Will you sweep the classroom

Forest Park School Heidelberg


A boy shuffles through the front door of the Waldparkschule in Heidelberg, his hood pulled down over his face. "Tim *, hey Tim *", calls out the headmaster Thilo Engelhardt. "When you come in, you take off the hood." Order, structure and rules are important in this school. This includes a dress code and that no one roams the hallways unsupervised.

Engelhardt stands in the auditorium, which fills with life shortly before eight. She is the heart of the school. Here the children gather at tables that are scattered across the hall like small islands before lessons begin. A group of second graders is waiting, chattering, for the teacher who will escort them to the classroom. The older students have a flexible start, they can use the time until 8:30 for rework - or for coaching.

That's where Amira *, a scarf with glittering rhinestones tied around her head, is on her way. Her teacher is waiting for her at one of the tables. "How was your weekend?" Asks Liliana Gassi-Betsch while the 14-year-old pulls various folders out of her pocket. Gassi-Betsch is studying the work of her pupil from the seventh. "You're getting better and better with your English vocabulary," she says. "I also practiced a lot," replies Amira * proudly. Every two weeks she speaks to the teacher about her achievements. Together they think about what could go better. The individual coaching, which every student is entitled to, should support learning and at the same time motivate. "I'm always really looking forward to the feedback," says the girl. Amira * has really blossomed since she switched to this school, says Rector Engelhardt. "We give a lot of suggestions on how students can work independently, but if it doesn't work, we get feedback right away."

A quarter of the students have a migration background

The forest park school lives up to its name at first glance. It is located away from the Heidelberg city center on the Boxberg. Birds chirp in the treetops, the streets in the area are called Hazelnutweg, Im Eichwald and Buchwaldweg. But nowhere in the city are there more single mothers. The neighboring Emmertsgrund is one of the social hot spots. A quarter of the students have a migration background, many come from socially disadvantaged families. Those who could avoid it did not send their child up the mountain. Most recently, only just under 200 children attended school, and entire parts of the building were orphaned.

"People imagined that everyone raps here and the garbage cans burn at night," says Engelhardt. The school was notorious and was about to close. Things have been on the up since it became a community school in 2013. The number of schoolchildren has more than doubled in the meantime, and on the open day even parents from the valley ask whether they can still get a place for the offspring. The image change was successful because the teaching staff completely turned the lessons upside down. Word quickly got around that every child is encouraged individually and that there are also projects outside of the daily school routine, for example with the art association and theater. The teachers fanned out to get suggestions elsewhere. A lot is still tried out and evaluated, improved or dropped. "It's a Gallic village mentality, we do our own thing," says Engelhardt. Chaos is countered with structured processes. One of the first steps in bringing calm to the classes: They pulled the desks apart.

Today, all students have a kind of small office: a single table, shielded from the neighbor by a head-high shelf for books and documents. After the coaching, Amira * has now bent over a text at her table in which she is supposed to determine German personal pronouns. Hanna * opposite is puzzling over the calculation of a circle diameter, Max * is brooding over English vocabulary. A sign on the door announces that study time is: "Please do not disturb! If you do: Please whisper!" Two school hours a day, the students work on tasks from the main subjects, at their own pace and at different levels.

"I like it better here than at my old school," says Amira *. "When a teacher is at the front and you just have to listen, you quickly lose your appetite." On Mondays she plans the free work in her learning diary. In doing so, she has to assess how far she can get with her workload in one day. Later she ticks off what she has achieved and rates herself with one to three smiling faces. "For the last week I would give myself an average of two smileys." The planner serves her, but also the learning coaches and parents to monitor performance. You have to sign regularly. Because there is always whispering somewhere during study time, the teachers try to reduce the noise level by dividing the class. While Amira * works in her mini-office, classmates have withdrawn into the room for group work.

"If we need help, we can ask"

Four girls got their passport for the auditorium, which allows them to study there. They like the way their school is taught. "The learning packages are specially made so that everyone can learn at their own pace," says Sophie *. "If we need help, we can ask," says Leonie *. There is only one thing she sometimes finds stupid: There are no grades. "Sometimes that would help to assess yourself better."

Nobody stays seated at the forest park school, nobody fails an exam. Instead of grades, there are written assessments. "I don't think that the students are at a disadvantage because they lack grades and pressure to perform," says Steffi Groh. The chairwoman of the parents' council has a son in the 7th grade. She originally wanted to send him to secondary school, but she liked the concept of community school better. "The teachers take care of every child, the exchange works great."

The school bell had already driven the girls out of the auditorium when Louis *, Finn * and Justin * start their rounds. They are armed with long grippers and roam through the hall with them, picking up candy wrappers, scraps of plastic and pieces of bread. "Hey, there is still something everywhere," shouts Justin * as Louis * strives towards the door to take on the schoolyard. Collecting rubbish is not a punishment, but a task that all students take on on a regular basis. There is also a table service in every class, someone who waters the plants, sweeps the classroom or ventilates regularly. In a class council they try to solve problems themselves. The teachers only act as moderators. Amira * is currently training to be a mediator. That is also part of the concept. The pupils should learn to take responsibility for the community. Everyone is perceived as part of the school and everyone sees themselves as part of the school - this helps ensure that harmony and no more aggression determine the way people are treated.

"Perhaps we teach a little less material than other schools," says school principal Engelhardt. "To do this, we go deeper and educate people to think and work independently."

* all student names changed by the editorial team