Originally published in Education News by Tom Watkins as “Thiago Reis and WAY American School in Brazil”
We are really happy to have caught up with Thiago Reis the Executive Director WAY American School in Brazil. While many are talking about Project Based Learning and globalization of education, Thiago and his team are making it happen. Tom
Thiago, thanks for taking the time to share what you are doing to bring an American education to the children of Brazil to our readers.
1. Thiago, you have an interesting background in business and education, tell me a bit more about you and how did you end up leading WAY -American School in Brazil?
I’ve been working in education for over 7 years now, coming from leadership positions in Telecom and IT. Before WAY I worked mostly in the Higher Ed space, and my background in Telecom was really important for that industry back then, as HEIs were going through deep changes in how technical the business turned, and for that they needed expertise coming from other more developed industries.
When I heard about WAY and the impressive work Beth and Glen were developing in Brazil I got really interested, and it was the right moment for this move in my career. I’m very honored for being chosen as the champion of their vision for Brazil.
2. Is WAY an acronym and if so, what does it stand for? What exactly is WAY American School?
WAY stands for Widening Advancements for Youth, and this is really what we do, through different offers and serving different demographics. It’s always about offering an engaging and encouraging learning experience, that can turn students into leaders in their development process. Regardless if we’re talking about disengaged at-risk youth in the US, or middle-class Brazilian students that dream of studying abroad, what we offer can really widen their perspectives.
3. Who are the founders of WAY, what are their backgrounds what is their vision and mission?
Beth Baker and Glen Taylor are educators that founded WAY ten years ago with a specific vision: to make every young person a Hero, by offering engaging and encouraging learning opportunities focused on the development of 21st Century skills. They were focused at first in at-risk youth in Michigan, and the company grew to operations and partnerships in the UK, Brazil and China, while maintaining the same vision established, through different offers.
4. How different is Brazilian high-school education from “American” education?
Apart from the content, the experience of Brazilian and American students in regular k12 schools is pretty similar. They’re lectured for most of the time, and highly tested through standardized exams in a one-size-fits-all environment. Additionally, American students get more career and college advise than Brazilian students throughout their journeys. At WAY we can offer a more immersive and engaging educational experience, while still rigorous and tied to all common curriculum standards. By working totally with PBL we offer innovation for both markets, and our student results show how successful this approach has been for Brazilian students, with average SAT scores at 1200 points and average GPA over 3.7, even as ESL learners.
5. Why is there an interest in American high-school in Brazil?
The first reason that draws families to our program is the possibility of sending their young ones abroad for Higher Education. Our best universities are public, but very competitive, so parents are used to investing a lot in High School education hoping that later kids can get into a public university. Changes in the regulations made it harder for private school students to enter a public university, so the prospect of attending Higher Education abroad became more appealing.
On the other hand traditional schools in Brazil are eager to partner with us so they can compete in the market with a stronger value proposition and an authentic and tangible internationality offer, setting them apart from other schools only offering ready-made bilingual content.
6. What are the benefits to a Brazilian student who graduates from the WAY American School?
At WAY American School we offer the opportunity for Brazilian students to earn both the American High School diploma and the Brazilian High School diploma. But it’s not only about this. Our students work with projects that will make then better-prepared citizens for the challenges of the 21st century, learning through collaboration, engaging in problem-solving and leading by influence. All in a non-competitive environment that fosters their autonomy while making sure they obtain full proficiency in English. Our students are better prepared culturally to attend and be successful in universities in the USA, other countries or even in our best universities in Brazil, knowing their problem solving and language skills are top notch.
7. What is the value to a parent/ student attending your school?
For families we offer a great advantage of not having to send their young ones abroad for High School, as they can enroll in our program without leaving their current schools premises. This is much more cost effective while also guaranteeing the double certification.
8. When I read about WAY -American School I see terms like HERO and RESEARCHER, LAB EXPERT— can you explain these term?
This comes from our different approach to education. Our students are the leaders of their process, so we call them RESEARCHERS, as they’re mostly finding solutions to driving questions presented by our multidisciplinary projects. In that sense our teachers are facilitators of the process, so they’re considered LAB EXPERTS being specialists and certified in their subject areas. HERO is the name of our online platform, and consolidates our main reason to exist: to transform every young person into a HERO of their own learning process and development.
9. Tell me about WAY’s teachers, are they “Americans” do they have a college degree and if so, in what field of study?
Our LAB EXPERTS are all native English speakers certified in the USA for their subject areas. For Brazilian students we offer English Language Arts and Social Studies credits, and our LAB EXPERTS are all certified in these areas. Overall 80% of our teacher also hold master degrees. We also have Brazilian Teacher Assistants on every classroom that can provide a better experience for our students bridging the Brazilian and the American curriculum.
10. I understand WAY’s entire curriculum is on a proprietary electronic system— called HERO— can you tell me about it?
HERO is the platform that hosts all our curriculum in the form of over 900 interdisciplinary projects covering all subject areas from 6th to 12th grade. This is the only platform in the market suited for PBL, and all content is developed by WAY’s own content area specialists in the USA, as well as with input from our teachers in Brazil and China.
11. And is WAY’s entire curriculum based on Project Based Learning? How different is it from traditional teaching methodology?
Much has been said about the need to develop 21st-century skills for young people that are going to face an unpredictable labor market, but little has been done to change how k12 education deals with this challenge. We believe PBL gives students a more engaging environment for the development of autonomy and problem-solving skills. All our programs worldwide are based in PBL, and we’ve proven over the years that this approach is very effective in both increasing engagement and academic results, with average SAT scores and GPA higher than other schools.
12. Where are you present in Brazil?
In Brazil we’re present in 13 cities, from North to South, currently operating 31 schools and with a healthy growth pipeline for 2020. We’ve been growing exponentially for the last 4 years.
13. How do you choose your partners?
Our partners are among the best private schools in Brazil in academic results, but they also are mission-driven and share a passion for the effects our approach to education can make in changing young people lives. We’re the only school in Brazil offering a complete solution for American High School diploma, providing the platform, the content and the teachers.
14. Is WAY American School present in other countries and how many students do you serve?
We’re now present in Brazil and China, serving almost 1000 students.
15. Where is WAY American School’s diploma accepted?
We’re accredited by AdvancED, the leading organization certifying schools in the USA, and present in 73 countries. Our diploma is accepted anywhere an American High School diploma is accepted.
16. Are you a public or private school? How affordable is the tuition, if you are a private school?
We’re a private school, offering our programs as an extra-curricular activity for our partner school’s students. We adjust our pricing by program and differences in cost of living standards, but the average tuition is US$ 3k/year.
17. Is there anything I have not asked you that you would like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity of sharing more information about the great work our team is doing here in Brazil.
Thank you for taking the time to inform the Ed News readers about WAY -American School in Brazil and thank you for adding value and making a difference in the life of your students.