Brookes School Officially Opens

Simon Green

Anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting Charley King, the founding Headmaster of Brookes School, Moscow, can be left in no doubt that he, together with his formidable team, has the ability to make the near impossible happen. He said in his welcome speech that the Brookes project had had its share of vicissitudes, but somehow in his 384 days at the helm, he has overseen an effective start-up project from inception to completion against all the odds, culminating in the Grand Opening on September 19th, 2018 in the presence of His Royal Highness, Prince Michael of Kent. The Gods seemed to be in agreement as they relented and allowed the sun to shine in a clear blue sky as if to emphasize the bright future ahead for everyone connected with the school, especially the pupils.

We were afforded a warm welcome by staff at the entrance to the school and were duly ushered into the dining area where tea and coffee were on offer together with an array of sandwiches and fresh fruit. The atmosphere exuded happiness and optimism as we waited for the signal to go upstairs to the auditorium and wait for the big moment. Mark Broom was the Master of Ceremonies for this esteemed occasion, and following Charley King’s welcome speech, two girls kicked off proceedings with a contemporary dance that was both original, agile and slightly balletic in style. They departed to generous applause and then came the moment everyone was waiting for: HRH Prince Michael of Kent took to the stage while we all stood in acknowledgement of his presence there. HRH is related to Tsar Nicholas II and he proceeded to explain that he had been coming to Russia regularly for the last 25 years, so had a close affinity with its people and rich culture.

His Royal Highness cast some wonderful pearls of wisdom during his speech, which started in Russian then switched to English, in his highly polished tones and deep, resonating voice that captured everyone’s attention from the very start. He firstly advised the children present: “you’re benefitting from the very best,” and he followed this up with: “collaboration is the best way to learn about other cultures and beliefs.” By now he had his audience spellbound and eager to hear his next offerings which just got better and better. “Brookes must recognise talent in whatever shape that comes,” he suggested, then came up with an immortal line: “This is the next generation school,” he enthused, “that dares to be different, and sets a blueprint for others to follow.” After several more platitudes, congratulating the Brookes team on their extraordinary achievement in bringing this whole project to completion, he wrapped up his speech with the words we had all come to hear: “It’s now my great pleasure to declare Brookes Moscow officially open!” HRH Prince Michael of Kent retired to his seat amidst a thoroughly deserved standing ovation.

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We were then treated to a gifted singer and ballerina performing together ‘A Million Dreams.’ The former had had just one week to learn her song and was from year 8 and yet already possessed an adult voice with depth and power. She was ably supported by the latter, who was a ballerina whose display amply demonstrated a combination of poise, balance and elegance as she proceeded to own the stage. Apparently, she’s to join Brookes next year and will clearly be an artistic asset with a promising future should she decide to take that route in her adult life. Following that act, we then met Master Isaac Brown, a senior student from Brookes Canada who told us he was bored and uninspired in his previous school until Brookes got hold of him, and presented him with some teachers who could motivate him away from mediocrity towards the upper echelons of educational life. This mention of teachers who could inspire, found me recalling a quote from one famous person about another. As Alexander the Great said about his teacher, no less a mortal than the legendary philosopher, Aristotle, “I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well”- and so say all of us!

Next up to the stage were two people from the Pioneer Group who made a massive contribution to the practical and educational side of the project. Olga said what a fantastic team they had in place at Brookes and that everyone worked collectively to ensure the project came to fruition. David Rose told us that the school was set in 18,000 square meters in 2.5 acres of land, then told us about the IB programme and how the students are expected to unlock their potential through the constant development of their three pillars- namely: Character, Connection and Creativity. These foundations, if utilized to their maximum will enable students to leave Brookes, ready to set the world on fire with their ideas. This was followed by a group of boys and girls of all ages singing a wonderful rendition with expressiveness, happiness and impeccable unison to boot; they also left the stage to generous applause.

Not only has Charley King been handling all things internal at Brookes school, but he’s also been visiting a number of establishments to test the water with his ideas. He told me enthusiastically that he had been well received at competitor, Anglo American school who, due to their lengthy waiting list, would be pleased to send to Brookes any students who they felt would fit into the Brookes family. As if that wasn’t enough, Charley has also convinced Moscow State University to automatically accept students who have passed the IB exams which is a wonderful incentive to be successful. In synopsis, Charley wrapped up his welcome speech encouraging students to take advantage of the most exciting opportunity of their lives and have pride while at Brookes school, but above all, abide by the school maxim- “Be Brookes!”

For a prospectus for students and parents please write to:

Racing, alone, on the frozen Baikal…

Thomas Witten (Brookes Moscow)

The morning after the midnight thunderstorm we had a few nights ago a friend who recently moved to Moscow asked with sincere panic-stricken eyes: “Is this it!? Is winter starting? Shall I go out to buy a thick winter coat?” I responded with a restrained giggle and somehow managed to suppress an urge to burst out laughing. I went on to explain that we’ve got a while to go still but recommended to soak up as much of the outside terrace atmosphere as possible before the sun goes into hibernation. “There’s still the mythical Indian Summer to look forward to after a bout of cold weather before winter really starts in November” I added (I still don’t know what ‘Indian Summer’ is all about).

This conversation got me thinking though. The intrigue with Russia’s long cold dark winters is usually on the top of the list when someone finds out I live in Russia – especially people from my neck of the woods where it very rarely snows. We South Africans regard single digit temperatures with absolute dread. The notion of a hyphen before the digit lies far outside our frame of reference. But long and grey and bitingly cold as Russian winters may be, I am always amazed at how people from this part of the world embrace the winter. What I find intriguing though is the contradiction with a nation which simultaneously seems to both fear and love the cold. Young children can’t drink cold water, but ice-cream stands pop up in every park in the white winter months; opening windows and catching a draft means you’ll die and yet hundreds are out in pushchairs while pulling gleeful children behind on doughnut sleds. Shortly after the first snow has settled skiing enthusiasts don slick and shiny ski suits and take to the forest.

Me – I’m a runner, and I like ‘Ultras’. I find running in the snow exhilarating and come winter I’m out in Moscow’s forests enjoying the thrill of light snowflakes half suspended in the air or running into an icy blizzard. I had the privilege of participating in one of Russia’s toughest, if not craziest, events, running ‘on the world’s only marathon ice course laid between two opposite shores of the planet’s deepest lake!’: The Baikal Ice Marathon. Exactly as it says on the box: We started on the shore of one end of Lake Baikal and ran 42.2km in -25 degrees Celsius into icy winds on the frozen lake and ended on the opposite bank several hours later. It was tough. Unpleasant. I’d rather run a 100km ‘Ultra’ in warm weather every other day than run Baikal again. But what an amazing experience! Unless you’re an elite athlete firing on all fours at the front with the lead pack marathons are actually wonderful social events with people chatting all around you on the run and spectators cheering you on your way. Baikal was very different. I didn’t anticipate that running it would be so isolating. The 160 odd runners were spread out over many kilometres and did not have any contact with each other. I was completely wrapped up, buffered from the outside world, while constantly trying to manage my body heat. The overwhelming feeling, though, was that I was running alone. A man on snowmobile or a hovercraft passing by checking up to see if everyone was OK, my only source of company. The occasional soviet tank passing by was surprisingly reassuring. “If that heavy thing can drive on the ice then I’m probably not in any danger of slipping under the ice!” I thought.The hardest part, however, was the lack of perception of distance. Not long into the race everything around you as far as the eye could see was white with no way of telling how near or far anything was, with small red flags guiding your path dotted out every few hundred metres. I remember thinking at the time that this must be what it would feel like if the white after-death experience realm could be believed. Hopefully warmer. 25km in, something finally revealed itself in the distance – a few mountain tops which just wouldn’t get closer – lack of depth perception yet again. And then with 7 or so K’s to go the other side of the bank started becoming visible. Again, so close and yet so very far; it stood there taunting. And then it was over. A shot of vodka has never tasted so good.

I wouldn’t recommend Baikal to the faint of heart but thought I should perhaps suggest that my friend start shopping for a fancy ski kit instead and while the weather is good, build up a level of fitness to enjoy what Moscow has to offer in the winter. But then again you only live once.

Fellow ‘Ultra’ runners.

Thomas Witten is a reception teacher (early years – ages 4 – 5) at Brookes School, Moscow

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