I feel so lucky and grateful to have been chosen to represent the U.S. Principals as an ambassador to Brazil. This opportunity was a life changer, I thought we were going to be teaching our southern neighbors how to be “Distinguished Schools,” when in fact, we learned more from them.
From Sao Paulo (richest) to Maranhao (poorest) and an 80 year-old nun/principal, we learned the values of culture, tradition, pride, and the unassuming joy in a system that works for them. The simple, honest acceptance of students, parents, staff and visitors alike were a welcome balm. Their happiness was obvious, no matter if their high school classroom had 4 walls, 50 desks, and nothing else (including teachers who were on strike because they hadn’t been paid for 2 months, but who showed up to provide lunch for us). Yes, there were two ends to the spectrum: the more affluent private schools, like Dom Bosco, enjoyed many more materials and opportunities (like their first graders performing an Opera in Italian).
Most impressive to me was the Family School held on Saturdays and Sundays. Parents and students attended and learned together, making the most effective and efficient use of their precious space, and which also decreased incidents of violence and vandalism. University students and other volunteers were the teachers of the arts, traditions, exercise classes, sports, and even health checks which were performed by doctors and nurses in the community. The Capoeira (a mixture of fight, dance, martial arts, and gymnastics) to the tune of a traditional African chant was a highlight! Underlying it all was a training and expectation of vocal, active participation in the government that affected them all (voting is mandatory–you cannot get or renew a driver’s license or attend university if you don’t vote). There, citizens were so responsible everywhere.
Barbara Randolph – Fulbright to Brazil 2004