Jigsaw Bexleyheath: 10 Students and 80 Years Collective Experience
06 March 2019
When I visited Jigsaw Bexleyheath on the first day of the Spring term it was a cold, damp morning, however, as I pulled up in the school’s car park with parents busying themselves with coats and buggies, I could sense that there was excitement in the air! Kate, the school’s manager had already arrived, her desk in the reception area beautiful set up, Jigsaw banners at the ready with both her children ready to assist the new customers congregating at the door. I quickly realised as I stood with the growing throng of parents and students that this was the magic ingredient that made this school, this particular Jigsaw school special – it has a wonderful family feel.
Many of the customers have been enjoying Performing Arts classes at Jigsaw Bexleyheath for years and it’s not hard to see why. As another new student and her parent stepped up for registration Kate leant over the desk with a calm reassuring smile. She introduced herself to her young customer and explained the order of the day. She took her time, answered all the questions and made sure that everyone, parent and child included were ready for their first class.
Kate has been managing Bexleyheath for 8 years. She joined Jigsaw in 2004 as a class assistant and soon progressed from there to teacher, then manager. She knows each of her students by name and can reel off their achievements at a drop of a hat. Under her guidance Jigsaw Bexleyheath has grown! The Little Ones classes are bursting at the seams, whilst in the Main School the slightly smaller class sizes mean that each student gets more attention, time to focus on their skills and develop as group.
“It’s a really friendly environment” says Adam, as I chat to some of the Group 3 students during the break. Others around him nod in agreement. “And it’s a place where you can be yourself and express yourself comfortably” adds Kara, a fellow Group 3 student, “we’re involved in what we get to do, we give suggestions and work with other students that we wouldn’t have otherwise got to know.”
This team ethos becomes clear when I get to sit in on Group 3’s drama lessons. On this particular day they are playing a game called “why are you late?” The rules are simple: a student enters the class and another student acting as a teacher asks them “why are you late?”, the rest of the class must then act out a predetermined answer through mime behind the teacher’s back. The student who is ‘late’ must work out what their friends are miming! These answers can range from the mundane to the fantastical and are ultimately hilarious! What’s wonderful is to see young people working together and being creative. They laugh and joke as teenagers do but when it comes to working as a class, they are all open to each other’s suggestions.
“They are all so wonderful” say’s Kate, during the break, “last term (Christmas) they organised a Secret Santa between themselves and brought in gifts for each other on the last day. I’m so proud of how they have come together as a group.”
Next is singing; Alex Wharram, an experienced Jigsaw teacher is no stranger to the challenges of a technique term. Her classes are fun, engaging and peppered with enough technicality that balances the new and experienced students so that everyone feels ready to step up to the challenge. She deftly harnesses each group discussion and the group moves methodically from topic to topic, exercise to exercise. I can see that with each scale and trill Alex is quietly assessing their strengths, working out where to push them, where to offer guidance. As they move on to the songs I watch as the class listen to all the options for this term and consider the challenges of each one carefully. “We will vote” says Alex, “everyone loves a vote!” It is then I decide to region Kate at reception.
As I retrace my steps across the outside walkway, I catch myself reminiscing about my own experience of the performing arts as a young child and teenager. I realise that today I witnessed a small snap shot, back in time of all the fun that I had experienced all those years ago. “There you are” says Kate, dragging me from my thoughts as I enter the warm reception area. She is holding a piece of paper. “Look at this. I thought I would sit down and work this out for you. I knew it was a lot.” She hands it to me. On it a list of names and figures and at the bottom it totals 80 years. “Group 3 have 80 years of collective Jigsaw experience.” She says, “isn’t that something worth writing about?” I agree, it’s absolutely something to write about and to be immensely proud of. The fact that these students have been so committed to Jigsaw is sign that Kate and the team at Bexleyheath are doing everything right. Jigsaw’s ethos is to create an environment where young people can develop their performance skills, their self-expression and build their confidence and can ultimately thrive. From what I’ve seen, I can say hand on heart that that they are doing exactly that.