For over a year now, the children at All Saints have been working alongside the L’Arche Community in Kensington, the only L’Arche community in Liverpool. Across the world, there are 147 such communities in 35 different countries, especially in France and Canada.
L’Arche communities are Christian communities that recognise people with learning disabilities who often find themselves isolated and lonely. The staff and volunteers at L’Arche try to offer people the ‘best of both worlds’ by providing independent living with interdependent support.
At L’Arche Liverpool, All Saints’ pupils, staff and parents work alongside the residents on a variety of outdoor projects. For example, this term Year 5 pupils will be constructing birdboxes, planting seeds, building bug hotels, making fat balls for birds and creating paths through the area using woodchips.
This partnership offers our children the chance to learn new skills, especially science, design and technology, but also they will become part of a wider community, showing confidence and compassion for others around them. Residents at L’Arche also gain in similar ways from our pupils.
This is one of a number of projects that we are developing which promote the concept of ‘service learning’ or learning alongside, and as part of, the community. It takes its root from the philosophy of John Dewey, who believed all learning had to be founded in experience. I am particularly taken with how one of his students, Tao Xingzhi, applied this principle to delivering education to Chinese communities in the pre-Mao era. Whole communities were invigorated by his leadership. L’Arche has similar principles at the heart of its mission.
Learning without context is largely meaningless, surely?
As a school community, we are also (hopefully) following Pope Francis’ lead in creating a ‘culture of encounter’ which seeks to erode division and promote collaboration.
I dislike the modern trend that views learning as a means to personal gain, setting people in competition with their neighbours. We should enjoy the benefit of learning alongside others from our community, so that all prosper, not just a gilded few.
L’Arche is a living example of this; their communities colourful petals scattered across the globe. The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, now in his 90th year, must be a proud man.