2017-11-29

Kids from around the world gather at Mill Village’s DEVI boarding school

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Molly Locke, daughter of the president of the boarding school&#8217;s governing society, says she is finding Mill Village peaceful and friendly after moving there from the UK.</p>

With the opening of the DEVI International Boarding School, kids from around the world are congregating in tiny Mill Village.

The school's governing society held an open house at the Riverbank General Store and Cafe on October 29 for locals to come meet teachers, society members, and the 27 students from 13 different countries who have come to live and learn in the little village along the Medway River.

"It's been busy but it's been great," said Mary Kuhn, a member of the school's governing society. "One of the strongest things for me ... has been the mix of cultures."

Mary, a teacher, and her husband Marcel, an entrepreneur, have lived in Queens for several years and have been offering Sahaja Yoga on the South Shore and in Halifax for around a decade. They are a part of the DEVI International Boarding School Society, which purchased the vacant Mill Village school for $1 from the Region of Queens Municipality.

"It's very nice to have different cultures, but because we're still a small school, it's almost like a family," said Marcel.

The students, who started in September at the former Mill Village school, are being educated using the Nova Scotia curriculum, with an added focus on the spiritual values of Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, the founder of Sahaja Yoga, who died in 2011.

Students wake up at around 6 a.m. and start and end their days with meditation. Grades 6 to 9 have five periods per day and Grade 10 has six. They start the school day with a quick assembly. Their courses are also supplemented with various activities like drama or coding.

The students are housed in cottages and a home across the river from the school, which was purchased for that purpose. Marcel says the girls live in the cottages and the boys in the main house.

The students have come from all over the world from families that follow Sahaja Yoga. The practice has been referred to by some as a new religious movement, with many families wishing to educate their children at one of several boarding schools located in places like India and Italy. Some within the movement also take part in arranged marriages, though it is not required.

Beauty and peace on the South Shore

So far Mary says the students seem to be taking to the area well and the whole community looks in on them, from letting them know if they are walking on the wrong side of the road, to just providing feedback when the children stop by places like the cafe, to having the local fire department help them understand fire drills and prevention.

Because the school isn't big enough for full sports teams, the students also take part in other activities, including field trips.

"Every Wednesday we have excursion day," said Mary. "We've gone to Keji Seaside Adjunct, Rissers Beach, Summerville Beach, Beach Meadows, Lahave, Lunenburg; we're going to Peggy's Cove.

"Each place that we go they say 'wow, it's so beautiful, it can't be more beautiful.'"

Molly Locke, 14, traveled to Mill Village from England with her parents who are a part of the society, including her father Tom, who is president of the school society. She has lived all over the world, including in India and Italy.

She says Mill Village makes her feel truly welcome, despite originally being somewhat fearful of yet another big move.

"Here is just so calm ... and everyone is so kind, in England they don't really look at you and here everyone waves and chats. It's just an amazing experience and I'm just really loving it," said Locke.

Now that the school is up and running, Mary says they are looking to the future and hoping to teach the Grade 11 next year and add Grade 12 the following year so students can get a high school diploma from the school.

The Kuhns say the majority of the funding comes from the students' tuition fees though according to the school's website three of their teachers are volunteers and the principal, administrator and general manager are not taking a wage either.

The school's website also includes a donate button which shows the school has raised $250,000 from fundraising and are now starting a new campaign to raise $175,000 to complete the purchasing of a new building.

Nearly $27,000 has been raised in that campaign thus far.

The school the governing society purchased was closed in 2014 and later declared a surplus property by the Region of Queens Municpality. The building cost the municipality around $10,000 a year in maintenance after the South Shore Regional School Board decided to close it.

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