My Antigua: Jim Pastore
The Antigua International School:
Raising the Bar in Education
Jim Pastore is not new to Guatemala. He worked here as an English teacher and sports coach at Colegio Maya from 1995 to 1998. He also met and married his Italian wife here. Since then he has developed his skills and expanded his experience in education at international schools in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Europe to such an extent that when the newly formed board of AIS put together their wish list for the school’s first director, it described Jim perfectly.
How did AIS get started?
About a year ago, a group of likeminded people – mostly parents – was lamenting the fact that there wasn’t an international school here in La Antigua. They didn’t want their kids to have to go back and forth to the capital for a high level of education. They put an ad out for a director with my experience and qualification, and here we are!
I love the way things get started in La Antigua: people set their sights on something and make it happen.
What are the goals of the school?
This is a town of entrepreneurs and risk-takers. What they do now, they didn’t necessarily study in university. Of course, they all want a school that will allow their children to go to the top universities. We want our kids to be able to shoot for Harvard, the Sorbonne, Tokyo University – all the best universities in the world. But, I also want them to have real world skills that will prepare them to do whatever they want – that will prepare them to follow in their parents’ footsteps if that’s what they choose.
Describe the curriculum.
We will have a multilingual college prep curriculum and we will combine that with lots of hands-on, project-based learning. As the children get older and we move to our permanent campus, we will have workshops and art rooms, gardens, and specific areas where the children will not only get “good book learning” and knowledge about the world, but will also learn how to use their hands. For example, you can write chemistry formulas on the board, which will be memorized five minutes before an exam and regurgitated on the test and then forgotten, but it’s so much more effective and fun to do experiments, and really learn what those formulas mean in the lab.
For sports, we’ll be starting right off with a soccer program. We’ll be opening with around 60 students spread out over many grade levels so it will take some time to grow to have real power-house sports teams, but the important thing is to offer the children the opportunity. We will also have PE as part of the curriculum, which will work on skill building, teamwork and individual development.
So the kids will have practical knowledge; they’ll know how to use their hands, as well as have top-level university entrance qualifications. To do this, we’ve chosen the Common Core Standards-based curriculum, which is explained on our website. And into that, we will leaven a lot of international aspects to make sure we can send our children to universities all over. One of the strengths of a US-style curriculum like this is that it doesn’t close doors for children. It allows them to excel where their strengths are. We’re not going to give them an assessment test and push them onto a particular track – in some schools they do that quite young. We’re just not going to be about that; we’re going to offer opportunities to all the children, all the time.
What’s your aim for the student/teacher ratio?
Our classroom average is set at fifteen in a room – that’s board policy. But, we’re going to have smaller numbers than that our first year, with a total student-to-staff ratio of 6 to 1.
What grades will the school be opening with?
1st through 8th. We’ll be starting 9th grade next year; we’ll be growing with our students.
I noticed one of the most important concepts of the school is to teach the children how to think, not what to think. How will the teachers build critical thinking skills into the curriculum?
The teachers started working on October 3rd, 5 weeks before the doors open, that gives them all a lot of preparation time as a group. They are all incredibly well-prepared professionals, specializing in multiple fields. They’ve done so many different things in their careers, in so many different international, national and private schools in different countries, that they will be able to take our curriculum standards and run free with them, implementing the critical thinking aspects that we are striving for. This great group of professional teachers will really develop the details of our curriculum – that’s what’s going to be fabulous!
Who are your teachers?
Marlene Marcon is our first and second grade teacher, and Linda Green is our third and fourth grade teacher. For grades five to eight, Bobbi Nicholas is our humanities teacher and Alessandro Marcon is our math teacher. For grades one to eight, Charlie Nicholas is our art teacher and technology coordinator, Lisbeth Solórzano is our Spanish teacher, Nayna Raval is our science teacher, Matt Cook is our math and PE assistant, and Molly Van Houten is our literacy and English as a second language (ESL) assistant.
What are their qualifications?
They all have some mixture of teaching certifications, many years of experience in accredited schools, and bachelor and master degrees in the fields they will be teaching. For example, Marlene and Nayna have 30-plus years of experience and have each worked in several international schools and are certified and qualified in the fields of literacy and science, respectively. Linda brings to the team local knowledge, certification, experience, and a passion for perfection. Alessandro and Matt are both certified math teachers with the added bonus of being longtime soccer players. Bobbi and Charlie have worked in several international schools in small settings and were one of the driving forces behind opening AIS. Lisbeth has taught Spanish from kindergarten to 12th grade in Guatemala and will ensure that our students are prepared for Spanish-language universities. Our most recent hire, Molly, is bilingual in English and Spanish and has experience teaching ESL in Guatemala as well as university qualifications to teach elementary school. This is, pound-for-pound, the best teaching staff I’ve worked with in more than 24 years in the field.
Is AIS accredited?
We’ll be working towards a dual accreditation with New England Association of Colleges and Schools and The Community of International Schools, which is based in Europe. The real intention of accreditation is to make your school better. I’ve served on accreditation teams around the world, and it’s a great way for educators to make sure schools are doing what they say they’re doing. It’s a fascinating process that does improve the quality of your school. So, we will be getting recognition in the US and Europe, and universities around the world look at these stamps of approval.
What is your admission process?
We generally give the children three assessments: one in math that is based directly on the grade level standards listed on our website, one in reading from grade three and up, and we ask for a writing sample. The idea is to place the students in the correct level and give the teachers information on the point from where they will be starting. The teachers will also be reviewing the students’ school work from the year they’ve just finished and meeting and interviewing the children before we open our doors so they know their students.
Will you be closing admissions?
No, a traditional international school has rolling admissions because you have families coming and going at different times. If there are seats, we will accept new students. We also have parents who are sitting on the fence and who will decide to join us when they’ve seen what’s happening at the school after a few months.
How much is tuition?
We are under the price of other international schools and some of the subsidized schools in the capital, especially if you factor in the drive time and expense of commuting. Our inscription fee is US$1,250, and monthly tuition is from US$470 to US$620, depending on the student’s grade level. We want to reach out to a broad spectrum in La Antigua, so we would like to have scholarships to allow students, whose parents might not be able to afford the tuition, the opportunity to attend.
What are your plans for the future?
To have the best of school in the world! [Laughter] I do think we should shoot for that; we have the opportunity to do that in this community, with these families, and with our teachers.
“The Antigua International School (AIS) is guided by the principle that it is most beneficial for society to teach students how to think rather than what to think. By providing an academically, physically and socially stimulating environment, AIS will develop the capacity for life-long learning and service to others.”
For more information, go to antiguainternationalschool.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.