• Anita Demitroff

A school like no other: Gola the Toy Library in Teo (Galicia, NW Spain)

Have you ever heard of an English school with its very own … pig? Porky lives alongside a dog, rabbits and some chickens that hatched in front of the children's eyes at such a school. The donkey, however, never did settle in, as the Labrador was jealous. They're all residents at Gola the Toy Library, probably unique in the world.

This school is the brainchild of Gloria Senra, who brings experience, imagination, legal and business know-how and years of hard work to this strange and wonderful project. She puts the needs of the learner first, from children as young as three to adolescents and adults. In particular, the Toy Library or Pre- and Primary section is unincumbered by the limitations that other afterschool programs face. For example, time is given to deep learning. Children stay for three hours once or twice a week as they move from one activity room to the next in a huge house that has been conditioned according to Gloria’s specifications. In the school holidays, Gola runs camps in this ideal setting.

Space is not an impediment either.

The rooms and generous outdoor spaces facilitate the wide range of activities which provide a rich, communicative context for language learning. It's pure CLIL. The pre-Covid cooking session has been replaced with science. Music and art, as well as "outdoorsy" and nature-centred activities, like taking care of the animals, which are also timetabled into the programme. This would seem like a random mix of fun activities were it not for the organising thread: the picture books that inspire the termly themes. It all starts with a story and the topics that emerge from it.

There is also an infrastructure for practice and consolidation, provided through carefully elaborated, kid-friendly routines reinforced with physical activities and lots of games.

This routine goes beyond the date and weather: normal terrain in most schools. Children grasp structures and increase their understanding; their progress is palpable. They are ready to deal with the past and future tenses much earlier than they would be in a normal setting.

Older children work towards Trinity exams, but activities like drama and storytelling are still incorporated into their afternoon. Adults are provided with a cozy atmosphere. Indeed, when people walk into the Gola centre, they automatically feel relaxed in an English-speaking oasis.

Such an endeavour would have been impossible without painstaking preparation and almost military logistical precision.

Great thought has been given to the flow and timetabling of the school, as well as the curriculum. Getting the whole show ready for Covid regulations was a further challenge. Luckily Gloria has her right-hand woman, Begoña Borrazas, another powerhouse. Gloria and Begoña also take staff development very seriously; you have to be a special kind of teacher to work here.

And the human touch has made the difference, as seen in the courage and vision of Gloria, the commitment of Begoña and the energy of their team.

From the name to the setting and system to Porky the pig: nothing is conventional at Gola and its community wouldn't have it any other way.

By Ana Demitroff

Bio: Ana has been in the classroom longer than she cares to admit, but she still gets a kick from the experience and continues to learn from her colleagues and students at the You First Language Centre.