Grade 9 Students Visit Kamp Westerbork Memorial Centre

On Thursday 12th October, 2017, Grade 9 travelled to the Kamp Westerbork Memorial Centre, in the province of Drenthe. From 1942 to 1944, Westerbork served as a transit camp for Dutch Jews before they were deported to killing centres in German-occupied Poland. As such, this is a highly significant historical site. Students were given a tour of the site of the former camp by experienced educators and also watched a film which showed rare footage of Dutch Jews leaving Westerbork for Auschwitz.

This visit gave our students a valuable opportunity to gain understanding of the Statement of Inquiry for our current unit ‘Global conflagration in the twentieth century’: ‘When leaders seek power through the choice of isolation and discrimination, this can often lead to significant levels of change and global conflict.’ This visit deepened our understanding of how certain conditions in society may lead to the rise of extreme consequences.

Below are reflections of some of our students, who share the programme for the day and what they learnt about the concepts of isolation, change and choice:

During the Westerbork trip, we walked along the long trail all the way to the camp itself- in a way creating a feeling as if we were the prisoners making the journey, because it was all very isolated and it was a long way there. We listened as a guide walked us through the different parts of the camp and monuments and explained the story behind everything. From this trip, I learned that the Nazis made Westerbork a ‘safer’ place to keep the Jews in comparison to the main concentration camps and Ghettos, because they wanted the Jews to trust that the place that they were going to by train was going to be similar. They held sporting activities, provided entertainment and even had a hospital where they took care of the sick.

After we were done with the tour and had seen the very end of the railroad tracks that are now cut off, we started our walk back. We then saw an image of the whole camp, that was taken at the time of its use, from the same spot we were then standing in and it created an emotional and impactful image in my mind: everything really had occurred here once, and we were standing right on it.  – Elena Chova Badia

We learned why and how Westerbork was used: the role of the camp in the Second World War. It was deliberately placed far away from civilisation to distance the Jews and gypsies from the so-called “pure” nation.  Two memorable moments of the trip were seeing the stone and the railway memorials. The stone memorial was made up of many red blocks in the ground, each with either a Jewish star, flame, or nothing on top. The Jewish stars symbolise the Jews brought to the camp, the flame the gypsies, and the blank stones the ones who resisted. It is a tribute to all who died. The railway symbolised all the train wagons taking Jewish children, women and men to death camps. These were memorable because they were very powerful in their symbolism. – Emma Keerberg


I learned that around 100,000 Jews were sent to their deaths from the Westerbork transit camp. I also learned that Anne Frank was imprisoned there at one point and that, strangely, Camp Westerbork wasn’t even the worst of places. Jews were treated decently here but then usually gassed immediately after they arrived at their death camps. A memorable moment was the train which was there. It was calling out all the names of the people who were there and it gave me goosebumps because of how young some of the people were. One story I found interesting was the one about the baby who got very good care, which was most likely expensive, at Westerbork but after being treated well by the German camp commandant was then transported to a death camp and killed. Lastly, the long trip there gave me a sense of how isolated they must have felt for the short period they were there. – Olivier Van Oijen


Article by:  Joanne Gogelescu, ISA Individuals and Societies Faculty

SHARE Rounds Out Year with Fundraising Success

SHARE, ISA’s parent fundraising group, continued to provide strong support to student charity clubs through it’s Spring fundraising efforts.

From a donations-based Designer Pop Up shop, hosted in collaboration with the ISA Macmillan Cancer Student Group, to it’s Easter Bake Sale, Take Home Dinners evening and the school’s annual community fun run, Run to SHARE, the group had a calendar  packed with opportunities for the ISA community to join together and support a wide range of causes and student initiatives.

The pop up shop raised over €2.200, the Easter Bake Sale raised €1.300 and the seven ISA communities which contributed to the Take Home Dinners, helped to raise €1.700.

Exploring the Value of Intergenerational Connections

Connecting with people from different generations is important for developing compassion, respect and empathy in a child, all of which are key beliefs of the International School of Amsterdam. Exploring and developing these intergenerational relationships is vital to the growth of children as it provides opportunities for empathy and guidance, while fostering respect between people of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. In developing the leaders of tomorrow, the real wisdoms and life experiences of older people is an invaluable tool for teaching students values such as integrity, compassion and reflection.

At ISA students are provided with many opportunities to engage with elderly community members in the Amsterdam region, ultimately resulting in a mutually beneficial relationship of understanding, friendship and admiration.

De Luwte and Middenhoven

These intergenerational connections were on show recently when residents from local care homes, De Luwte and Middenhoven, visited the school to watch, and take part in, the bi-annual ISA music concert, organised by Middle School Music teacher, Judy O’Callaghan.

The presentation featured solo performances from students on the piano, violin and guitar as well as a group ‘tin-whistle’ performance from the Grade 6 music class. The songs ranged from traditional Irish compositions to newer popular songs including When We Were Young by Adele, performed by student Cezere on the piano.

“Through the preparation and then the performance the students are learning really important skills about collaboration, being respectful and working together. Skills such as thinking, social, communication, self-management and research are encouraged and developed through the music programme,” O’Callaghan commented.

The audience was also treated to a special performance from the popular Dutch accordion group TAVENU who performed a range of traditional Dutch songs. O’Callaghan herself was a former member of group, having participated and performed with them at a number of events.

O’Callaghan believes the bi-annual event was a great example of everyone working together really well for the benefit of others. “We want the students to leave having experienced what is to share their time, energy and skills. The students grow together through the semester and they are intimately involved in each part of the presentation – including the event program design, and the preparation and serving of the afternoon tea.”

These relationships are mutually beneficial too – the developing minds of children are open and willing to learn, and their optimism was reflected in the smiles of the senior community during the performance.

Community building

ISA students have also previously connected with local senior community groups through the Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) part of the International Baccalaureate Curriculum. Recently, students participated in the Global Issues Network conference in March this year to present projects that connected them to the local community and overcome linguistic barriers. One of the projects included a visit to the local elderly centre, Klaasje Zevenster, where students used art as a tool to connect and integrate with the local Dutch-speaking community.

Another CAS project, ‘The Buddy Project’ will also be hosting a community event at the end of the school year, inviting refugees and the elderly community for a day of fun and activities in Amsterdam Bos. CAS Coordinator Vlad Gogelescu remarked on the positive experiences gained through students interacting with the elderly community.

“I feel that our students have a lot to learn from these experiences, firstly by understanding challenges faced by others and interpreting events from a different perspective, but also by developing and practicing their inter-relational skills with people who have very different backgrounds and cultural expectations.”

The Netherlands is considered a leader in developing innovative ways to connect younger and older generations which includes local initiatives such as the providing accommodation for university students in elderly living facilities to develop lasting relationships between young and older people.

The project, which is currently being undertaken in Deventer, has received worldwide attention for its innovative solutions to the challenges of housing, social isolation and intergenerational connections. Currently, there are six students in accommodation at the facility who are required to offer 30 hours of time to being ‘a good neighbour’ and connecting with the elderly community, in exchange for no cost accommodation. Research has shown that reducing loneliness and social isolation amongst older populations improves wellbeing, which this initiative aims to address.

The initiative also gives young people a greater sense of compassion and connection with older people and build valuable volunteering skills that are continued well after their studies. Providing similar opportunities for volunteering and connection with local elderly care centres in Amstelveen and Amsterdam is key to ensuring that students at ISA develop important life skills including compassion and empathy as well as valuable volunteering experiences that will help them in their careers after school.

Many hands contribute to a great afternoon at Ghana charity concert

ISA hosted the 3rd annual Ghana charity concert on Saturday 20 May, featuring the local Ghanaian choir, Inspirational Voices, and various musical groups from the Lower School. The concert has become a popular feature on the ISA calendar and raises funds for the Nunya Academy in Ghana.

Organised by ISA Music teacher, Fabian Galli, the event also featured Kofi Gbolonyo, who has long been involved with ISA and has been instrumental in the creation of this fundraising initiative. Mr Gbolonyo was able to spend some time at the school to join in the music classes, share stories from the Ghanaian culture and perform in the concert as well.

A traditional Ghanaian (Ewe) proverb says, “Knowledge is like a baobab tree, one person’s hands cannot embrace it” and this was well and truly reflected in the many hands that contributed to a fantastic performance. It was a fabulous display of colour, music and dazzling dance from all involved, including the Lower School choir, the Kufara Marimba Group, Junior and Lower School percussion groups, and Marimba Mania, a performing group comprised of ISA parents and staff.

The event raised €4.435 for the Nunya Academy which will go towards continuing the building work that commenced in 2015, through funds raised by previous years’ concerts. The 2015 concert was featured in our Connections magazine. Since that time, ISA has continued to host events that help Mr Gbolonyo in his quest to build a music academy in his home community of Dzodze, Ghana. At its conclusion, Mr Gbolonyo extended his gratitude to all who were involved in making this year’s Ghana charity concert a very memorable one.

“I never expected such a high quality and high level of musical and performance expertise and skills from the students. The enthusiasm and dedication from the students, parent volunteers and teachers to the whole process: from the preparations to the final show far exceeded my expectations.”

Congratulations to all the students who performed and to Fabian, Aideen Nolan and Judy O’Callaghan, and the fantastic parents volunteers who gave their time to help make this event a great success. 


ISA Green Team springs to a successful start of the year

The first half of 2017 has been a successful and busy period for the ISA Green Team with a number of successful events, presentations and fundraisers highlighting the school’s commitment to sustainability and environmental awareness.

The ISA Green Team hosted its annual Room to Read Book Sale in April this year, with thousands of books donated by the ISA community. It was a wonderful success, raising €7520 which will be distributed to Room to Read, a charity that provides educational scholarships for girls in developing communities.

Grade 2 student, Noga, thanked everyone who helped support the book sale, “the book sale was brilliant because we got to buy books at a great price and it was a great way donate money to help send girls to school.”

Not willing to solely rest on the success of the Book Sale, grades 2 and 3 Green Team members also hosted a parent workshop that featured over 20 tables filled with informative projects developed by the students. For the workshop, students brainstormed their passions and created group projects that highlighted environmental challenges and promoted sustainability and eco-awareness. Some of the projects included ‘Save Our Bees’ providing information about the importance of bees; ‘Lost and Found: Label Your Things’ promoting responsibility for personal items to avoid waste; and ‘Cafeteria Clean Up’, a project encouraging other students to clean up after themselves in the cafeteria.

Teaching students to think about real-world environmental challenges is reflected throughout the ISA Curriculum, particularly in the Primary Years Programme (PYP) Transdisciplinary Theme called “Sharing the Planet” which explores questions such as to how to share the finite resources of the world with all its living inhabitants. In 2016, a new strand was also added to the Social Studies Curriculum for Preschool through to grade 5 called ‘Resources and the Environment’.

Lower School Green Team Coordinator, Marta van der Meer said that being active in the Green Team provided students with another learning platform to expand on their curriculum. “The students learn through their own inquiries and discover new passions, all the while learning that they have a voice and they can make a difference.”

The Green Team has also been busily involved in other events including the second ISA Beach Clean Up which saw a large number of students, parents and staff visit Zandvoort in May to help collect all manner of beach waste while raising awareness for cleaner oceans and waterways. The vegetable and herb gardens at ISA are also flourishing in the springtime with students using their green thumbs to carefully tend to the gardens. The Green Team is a great example of the different ways that students and staff engage with real-world environmental issues to help make a difference, reflecting ISA’s commitment to building sustainable futures and communities through a variety of local projects and eco-initiatives.

Congolese refugee shares story of risk and perseverance with ISA students

Grade 3 students and Upper School French-language students were given an insight into the first-hand experiences of an asylum seeker when Justin, a Congolese refugee, visited ISAthe school to share his story.

Brett Preiss, ISA Lower School English as an Additional Language teacher, invited Justin to come and speak with his grade 3 students as part of their recent unit of inquiry, Believe it or Not. The unit explores students’ understanding of beliefs and belief systems and challenges them to see how this affects their own lives and the broader world in which they live.  

“We wanted to invite Justin to share his experiences and how his similar or different his beliefs and values are to those of the children.” noted Preiss.

Justin left the Republic of the Congo five years ago, and arrived in the Netherlands without a home, his family, or any local knowledge of the Dutch culture or language. In the years that followed, he was able to teach himself English and Dutch, and took advantage of social opportunities opportunities to integrate himself in the community, including joining acting classes where he met  that are also attended by Preiss.

Applying the PYP to Real Life

The PYP curriculum has a strong focus on the 10 IB Learner Profile Attributes—inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective. Preiss chose to use these attributes as a tool for guiding the discussion with his young students.

We focused on the IB Learner Profile attributes and asked Justin to share how he has been a risk-taker by leaving his family and country, and moving to a totally new land.” explained Preiss.

Being an international school, this concept of relocation was familiar to the students. However, the circumstances in which Justin had to move gave them new insight into how his journey to Holland differed from theirs and allowed them to reflect on the plight of refugees and the sacrifices they must make to start life over again in a new home.

“Justin also emphasised another attribute by discussing how caring he wants to be by improving himself and his life so that he could one day be in a position to care for his family back in the Republic of the Congo.”

To that end, the school also connected Justin with the ISA IT team, after learning of his interest in video editing and development. He was shown some of the latest editing tools and software used in an ISA student’s daily life to guide him on the technologies that are shaping the future.

Preiss hopes that Justin’s connection with both his students and the Upper School French classes made a lasting impression and that both he and ISA can continue to help Justin and other refugees to get their stories out there to discover new connections in the Netherlands as they build their lives.

Justin also showed a keen interest in video editing and development, so during his visit to ISA, he was able to connect with one of the IT Station staff who showed him some of the editing tools and software used at the school.

Mr Preiss said that he invited Justin to present to students in Grade 3 who have been learning about different beliefs through a unit of inquiry called, ‘Believe It or Not’.

“We wanted to invite Justin to share his experiences and how his similar or different his beliefs and values are to the children. We also focus on the Learner Profile attributes and we wanted Justin to share how he has been a risk-taker by leaving his family and country, and moving to a totally new land. Justin also emphasised how caring he wants to be by improving himself and his life so that he could one day be in a position to care for his family back in the Republic of the Congo.”

Students and staff all relished the opportunity to listen to and learn something new from Justin, and while his story was at times challenging and confronting, there was opportunity to be inspired by his incredible story of perseverance through adversity.

“For Justin, this visit was a really memorable and rewarding experience, because he truly believes his story should be shared and that by doing so he is able to help our students and others appreciate what they have” noted Preiss.

“He wants to inspire others to help each other and I think he has done that. I know I’ve been inspired by the fact that he has been able to remain true to himself and his beliefs and values, despite having everything taken away from him. He’s overcome obstacles  and really taught the children that once you achieve something you really should give back to help make things better in this world.”