Learning to grow stronger, together and beyond

April 7, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us all to learn new ways of doing things at an incredible rate. Together with new home office practices, parents are having to learn to support their children as teachers find ways to teach them via Distance Learning. Many of us have had to improve our cooking skills (whether we like it or not), to pay attention to every single action we take at home (“you used it, you clean it”), but most of all, we are learning how to be mindful of each other.

Brazil does not have a strong winter season, so we are not used to staying indoors at all. Especially here in Rio, everything is about the sun, the beach, the forest, the parks… and together with all that, comes the “service culture”. We are pampered, all the time, by hard working smiling people that make their living out of giving us what we wish for, when and where we need it. Since quarantine started, there has been no refreshing coconut water after a run, no “mate gelado with biscoito globo”, and no guys on the streets to help us find a good spot to park our car.

For many of us, it is annoying not to be able to keep our leisure routine, not to work out, or see our friends or get a nice tan. But for many in the service and informal sectors, it means not having food to give to their families or to buy soap to wash their hands and keep them safe from getting sick.

It is critical at times like that communities look to those less fortunate and do what they can to help. So, in order to provide much-needed support, we launched a campaign in our EARJ Community.

In the past 10 days, we have raised over R$30,000, which will allow us to assist around 150 families in Rocinha by donating food, milk, cleaning products, diapers, etc. We have partnered with Instituto Reação that also plays a strong role in Rocinha, and together with them, we have purchased “digital food baskets”, meaning that a family gets a card to purchase items in their local market, helping the local business as well.

We are so thankful and proud of the amazing spirit our community has shown, the spirit we have always cherished throughout 83 years of EARJ history.

Now we believe we can go beyond by increasing not only our support to Rocinha, but also by helping other communities in need. It is time to show our support to more amazing people who’d rather be leaving their homes to go to work every day, but just cannot.

So – if you can – please donate any amount to the account mentioned below. Let us recognize the incredible resilience and solidarity of those in our society who do not enjoy the privileges that many of us enjoy.

Cris Conforto
Director of Advancement

Can You Hear Me? Are You Listening?

November 19, 2019

Schools are complex communities composed of many differing opinions and perspectives. Each individual or group view shapes the way a decision or direction is perceived. To foster a school environment that is inclusive, transparent, and open, it is important to provide opportunities for stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making process. Involvement varies among the different parties, and is impacted by the relationship that individuals have with a change, position or improvement.

Too often, adults gather around the table discussing and debating school changes and making decisions without consulting those who are impacted the most. The group that can sometimes be omitted from the process is an important group: students!  Our students are in a position to offer ideas and opinions generated through their daily school experiences.

Student input can significantly improve a district and/or school’s quality of decision making;  students offer a perspective that is otherwise lost from that process. We each know some teens whose insight and wisdom make them capable of thoughtful, perceptive, well-measured decision making. Our efforts to educate would benefit from including the voices of these students. (Phillips, 2015)

When we discuss including students’ ideas, we are acknowledging that important issues and decisions  have repercussions on their daily school lives. Student voice is about providing the opportunity for meaningful feedback on meaningful topics that students truly care about. Do we know what is important to our students? What we think is a minor decision that will have very little impact, could be viewed very differently by students. Do we take the time to talk to students? Do we listen?  If we did, would we be surprised by what they would say?



It is important that we think about, or attempt to define, what “meaningful” is to our students. Recently, I made a decision that changed one of our procedures. It seemed very simple and not a significant change from our current practice. Within the first hours of its implementation, I received an email from a student questioning the change. The student expressed concern that there was a policy change that students were not aware of and that there had been no consultation with the students.

Later that day, I met with the student and explained the reasoning behind the decision. The student understood the rationale for the change,  but the concern was not about the change in procedure; it was the fact that the students weren’t included and didn’t have prior knowledge about the decision. The student just wanted to be part of the process, not necessarily part of the outcome or direction. Just knowing that the change was being made would have made a big difference for that student.

We have structures that incorporate students in the decisioning making process in Lower, Middle, and High School.  In all divisions, Student Councils offer an avenue to gather student feedback for school improvement. The idea is that this group of student leaders would represent their divisions and grade levels. We also use formal and informal student surveys as a mechanism to generate ideas and suggestions from individual students.

The way we respond to, respect, and value students’ ideas is what is important.  Inviting students to be part of the conversation before a change is implemented or a decision is made, illustrates to students that their voicematters. When students bring valid issues forward and decisions are altered or modified, it teaches us about prioritizing the inclusion of student participation in the process, not just for feedback after the fact.

Student feedback after actions are determined is still valuable, but it changes the way the students feel and the message we are sending does not communicate partnership.  Implementing a new policy or procedure together, changes students’ thoughts from “they” made this decision and “we” needed to argue and fight for change, to, our input was acknowledged and considered. Both are examples of providing an opportunity for student participation, but one definitely feels better, for both the adults and students involved.

Listening to students identifying school problems and possible solutions reminds teachers and administrators that students possess unique knowledge and perspectives about their schools that adults don’t necessarily have. (Sindelar, 2019)

Involving students as an integral part of the school improvement process requires intentionality through the development of structures and processes where student input becomes the norm. If students are part of the regular process for school improvement, they will begin to understand the processes, start to identify problems, and initiate ways in which we can improve.

This is a cultural shift, a different way of thinking, and an approach that fosters an open and transparent environment where communication flows in both directions. We need to get away from making decisions “for” students to making decisions “with” students. We need to build in structures that provide opportunities for students to be included when we are tackling issues.

Create intentional spaces and avenues for gathering ongoing student feedback. Building a culture that empowers students to provide feedback and engage as co-creators of school culture doesn’t happen overnight. But creating consistent spaces for feedback helps strengthen the role of students as partners. (Bartlebaugh, 2017)

How do we build a culture that incorporates students’ ideas in the strategic direction of the school? We should begin by asking them! It’s amazing what we can learn from students.


Bartlebaugh, Hannah.  “Using Student Feedback to Improve School Culture”. Getting Smart. 8, January, 2017.

Sindelar, Justin. What Student Voice Is — And Isn’t. “Student Voice”., 25, April,

Phillips, Mark. “Increasing Student Voice in Local Schools and Districts”.  Edutopia. 23, April, 2015.

Image credit:

Jamie Robb
Gávea Upper School Principal

A talk about diversity

October 1, 2019

“Diversity is not about how we differ. Diversity is about embracing one another’s uniqueness.”

-Ola Joseph


Rock in Rio is in full swing, and I had my first opportunity to attend this past weekend. With a showcase of talented artists from all over the world, there were influences across cultures on display that came together in a celebration that will attract more than 700,000 people.

As an advocate for diversity in schools, it led me to wonder what this event would be like if everyone were the same. What if we all spoke the same language, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, and had the same experiences? Who would be our music makers, painters, innovators, dancers, and poets? How do our differences shape our perspectives and attribute to a more beautiful and lively world?

As parents and teachers, we are both educators. How do we as a community and as a school, help nurture the next great artists, designers, and innovators?

One place to start might be reflecting on how we see diversity, determine success, and what we place value on.

The above comic is fairly common in the education field when we talk about differentiation, or how we support students that are not all the same. Many of us may see this and say to ourselves “Of course this isn’t fair.” However, diversity in our students may not always be so easy to spot, often even invisible to the eye. We don’t see our students’ experiences or their deeply held beliefs. We are unable to see how the brain of a student with dyslexia works in comparison to one without.

Additionally, we don’t believe that in order for all the animals to be successful, they must all learn how to climb a tree. We see the value in the bird being able to fly and the strength of the elephant. Do we value a student with ADHD or autism in the same way? Or a student gifted in the arts but struggling to read at grade level expectations.

Dean Kamen, Steven Spielberg, and Richard Branson to name just a few, are seen as leading innovators in their fields that happen to also have dyslexia. They’ve talked about the difficulties they had in school, trying to fit the mold of a “typical” child. And even as they continue at times to struggle with the impact of dyslexia in life, they still attribute their “disability” to their success.

How do we nurture the neurodiversity that is a part of humanity? How do we demonstrate that we value the spatially gifted mind of a student with dyslexia, the system and pattern finding gifted mind of a student with autism, or the creative, outside-the-box innovating mind of a student with ADHD?

Cody Alton
Director of Student Support Services at EARJ