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photo of Gladys Cruz in a classroom with students in Ecuador

Cruz visited several schools in Ecuador, visiting with students, teachers and administrators

Earlier this month, I traveled to Ecuador in South America as part of an American Association of School Administrators (AASA) delegation of superintendents. This was my third time traveling abroad and my second time with AASA to study a country’s educational system and to learn from their experiences. I traveled to Cuba in 2017 and Israel in 2016.

As a leader of an educational service agency, I am constantly reflecting on how to better support our students and school districts. My trip to Ecuador provided me with the opportunity to reflect on the similarities and differences between our two countries’ educational systems.

AASA Executive Dan Domenech, who coordinated our trip, summed up our experience perfectly on his blog. He said that education in Ecuador is not that different from the United States – “the rich get the best and the poor make do with what they are given.”

You may have heard the term “zip code education” and how your place of birth impacts learning. It is something both Ecuadorians and Americans face. In Ecuador, the country’s public schools primarily serve the poor while the middle class and up tend to send their children to private schools.

During my time in public education, I have seen how wealth (or the lack of it) impacts learning and achievement. Throughout my travel to Ecuador, Cuba and Israel – as well as my travel across our BOCES region, state and country – I have witnessed how the adults in our school systems – large, small, rich and poor alike – care about their students and work. We need to recognize the commitment and passion of our educators. While some school systems locally or abroad may lack the abundance of resources that others have access to, they work to make do with what they have through creativity and resilience – so that they can provide the best experience possible.

My experience in Ecuador illustrated the importance of education in upward mobility. In some of the schools we visited, the children are very poor and most of their families either farm or raise animals. Here, I saw how access to a BOCES-like structure could offer students and schools access to shared programs and services that are otherwise cost-prohibitive to provide.

To quote Aristotle, “the roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Education, like farming, takes patience and care. It also takes the luck of geography and weather – the environment in which you were raised and the conditions that inevitably impact us in the classroom. Together, we need to keep our focus on the journey – the everyday experiences that shape our students’ development – and the harvest – the bounty that comes from this day-to-day hard work

Some of the key learnings from my trip include the importance placed on educating 3 and 4-year-old children, the role of principals in public schools where the principal had both principal and teaching responsibilities, and the importance of learning a second language at an early age – beginning in kindergarten thus producing native bilingual citizens.

Thanks to my Board of Education for allowing me to visit Ecuador. I will use this experience to broaden my insights and perspective as we work together to serve our students and school districts across the region and state.

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