Learning From Experience

Monday was our second opportunity to engage in our Cougar Buddies program.  Once again it was an absolutely incredible experience!  Having enjoyed my trip to IMAGINE Valley with our 9th graders at Thanksgiving, there was no way that I was missing this second trip.  In our first visit I was blown away by the wonderfully positive interactions between our 9th graders and the IMAGINE Valley students.  On this trip something else hit me, the learning…

IMG_2969 2.JPG

When we first conceived of the idea of Cougar Buddies there was a buzz of energy in the room – what a great opportunity for us to build community at our school!  Connecting the Middle and High Schools with Early Childhood and IMAGINE, building relationships with students who wouldn’t normally interact…it was an exciting concept.  In our first Cougar Buddies, at Thanksgiving, we saw this excitement play out, our teachers loved it and more importantly our students loved it!  This experience was different, in a good way…actually it wasn’t different, so much as it was better – it was improved, it was deeper, it went beyond meeting new people, smiling, and having fun.

IMG_2971 2.JPG

In our first trip to IMAGINE I stood with Carolina Ulloa (one of the outstanding leaders of the IMAGINE programs) and we watched.  We watched as students met and engaged for the first time.  We watched as some 9th graders dove in and immediately developed meaningful relationships with their Cougar Buddies.  We watched as IMAGINE students joined the excitement with smiles and we watched as a few retreated in tears.  We watched as some of the 9th graders retreated (without the tears!) to a more comfortable distance; it was clear this was pushing their comfort zones.  It concerned me, I was disappointed seeing these “big kids” hold back.  However, being as amazing as she is, Carolina encouraged me to be patient.  “Give them time,” she said, “I’ve seen this before.  Some kids need to sit back and watch for a while before they jump in, that’s okay.”  She couldn’t have been more correct, our second visit proved that!


Based on stories I’ve heard from teachers and students alike, the experience I’m describing wasn’t unique to the 9th graders visiting IMAGINE Valley.  This scene was playing out in classrooms all around our campus and what a beautiful scene it was.  Our second Cougar Buddies visit opened new doors, chances for those who sat back and watched during the first visit to wade in a little further and test the waters.  It was amazing!  


Students who had previously been little more than a fly on the wall were now diving right in, playing, laughing, and enjoying the experience.  The pleads for more time with Cougar Buddies were repeated during this second visit.  The laughter and stories heard on the bus ride back to AC were filled with joy and happiness.  Our students, both young and old, have taken full advantage of the opportunities provided by our Cougar Buddies time.  

IMG_2970 2.JPG

Building the Academia Cotopaxi/IMAGINE community, #LearnInCommunity, was one of the main drivers in our initial planning of Cougar Buddies.  While that goal has certainly been achieved we’ve also seen incredible growth and learning come in just our second visit.  Many of our students don’t have siblings with such a large age difference, or siblings at all.  The experience of interacting, even just sitting down and playing together, is one that is new to many of our students.  What an incredible opportunity for them to step out of their comfort zones and face new challenges!  This was the best Cougar Buddies experience yet; with the awesome growth seen between visits one and two I have high hopes for the future of this initiative!!

Learn In Community – In Action

Last week I wrote about how impressive our students proved to be as representatives of our community during the CAISSA volleyball tournament.  The honor of hosting a tournament like that brings tremendous responsibility as well.  Many families at our school hosted visiting students from other schools at their homes and teachers hosted coaches as well.  Our host families gave more than just a bed to these guests; picking them up and dropping them at the airport at all hours of the night, preparing meals, doing laundry, and making them feel welcome in their homes.  In eight years of international school experience this was the first time I’ve been a part of the homestay culture and I couldn’t have been more impressed with the outcome!  

Sometimes when you’re in a place or at a school for a while, be it 3 months or 3 years, you tend to overlook some of the amazing things that are happening all around you.  I, for one, have finally stopped looking around in the morning and saying “look at those mountains!” It’s hard not to appreciate the absolute natural beauty that surrounds me as I look out the windows and make my way to school, but having been here just over three months I have my moments where I take these things for granted.  The weather is gorgeous and looking out at mountains will never get old for me, I need to keep appreciating that view!  As a number of the visiting coaches mentioned, this is perfect weather and it doesn’t get any better than this.  A lot of visitors commented about how lucky we were to have such a beautiful setting for our school and they’re right, it’s gorgeous.

Beyond the weather and the natural beauty of Ecuador, I spoke at length with a number of coaches about a variety of topics having to do with living and working internationally; every time we came back to how good we have it here in Quito!  During CAISSA we had visitors from Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Trinidad and Tobago.  I promise that I’m not exaggerating when I say, everyone that I spoke to was jealous of different aspects of our school and lifestyles!  We’re all very lucky to have found ourselves in such a beautiful place with a school community as positive and supportive as ours.

I could go on for days about all the positive comments I heard about our sports facilities, the views of the mountains (we had a very clear night and could see Cayambe from the north side of Campo Alegre), the ability to go to a grocery store and buy pretty much anything we wanted, the adopt-a-team initiative, the housing options we are afforded here in Quito, our wonderful pep-band and much more.  Our community shined bright last weekend and I want to share just one brief story about how we are living our message, #LearnInCommunity.

We invited the visiting coaches to join us for our full faculty social and they couldn’t have felt more welcome.  All day on Saturday I had coaches coming up to comment about how it only took a few minutes before our community was inviting them into conversations, games, and just making them feel a part of the group.  One guest in particular told me that he was now at his fourth international school and he had never seen a community that was as warm and open as ours, he was simply astonished at how he felt welcomed by every single person he met.  This is something that I’ve come to take for granted in my short time here at AC, it’s become such a part of our culture that I don’t even realize it any more…we are a family and everyone is part of the group, it’s awesome!!!  We truly are living the message – Learn In Community!

Thank you everybody for the amazing community that has been established here at AC.  Every single one of you is a part of the awesomeness and as a new member of this community I am honored to have been welcomed so warmly.  Our guests last weekend reminded me of just how lucky we are to be here at Academia Cotopaxi surrounded by such a tremendous group of people and a beautiful country.