It is an ordinary lifeless school building like any other on the outside, but walk into the corridors of the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) English Medium School in Pune’s Bopkhel, and the art lining of the walls and colourful steps and balloons flying on the ceiling tell you something special is happening here.
The school was started in 2016 with a total strength of 70 students mostly first-generation learners coming from the low-income families.
The school, which has an enrollment of 315 students from junior KG to Class 6, has been shortlisted by UK-based organisation T4 in the category ‘community collaboration’ for the inaugural USD 2,50,000 World’s Best School Prizes, one in three chosen across the world.
Lauded for creating a cultural dynamic centred on close ties within the community, the municipal school run by The Akanksha Foundation through a public-private partnership model with PCMC, is unique for its engagement of the parents’ community and making them equal stakeholders in the school’s progress.
At this school, the classes are run not just for the students but parents too.
“We have weekly classes for parents where we discuss what kind of activities we will be doing in the coming week. We follow a play-based and experiential way of learning and teach parents how to help children use objects at home and connect it to learning,” said Sushma Pathare, school leader (headmistress).
“Many parents here are unlettered or haven’t studied much, we encourage them to learn themselves and then teach the children. These classes have not only given the parents a sense of involvement but increased their own confidence level as well,” she added.
The community engagement doesn’t stop at the weekly classes alone. One of the distinguishing factors of this school is an active School Management Committee (SMC), which has several parent representatives who are then divided into sub-committees termed the Sahyog group.
“We have designed a nutrition plan keeping in mind the affordability and availability of food as well as nutritional needs of the children. We have a sub-committee of parent volunteers for nutrition whose job is to check tiffins and if some child gets junk or doesn’t follow plan then they counsel the parent of that child,”said Pathare.
“There is another sub-committee for display which regularly reviews what is there on display in the school and classes and changes it or makes displays regularly. There is a sub-committee, which keeps a check on attendance and follows up with parents of the children who are missing school. It has helped immensely to keep absenteeism down,” she added.
Preeti Korde, one of the parents and a member of the nutrition and health sub-committee of the SMC, said that she has “learnt so much by being a part of this group”.
“When we distributed iron tablets to the children or worked during the Covid pandemic, we learnt so much about healthcare. I think I developed a lot of leadership skills too. While I was a pharmacist and have professional work experience, there are many who haven’t stepped out of home but after being a part of this group,” said Korde.
“They have developed a lot of confidence through this initiative. We used to have some stalls too in the schools where the women put up homemade products and a few were motivated to start their own business,” she added.
Another parent Shubhangi Chavan, who has two children in Grade 3 and Grade 6, said the school is helping change the lives of entire families and not just the students.
“The school recognises that the health and happiness of the family as a unit is essential for the child’s development. Many women here who are housewives, it has given them a sense of purpose to get connected with the school and do something after completing housework. The mothers have found camaraderie in the other mothers and school,” said Chavan.
“And it is reflecting in the success of the school’s initiatives – be it attendance or tiffins of children, vaccination and health check-ups to developing innovative learning materials for the children, mothers are working alongside with teachers to implement it all,” she added.