Brazil Blogging: Stepping into Sao Paulo Classrooms

By Loryn Windwehen
Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellow and Teacher at Harris Middle School in San Antonio, TX

Windwehen gets a smile out of students at Escola Henrique Demont in Sao Paulo. (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein of Pearson Foundation)


"Bom dia!" The students of São Paulo were thrilled to meet us. Their smiles filled their faces as they greeted us with handshakes and hugs upon our entry to their school of which they had beaming pride. We were instantly overwhelmed by the joy they exuded.


Our first visit was to a model high school, Escola Alexandre Von Humboldt, funded by Partners in Education, an organization that provides funds to school in an effort to strengthen education by way of community sponsorship. We toured their classrooms, observed instruction, and ate breakfast and lunch with them.


"Teachers are the heart of what we do." Principal of Escola Alexandre Von Humboldt in Sao Paulo. (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein of Pearson Foundation)


The teachers and students had an intense mutual respect for one another, as did the students. When the teacher spoke to the students, they were instantly attentive; and if they weren't, a classmate had no problem redirecting them to refocus. I was amazed at the overall respect every student, teacher, and administrator had for every human being.


"Os professores são o coração do que fazemos," [The teachers are the heart of what we do], the principal said as she introduced us to the teachers. Administrators respect the teachers immensely, and the bond they share is evident. Together, they seek results.


Students "Imagine" peace at Escola Alexandre Von Humboldt dance performance. (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein of Pearson Foundation)


Students graciously performed a beautiful dance choreographed by a student set to "Imagine" by John Lennon. They hoped to demonstrate to us the love they had for all cultures and human beings through this dance. At this moment, I realized we shared the same goal. 


Lunchtime was an amazing experience as well. Three cafeteria workers served made-from-scratch food to 400 students. With just one line and a single lunch period, the students were nothing but well-behaved and polite. They allowed all of us to eat before them, and insisted upon helping us clear our trays. We saw no shoving, pushing, or complaints. Teachers did not supervise them, as there seemed to be no need.


Leigh VandenAkker (left), a teacher at East High School in Salt Lake City, UT, begins classroom visits. (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein)


After lunch, we saw their library, of which they had glowing pride. They were so excited that it had grown to have over 5,000 books. Joyce Baumann, a Pearson Foundation Global Learning Fellow from St. Cloud, MN, said to me, "I have 5,000 books in my classroom alone, and look how grateful they are to have that many in their library for an entire school." Humbled by the experience, we shared tears together and recognized that this was one of the greatest experiences of our life.


Students asked the Fellows for their autographs and begged us to take pictures with them. Laughter and huge smiles were all you could see from everyone. When we left, the principal cried tears of pride and joy for her school. She hugged us, thanked us, and told us we were welcome to come back any time.


Our next stop was an elementary school that is also a part of Partners in Education, Escola Henrique Demont. The principal and teachers welcomed us with a brief introduction of the school. The growth their school displayed was powerful, and the zeal they had for their profession was contagious.


Fellows had the opportunity to rotate through math, reading, computer, and physical education classes. My first stop was a computer class. Two students shared a computer to complete a math activity with the program LUDZ. I witnessed engaged students working together with intensity to do the job. Immediately, I could see how much they valued their education. I never saw a student have trouble sharing a computer with their partner. The questions were high-level, and every student I observed answered them correctly.


Later, the world-class physical education teacher demonstrated an activity with the students and allowed us to dance with them. The students loved this time.


In the math class, the instruction was wonderful, but something spoke more loudly to me than the lesson. A student didn't have a "lapis" or pencil. He didn't expect his teacher to provide one or dare ask. I could see that he felt stressed, as he asked everyone he knew for one because he didn't want to let his teacher down for being unprepared. Finally, a student loaned him one and he made sure to return it. It became clear to me that students valued supplies and never wasted them.


Kristin Shelby, a fourth grade teacher at Sallie Gillentine Elementary School in Hollis, OK, helps students plant in their school’s "jardim." (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein)


Last, but not least, I visited the most beautiful garden I had ever seen. It wasn't the plants that made it beautiful, the soil, or the design; it was the love the students had for the area, and the pride that the teachers took in completing the project. A teacher asked for a volunteer to help students plant lettuce, and I jumped at the opportunity. At my school in San Antonio, I manage a garden with my middle-schoolers, because I too recognize the impact it has on them. As I helped them, they patiently waited their turn and followed my directions, even though I gave them in broken Portuguese. I cannot possibly put into words the feelings that I had as I worked with these students. They were in awe of me, but they didn't realize that I was in awe of them.


Connecting through education. Students and teachers gather outside Sao Paulo school. (Photo by Tyler Reynolds-Rothstein)


Upon our departure, the teachers and principal expressed to the Fellows that we made their day, but what they may not realize is that they changed my life forever. Am I more globally competent? No doubt about it. I recognize the issues of global significance and have an awareness of more of the world and how it works. Today was more than just global competence, though. It was the awareness that we can all connect, regardless of language. Education is wonderful, as is a love for education. What I experienced today was that and more. I experienced love demonstrated for all people through education.


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