by Lilian Assis, Avenues São Paulo
In August, after completing construction, recruiting the faculty, organizing classrooms and completing a comprehensive curriculum design, Avenues São Paulo opened its doors. We were so excited to be fully operational. While building the school from scratch, we knew one thing that was especially important to us was establishing a school culture and community. Avenues’ is defined by three small words that can be understood by anyone from nursery through 12th grade: Welcome, Safety and Respect. Feeling part of a community with values has been essential in bringing our mission to life.
From the beginning, Avenues understood it can be challenging to start somewhere new–you are surrounded by new faces and you have a long journey ahead. Opening in August, all faculty and staff completed an intensive development institute called Embark 2.0, where there was a great deal of emphasis in developing foundational community values. We knew that if teachers could first experience these values, so would the students.
As we progressed through our semester, we easily immersed ourselves in daring projects: science exhibitions, big events to celebrate the end of a unit, student-led conferences and so on. We could become so absorbed in our work, projects and teams, at times we felt out of touch with people outside of them–the larger community.
However, the Primary Division found a special opportunity for interaction and connection on October 12, Brazilian Children’s Day. On this day, children are usually all excited about getting presents, but Avenues tried something different– a simple celebration, with great impact and meaning for our community under construction.
Different Primary Division classes were paired to give each other two special gifts–creativity and time. Each class had to come up with an activity or experience for the other one. A special time was blocked out for the whole Primary Division to enjoy this exchange. 3rd grade taught board games to the little ones in kindergarten. 2nd graders and Pre-Ks wore pajamas and snuggled cozy forts with flashlights for a “bedtime story morning”. Other classes made giant soap bubbles, bracelets made from string, origami, and other crafts.
It is during these moments we were able to really understand we are part of one community with shared values. Both students and teachers discovered common interests and felt a sense of belonging. Instead of sticking to close friends while teachers watched on, everyone was engaged in activities. As educators, we know that a new school has to be more than a great new structure. There must be a sense of belonging within it.
The word community brings to mind a group that breathes the same ideas and values. It must be easily seen in small actions everyday so that whoever is new may feel welcome and inspired to join in. By providing students the ability to give, create and connect in a simple and powerful way, we were able to exemplify a sense of welcome, community, and take steps towards a more empathetic future.
Lilian Assis is an associate English Language Learner (ELS) teacher at Avenues São Paulo. She has a degree in Languages from Pontífica Universidade Católica São Paulo (PUC-SP) a post-graduate degree in Linguistics at Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN) and is now working towards a degree in Pedagogy at Universidade Paulista (UNIP). She learned English through a community-supported initiative, and as a teacher, hopes to give others the same opportunity. (Lilian was also responsible for the creation and implementation of this special event!)