Notes from Head of School - Year End Update

Each year at VIMSIA, we strive to improve…student learning is the litmus test.  We do not always get it right, but I view “problems” as “learning opportunities” to grow by. As another school year is coming to a close, it is a time for thoughtful reflection about how to build on what we have done right, and how to improve in areas that have fallen short.   Read more....

How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off

Interesting read from New York Times Sunday Review, dated January 30, 2016 written by Adam Grant.

Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.
— Adam Grant, NYTimes Sunday Review

New York Times - A deeper Take on Growth Mindset

Parents may be familiar with the growth mind-set, but they may be using it toward the goal of the next test grade or school application. That’s not what it is. It’s about learning and improving and loving the process. Those other things come about as a byproduct.
— Carol Dweck, from New York Times, JANUARY 21, 2016

Educational Improvements in the V.I.

Any parent with more than one child knows that all children are unique individuals with traits, tendencies, likes and dislikes of their own. For that matter we all know that each individual should be valued. Thus it should be no surprise that in education there are numerous correct and successful methods to maximize student learning.

It is imperative that a community has more than one successful education method or school to facilitate the teaching of all its members. The span of education techniques and philosophies is indeed impressive. Years of dedicated research and efforts by talented teachers have created numerous methods to achieve student learning. The challenge is to develop and to sustain many methods in a community and to match each student with the most appropriate learning method or school.

Many of us know of students that "failed" in one school and "excelled" at another. Whether it was because of a different environment, student learning method, or teachers, some students perform better in different schools.

It is not as simple as one school is better than another.  Instead it is a matter of what program best matches the child’s unique personality, home environment, DNA, culture, and other traits and conditions. Yet it is also a function of a school's and family's commitment to identify a student’s best learning method.

I say all of the above to emphasize our need to support, enhance, and improve as many schools in the V.I. as possible; not just a select few. In my previous article, I wrote that one commonality between South Korea and Finland was to educate ALL their residents and not only a portion of their country. The same principle should be promoted in the V.I., whereby the community should help numerous schools improve and facilitate the student learning of ALL.

Do not think "help" merely means money. Many times what is needed to improve is not just money but an array of other items from focus to philosophy to conviction to leadership to implementation of a growth mindset to parental support to vision to...

Of course, investing money wisely cannot be overlooked.

The price of improving as many schools as possible is that schools which do not maximize their effort, nor student learning methods and overall performance, will disappear from the educational landscape.

 


What the V.I. Education system could be.

In the early 1960s, Finland was in a dire economic situation. The leaders of Finland realized a strong education program was the key to economic opportunity. Finland realized to improve their country's standing they had to educate ALL their people.

Today Finland is largely recognized as the leader in education programs. It did not happen over night but was executed over decades with a steady course.

The Finns do not throw a lot of money at education; in fact they spend 30% per student less than the United States. They do not mandate this or that, they provide guidelines to schools and leave the implementation to principals and teachers at individual schools. Testing is not the foundation of their education program. It's only the PISA test results that have determined the Finnish program to be at the top. According to Pasi Sahlberg of the Finland Ministry of Education and Culture, "We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test." 

Education is more than testing high. Timo Heikkinen, a Helsinki principal states, "If you only measure the statistics, you miss the human aspect." According to Linda Darling-Hammond, Finland was once poorly ranked educationally, with a turgid bureaucratic system that produced low-quality education and inequalities (does that sound like the VI?) Now the country boast, a highly equitable distribution of achievement." The Finns focus on educating all their residents not just a select few in a couple of schools.

What they do:

Value teachers as the top of society; teachers are recruited from the top 10% of the graduating classes from universities. Many have advanced degrees. And they pay them well and provide extensive training to educate them how to teach and how to think creatively.

People in Finland trust their teachers and empower their principals and teachers to do what it takes to educate a student. No student is ignored in the classroom. If individual tutoring is required, such is done; if a student needs to be held back, the parents support the teachers’ decision. Emotional, academic and health care help is provided to all students. Standards are set high and they go after them. The Finnish standards are not lowered to meet some artificial test score. Raise the bar and expectations of students and they will exceed them. If one expects less, they will receive less.

If techniques and programs fail, they try new methods. They are always seeking to improve (the growth mindset). Music and visual arts are incorporated into the curriculum, for music in early childhood helps develop linguistic capacities. Play is valued. School and learning should be enjoyable, not a burden. Much is learned from athletic activities. Students are required to learn at least two languages. More than 50% of the adult population in Finland participates in adult education, because education never stops.

It took Finland 40 years to see the fruits of their efforts, but the rewards have been substantial. Many of the above items can be implemented in the Virgin Islands. For Finland individual learning is the foundation. Teachers are trained to focus on how to teach students who learn by different methods. At VIMSIA, our analogy is that teachers have a quiver on their back with numerous teaching skill arrows in it.  Dedicated teachers must keep pulling out skill arrows until they find the right one for each and every student. Some students may only need one arrow; others may need 50 arrows before you find the right skill that reaches the students’ learning abilities. Teachers collaborate to develop teaching methods and curricula, and incorporate parent cooperation. 

The socialist programs, which are a part of the Finnish life, cannot be incorporated into our society but other methods can be implemented to obtain high education and economic results. The Finns have lengthy family leave programs to facilitate parental education early in life as part of their social structure. In the VI, we can improve the quality and access to 0 to 6 year old education. It's a scientific fact that the early learning ages of 0 to 6 are critical to a child's development. 

South Korea: on the other side of the world, South Korea has also developed a top rated education program on the other side of the spectrum...absolute control and mandated discipline. Education is considered the primary means to improve the country's economic standing. They study year round, failure is not an option, hard work and perseverance is required. There is no attempt to make education enjoyable, it's a question of paying the price early on in life, to reap the benefits later via a better career. The Koreans spend more per capital on education than the US. Teachers make 25% more than their US counterparts.

Korean students study nearly around the clock for12 months a year. Parents sacrifice resources for their student’s education. Testing is the core of the Korean system. The system is very technologically driven. Teaching is the top career choice; teachers are highly regarded and are paid very well. Teacher training is continuous; they are always improving teaching methods, not stuck in traditional ways. Parents are involved and teachers are always inspiring students to do better. Expectations are high.

Both countries realize a bright future is a function of quality education; both have quality education systems and sound economies, yet their education measures are not similar. Both Finland and South Korea have had a commitment to quality education as the foundation of their countries. The Virgin Islands need not replicate any of the specific programs of either of these two countries; what is critically important is adopting the two commonalities: make quality education the top priority and hire the best people as teachers, pay them well, and train them to the max.

Suggestions for the VI:

·      Hire talented people to teach and pay them appropriately; provide extensive professional development programs and raise the quality of teachers.

·      Improve early childhood programs from ages 0 to 6 and promote attendance.

·      Educate and empower teachers and principals to establish high standards and methods.

Keep in mind; a successful education program requires the parent, the teacher and the student to work collaboratively. There can be no Finnish or Korean style turnaround in VI education without all parties coming together to agree on the commitment of education. The viable future of the Virgin Islands will be determined by the quality of our education system for everyone...not a select few.



Thoughts from the Head of School: Education Reform

The United States once had a highly ranked education system. Today depending on the measure, the US ranks at best in the top 12 at worst 32nd in global education. Finland is universally acknowledged as the leader in education. Since the early 1980s the US has been undertaking various efforts to improve its education system. Three principles that are now widely being adopted are:

Cognitive Learning, Self-Discipline and Collaboration.

1.     Cognitive Learning:

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Jean Piaget (1896-1980), a French scientist, is credited with first identifying the concept of cognitive learning. He wrote about stages of development: assimilation, equilibrium, new situation, disequilibrium, and accommodation. He identified that children learn at different rates as they progress through the above stages.  Jean Piaget taught about discovery learning; the idea that children learn best through doing and actively exploring. He emphasized “individual learning, flexibility in curriculum [and] the centrality of play in children’s learning, [as well as] the use of the environment, learning from discovery and the importance of the evaluation of children’s progress.  Teachers should not assume that only what is measurable is valuable.”(McLeod)

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VIMSIA: A Look Ahead for 2015- 2016

We at VIMSIA are so excited about this coming school year.  The Montessori and International Baccalaureate programs, which provide the foundation of our school, are internationally acclaimed.  Each year we re-dedicate ourselves to improving on the year before and are doggedly persistent in our efforts to raise the bar of education in the VI.   We are pleased to share with you some of our plans for the coming year.

 

Exciting New Initiatives!


College Counseling Workshop

We welcome Chris Teare to our staff as College Placement Director.  He and Ms. Elizabeth Elger, our College Counselor, are collaborating to ensure that our students gain the attention of the top schools in the country and internationally.  They are dedicated to providing exceptional guidance and support to our students as they move on to their next educational adventure.  In October, VIMSIA is conducting an evening college seminar for parents and students to help support families with the college selection, application and enrollment processes. Our hands-on approach walks families every step of the way through this experience and makes sure that our students are able to apply to their best fit, top tier schools. Chris Teare and Elizabeth Elger will be running this interactive and informational evening event. Other college placement events will be held throughout the school year to help support families during this most exciting but nerve-racking time.

 


Planetarium

View the sky, stars and planets. We are very excited to begin an astronomy partnership with UVI and the Etelman Observatory.  We will host our first "Astronomy Night" right here on VIMSIA’s campus, using our new inflatable Starlab Planetarium (you won’t want to miss this!)  Dr. David Morris, Director of the Etelman Observatory, and PGIA science teacher Mr. Andy Palmer will be presenting short 15-20 minute talks about constellations and mythology inside the planetarium while others view celestial objects from telescopes placed on the soccer field. Date yet to be confirmed, but we will post it on our school calendar and facebook. 


Exchange Program Abroad 

To further enhance our international education and Spanish programs, we are finalizing the details on a 6-8 week exchange program with an IB school in Madrid, Spain. Students from VIMSIA will travel to Spain for a Spanish immersion education and students from Madrid will travel to St. Thomas for an English immersion education. This is merely another element of our commitment to internationalism and language proficiency. In years past we have travelled to numerous other Spanish destinations for immersion trips, such as Peru, Colombia and Argentina, and have been fortunate to host students from Argentina here at VIMSIA. 


Weizmann Institute, UVI, Gruber Foundation and PGIA Collaboration

We continue to strengthen the collaboration between the Weizmann Institute of Israel, University of the Virgin Islands, The Gruber Foundation, and our own Peter Gruber International Academy.  Our students are provided the exceptional opportunity of working with the Weizmann Institute and UVI Faculty during PGIA STEM End Sessions each year.  We are also working to add an Israel travel component to this initiative.  The collaboration will also provide our students strong standing for graduate studies through The Weizmann Institute. Each year we continue to send our senior students to the annual Gruber Scientific Awards Ceremony at UVI.


MSA Presentation

VIMSIA is hosting a Middle States Association workshop on “How to Conduct the Mid-Term Review” on Tuesday, October 20th. Educators from all over the territory will be invited and in attendance. MSA is the accrediting agency for most of the schools in the VI.  Over the years, VIMSIA has developed a very pro-active and mutually respectful relationship with this highly influential educational organization.  


Metric Infusion

Only three countries in the world are not on the metric system, isn't it time Americans learn the metric system?  VIMSIA believes the answer is yes. We have begun a metric infusion program to develop metric thinking in our students. Interactive metric activities and signs are all over campus.


PGIA Radio Station

In October, we unveil our new PGIA student-run radio program.  It will be accessible through our school website or as an app on your personal devices.   WUVI AM1090 will also air the show on Wednesdays at 10:00 a.m.  Students will develop their own programming including music, weather, public announcements, interviews and more.  This initiative is driven by PGIA’s Radio and Film 4H Club.  Our main sponsor is UVI’s Cooperative Extension Service 4H.  Ms. Erika Gomez and Mr. Scott Williams are the advisors.  Senior student CJ Fahie is the club president and we are looking for members within the PGIA student body.  Contact CJ if you are interested!


International Soccer Games

VIMSIA soccer teams will be competing against international teams this year. Look out for schedule of games.


Indoor Tennis

Too hot to play Tennis? Come join us under our awning for a match in the shade. Come by and see the court and get information on availability.