The nurs­ery head­teacher whose past has shaped her pupils’ fu­tures

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY CHAR­LOTTE OLIVER

SOME ED­U­CA­TORS teach to live, while oth­ers live to teach; Geral­dine Maid­ment would fall into the lat­ter camp, so fixed is she to the foun­da­tions of An­nemount School.

The head­teacher, who also owns the nurs­ery and pre-prepara­tory in Hamp­stead Gar­den Sub­urb, is dis­cernible through­out the school — in its cel­e­bra­tion of arts and cul­ture, in its jam-packed sched­ule of cur­ric­u­lar and ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, and in the eyes of its 100 young pupils, who em­brace her with arms out­stretched when­ever she pops into a class.

“The beauty of own­ing a school is you can be cre­ative,” she says. “You have huge re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as an ed­u­ca­tor, so the im­por­tant thing is to have a good team around you.

“I love the cre­ative side of my work — be­ing with the chil­dren, be­ing with my team, and think­ing through the needs of each and ev­ery in­di­vid­ual.”

Ms Maid­ment’s mark on the 80-yearold school has been in­deli­ble, and has been ever since she took own­er­ship more than 20 years ago, in 1993, af­ter the death of its founder and only other head­teacher, Elsie Ja­maiker.

At the time, with two young daugh­ters at home, she had a clear idea of the kind of com­mu­nity she hoped to build.

“When I had my own chil­dren, I wanted to give them op­por­tu­ni­ties that would of­fer the same breadth that I grew up with,” she says. “But I didn’t want to drive them from pil­lar to post.

“What I wanted to do was bring ex­perts to the school. So I brought the ex­tras — lan­guages, dance, drama, mu­sic — into An­nemount.”

Ms Maid­ment’s fo­cus on breadth of learn­ing is some­thing en­trenched in her prin­ci­ples; she is bru­tally aware that things could have been dif­fer­ent.

Born to par­ents who both fled from East­ern Europe just be­fore the Sec­ond World War, she and her sis­ter were raised to value ed­u­ca­tion higher than any­thing else.

“My fa­ther went to a school in Bu­dapest that pro­duced a lot of No­bel Prize win­ners, but had to leave and come to the UK alone at the age of 17 be­cause, as a Jew, he wasn’t al­lowed to con­tinue his stud­ies,” she says.

“My mother, who spoke many lan­guages and was also a pi­anist, came to Eng­land in 1939 from a Jewish com­mu­nity in Munkacs in the Carpathian Moun­tains [mod­ern-day Ukraine].

“She came as a do­mes­tic, and then ironed coats in a fac­tory, be­fore work­ing in a Hun­gar­ian restau­rant, where she met my fa­ther.”

Ms Maid­ment, 57, de­scribes one spe­cific event that shaped her mother’s out­look on life — and, in turn, has since shaped hers.

“Sol­diers ran­sacked her suit­case be­fore she ar­rived,” she says. “It made my mother re­alise that the only thing that mat­ters is what is in­side of you, be­cause no­body can take that away.

“That is the fun­da­men­tal mes­sage of my whole ethos: give ev­ery­body ed­u­ca­tion, breadth and re­source­ful­ness, and they will be able to go their own way.”

Raised in North­wood, she at­tended North­wood Col­lege, be­fore mov­ing to St Mary’s, and then on to South Hamp­stead High School in north-west Lon­don. Her fa­ther, who changed his name from Las­zlao Soltesz to Les­ley Stan­ley, was in­tent on “be­ing in­con­spic­u­ous, blend­ing in and in­te­grat­ing”.

But she re­mained ac­tive in the com­mu­nity, at­tend­ing cheder and youth clubs at North­wood and Pin­ner Lib­eral Syn­a­gogue, and dis­cov­er­ing a love for teach­ing while run­ning Jewish prayers in her teens. In the school hol­i­days, her par­ents would send her abroad to learn lan­guages; she now speaks five.

After­grad­u­at­ingfromUCLinLon­don, she worked for a brief time at Sotheby’s, but turned to teach­ing be­cause “I re­alised I liked peo­ple more than ob­jects”.

Fast for­ward to 2016, and her fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ences have made their mark on the ad­min­is­tra­tion of An­nemount.

Why, for ex­am­ple, do so many of the school’s pupils — more than 60 per cent — play the vi­o­lin?

“The vi­o­lin has a very pro­found mean­ing for me,” Ms Maid­ment ex­plains, as she opens a pint-sized, weath­ered vi­o­lin case to re­veal a trea­sured heir­loom in­side.

“Since my par­ents were refugees, we have no ob­jects in our fam­ily from my grand­par­ents’ past. But what we do have is this fam­ily vi­o­lin, be­long­ing to my grand­fa­ther’s sis­ter, which my daugh­ter learnt to play on.

“When you have to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind, the vi­o­lin is some­thing you can take with you.”

Ms Maid­ment is adamant that teach­ing chil­dren mu­sic and sports is vi­tal for their men­tal de­vel­op­ment; she is de­ter­mined to of­fer both of the high­est cal­i­bre. The school’s vi­o­lin teacher also teaches at the Royal Acad­emy of Mu­sic, while her sports teach­ers are per­sonal train­ers from the Matt Roberts Lon­don gyms.

“With a vi­o­lin, you are learn­ing ev­ery sin­gle skill you could pos­si­bly need to study,” she says. “You are con­cen­trat­ing, lis­ten­ing, self-cor­rect­ing, fol­low­ing in­struc­tions, se­quenc­ing, mem­o­ris­ing, turn-tak­ing, learn­ing dis­ci­pline and that prac­tise makes per­fect. Once you start learn­ing a mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, you gain all the fo­cus­ing skills that you need to learn any­thing.”

A brief scan of a work­ing day at An­nemount, whose pupils range in age from three to seven, re­veals a school that laughs in the face of the “bare min­i­mum” ap­proach.

Years one and two be­gin their lessons at 8.30am — to en­sure that they can fit as much as pos­si­ble into their timetable. French teach­ers, chess

Theon­ly­thing that­mat­ters is what is in­side of you, be­causeno-onecan takethat­away

Geral­dine Maid­ment with An­nemount pupils

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