A carnival atmosphere took over at Hillcroft Special School in Newtownabbey recently as it played host to teachers from Brazil.
Brazilian beats, Samba dancing and football chants were the order of the day as both the pupils and staff went all out to welcome their Latin American visitors.
Pupils dressed in green and yellow football jerseys - some painting the Brazilian flag on their faces - while others opted for flamboyant flowers or feathers in their hair.
A special assembly was also put on, which included singing, dancing and Brazil’s national anthem, with a drum circle getting the party in full swing.
The group of 11 teachers were visiting Northern Ireland as part of British Council’s Connecting Classrooms programme, which offers funding for reciprocal study visits between UK schools and international partners.
In this case Hillcroft, alongside Mossley Primary School and Belfast Model School for Girls, partnered with three similar schools from the Piracicaba region of São Paulo. Hillcroft, which is a special state school for pupils aged from three to 19, partnered with the city’s Centro de Reabilitação, Girls Model with the Secondary School, Eduir Benedito Scarpari Prof; while Mossley primary is linked with the fundamental school, EE Honorato Faustino.
The Brazilian teachers, who were only in Belfast for the week, had a very hectic programme. They also made visits to Mossley PS and Girls Model, had meetings with the Department of Education to learn more about Northern Ireland’s school system; and took in the sights with a trip to Stormont.
Adam Smith, the Vice Principal at Hillcroft was a fundamental figure in getting this Connecting Classrooms project off the ground. He and two other teachers from the school joined teachers from both Mossley PS and Girls Model for a study visit to Sao Paulo back in October.
Speaking about the experience he said: “The Brazilians gave us such an amazing welcome when we went over that we wanted to do our best to give Northern Ireland a good show. Luckily, the quick turnaround between the visits has meant that all three Belfast schools have had to keep the momentum going, which has seen everyone get right behind the project.”
The visit, which has been in the planning for two years, has certainly been worth it for Adam, who has been the Vice Principle at Hillcroft since 2004.
He said: “We wanted to bring an international dimension to the school and embrace global learning. So after consulting with the British Council in 2012, we opted for the Connecting Classrooms programme and were lucky enough to be linked with Sao Paulo.
“Our first year was spent building relations between the schools, and in the run up to the visit we carried out numerous activities to prepare our pupils, including a Brazil day back in March, and this has really set the tone for the last few months.
“For us the project has been beneficial in so many ways – it’s been great to be able to learn about a completely different educational system, and how they cope with the financial and resourcing difficulties they face.
“It’s also been great not just to meet staff and pupils from Brazil, but to link up with schools from here in Northern Ireland and develop our learning networks further.”
According to Adam, the study visit has been just as beneficial for the pupils.
He said: “Bringing an international dimension into the school has really re-vitalised and invigorated the pupils and in the past few weeks there’s been a certain buzz around the school. Amongst other things, they are educated about another country, learn a bit about a new language and understand more about how people live in other countries.
“We hope to continue to develop our links with these schools, and hopefully in the future find other international partners to collaborate with, which in turn will bring more opportunities for our children.”
Speaking about the Connecting Classrooms Programme, Jonathan Stewart, Deputy Director of British Council Northern Ireland said: “Connecting Classrooms aims to improve trust and understanding between students living in different societies, by linking schools around the world with schools in Northern Ireland.
“By working at an international level, students have an engaging and motivating way to learn about the world in which they live and to help prepare them for their future role as active global citizens, while teachers have the opportunity to share and learn new professional skills.”
For more information on Connecting Classrooms visit https://schoolsonline.britishcouncil.org for more information on British Council Northern Ireland go to http://nireland.britishcouncil.org or follow on Twitter: @BCouncil_NI