A MODERN APPROACH
Innovation is the lifeblood of the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, says Headmaster James Nelligan. “Our school defines innovation as the confluence
of varying technologies; emergent and creative approaches to thinking; and broad and innovative partnerships.”
The school – with 820 pupils between the ages of 3 to 18 – is the first on the Caribbean island to offer and be fully authorised at the primary, middle and diploma levels of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. Nelligan describes IB as the high water mark in international college preparatory education. “Baldwin School has long been an exceptional institution, but IB pushes us further,” he says. “It ensures that all children are challenged to become creative thinkers, problem solvers and effective communicators. We implemented IB to challenge the vagaries of traditional pedagogy while retaining its strengths, and to foster novel thinking and creative individual and intellectual endeavour.”
At Baldwin School, technology is not an end unto itself, but a constellation of supporting structures that facilitate the development of habits of mind. Technology is broadly integrated in the classroom. Students use a range of platforms, applications and web-based softwares; using these, they will research, organise and create content. A fully modern, wireless digital mainframe allows students to leverage the world’s resources and conceive original content. Touchscreen technology supports literacy and numeracy across all grades.
Baldwin is building partnerships with US technology giants, universities and non-governmental agencies. Interior and exterior laboratories combine hands-on and digital learning. An Ideation Lab develops open-ended problem solving through vertical Lego systems, Rigamagig design kits, Istopmotion animation and Wonder Workshop robotics. The school employs a wide range of Apple technology alongside other innovative products, like Sphero.
In Baldwin’s middle-years design classroom, for example, students use computer-aided design (CAD) to devise sustainable homes, and create virtual tours of their work, as would a professional architect. They are then able to produce miniature versions of their creations with 3D printers.
Online tools are also used to help students who are reluctant to speak out or find doing so difficult. “There must be a place in our schools for more introverted students,” says Nelligan, “one that enables them to fully express themselves and engage classroom materials and experiences. That is how we are integrating technology into our learning day, and we are just beginning. Technology is central to the world in which our students live, so we need to take advantage of it to reach them more fully, where their inclinations and needs intersect our learning expectations in an organic and meaningful way.”
With a view towards embracing further advancements, Baldwin is raising funds for an innovation centre that will serve as a “playground” for its aspiring scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs. It will also offer a digital-age secondary school library, and a complete redesign of its current library spaces into an elementary literacy lab.
Beyond the classroom
But innovation goes beyond just technology. Baldwin offers a beautiful and spacious 23-acre campus, certified as a national wildlife habitat. The school nurtures its own rainforest and stream system, which is curated by fourth-grade children (Year 5 in the UK). Secondary students built a biological field station, which means they can carry out full biological studies. One current project is to prove scientifically the best way to preserve an indigenous and rare palm species.
The rainforest is also the basis of a partnership with the Fundación Luis Muñoz Marin, whereby Baldwin students work with researchers to study threatened plant species and try to find scientific solutions to issues such as the best ways to propagate particular endangered plants.
As well as enabling hard-nosed science, Baldwin’s location means that its students can take part in a range of outdoor activities. It has spectacular facilities, including a swimming pool, tennis courts, field house, outdoor courts and a soccer field. Year-round programmes see Baldwin students learning in places such as Spain, France, Iceland and New Zealand. Baldwin facilities also include a state-of-the-art performing arts centre, a recording studio, and multiple two- and three-dimensional art classrooms.
All of Baldwin’s graduates go on to study at university, mostly abroad, including the United States’ most prestigious colleges and universities. One of its graduates, a forward-thinking aeronautical engineer, is currently engaged in trying to establish a space programme in Puerto Rico.
A Caribbean calling
Puerto Rico’s image as a tropical paradise boasting warm waters and sandy beaches is only part of the story for what is in fact one of the three largest islands in the Caribbean. With a population of 3.5 million, just under half of whom live in the capital San Juan, it is also home to major manufacturing and pharmaceutical giants such as Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Amgen and GlaxoSmithKline. Other prominent industries include telecommunications and finance.
Despite being a territory of the US, Puerto Rico has a Spanish-speaking majority, and the school’s student body very much reflects the island’s diverse population. Three quarters of Baldwin students come from local Puerto Rican families. The rest are the children of expats representing Central and South America, the Caribbean, North America, Asia and Europe.
The school is committed to its local community. For the last three years, Baldwin School has run a free summer institute that is open to students from local public schools – state schools in the UK – to study maths and English. It also offers free professional development for teachers at those schools.
Baldwin School, founded in 1968, will mark its 50th anniversary next year. Looking ahead, the school aspires to be a truly world-class institution, generating and implementing ideas that will define conversations in education for a generation. In the meantime, the school will continue to deliver an exceptional education for the students. “Our expectation is that our students will go out into the world, make their way, find themselves, and then return to make a better Puerto Rico for all Puerto Ricans,” says Nelligan.