Thirty-eight years ago, Instituto Thomas Jefferson (ITJ) started out as a project to provide founder Jeanene Bluhm’s own children with a school that offered both a sound academic education and good English instruction. Nearly four decades on, it now caters for around 5,400 students, aged from three to 18, across five campuses in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Querétaro. Its success is due to a simple but effective approach – placing the child at the centre of all learning.

“We have always run our schools with an emphasis on the child first and foremost,” says Bluhm. “The child has to feel valued, to feel important and to feel listened to. He or she should feel challenged, and recognised and applauded for their efforts, all within a safe environment.” With this child-centred approach at its very core, this fee-paying co-educational school in Mexico then uses the curriculum as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself.

“Next comes success,” says Bluhm. “We work on giving the students experiences of decision-making throughout their learning. Any decision they make has a logical consequence. When you realise this, you take control of your life; you become a responsible citizen.” In the third and final leg of this pedagogical strategy, ITJ imparts lifelong values. “Being honest, respectful, responsible and loyal are basic human traits that the children can carry with them always,” says Bluhm.


A global institution

Despite its achievements, ITJ isn’t the sort of school to rest on its laurels. It works closely with the US Green Building Council (USGBC) on sustainability projects, and its most recent endeavour was to form a strategic alliance with the UK-based International Schools Partnership, to help cultivate a more international perspective. The resulting exchange programme with schools in the UK and Spain has already reaped its first successful visits. “The children were so excited,” says Bluhm. “They made friendships that I’m sure will last for many years.”

Plans are already afoot to extend the programme to include the Americas and the Middle East. “Our children, when they grow up, will be relating to people all over the world,” says Bluhm. “They might work for a company with its production in India, its sales in New York, its accounting in Germany. The International Schools Partnership was born of the same values. It is as interested in the individual child as we are. It knows that if the child is healthy and happy, and loves learning, success will come.”