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Head of School Anne Baldisseri Reflects on the First Five Years of Avenues São Paulo

By Anne Baldisseri, Head of School at Avenues São Paulo

Education can often seem like a voyage, with students and educators setting sail to explore a vast ocean of new knowledge and opportunities. When I think about Avenues São Paulo, I sometimes feel that this description really is more than just a metaphor; it has been (and continues to be) the guiding principle of our transformative journey that started in July 2018. Over the past five years, I have seen our “crew” come together to chart a course of transformation and innovation, setting sail on a voyage that has redefined the educational experience for each and every one of our students. 

Today, as I reflect on the initial five years of our collective journey, I take immense pride in the metamorphosis that has taken place. As we embarked on our educational voyage, we realized that not only did we need a skilled crew, but also a vessel worthy of carrying our dreams to fruition. Certainly, the physical building that housed Avenues was an imposing structure; but at first it  lacked the warmth and nurturing environment needed for our students to thrive. Thus, just as a sailing boat undergoes changes in the shipyard before setting sail, our school building has also evolved into a comforting and caring home where the dreams of our students are continually nurtured and cherished.

With unwavering determination, individuals and teams worked tirelessly and continuously in the years prior to our opening to connect with future students and their families, hire passionate educators and form our first crew of navigators and engineers, ready to brave uncharted waters. The selection process for our faculty and staff was detailed and mission-oriented, ensuring that each member of our crew shared both our vision and our passion.  Interview by interview, we assembled a world-class, industry-defining team of like-minded yet unique and diverse individuals.

Nonetheless, we encountered practical challenges similar to those that the crew of a newly-constructed sailing boat might face–all while accommodating 750 new students hailing from 100 different schools, each with unique experiences, approaches, cultures, expectations and goals. There were moments when the toilets refused to cooperate, and the dust from construction work clouded our paths. The air conditioning presented its share of issues, making some days uncomfortably hot and others distinctly chilly.

I spent a good part of my childhood sailing competitively. I remember waiting, weekend after weekend, for the start of a new race, my heart filled with anticipation, knowing that new challenges would come my way, and hoping that I would meet these unknown challenges with resilience and determination. Fast forward several decades, and I immediately likened the challenges we faced in the first few days, weeks, months and even years of Avenues São Paulo to the unpredictability of the winds and other unforeseeable factors that can disrupt a voyage.  As I’ve seen our community successfully navigate multiple challenges, charting a course to where we are today, the metaphor has continued to hold.

Much like accomplished sailors studying maps and charts, our faculty has continuously worked on refining our curriculum. Motivated by our Avenues World Elements, our teachers are able to build flexible and dynamic learning paths, through interdisciplinary projects that help foster an inquiry mindset, empowering our students to harness the winds of curiosity and intellectual exploration. At the heart of our voyage, we recognize the importance of nurturing values. All members of our community, including our students, are driven by the valued behaviors of collaboration, resourcefulness, learning, accountability, adaptability and courage. We all believe that our students should not only excel academically but should also be empowered to develop into world-wise leaders uniquely equipped to understand and solve global-scale problems. We encourage them to be kind, empathetic, and compassionate, fostering a culture of welcome, safety and respect.

In 2020, we encountered an unprecedented storm in the form of the global pandemic. Much like a sailor relying on a compass, we needed to adapt swiftly and find new paths through these turbulent waters. As Brazil, along with the rest of the world, grappled with the uncertainties of the pandemic, we took the helm and steered our ship towards online learning. Our crew collaborated tirelessly to ensure that our students received the same level of care and attention they would in a physical classroom. Parents and teachers became essential beacons and lighthouses, working together to provide a supportive and conducive learning environment from the comfort of their homes. Even as we faced rough waters and rip tides during these times, our sense of community did not waver.

As the pandemic subsided and we saw calmer waters ahead, we emerged from this challenging period stronger than ever. We discovered new strengths and embraced an even stronger spirit of innovation. We realized that the spirit of our school is not confined to a physical space but rather resides in the hearts and minds of our dedicated community crewmates. Together, we continue to sail, ready to see challenges as opportunities, strong in the confidence and wisdom gained from our experiences.

While the New York campus served as our flagship, our São Paulo campus, the second in Avenues’ global ecosystem, developed many innovations in the last five years. Some of these have been implemented across the Avenues ecosystem. Here are but a few:

  • Embark: a period of professional learning before the start of every academic year and semester.
  • IMPACT:  a unique way for teachers to build their careers.
  • Avenues Language Learning Intensive (ALLI): a program that provides students in grades 6–9 with an opportunity to master English as a second language in preparation for regular classes at Avenues São Paulo.
  • READ festival: an opportunity for the community to come together to share our love for reading and writing.
  • The New School of Thought Institute (NSTI):  a conference for educators across Brazil.
  • LEAP: faculty, staff and students making educational opportunities accessible to children in the neighboring Jardim Panorama community.
  • The Fellowship program: building stronger connections between social and environmental impact institutions and Avenues.

To our community, I extend a heartfelt invitation to join us on this incredible educational journey. We look forward to igniting and nurturing your child's potential in the classroom and beyond, and to continue to sail, as a community, towards new horizons of excellence and innovation. Bon voyage!