An Alternative Community School: Celebrating Ten Years of Espai Obert La Serra

June 14, 2024 | Blog, Education

Set among the rolling hills and vineyards of Sant Pere de Ribes, a stone’s throw from Barcelona, Espai Obert La Serra is an alternative school  for children aged 3 to 12. Founded in 2013 by a passionate group of like-minded families, it is a unique community, committed to nurturing each child’s potential while fostering a deep respect for the environment.

The school embraces a cooperative model, rooted in the principles of “Educación Viva” where parents and educators actively participate in decision-making, event planning and day to day school life. As one of a small number of alternative schools in Catalonia to be regulated by the Catalan government, it has a strong reputation locally.

Not specifically an international school, Espai Obert La Serra draws families from diverse cultural backgrounds alongside local Catalan and Spanish families, all seeking an alternative to the public school system. 

Celebrating the school’s tenth anniversary, they recently hosted a day-long festival, inviting families, teachers, and pupils past and present to join in the festivities. 

To understand what makes Espai Obert La Serra so remarkable, we delved into the stories of three sets of parents who have relocated to the local area, and the transformative impact that the move has had on their lives.


Espai Obert La Serra – A Unique School in Catalonia

 

Inside outside the school classroom

Photography by Irene Lago

 

Becoming Part of the Espai Obert La Serra Community

Originally from Bulgaria, Maria and Dimi moved from Barcelona to the picturesque village of Olivella in pursuit of a slower-paced, more outdoorsy lifestyle for their young family. Maria reflects, “We’ve always imagined raising children closer to nature and in a house with a garden. It took us a couple of years to find the right place in terms of school project and property to buy, but also to get out of our comfort zone.” Finally they took the leap in 2022, when their children were 4 and 6.

 

Espai Obert La Serra Community

 

They found a sense of belonging within the cooperative model of the school, which families play integral roles in shaping. “Important decisions are taken at assemblies where everyone can vote with equal rights. This happens two to three times a year.” Maria explains, “This collaborative approach fosters a sense of ownership and belonging within the school community.

When asked what aspect of the school she loves the most, Maria replies “I love the personal attention the children receive and the empowerment they have for their own learning process at primary level.” Emphasising the serene atmosphere of the school, she notes, “It could be the forest, the lower number of children and the big outside space, but you don’t feel the rush and the busyness. I believe this also helps with learning, as the environment helps the child to focus and to listen to its own callings.”

 

Building connections

 

Building a Connection with People and Our Planet

Anna and Andrea, originally from the UK and Italy respectively, relocated from London to the Barcelona region in 2020. With a young baby and five-year-old daughter now in her third year at Espai Obert La Serra, they found themselves drawn to the school’s focus on multilingualism and environmental awareness.

 

Espai Obert La Serra Parents

 

Children are so amazing at absorbing and picking up new languages,” Anna reflects. “We knew we wanted to pick a Catalan school to give our daughter the opportunity to learn Catalan and Castellano alongside her native English and Italian with very little effort!”  On the importance of speaking Catalan to feel integrated in the area where they live, she adds “whilst it pushed us a bit out of our comfort zone at first, we knew it would be good for our language and to help us settle in here too.”

As passionate advocates for sustainability, the school’s values resonate profoundly with Anna and Andrea. “The ethos of the school is to tread lightly and use resources very mindfully,” she observes. “From materials and activities to events and buildings, there is minimal waste and a deep care for the environment. 

 

Espai Obert La Serra Playtime

 

The integration of nature into daily learning also aligned with the young family. “The children have access to the forest for learning and playing every day, which is such a privilege,” Anna explains. “Through play they learn about the seasons, the wildlife, the flora and fauna, as well as simple stuff like climbing trees, building dens in the woods, and taking their lunch to enjoy outside.”

“For the parents, it makes the daily drop off and pick up a pleasure! All year round there are activities connecting the children to the local nature – for example getting to stomp on grapes to make grape juice in the autumn when the vines are ripe, doing art activities using foraged items or roasting chestnuts for an outdoor feast.” – Anna

On what sets the school apart, Anna adds, “Children are encouraged to understand their own mind, interests and capabilities through the unique approach of designing the learning agenda around each child.

 

Family at Espai Obert La Serra

 

In the Infants section, the pupils choose from a series of “proposals” each morning and sign up for those that interest them the most. In Primary this develops into working on an individual timetable that the kids help to create and then commit to for each term. “Little things like choosing when they will eat and circulating freely in the indoors and outdoors spaces builds confidence in their sense of self.” Anna goes on to say, “I believe this is one of the most important things we can equip our children with, in an increasingly confusing and challenging world.

 

Empowering Children Through Educación Viva

 

Empowering Children Through Educación Viva

For Miren, originally from the Basque Country and her partner James from the UK, the “Educación Viva” philosophy was a major draw. They discovered Espai Obert La Serra after an extensive search for the right school upon returning to Europe after a decade in Asia. Miren recalls, “We came to the La Serra open day and fell in love with the setting, the learning spaces, and the materials. We love the countryside so we could also see ourselves settling down in this area with the beauty of The Garraf country park and its proximity to the sea.” Their children Beñat (9) and Kattalin (5) are thriving in the Primary and Infantil Sections respectively.

 

 

Educación Viva is a respectful methodology that follows a child centred approach. The children learn to self regulate, to take care of themselves, their peers and the environment they are in. The teachers carefully design meaningful, nurturing learning environments that promote independence, motivation and curiosity and in which each child can develop their own potential. The children’s social and emotional wellbeing is also one of the main objectives of this approach. The language used by the teachers is carefully chosen and plays a key role. The pedagogical team works really hard to make all this possible. For me it is very important to feel that school and home are connected, we follow the same principles and values and use the same kind of language.” – Miren 

A Spirit of Collaboration at Espai Obert La Serra

Espai Obert La Serra is always open to community participation. If parents have a particular idea or a skill they would like to share and the children show an interest, the school will endeavour to make it happen. Just this year there are parents leading weekly yoga sessions, helping students to grow a vegetable garden, teaching robotics, macrame, sewing and jewellery making.

 

Spirit of Collaboration at Espai Obert La Serra

 

Miren’s active involvement in creating a balance park for the school epitomises the community’s collaborative spirit, “Another parent and I worked together with the person in charge of school maintenance to design a project.” She explains, “The children helped us bring stones, dig holes and mix the sand and water with rocks to make natural cement. They not only witnessed the process but they were active participants.”

Anna adds, “It’s really unique to be part of a cooperative, working with inspiring parents who care a lot about creating the best learning environment, and also socialising together through things like monthly family day trips, seasonal family events, an annual camping at the school and all sorts of other opportunities to spend time in community.

Celebrating a Decade of Growth and Connection

This feeling of inclusivity extended to Espai Obert La Serra’s recent milestone celebration, where families came together to commemorate a decade of shared experiences. In March 2024, the school marked its tenth anniversary with a vibrant outdoor event packed with interactive experiences, lively performances and homemade food. 

 

Celebrating a Decade of Growth and Connection

 

Anna explains, “The format for the event was like an all-day festival. We are lucky to have many talented parents who contributed their gifts to make it special, and the older children also participated in various tasks.” 

A dedicated “Fiestas Commission” coordinated the planning, with different parents, teachers and students offering up their skills and time to bring the party together. Families got involved by baking and cooking food to sell in the cafe, making decorations and helping to prepare the different spaces. 

 

Celebration party

 

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and everyone had a great time.” Miren describes, “At school we celebrate the 4 seasons and on this occasion it coincided with the spring festival. These celebration days are designed by the students. They come up with the ideas about which workshops to offer, they design the poster, the schedule, they set the prices for the activities and the cafe and make the tickets. There is a lot of meaningful learning put into it!”

 

Celebrating decorations

 

A sensory theatre experience in the woods was written and acted out by a company of parents, Year 6 pupils prepared a magic and dance show and a collective mandala symbolised the interconnectedness of the school community and the environment.

This group involvement really exemplifies the spirit of community-driven education, with Maria acting in the sensory theatre show and Miren contributing to the decor, helping at the ticket office and in the kitchen. Anna helped to communicate about the event in the local area and served food at the cafe on the day itself. 

 

Celebrating with music and bands

 

The memorable day culminated in an epic performance from a Catalan band, lead by one of the school mums.  Really, the whole community took part and the children were so involved and creative.” Maria recounts, “Also, it was nice to feel the attachment of families with grown up children, who are not at La Serra anymore, but still feel connected to the school.”

Looking Ahead – A Bright Future for Espai Obert La Serra

The anniversary celebration was a real testament to the diverse talents and passions nurtured within the wider school community. 

As Espai Obert La Serra embarks on another decade, a shared approach to learning that transcends traditional classroom boundaries continues to bring local families together to encourage the next generation. 

 

 

For parents like Anna and Andrea, Maria and Dimi, and Miren and James, La Serra represents a commitment to nurturing their children’s minds, unique talents and connection to the world around them. 

As prospective parents consider the myriad educational options available, Espai Obert La Serra stands out as a place where children are empowered to explore, learn, and grow in harmony with nature and one another.


Find out more about Espai Obert La Serra on the school website. All photography by Irene Lago.

Read more inspiring stories about life abroad on the MumAbroad blog

Contact Details:

Cami Montgros, S/N. (Finca La Serra), 08812 Sant Pere de Ribes
+34 93 896 44 88
matricula@espaiobertlaserra.org
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