Now they are finishing the mini-golf, when we finish with the project we will have a party to open it.” Says Ana. 

For Los Albares school, one of the most important things about NEMESIS and social innovation education is that it is a collective learning process. According to Ana, teachers usually have a problem and that is that many times when they talk about projects, they talk about results, while what differentiates NEMESIS from other projects is that it is a collective and collaborative learning process, in which the entire community is integrated. They have focused their project on improving the schoolyard, but always keeping in mind that it is not the main objective of the project, but what the students will learn during its development. And during its development, the students have discovered that they have the right to give their opinion, to decide and to act.