• The Story Behind Bridgedale360


    I just had to leave…


    I had been walking aimlessly, as if my body just carried me along, for what seemed like forever. I still didn't know where I was heading or what was propelling me forwards. Except the reverb of that thought - I had to leave - and a name. Bridgedale360. My fist tightened around the scrap of paper on which it was written. I didn't have to open it, again, to see it. By now the name and the X that marked it on the spidery map was already etched into my mind. Instead, I looked up and wondered whether the turn in the road was starting to look - not exactly, but still - like the curve of one of the lines on the map. Like one of the spider´s legs. All roads lead to Bridgedale360? I first heard about it from a friend a few months ago and then later, overheard it in a bar. Just people talking over loud and dull pop - but I heard it for sure - and then I found this map, or it found me. I had to leave, my heart needed to believe, I had to believe.


    I picked up the pace, my heart beating out a rhythm for my legs to follow, and my right side stung. Exhaustion and fear tugged at me, and perhaps it was regret that made me look back every now and again, but this time I wasn't going to let it get the better of me. Not this time. I threw some of what was left over from my bag of dried fruits into my mouth, hoping it would hush my hunger. My feet yelled out in pain; my new boots had still not been broken in. Instead, the boots seemed bent on breaking me in. Blisters and all. My insides screamed at me in revolt.


    Suddenly I heard voices. I got cautious, a bit afraid, but my curiosity brought me closer. My ears twitched like antennae, trying to figure out where the voices came from. I stood still. There. “Bridgedale360”, I heard it. My heart rattled my ribcage. “Over there, not so far anymore.” I had to get to them. “Wait!” I think I said and cut through the row of trees, hesitantly at first, but then found myself pushing and shoving shrubs aside, until I saw them and they saw me. “Hi,” said the woman, smilingly. I gasped and smiled back and my insides kept quiet, for once.


    We were walking for days, mostly quietly. But there was a sense of unity that I had never felt before. We were all following our dreams somehow, but without really knowing what it was. Layla showed me some pictures of her family, and said that she didn’t know any longer where they were, if they were alive. Could we blame the “system crisis”? But I also felt conscience-stricken, because I saw how privileged I was. Yet, I was unhappy. But happiness does not come with abundance, I learnt it the hard way. I could not imagine myself continuing like before. I desperately needed Bridgedale360 to be more than a silly fairy tale…


    Once we started off together, everything fell into step so to speak. We moved as if we were one, people from the west, people from the east, just people...fleeing the old system and searching for that unknown place. Conversations bubbled up here and there, naturally without any haste, but then we would retreat into a silence again, as we mulled over things we had just heard, and I imagined how life was for them before in the countries where they were coming from, and how much it sounded like my own in some ways; while in others, mine was completely foreign to theirs. I remembered the things I used to enjoy, but that was in the past, I told myself, as I shook off an all too familiar sense of heaviness. Excess does that to you, somehow. But, here on this dirt road to Bridgedale360, I was just like them. Bridgedale360 was and will be the great equalizer for us all.   


    Arriving happened by surprise. We came to a stream and a little further up a girl was playing in the water, singing for herself. We came closer and when she saw us she smiled. “Ahoy there, comrades!”, she said. And she smiled and waved at us. I was surprised by the openness with which she was greeting a bunch of strangers. In the middle of nowhere! But it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere, we soon found out. Further up the stream we saw a mill and some mechanism pumping water. And then it all just opened up. Without waiting for us, the girl skipped ahead and we followed, not skipping like her, but feeling a slight hop in our own step. We exchanged glances and before we knew it, buildings and gardens and people working appeared from behind the trees. Everybody stopped to greet if only briefly, and smiled before they got back to doing what they were doing. Cows grazed past us. Even they seemed to smile.


    Our little guide, we could see, had come to a stop before the most impressive of all the buildings that we had passed. A man stood there rubbing his hands and then approached us, as if he couldn´t wait for us to get to where he stood. “Welcome,” he said, while his hands rubbed and patted our weary shoulders, ”first some rest and then I´ll show you around Bridgedale360, ok?”

    • The School

      EDUCATION, COOPERATIVE LEADERSHIP & EMPOWERMENT

      “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

      -Nelson Mandela


      "The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows."

      -Sydney J. Harris



      Introduction

      Mattia, 40 year old teacher and pedagogue


      Do you remember your old school yard? Do you remember which material it was made from? Asphalt? Concrete? Were there bushes or grass? Do you remember the classes, your teachers, how you usually felt in school? Were you generally happy, bored, scared? How did you feel when you graduated? Was the world full of possibilities or were you confused and didn’t know what to do? Try to remember. While remembering, also acknowledge that what you took for granted could have been totally different. The buildings, the rooms, the teachers, the subjects, the classmates, the surroundings… the whole culture, different. Play around with it, change something in your virtual school and see how it makes you feel. Now you’re there! Is there something in the school that makes you feel unhappy? Is there something that you feel is missing?


      This is a typical exercise we do with the kids, it usually stirs up a lot of creativity and enthusiasm. In Bridgedale360, we have built our school on three fundamental cornerstones: empowerment, education and cooperative leadership. Empowerment is the most important thing. Because if an individual doesn’t believe in her own power to bring change, to contribute, then it doesn’t matter what she knows, she will be passive and she will be unhappy. So how do you teach someone to believe in themselves? Hopefully you don’t! Kids come to this world that way, confident, and they will grow strong and with a real sense of agency if we just give them the right support. Every kid brings a unique set of gifts, talents, interests and curiosity into the world, our primary job as teachers is to give them what they need so that they can explore in a safe environment. Do you remember how it felt when you really loved the subject that was taught? That’s where we want to bring the kids, because that’s where they should be! To know as a kid that your interests and your will do matter. That is empowerment!


      Every kid will thus choose their own educational path, and develop as naturally as possible. Still we do have obligatory classes. The school’s other purpose, except for supporting the development of individuals, is to support the development of society. And the development of society needs a certain common understanding and common knowledge and skills to function. Our modern society has taken this to the extreme, where the education is modelled primarily to fulfill the specific needs of society and the economy, thereby stifling children’s creativity. The flaw of such a design is that it views people as bricks in a gigantic machinery rather than as dynamic change-makers. We must always allow the new generation to feel that they can change the current order of things. They are not here to fulfill some mechanic program set up by people that are long dead! At the same time we need them to have a basic common education. So what we try to do is to balance the individual freedom with the responsibilities that society requires. We do teach writing, history, math, of course that is important, but we focus far more on self-expression, creativity and what we call “life skills”. Instead of building the house for them, we give them the toolbox. Things like how to ask questions, how to listen, how to resolve conflicts, how to speak from the heart, how to express yourself, how to learn, how to teach, how to lead together, how to change ourselves and how to change the system. And most importantly, how to cooperate and help each other - that is why we refuse to use grading systems that encourage competition.


      Right, that brings us to cooperative leadership! The third cornerstone. To partake in society and in our communities we need to be able to lead and to be led. In our school we’re redefining the old idea of the leader. We don’t see leadership a characteristic of an individual but as a function in a group - it means that all of us work on developing co-leadership skills and co-leading together. Here in Bridgedale360, we cherish our egalitarian values and believe in equality, that’s why we try to encourage everyone to develop leadership skills. Every group is different and requires a different kind of leadership. Imagine you want to teach a dance class, then you don’t want the old military veteran do the stepping. On the other hand, the old military veteran is great for the fishing expedition, since she knows how to sustain herself in the wilderness. Which knowledge and type of co-leadership is required varies greatly. And as strong, empowered individuals there will always be situations where our co-leadership is asked for by the group. We practice this a lot, using different games and scenarios. It’s a matter of seeing that the leader doesn’t have to be the person that’s the loudest or most confident. We’re all leaders, and when we co-lead, we grow.


      The school is at times chaotic, sometimes I even long back at my old teacher desk. But that is also because we’ve taken on a much greater and more complex task than to produce predictable streamlined bureaucrats. Our task is to support individuals to express their talents and their uniqueness to the maximum, and to invite them into society as co-creators, not as passive observers. Seeing a person learning to express themselves in new ways, with all the joy, zeal and energy, to see that happening in front of your eyes is one of the most beautiful things that exist. At least for me. I’m actually really lucky... oh, I’m teaching a class in the woods today actually. Together with the students, we’ll be doing some role playing games on gender equality. That’s another important one! We spend a lot of time raising awareness about our gender roles and making sure that girls and boys are treated the same and are co-leading - after all, transitioning to a fairer, sustainable society could not happen if 50% of the world population is left unempowered! If you fancy, join us!


      Learning Outcomes

      • To become empowered and to empower

      • To have an experiential understanding of different educational styles

      • To develop cooperative leadership skills

    The Town Hall and Community CentreThe Town Square