MARIA GIRALDO| Education Innovator
Education in Austin was most affected during the pandemic. Teachers and students suffered an overnight change in both teaching and traditional means of education as millions of students were forced to switch to online learning, as never seen before. Small learning “pods”, sometimes referred to as “micro-schools” with a small group of students supervised by well-trained education professional were born to help children and families to cope with their learning needs. Austin, Texas, compared to the rest of the United States was not an exception.
Maria Giraldo had not anticipated founding a school when she started a learning pod to cope with the education demands of children in her community during pandemic. But, soon the demand for her learning pod kept growing and to an extent that she found it necessary to hire more staff. Her efforts increased and soon she discovered herself becoming the founder and Director of a successful learning community called Schola International of Austin, one of the most brilliant concepts in early age learning to reach Austin.
Early Childhood Education
Her approach springs from the notion that most young children are capable of initiating their own learning, while recognizing and nurturing each child’s special qualities in the classroom. This approach is inspired by the philosophy of Reggio Emilia founded by the Italian early childhood educator Loris Malaguzzi, conceived while rebuilding children’s education after WWII.
Aiming to create a unique learning environment for children, Maria Giraldo goes even further into incorporating two other two progressive philosophies in her school, the Montessori method of education developed by Italian physician Maria Montessori, which emphasizes independence, and the Waldorf method, founded by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Stainer. The first focuses education with hands-on learning activities and through creative play. The second focuses on artistic expression, social development, and creative and analytical thinking. The third encourages critical understanding and morality.
Born and raised in Colombia, Maria Giraldo grew up in a family that valued and emphasized education. She studied Business Administration with a minor in Finance in Colombia and later obtained a master’s degree in Entrepreneurial Studies in London, where she met and married her husband.
Maria Giraldo has also been involved in education as the Founder and Director of Maga Connection since 2010. Her institution specializes in recruiting students and evaluating and choosing the appropriate International academic programs for them. This involves Undergraduate, Postgraduate and PhD applications, alongside foundation and English courses available at universities and colleges in London, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, United States and Canada.
We contacted Maria Giraldo and met at a café on a hot afternoon this summer. She had just finished classes at Schola International and was accompanied by her young son Martin. She was patient and attentive to her son all during our conversation. During the interview I sensed that Maria is truly passionate about her school, her students’ education, and her community.
Colombia – London – Austin
From Colombia to London, how did you come to Austin?
While I studied in London I met my husband, where we both worked and lived. We moved to United States because of my husband’s work. We first arrived in San Antonio, and after a while he was transferred to Austin. He is currently working in the technology industry.
What is your goal or mission at Schola?
We want to transform the lives of the children we work with, by creating a safe learning environment that feels like home and provides our students and families with a loving family -like supportive network.
Also want to transform Schola International into a multi-lingual micro-preschool where the children are daily immersed in various languages. We are focusing on Spanish, English and French, and pretty soon will be including Mandarin Chinese.
What do you think sets your school apart from other immersion schools in Austin?
From a learning “pod” during the pandemic, a small group of students supervised by a trained educators, we have grown into a successful learning community as the Schola International of Austin, a micro-school. We currently have five students per teacher ratio and students ages include from 18 months to 5-year-old. Our limit is 34 students, and our staff members and teachers form a team committed to the nourishment and enrichment of a healthy childhood for our students.
Emotional Development of the Student
One of our strengths is that we emphasize the emotional development of the student following a holistic approach for the physical and emotional, and social wellbeing of the students.
For example, we are constantly monitoring the feelings and behavior of the students to make sure they feel good about themselves, the school and their classmates.
If they are not emotionally ready, we let them find their own level of learning activities until they feel ready. Children will find emotional development in our school, inspired by three philosophies of education: Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Waldorf.
What do you think is the most challenging aspect for educating young children?
First of all, I want to say that I do this with a lot of passion. Since we have small children, that come to a school for the first time in their lives, the adaptation process may take time. But sometimes, believe it or not, we see that the parents, not the students are the ones that need to go through an adaptation process.
For instance, for first time parents, we have to guide them through a separation process, in order to leave their children at school, as some children had never been separated from their parents, especially after the pandemic. However, we have special sessions with the parents before children start school. It is about a week and a half transmission process to accomplish a smooth parents/ student’s transition.
How much parent’s support do you feel is important at early childhood education?
First and foremost It is important that the parents believe in their children. The parents should not to limit them or tell them “you can’t do that” you “are not good at” only because they believe their children are not capable of doing that particular skill. Instead parents need to have or develop what I call “a conscious discipline” in order to allow their children develop to their full potential. Otherwise they will be hurting their learning potential.
What is the significance of Conscious Discipline in education?
One of the programs we focus on is Conscious Discipline designed by Dr. Becky Bailey. This is a social-emotional learning program that supports first teaching ourselves about self-control and self-regulation, and then teaching children.
By doing this, we help children who are physically aggressive (in a survival state) or verbally aggressive (emotional state) become more integrated so they can learn and use problem-solving skills (executive state).
“Because here in this school we believe that sometimes the problem is not children with disabilities but rather children with abilities that are not recognized and empowered to reach their maximum potential”
Maria, can you describe briefly the physical location of your school and your staff?
Schola International is a beautiful and welcoming building located at 12702 Sherbourne St. Unit A Austin, Texas 78729. In addition to myself as founder and Director, our educators staff includes an Early Childhood Education Director and two Lead Teacher and one Assistant Teacher. We have three fully equipped classrooms: Aristoteles, Socrates and Plato. Our interior designed and classrooms are specifically aimed for children to motivate and encourage learning at all times. However, we balanced the learning spending time outdoors just as much and making it fun!
Maria, being from Colombia and with your strong commitment to education, are you involved in other Latin communities in Austin?
One thing I am passionate about, besides education is helping the Latin community. I am the founder of Emprende Latina, a community engaged to help Latin women in their business to continue growing to a next step. That is, to prevent them becoming stagnant – once they start their business. We help them organizing various panels with speakers each month and offer counseling, support, and motivation to continue with their enterprises. In other words, we motivate them to Insist, persist, and never give up! We also started an event called Latin American market on the first Saturday of each month on Round Rock, Texas.
And a final question, when can you start enrolling for fall 2021 in your school?
Registration is available throughout the academic year. However, the potential student is evaluated first and is invited to try one of the classes. If we observe that the student feels good in our environment then we proceed with registration.
You can contact us at (512) 305-3908 and/or at firstname.lastname@example.org
And so, I ended our conversation with Maria Giraldo inspired and feeling good that the seeds for the future are so much better if we invest in early childhood education.
This year would be the first time for most children going back to school to a “live” teacher. Some schools are laying the groundwork with innovative educational goals for early childhood after last year experience with the pandemic, and Maria Giraldo’s Schola International immersion school is one of them.