Parents’ comment on ‘Sound of Music’

It was wonderful watching the Annual show of Std. V on Thursday, 25th Oct. We were really amazed with their confidence, vibrancy and energy during the show. The efforts and hard work put by all the teachers and other staff members were quite visible. The minutest details were worked upon to put up together the best show we have ever watched. It was really very well staged with perfect coordination of live chorus singing and orchestra.

We would also like to add that it was not only the theatrical nuances that the students were exposed to during the past one month of Annual day process, they were also informed about the history during the time of the story. They also learned team work and coordination.

We also appreciate the democratic process of selecting various cast of the play and giving equal importance to each and every child. All the 108 students were equally involved in staging the final show which was certainly not easy.

Congratulations to the team and thank you once again.

Deepti and Aashish Sanghi
(Parents of Ishitaa Sanghi, Student of Std. V)

An email exchange with Fumiko, Director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center

On their Annual day, Std VI performed ‘Hana’s suitcase’ about Hana, a 13-year old Jewish girl who was a victim of the holocaust. Vimala Subramaniam who teaches Std VI, corresponded with Fumiko Ishioka, Director of the Tokyo Holocaust Center, who got Hana’s suitcase on loan from the Auschwitz museum to tell the story of the Holocaust to children. To view some pictures from the play, click a related post here (will open a new window). Here we share their email exchange:

Vimala found Fumiko on Facebook and sent her a friend request. Vimala was ecstatic to receive a response:

Hello, Vimmi,
Did you find me through Hana’s suitcase?
Thank you for the friend request.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Hana’s suitcase is now traveling to share the story with many more students. Here we publish updates! : )


The correspondence continued as you will see below:

Hello Fumiko,
I am teaching in Shishuvan High school in Mumbai, India. We staged the play on Hana in Oct for our school annual day. It was well received. We really appreciate the work you have put in to spread Hana’s story all over the world.Pl send me your mail i.d .And do write about yourself too.
Love Vimmi

Thank you Vimmi for your reply. How wonderful to hear that you did a play on the story of Hana!

Vimmi, I have a favor to ask of you. If you have, could you share with me any pictures of your students on that school annual day? (What is annual day, by the way? Is it like a festival day?)

I would very much like to share your experience with others students both in Japan and elsewhere in the world. I am sure your experience will inspire other students and encourage them to learn more.

If you don’t have the picture, a class photograph will be great too.

I look forward to hearing from you again. Please send my very best wishes to your students.


Dear Fumiko,

Thanks a lot for your prompt reply. I shall definitely send you the video link and the photos of the play on Hana. Right now, my school is closed for Diwali holidays. (Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated all over India on the 12th of Nov).

Annual Day comes every year in all the schools in which the students put up plays, songs and dances for the parents. In Shishuvan(the school where I teach) each and every student gets the chance to come up on stage and showcase their talents. We staged Hana’s suitcase with 79 6th graders. If you go on our website, you will get a clearer picture of our school.

The director of our play Sudeep was thrilled to hear from you and he has done a fantastic job of directing the play, which you will be able to see when I send you the link.

One very important thing dear Fumiko — I had mailed Lara Hana Brady asking her about Hana’s brother George,but didn’t get her reply. Could you please enlighten me about him.

Do tell me more about yourself, your family et al. My children in school will be absolutely delighted to know that I am in touch with you..

Warmest regards


Dear Vimmi,

How wonderful to hear that the story of Hana reached out to you and your students in India!
Who would have imagined that when this one suitcase arrived at my tiny education center back in 2000. I can’t wait to see pictures of your wonderful students.

George Brady is a true hero for me.
Finding all about Hana brought us mixed emotions.
The thought of 13-year-old Hana being sent to Auschwitz all alone was heartbreaking, but when we thought about the pain George must have had after losing such a sweet little sister it was even more devastating.
But it was not the end of the story.
In spite of what he went through, George never gave up and decided to live for the future.
He has now built such beautiful family in Canada.
Thanks to his courage to share with us his most difficult memories, we now all learn about Hana and through Hana we learn the lessons of the history.

Hana’s suitcase now travels all over Japan. We have been to schools in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and South Africa and many other places. Here you can see our past journey.

I am assuming your students read Hana’s Suitcase in English…?
The book is also translated into Marathi.

The reason why I’d love pictures of your students is because I would of course like to share it on our website, but also I was thinking I could add it to this special photo album I’m (secretly) preparing for George for his 85th birthday next year.

I am looking forward to hearing back from you.

All the best,

Learning by taking risks

By Betsy Watkins

(Betsy Watkins is the cheerful and dynamic Principal of Ascend International School, Mumbai. We were honoured to have her grace our Std. VI Annual Day with her presence and an inspiring speech, the text of which is reproduced below.)

Last week I had the honour as serving as Chief Guest at the 6th standard’s Annual Day performance of Hana’s Suitcase.  Students delivered a powerful performance, inspired by the moving story of one small group’s determination to give life to the faceless name of a holocaust victim.  The audience was touched.  The performance was heartfelt.  The conclusion could only be greeted with quiet reflection.  We must remember to give voice to history, perform exhaustive research, and always act as the kind of citizens that strive to preserve human dignity and life.

The Annual Day performance marked my third visit to Shishuvan.  Each visit to the school has further impressed upon me the strength of students’ abilities to articulate their thoughts, engage in democratic process and ideals, and be active participants in their own learning.  These are attributes that are as important in today’s world as mastering mathematics and more than one language.  Unfortunately, these attributes are often overlooked in many models of schooling.

I wanted to share with students how unique it is to be part of a school that has high expectations of children at such an early age.  So, as Chief Guest, I told the story of how I grew into becoming the student that I am today—one that remains curious, asks questions, reflects, works hard, and embraces challenges.

My story begins with what I consider a simple fact: I performed well in school, but I was a terrible student.

To be fair, my mother would categorically disagree with this statement.  In fact, she has trophies, report cards, teacher comments, standardized test scores and class rankings that would support her disagreement.  But what one cannot see from a report card, ranking, percentile or test score—is that I did not care very much about learning.  One can also not see that I although I knew facts and formulas for writing essays or performing calculus, I had not learned to think.  I had no curiosity.  I was motivated almost exclusively by trophies and rankings.  I performed virtually no learning activity unless I felt that a top tier University would admire the addition to my curriculum vitae.  I was the student who perpetually wanted to know, “Will this be on the test?”  I was more interested in awards and recognition than the joy of learning.

I truly believe I did not learn how to learn until I went to University.

In an introductory humanities class, I was asked to generate a paper in response to Agamemnon.  I was perplexed.  What should I write a paper about?  I was baffled by the lack of parameters and I approached my professor to explain my confusion.  “Usually the instructor tells the students what she thinks and then we generate a paper using this premise.  That’s the way it works.”

The professor, who had clearly seen this response in many students, was patient but honest. “Unfortunately that is the way many schools train students, but you actually have to learn to think.  What do you notice about this book?  What is your premise?  Being a student is about thinking, not about repeating what someone else has already told you.”

This was the first time I had been asked to think.  This was the first time I had been asked to generate questions and not ready-made responses.  It was painful because I had no practice.  I re-wrote this paper six times before I received a mark I could take home to my parents.  I was excited, because for the first time I had really learned while writing a paper.  The process did not come easily, but this is where my joy for learning began—because it turns out that thinking is engaging!

My second transformation as a student was many years later, when I was a teacher.  When I first started teaching, I was not a risk-taker.  After many years of praise for correct responses and high scores, it is difficult for one to choose the challenging path in which you might learn more, but make many mistakes along the way.  As a teacher, I marvelled over students who learned deeply and rapidly.  I noticed a trend.  The students who learned the most were the ones who were most willing to take on a challenge—the students that were ready to take risks because they understood the value of making mistakes as part of the learning process.

Over the years, children have taught me that to learn big, you have to take big risks.  Learning to take risks is how I arrived in another country to help found an international school committed to meaningful learning.  When the Kasegaon Education Society came to me and asked if I would help create a school in which children would not only obtain knowledge and skills, but also learn to think and embrace challenges—I knew I had to say “yes.”  I had to say “yes,” because as an adult, I have become a much better student.  I am curious.  I do love learning.  I am willing to make mistakes and reflect on my process.  And I am always ready for a challenge!

I think students are lucky when they are engaged in learning which asks them to think and promotes the value of questions.  Educational environments which encourage children to persevere through obstacles and challenges promote an intrinsic love of learning.  These attributes are among the things that make places like Shishuvan and Ascend International School special.  These schools are built to be learning communities—for everyone involved—so that everyone can capture the joy that is a true part of learning.

The day I entered the world

By Dharmil Dedhia

(Dharmil is a budding poet who is in Std. VI at Shishuvan. He has written several poems, and here is one he decided to share with us.)

Next was my turn,

God took me,

He kept his hand on my head,

He started crying ‘cause I was going.


There he dropped me,

Up from the sky to the world,

Bump! A woman caught me in her tummy,

Yup! She was my mother.


A Teacher’s Prayer

Maxim with Krunal, a student of Std. VIII

By Maxim Wen

(Maxim is the music teacher at Shishuvan. He enjoys directing musicals, and would like to stage a production at Broadway someday. We hope that day comes soon.)

Open my eyes, Lord,
That I may see my students
For who they truly are
And what they are capable of being;
Let me not be blinded
By my own biases and prejudice.

Open my ears, Lord,
That I may be able to hear
Their silent cries
And listen to their innermost thoughts;
Let me not be deaf
To the sounds of a heart that is hurting.

Open my mind, Lord,
That I may be able to understand
How they look at and relate
To everything in their lives;
Let me not be indifferent
and ignorant about things that matter to them.

Open my heart, Lord,
that I may always accept them
For the treasures they are;
May I never forget
What they are truly worth
And what I’m worth
Because of them.


Shishuvan participated in NDTV’s Kids4Tigers events and won for the street-play (aptly named Shishuvan4Tigers!) and face-painting.

Rutvi Mehta (Std VI-) transformed into a tigress thanks to Maitri Chheda (Std VI-) and won the judges’ hearts.

Aashna Gada, Anoushka Furia, Disha Patel, Jay Mehta, Preet Maru and Priyanshi Mehta translated their feelings about saving the animals and environment into a street play.

Shishuvan4Tigers: (L-R) Viyati, Mitanshi, Preet Maru, Jay Mehta, Priyanshi Mehta, Disha Patel, Anoushka Furia, Maitri Chheda, Rutvi Mehta, Aashna Gada.

SUPW with Karan

By Karan Thakkar
(Karan took on the challenging task of leading the Campaigning class for Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW) for the Middle School (Std V to VII). As a farewell gift, he gave us the EcoFest which sought to, and did, spread awareness about wildlife and its conservation.)

I had just quit my job when Gerish Khemani (one of the teachers at Shishuvan) invited me to visit Shishuvan. It was a regular day and I thought rather than sitting idle at home I would take this opportunity. So I went to Shishuvan. The first thing that struck me was the school uniform. It was bright in colour and more comfortable compared to most of the other school uniforms that I had seen. Although I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the school, I thought Shishuvan would be like any other school.

Gerish took me to Shubadra, the Head of Department, High School. I was surprised to see the warmth with which she accepted students in the cabin. Then I accompanied Gerish for his lecture. On my way to the classroom I noticed the respect with which students addressed the helping staff. I was pleasantly surprised until I reached the classroom. Working in a company makes you accustomed to discipline and professionalism. So here I was in the middle of students yelling and screaming and running around. I just couldn’t bear it. I wanted to leave the classroom as soon as possible. I was happy with the visit but was sure that I couldn’t teach.

Karan with his Campaigning team:(first row L-R) Shaily, Bhakti, Anushka, Riddhi and Maitri. (second row L-R) Tanay, Dhruvin, Karan, Raj, Niral.

While I was leaving, I met Kavita Anand, the Director of the school. What she said is something that I will never forget. “Students have immense potential. How you treat them is upto you.” That was my first and most important lesson as a teacher. So I took up the role of a SUPW teacher.

The reason I quit my job was to start my venture. One of the key skills of management is handling your team. Here I had a bunch of students with extreme potential and I had to channelize it. My role was to make them sensitive towards the environment. The initial few months were very difficult. I used get disappointed as we couldn’t achieve our goals. Then I realised that you have to be one of them and then take them slowly and steadily towards the goal. Over a period of 15 months, the students kept surprising me. We participated in skits, workshops, fairs etc.

I have quit the school now, but the school and students will always remain dear to me. Teaching has been one of the most unplanned decisions that I have taken so far. But something I am extremely happy about. Just like a child gives birth to a mother, a student gives birth to a teacher. I have learnt more than what I could teach, received more than what I could give.

My Time at the Shishuvan School – by Ben Medina

(Ben Medina, a 15-year-old filmmaker, was hosted by Shishuvan as visiting faculty to train students in basic techniques of filmmaking.)

Ben directs a shot with Std VIII Film makers using a dolly

Last November, after a lengthy audition process, I was humbled with the opportunity to travel from my hometown of Palatine, Illinois to Hyderabad, India, to serve on the Children’s Jury of the Golden Elephant International Children’s Film Festival. I had an incredible time, and met so many fascinating people. Most notably, I met Kavita Anand and her son, Karamvir Singh, while appearing on a panel of young filmmakers. I was completely blown away by Ms. Anand’s vision, wit, and wisdom, and so when she invited me to teach a film making workshop at Shishuvan, I leapt at the opportunity to share my passion for film making with others. When I finally arrived at Shishuvan with my father, we were given a splendid tour by one Yashvi Gada. Shishuvan’s outstanding approach to education, from the uniforms which label individuals not as girls or boys, but as students, learners, to the emphasis on a classical education and study of the ancients, is exactly what I, as a homeschooler, and my parents, as the facilitators of my education, have labored to achieve.

The film class itself was amazing. Each of my classes, from 5th graders to 9th graders, was a different experience, and I adapted accordingly. The fifth and sixth graders had boundless energy, enthusiasm and creativity, but not the greatest attention spans, so I placed more emphasis on playing games and putting cameras in their hands as soon as possible, rather than spending more time on lecture, film theory and history. The 8th graders had a rather higher tolerance for my babbling, so the class was about evenly production and discussion. The 9th graders, too, were about evenly discussion and production. My “manifesto”, so to speak, is that to embrace filmmaking, and education itself, one needs to explore all avenues of life and thinking, and read as much as possible. Therefore, in class discussions, I introduced Jung’s theory of collective unconscious, Freud’s superego, ego and id, we discussed Iggy Pop’s song Lust for Life, I talked about Orwell’s 1984, and Aristotle’s theory of Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. I also almost exclusively showed clips from films that might be considered “challenging”, including Black Swan, Magnolia, The Darjeeling Limited, The Shining, and La Dolce Vita. Through the class, we also dissected the heart of storytelling, traveling back in time to Shakespeare, Homer, Romulus and Remus, and finally deceit, that sign of intelligence in a rapidly developing species. Storytelling, and therefore film making, is really only a complicit lie.

My students more than rose to my challenges, with a brilliance that truly shines. Their short films were incredible and innovative, and the eight and sixth grades were already in preproduction on their next films as I left. I believe the 8th grade is making two films, one a Wes Cravenesque horror film, and the other a thriller involving cricket and crime. The 6th grade was making a historical fantasy epic about a war between brothers. I honestly cannot wait to see what they do next. My days at Shishuvan were some of the greatest of my life, and I would love to come back.