In the beautiful city of Cluj, near Mărăști Square, amongst the tall, run-down yet imposing buildings you can hear children of all ages telling their parents about their day as they are picked up from school. This school, located in the center of the “concrete jungle” brings a unique angle not only to the neighborhood, but to culture, education and society. This is Royal School, a private international school with a British foundation, for children four to eighteen, which has been instilling knowledge since the fall of 2015.
Its’ primary focus is offering a complex educational package and preparing children for what life has to offer in the 21st century. The teaching language here is English. Royal School is building another facility right next door to the current main building, expanding their wiggle room as well as their classes. Guidance is provided by foreign as well as local teachers. It is, nevertheless, a potentially burdensome examination and education process for students, so it might get a little stuffy in there especially because the outdoors playground is small. It is a Fourth Way School, a fact which reinforces their statement of preparing children for dealing with 21st century ups and downs through four specific characteristics, the most important one being “education, not profit.”
Royal School started out as an European innovative project. With the motto: “Whatever the question, education is the answer”, Royal School is a fully accredited school by the Ministry of Education through ARACIP ( Romanian Agency for Quality Assurance in Pre-University Education), belonging to COBIS (Council of British International Schools). For Laura Prisacariu, Teacher Assistant for Year 6, it’s her first year at Royal School and she is already a co-editor at the Royal School weekly Gazette. Year 6 represents the end of a learning cycle for children ages ten to eleven. “We focus on knowledge itself, taught in various methods, but also on skills such as collaboration, the ability to self-evaluate, to research and soft skills.” , says Laura Prisacariu. She also mentioned that the limited playground issue will be resolved.
In the midst of becoming two buildings, entering the small courtyard of Royal School which is mainly used for fire drills, you can look up and see a discouraging front: flowers neatly arranged, flags with the Royal School emblem as if you were entering an embassy. However, when you walk through the door the mood quickly changes. Fun, educational activities of children all over the walls, a homey-Harry-Potter themed décor, notes of children’s thoughts, problems, classrooms for each lesson and of course, the most important aspect, the children. Near the staircase which leads up to the 2nd floor, where children are talking, reading, playing, there is a Harry Potter phone booth. Not much could fit in this booth except for a little boy in uniform, with a book and a beanbag proving that everyone can enjoy education in their own particular way. There are rather distinguishable differences between regular schools in Romania and this private Royal School, one of them being that they have “Lunch & Learn”, where children eat after a nicely thought of menu organised from Monday to Friday, even with a separate Vegetarian menu. The children also have numbered lockers. Returning to the “education, not profit” statement it is to be observed the high, based on age, yearly fees. The highest price this year is 10.197 euros which is quite a lot of money being an equivalent of almost 50.000 Lei. It is to be acknowledged that in this price there is a myriad of compartments such as: food, school clubs and after school clubs, textbooks and uniforms as well as the chance to participate in the DEIA programme (Duke of Edinburgh International Award). Erika Hristea is the Chair of the Royal School Board of Governors and she is also an entrepreneur and a parent as well as mentioned in the Forbes top 500 Billionaires, due to her financial success.
Going to a quieter place, the 2nd floor, where the chatter of little children slowly fades, a girl, also in uniform, is sitting, checking her phone: “I like it here a lot. I came here two years ago. I moved from a different school because of reasons, like I was a bit bullied.” This little girl came to Romania all the way from America and Royal School poses a safe place for her now: “I’m trying to become a cartoonist that animates on YouTube”. Many of the children who go to Royal School are from different countries so its’ a very diverse, multicultural school. The CIE qualifications are recognized in many destinations such as: Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Indonesia, USA, UK, Singapore and so on.They are recognized by over 1500 institutions across 78 countries. Inbal Robinson, a mother of two whose kids attend Royal School: “We chose this school because it is Cambridge accredited and we wanted an international school in English for our children. It is really international – about 50% of the children are foreigners , so it affects the learning environment as well. I think that being a small school, gives it a big advantage – we created a family-like community in which everybody knows everybody – teachers, parents, students, and that helps to keep focus on every child’s development and personal growth. It also helps to prevent bullying, which unfortunately exists nowadays in many schools worldwide.”
COMING TO CLUJ
Another far-away place from Royal School is England. In South Yorkshire, England, Michael and his wife knew everybody in their village, they had been living in Rotherham for 27 years up until one day, when Michael’s wife came home and said something that would change their lives forever: “I want to change”. It was a bit of a surprise, but we looked in the teachers’ newspaper, what we have in the UK, and inside the newspaper was an advert for a job in Kazakhstan. So I said ‘Shall we apply and see what happens?’. It was almost a joke.”, says Michael. However, it ended up not being a joke, because a few months later Michael and his wife were teaching in Kazakhstan: “The students we taught were incredible, always wanting to study. We gave them some homework and they used to clap when we gave them homework.” After five years of teaching in Kazakhstan Michael felt it was time for a change, so he moved to Romania and he already knows Cluj like a townie: “It’s an interesting place: there’s old architecture, there’s lots of new buildings, there’s the IT industry, there’s the Old Town”. Michael is none other than the teacher and director of Royal School, Michael McPherson. The director of a school is usually an intimidating, serious and cold person to most children. This, however, is not the case for Michael McPherson, because he is a positive, upbeat director who doesn’t just sit in his office but interacts with his students and teachers in a warm and friendly manner. He also tries to make learning an easy task, although he teaches a subject called “Global perspective” which is a mixture of sociology, economics, business studies and psychology, a subject that isn’t taught in any Romanian school.
Inbal Robinson also mentioned that “the teachers are excellent – very dedicated, very warm, very open minded and they continue to re-invest in the school – the building, the classrooms, the equipment – all very new, modern and colorful “.
Wandering on the halls of Royal School I realized that this school is pretty much like Hogwarts. Amongst the fun activities on the walls, there is the House Cup, an activity in which the school is divided into four houses just like in Harry Potter.The only difference is that the houses are not named Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor and Ravenclaw, but Churchill, Brunel, Nelson and Shakespeare. However, not everything is about fun and games, education, is of course, a priority. “I think what’s really important in any school is to give students the opportunity to make the most of themselves”, says Michael McPherson. According to their website, Royal School was awarded full Cambridge Assessment International Examinations Center status which at the end will result in receiving certificates. Unlike the Romanian learning system which sometimes makes outdated public schools push information down childrens’ throats, Royal School aims at making education a fun quest sprinkled with discoveries which children have the freedom to do by themselves under guidance.