Senior Associate Bill Turner and his wife Alison enjoyed the annual conference for the Mediterranean Association of International Schools (MAIS). Members schools within MAIS come from 17 different countries, including Austria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. The organization’s website describes the conference’s aim: “[To] address the needs of busy teachers and administrators in their efforts to remain abreast of the most current research, trends, practices, and their application in the classroom and in theschool.”
The main speaker at the conference was the inspirational Stephen Ritz: urban farmer, innovator, educator and creator of the extraordinary Green Bronx Machine. Stephen believes that students shouldn’t have to leave their community to live, learn, and earn in a better one. Moving generations of students into spheres of personal and academic successes that they could never imagine, Stephen has motivated his extended student and community family to grow more than 65,000 pounds of vegetables in reclaimed areas of the Bronx. As a result, he has seen some extraordinary academic performances of students there.
Stephen’s Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible classroom in New York City (NYC) Department of Education. This learning space routinely generates enough produce to provide healthy meals to 450 students while simultaneously training the youngest nationally-certified workforce in America. His program, School Garden to School Café, has been approved to grow food in classrooms that is served in the school all year long. In 2015, Stephen launched the first ever, independently-financed National Health, Wellness and Learning Center in a 100+ year old reclaimed school library in the South Bronx at Community School 55. In 2015, Stephen was named a Top Ten Finalist for the million dollar Global Teacher Prize. In 2016, he was invited by the White House to present at State of STEM—installing an indoor garden in the process. A replica of Stephen’s class was mounted in the United States Botanical Gardens as well.
Currently, Stephen is working on embedding the concepts of sustainability, food, energy, and environmental justice aligned to content area instruction into K-12 programming and beyond. His students have embarked on growing projects from Boston to Rockefeller Center to the Hamptons and beyond — all the while earning living wages en route to graduation. They have gone on to install over 100 gardens in NYC as well as countless cities across America and around the globe. Recently, Stephen and his students were featured by NPR’s Fifty Great Teachers and on PBS in the American Graduate Series.
The MAIS organization offers great opportunities to communicate across regions, as it provides the Middle East, Africa, and Europe with fantastic learning and networking opportunities. For example, MAIS conferences later this academic year will be held in Morocco, focusing on ESL, Special Needs, and Technology; Rome for the Robotics Tournament; and Barcelona for Middle School Honor Choirs.
At the Search Associates (SEARCH) table in Exhibitors Hall, Bill and Alison enjoyed connecting with SEARCH member schools, such as The American International School in Egypt, which has two campuses in Cairo and where 93 SEARCH teachers have found work over the years; and The American School in London, where 43 SEARCH teachers have found work. Also attending the conference were brand new schools and new members to SEARCH: Dunecrest International School in Dubai, run by the inspirational Bill Delbrugge; and Fairgreen International School in Dubai, which delivers the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Great fans of both, Bill and Alison visited these schools in October and are happy to share their findings with candidates interested in working there. Fairgreen and Dunecrest are also Educational Services Overseas Limited (ESOL) schools, which shows how interlinked some of the organizations now serving international schools have become.