The tropical jungle of Bali may seem like an unusual place to develop the next generation of eco-conscious leaders, but the creators of The Green School in Bali have a vision to do just that. Their hopes and dreams dance about the jungle campus in the form of rambunctious children. They are schooled amidst Bali’s natural beauty, but they are being raised to take their knowledge to the global stage.
Born and raised in Tokyo, I never thought too much about our natural environment until I took up outdoor sports, particularly surfing and snowboarding, and my real “coming out” did not take place until I became editor of a surf and snow magazine.
Looking back on my youth, my immediate surroundings were a veritable asphalt jungle. I had been to the mountains and ocean for the occasional family weekend trip, but my experience with nature was limited and the natural world was not part of my daily life. After these family getaways, we would invariably return to familiar routines in the artificial spaces we built.
In elementary school, I spent a month in summer with my grandparents who lived in Aomori Prefecture, at the very northern tip of Honshu. Their solitary house was surrounded by rice fields stretching out several hundred meters between them and their nearest neighbors. A stream flowed past their backdoor, while Mt. Iwaki’s grand lines created a backdrop for the houses dotting the landscape
A quaint shopping area bracketed the local train station, but the bus ride there took almost an hour. The bus stop was right outside their door, but the bus only came once an hour. It was a far cry from life in the big city.
Once, my grandfather took me on a bike ride to the mountains. During our ride, we came upon a snake slithering about in the middle of the road. We stopped our cycling adventure and headed into the woods where he picked some fresh akebia (chocolate vines) and pomegranates for me to eat.
At the time I was both wary of snakes and of eating fresh picked fruit that hadn’t been washed. Looking back, it seems like a cowardly approach to life, but at the time it was simply a lack of experience for a city kid. You don’t run into many snakes in Tokyo (at least of the reptilian variety).
What if you could gain the experience of living closely with nature, or being in tune with the rhythms of the natural world of snowboarders or surfers, from a very young age? It would undoubtedly lead to some watershed moments.
The Green School in Bali gives children this opportunity. The eight-acre campus of this international school is situated a mere 30-minute drive north of Denpasar, nestled within woods reminiscent of “Totoro’s forest.” Within this enclave, teachers from across the globe hold class.
Green School was created by John and Cynthia Hardy, a North American couple who switched their address to Bali after making a name for themselves as jewelry artists. The opening of the school in 2008 brought form to their vision of “doing something good for the next generation.”
The goal of this kindergarten through junior high school is to create tomorrow’s leaders and begins this process by having the kids experience, in real life, the overused word, “sustainable.” In the heart of the forest, the children grow their own gardens so they don’t assume food just appears at the supermarket. They understand the chain of growing food on the farm and taking it to market.
Additionally, the entire school is made from bamboo, including the tables and chairs which were created using a unique design not requiring nails or screws. Even the soccer goal posts are made of bamboo.
“While oil is limited,” comments the Hardys, “bamboo is a fast growing, virtually infinite resource if you continue to plant more.” This perspective reaches every corner of the Green School grounds.
At a point during my visit to the school, John took a handful of bamboo scraps and reflected, “Oil isn’t the only fuel around. It’s important to know you can make a fire with just bamboo scraps, too.” He continued to relate how just bamboo scraps can create enough heat for life’s daily tasks.
By having a firm understanding of this perspective, you realize energy isn’t limited to fossil fuels and nuclear power. This natural train of thought will spur people to create a greater variety of environmentally friendly options to the next generation. The Green School is determined to be a part of that story.
The city teaches you many things, so during my stay I had to ask, “What is something that can only be learned at Green School?” Kathleen, the school principal, kindly answered, “Everyday is an experience here.” She, having grown up in New York and being well versed in the ways of the big city, continued, “There’s a great deal of information available in the metropolitan areas, but it’s more difficult to really grasp ideas, knowledge and comprehension.”
At Green School, your world is what is right in front of you, so if problems occur, you are compelled to think for yourself, come up with your own ideas and solve the issue at hand. This gives children immediate access to unshakable truths in life and encourages proactive thinking.
The fundamental approach of Green School remains to create young adults with leadership skills in the spirit of the green movement, taking what they learn here and spreading their wings. They see the natural world in its intended state and then work in metropolises such as New York, London and Tokyo with a unique perspective. They believe raising children to see the polar opposites of life prepares them to be active in the world at large.
For this reason, they recruit students from across the globe. Although it’s an international environment, English and Indonesian are used throughout the daily classroom work. Therefore, it is recommended to consider a child’s English ability when examining enrollment.
There were no Japanese staff members as of the end of March, 2009, and while English is not a requirement for admission up to the second grade, all grades thereafter require some proficiency. Thus, Green School’s target audience is students who either have overseas experience or attended an international school.
Typically, tuition for elementary years is about $9,000, plus living expenses. The majority of the more than 100 students currently enrolled are children of ex-pats so, understandably, the school may be cost-prohibitive for some. If you’d like to find out more, the Green School kicks off their inaugural Green Camp Bali Summer School this year with five-day, 12-day and 18-day programs.
The 18-day Orangutan Odyssey for 13-16-year-olds includes trips outside Green School to Sumatra and the northern forests of Bali where children get to experience the Indonesian rain forest and plantations, as well as visit an orangutan rehabilitation center.
Participants stay with local families and see for themselves how the people of the island live their daily lives. These experiences are a far cry from anything kids would have available in Japan and really help students draw a bigger picture of the world.
Prices and schedules vary by program, but the Orangutan Odyssey runs about $3,000 and lasts from July 20 to August 6. Having your child try out one of the summer camps before considering full admission might be a great way to find out if the Green School is for you. Many other programs and activities are available, so it is best to check out the Green School Website at www.greenschool.org.