On 6th January 2017, LPF Academy celebrated its ten-year milestone. This small school in Dehiwala, one of the La Petite Fleur Schools, counts just over 300 students on the roll, but seems to have built up an extremely active community with much to offer their children.
Who they are, what they had, and what they did was enough for LPFA to be singled out as the only school in the country that was visited by Dr. Martin Luther King III, when he was in Sri Lanka in 2010. Over the last three years, six IGCSE High Achievers’ Awards at the Cambridge Awards Night were taken home by 4 students of this small school. Students’ astonishing outreach efforts have benefited convalescing soldiers, orphans, IDPs, former child combatants, refugees, drug addicts, the poverty-stricken, the drought-stricken, the war-traumatized, the visually-challenged, the elderly, and more people in need in all parts of the island. What was the well-spring of all this?
THE EXPERIENCE OF QUALITY EDUCATION
La Petite Fleur is one of the names synonymous with quality toddler and early childhood education in Sri Lanka, and has developed into quite a unique phenomenon after nearly a quarter century. The French name means The Little Flower, the name given to St Thérèse of Lisieux, to whom the group of schools is dedicated.
Today the group boasts 8 Houses of Children, 7 spread from coast to coast in Sri Lanka and one in India, as well as a class in the Rawatawatte home for orphans run by the Missionaries of Charity, one of the “Mother Teresa’s Homes” as they are called. Four of the schools are part of the La Petite Fleur Schools group and the others are sponsored under the banner of Bridge to Peace, the NGO affiliated to LPF and created by LPF Founder & Directress, Mrs. Bernadine Anderson. These schools provide early education of an international standard where no concessions are made on quality, whether it is offered to the poorest child from a tea plantation “line”, an orphan from a Home, or a well-to-do little urbanite.
In 2007, banking on the decades of experience gained from her schools in Sri Lanka and in the USA in providing high-quality education to all age groups from toddlers to teens, Bernadine Anderson progressed to the next step of the dream, and launched LPF Academy.
PRIMARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION — IN LPF STYLE
From the extremely modest beginnings of 5 Grade One students, they have since opened their doors to over two hundred students of various backgrounds – Sri Lankan, South African, Indian, Maldivian, German, Swiss, Australian, Russian, Dutch and more. That’s not counting the hundred-plus students who form a lively children’s community in the Dehiwala campus.
Although at first Mrs. Anderson wanted to limit the school to only Primary levels, then later just up to the O-Levels, the student and parent bodies firmly vetoed the proposed and attempted moves to other schools or affiliates, preferring to remain under the purple and grey standard of LPF. So “Aunty Bernie” as everyone calls her, was obliged to expand her school to a higher level.
One of the big advantages of this closely-knit school is that there apparently exists a very strong sense of community, and everyone is known, familiar, and welcomed. Another major “plus” is offering inclusive education within an integrated system, which means that “differences” among students are absolutely “normal” and nobody blinks an eye about anything regarding any student with special needs. These students have all the opportunities to enjoy as full a school life as they are able to, which not too many institutions in the country seem to provide right now.
A pioneer student’s parents just wanted “education in English” with someone they knew and trusted when they admitted their son; now they insist on “education in LPF-style” – no compromises! Their son threatened to “camp out’ on the doorstep if he couldn’t do his A Level program there.
HOW “WHOLE” IS HOLISTIC?
Espousing holistic education, with the legacy of Dr. Maria Montessori as a firm foundation, La Petite Fleur has evolved a unique philosophy that integrates the best of various educational schools of thought. It is, maintains their Directress, a philosophy that can be adapted to the nuances of local culture while adhering to the core values of child-centered, age-appropriate, actively peace-promoting, inclusive education which focuses on the formation of the whole child. Although “holistic education” is claimed by many, not everyone can offer the degree of what is to be observed at LPF Academy.
Mrs. Anderson has always cherished the small-school concept, offering only one community of 20 students maximum per batch – no classes; just communities named for role models and peace makers, like Gandhi, Mandela, Lincoln, Montessori, Mother Teresa…The limited numbers at LPF Academy ensure more intensive, personalized attention for each child who, in turn, has the chance to be part of each activity or event organized, each club or society established.
The balanced, all-round formation is based on the idea that education IS life rather than a mere preparation for life. So, students’ social and emotional lives will merit as much attention as the intellectual and physical. Performing Arts are in vibrant counter-point to vigorous Sports; Outreach and Community Service are ingrained in their way of life; working for Peace is an everyday activity and Leadership training extends to everyone, not just the chosen few with badges. Competition is with oneself and not each other; endless tuition is definitely not a life-style!
OFFERING TOP INTERNATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS
LPF Academy chose the most accessible top option available in Sri Lanka, the Cambridge program, which offers qualifications that are among the world’s most prestigious and popular, with core values that tie in brilliantly with their own philosophy.
After finishing the Cambridge Primary levels, students embark on the IGCSE program, the equivalent of the Ordinary Levels. The Advanced Level program, launched very recently, is interestingly oriented towards the preparation for higher education, professional choices and independent living, instead of being the culmination of the secondary phase of education. It is a perspective which makes a world of difference to the mindset of the learners.
A DECADE IN RESTROSPECT
So, on January 6th, the same day many of the group’s schools were founded, the earliest 24 years ago, the LPF community warmly welcomed the Apostolic Nuncio in Sri Lanka, His Excellency the Most Reverend Dr. Pierre Nguyen Van Tot, as a distinguished guest at this occasion. After a whole-hearted welcoming dance, song, and showers of falling petals invoking the blessings mediated by their Patroness St Thérèse, His Excellency pronounced a blessing on the community and the campus after a simple commemorative and thanksgiving service, in the company of those closest and dearest to LPFA, those who had shared much of that decade with them.
The Apostolic Nuncio, along with his Secretary Rev Fr Yan, who apparently usually spends less than an hour at such occasions, spent nearly four hours with the Directress, students, staff, parents, and benefactors, graciously sharing precious time and sincere prayers with them, enjoying the atmosphere and blessing them collectively and individually too.
A touching highlight of the morning was the moments of reminiscences and experiences shared by the students, 3 of the pioneers who are now in the Advanced Level group, and some of the seniors including the School Captain and Sports Captain. They explained in their own words just what LPF Academy was, is and will be for them, and spoke with nostalgia, passion, humor, gratitude and love – a living testament to the school indeed.
A STRENGTHENING COUNTER-CURRENT
After a mere ten years, LPF Academy positions itself firmly mid-stream of a counter-current to an overburdening, largely-dysfunctional system of education which herds students through ever-narrowing doorways of cut-throat competitiveness to grub for some qualifications which may eventually gain them a job but not much else.
If the demand to get into the Academy is any indication, it is evidently a recipe that seems to offer something unusual indeed to our jaded educational palates.