The Maharishi School in Reservoir completes nearly 20 years serving as a powerful incubator for holistic development of children.
It was as early as 1996 when a group of young mothers, inspired by the knowledge of student success and high quality of life at Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Iowa, USA, decided on a similar pathway in Melbourne. Determined to replicate the American experience, they went on to register with the Registered Schools Board and began operations in 1997 with 22 students.
Almost 20 years later, the Maharishi School in Melbourne continues to thrive holding a unique and different view on school curriculum. In an era of competition, the school has seen many successes and despite recent negative publicity in the press, that once threatened its progress, the school has responded with resilience and the determination to continue its service to the best of its abilities.
As one enters the residential suburb of Reservoir, the Maharishi School stands on the corner of Dundee Street. Upon entering the premises, what strikes one is the tranquillity of the space, the very clean and tidy classrooms that feel like little houses with cushions and chairs and the friendly staff and teachers engaging with students. For most of its history, the Maharishi School established in 1997 has been attracting students from different ethnic backgrounds imbibing among other things the technique of Transcendental Meditation (TM) propagated by none other than the man who taught TM to the world Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
In fact before opening, the school was accredited through the International Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and provided with Maharishi’s ideal teaching principles, Consciousness-Based curriculum materials and guidelines for the Science of Creative Intelligence and Maharishi’s Vedic Approach to health, with a staff development program. The school offers Primary education up to Year 6.
During its first five years (1997-2001), the school operated out of Bundoora and consolidated and strengthened its teaching programs by integrating the Maharishi’s Consciousness-based curriculum with the Victorian Curriculum Standards Framework 1 & 2. From 22 foundation students, the school’s number jumped to 37 during this time.
The background of students, was those whose parents were already practising Transcendental Meditation and students who for various reasons were not happy or successful in other schools. “These students experienced profound improvements in physical and emotional well-being as well as academic excellence,” says Suzi Haynes, the school’s senior staff member.
The all-round excellence manifested in many ways. The school took the honours of bagging the first place in the Australian Mathematics Challenge in 2000 and 2001, and a bursary at the Science Talent Search class project in 2001. For the first time too, the children participated in the Kids’ Congress 2000 at the University of Adelaide where four students presented their Island of Peace project.
The challenge came when in December 2001, the school was informed that the property on which it operated had been sold. However when the school was relocated to Reservoir only one family opted out. In 2002, the Maharishi School was granted registration at the new location with permission to extend into Year 7. “Our enrolment in 2002 reached 50, 40 in primary and 10 in Year 7. And despite the lack of adequate accommodation the students continued to make excellent academic progress,” says Haynes, who has been at the school since that time.
Interestingly, over the past 30 years, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has suggested that the solution to the problems in education lies in developing the limitless inner potential of students and teachers. Toward this end, Maharishi has revived from the tradition of ancient Vedic Science the knowledge for systematically unfolding the full range of human consciousness, according to the Maharishi University of Management, Iowa. Transcendental Meditation has been learned by more than three million people worldwide and implemented in public and private educational institutions in over 20 countries.
The Maharishi School, Reservoir, offers the AusVELS /Victorian Curriculum, enhanced with an approach to learning that integrates the principles of Consciousness-Based Education and Transcendental Meditation.
Those in the 5-10 years age group are introduced to the TM walking technique, also called Word of Wisdom. Each is given a Word of Wisdom and they walk around silently with their eyes open in an allocated area. Once the children reach 10 years of age, they progress to the adult Transcendental Meditation technique.
In 2017, the school will be making the transition to the newly-introduced Foundation (Prep) – Year 10 Victorian Curriculum. “Complementing the core learning areas, we also provide specialised instruction in Science, Music, Art, Physical Education and Auslan. In addition, we want to ensure the Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) principles which underpin the Consciousness-Based Education, are fully integrated into the curriculum. This means that the students study things more in-depth and integrate those principles into the curriculum to give things a deeper meaning. For example, one of the SCI principles is “Every Action has a Reaction” and these principles are what we call Laws of Nature as opposed to just values. We use these as a basis in every subject such as science, geography and history. The curriculum is very stimulating and engaging to the children,” explains new principal Steve Charisis.
This year Mr Charisis has also introduced Individual Learning Plans. “The school was already looking at issues of student assessment and mapping of performance. I have only introduced a tool and a vehicle by which we can even do it better. Through the Individual Learning Plan, we are moving to having individual plans for every child in the school. This reflects our emphasis on individuals so we will look at not just what traditional individual learning plans have done (and that is look at gaps in young people’s learning areas of needs, weaknesses) but also taking into account areas of strength because the strengths could quite often be the vehicle to help.”
Another emphasis is on sporting programs. Currently, the children undertake tennis in partnership with the local tennis club, basketball, hockey and it is part of the Sporting Schools Program.
“We are also setting up a partnership with the local aged care facility and we are going to undertake an intergenerational program as part of our new initiative,” says Mr Charisis, adding, “That also reflects our focus in making our students more outward looking as well; we are not an insular organisation. As much as we promote our offerings with Consciousness-Based education and TM we don’t do it in an insular way. The children undertake community work and we have a strong leadership and community involvement program.”
Steve Charisis, who has enjoyed a long illustrious career in the field of education beginning as a primary teacher and moving on to become principal of a government secondary school in the country, took over the reins of the Maharishi School earlier this year. Charisis assumed his new role under challenging times.
Mr Charisis admits that the challenges for him at the beginning were dealing with the people and the adverse publicity. “I found the transition into this school very easy because the challenges that people perceive were the perceptions of stories or news that was going around at the time about the school. I believe what the school had been offering was actually very, very good. I strongly believe in the philosophy of the school and its foundation. When you have taught for the number of years that I have – both in government and independent sectors – you certainly develop your own beliefs and philosophy about what education should be like. Mainstream education is an environment that needs to be challenged, because people will say ‘we are still using the same model used in the 1800s’ but here is a school born out of scientific research sparking trends around the world now – that have shown the benefits of looking holistically at the child. This school is really in tune with what the trends are now overseas, and we have been doing it for 20 years.”
Prior to his appointment, Mr Charisis did his own due diligence and believed there was another side to the stories. What is more, he believed he struck gold when he took over as he loved the opportunities and challenges it posed. He realised that the school found itself in a position where it needed to regenerate and grow as a result of the adverse publicity. “I rebuffed all of the claims made against the school because I had a look at the school. We went through a thorough review by the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority, we ticked off against all those areas that potentially people had highlighted and the school satisfied every requirement in that regard. So it’s a place that has incredible potential for what it offers young people and we just want more people to discover it.”
And that explains why the school has not focussed on the negative publicity but combatted them by continuing to do the good and positive things it does with the children. “I speak glowingly of the children because I see young people who have developed the traits and qualities that deep down as educators and even as parents, we want our kids to develop,” says Mr Charisis.
Since taking over, Mr Charisis has value-added to the areas where he feels the school needs to develop, such as the Individual Learning Plans. “My vision ultimately is for people to see that we just don’t preach and that we work closely with parents. The value of that is agreeing on how to developing a child, say, working on their emotional development that will hold them in better stead before we make progress with some aspects of their academic development. So it is fine tuning aspects like that and introducing new or other approaches to enhance what the school is already doing. The school must have been doing something right, for all these years.”
Currently, Maharishi School has 45 students and charges approximately $6000 AUD a year. The school has operated historically between 35-70 for 20 years. “It spiked only for a few years but it has always been a boutique school because what the school offers isn’t necessarily widely known in Australia. We know more what is happening overseas in America, in India or England. But the people who are here sought out the school and believe in the benefits of TM and our holistic approach to education for their child.”
This October, for the first time, the Maharishi School organised its first alumni meeting with more than 60 graduates and 40 families coming in for breakfast at the school. “The product at the end of the day is gold. You listen to the kids speak, you see the way they conduct themselves, those personal traits and qualities that we wish many adults had – because when kids have that strong foundation, they make that transition into adolescence and later into adulthood in a better position to handle not just the peer pressure but the choices that you need to make. But they do with the strength of knowledge of who they are as a person and that‘s one thing that this school really emphasises – knowing oneself in a deeper sense,” says Mr Charisis, with a hint of pride, adding, “Yes many schools will say the same but there is something extra special about the relationship that they have formed over the years. It lasts a lifetime.”
The school’s vision is to extend to secondary education. Mr Charisis believes that it is a model that many government schools are using now. “Looking at the current trend of education in Victoria and the broad educational landscape, a school like ours is a shared vision that the board and I have – to actually look towards something like that.”
Right now the school is involving parents and the families in the life of the school – from attending excursions to helping with school productions and costumes to helping it establish the new school library. This is one of the strengths that the school has thrived on in the past too – the establishment of a tight-knit community.
The students come from 12 cultural backgrounds, predominantly from areas around the school, although some do travel 30-40 km. “It’s lovely that a school such as this appeals to people from different cultures and background. There is no one dominant group and it is very diverse.”
For now, the drive is for people to discover what the school does and getting people who value holistic development of their child to see the school in action. The school is focused on having strong and special partnerships with those families. “When new families come to see the school, they say, Where have you been hiding all these years?” smiles Mr Charisis.
By Indira Laisram