FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The Oxford School will open a branch in Pedasi, March 2019
In this momentito, the ink is drying on a contract between the owners of Pedasi Center and the owners of The Oxford School. And while I am not there personally to witness this momentous occasion, I could not be more honored or more excited to pass the baton to the people who will bring this dream of high quality education in our beloved Pedasi, Panama to fruition. This is happening, people. As promised.
The new internationally and nationally accredited English based school will service grades K-12 when it opens doors officially in March 2019. The Oxford School comes highly reputed with 34 years of established history in Panama City. Since 1998, there have been over 1000 graduates, over 90% of whom pursue college education and 30% have been accepted to international universities. Currently, over 3,200 students are enrolled in their school system including Panama city and the branches in Santiago, David and Azuero. They are internationally backed by Cambridge International School which brings an even higher level of accountability and opportunity to its students. Panamanian students I have personally met and have spoken to in the school system are remarkably fluent in English which will benefit them immensely in the future. Remember, from the beginning this project has been about benefiting the Panamanian first and the foreigner as well. For those of us who want our students to learn Spanish, they offer Spanish As a Second Language courses and we will have a Spanish language instructor from day one.
What I really admire about The Oxford School is the heart of the owners and staff that we have been so privileged to get to know over the course of this year. They really are passionate about education! They love kids and are keenly interested in providing quality education to Panamanians of all income levels.
Mr Malcolm Griggs, The Oxford School’s co-owner, told me at our first meeting back in January that even though they have successfully piloted three branches, this is a totally different situation… a new frontier for them as well because they have always established schools and branches in much higher populated areas. The thing about quality education is that it requires quality teachers and quality supplies and quality buildings that qualify for higher thresholds of expectations. These things cost money, and the best way to pay for them is with warm bodies in little desks paying a decent tuition monthly. With our estimated population of 3,000 and a below-average income level for the typical family, it’s hard to see where the dollars are going to come from… at face value.
Digging deeper, I can tell you that from the front lines in real estate, Pedasi has a lot of potential that has fallen by the wayside for way too long. I have lost count on how many parents have told me that they would love to live in Pedasi, but cannot because of the lack of educational opportunities for their children. And since the unexpected closure of The Azuero International School (which really began as an organic group of families learning together with shared teachers), we have seen several good families leave the area out of necessity. As a micro-economy, I can see plainly that having a quality school is essential to the sustained growth and positive development of the economic structure of the town at every level. And in some ways, our income disparity could wind up being a benefit to further bring together the foreign and local people, when the financially privileged see the value of the school and participate in providing scholarships and other funding. Basically, everyone I talk to knows that we need this, and we are all willing to pitch in to get it! We already have received offers for scholarship donations!
So, why has this not happened yet?
The truth is, there have been several attempts over the years here in Pedasi. Grass-roots start-ups tend to fail because they don’t have the business or education background to succeed long term and tend to focus on only the affluent in the area who don’t mind if the school is not nationally accredited. To garnish the accreditation of MEDUCA (the Ministry of Education in Panama), you have to have a location of decent size that does not have alcohol sales within 500 Meters. In a town as condensed as Pedasi, with little shops on every corner selling cerveza, a qualified location is hard to find. That is why we had been determined to build outside of town, and are so thankful for several offers to donate land in support of the project. These offers really opened the door to be able to solicit an accredited school to give us their promise to open a branch if we were to provide the building. Well, that is perhaps still in the future for Pedasi, but today I get the great opportunity to introduce you to a very strong young lady who has opened a door for our town to have a school… NOW.
Meet Kathy and her family at Pedasi Center. When a friend of mine suggested that perhaps an abandoned real estate office could be a launch location for The Oxford School’s pilot of an online satellite school, we got to know Kathy and tell her about our progress with The Oxford School. The Chinese Panamanians are very determined to have a quality education and she knew very well the name of The Oxford School, as she has family in the Panama City branch. With her 10-month-old daughter Mei Ling on her hip, it didn’t take long for Kathy to recognize the opportunity that stood at her doorstep. She offered to me that the school could rent the large unit at the front of the mall. Well, that has been tried before but failed to meet the MEDUCA (Ministry of Education) standard for alcohol sales. Maybe she spoke too quickly when she offered that all alcohol sales could be canceled to bring the school. She was eager for her daughter! Discontinuing alcohol sales means cutting out a large chunk of their income, and they are taking a great leap of faith to make that promise so that the school can come. But the family has decided that they will do whatever it takes, and even offered to not charge rent while we do remodel work to the property.
At the new location, the school has the ability to expand over time taking up space as needed. When they have outgrown the building, they will have the traction and financial establishment to look at building a new school structure. But for now, we just need a few wall, windows and minor modifications to convert this warehouse location into a school!
What Happens Next?
The next step is the fun part. We, the townspeople of Pedasi get to start building out this unit and furnish it for next year’s classrooms. I have already spoken to a few builders in the area who are willing to donate time/resources to the project. Oxford’s staff will begin calling all the parents who have already signed up for information, and they will begin hosting open houses for the townspeople to begin registering families for March.
For those of us with immediate need, here’s what’s happening:
The online satellite school will open August 6th for grades 6-12 with a full time teacher trained in the online system. The kids will go to Chitre once per month for testing, or maybe more depending on how we can work out transportation. We would greatly benefit by the use of a shuttle vehicle for after school activities and enrichment programs. If possible, the students will pick up where the other students in Chitre and Panama are in their classes, and after school is out in December, we hope to get them through the first trimester so they have completed one full year between August 6th and March. The school staff will have the lovely responsibility of figuring out what grade the kids are qualified to start in, because most of these kids don’t have the correct paper trail. Parents, please have patience and know that we are working a solution to a problem, and the issues will be murky with MEDUCA because of the situation. IF we are able to get enough kids registered for the secondary classes by March, we may see these become live classes with teachers in place!
For families of children under 6th grade, The Oxford School will supply their curriculum (at cost) to families who want a bridge until March. They are welcome to use rooms in the space we are renting for the secondary kids. This is perfect for families who are on the typical school schedule and will have a gap of several months between July (when we launch the satellite school and coop) and March. We will let the trained pros at The Oxford School determine what grade level your kids should be in in March based on age requirements and skill level. Already I have a parent volunteer to get the families together if they want to for a group option.
How the school will affect Pedasi
In order to maintain a healthy economy, you must have certain elements. Good jobs, education, safety, infrastructure, desirability and demand. In order to have good jobs come to the area, companies need to recruit good higher-level management, and they will require a quality bilingual education. So, in my opinion, the school is going to be pivotal to the healthy development of the town.
Our current mayor, Miguel Batista, has championed such things as improvements in water supply, electrical, cleanliness and roads. Little by little, we see improvement and more livability checkboxes are being checked. But for certain amenities like hospitals, airports, restaurants, and tourism services to thrive, you need steady population to support those industries.
With the school being in place for the little ones, we will see more families stay and make this amazing place “home”. I believe Pedasi will be turning heads again, and already it is. I hope that no matter how we grow, we remember that the best quality of our town is its people… as clearly evidenced by the amazing support of our local people to bring the school. We must not lose that magic because it is truly unique.
I thank Mr Griggs, Ms Laura and your families for taking a risk, Kathy and your family also. Also, Brent and the boys, for sacrificing so much of my attention. Elicer Vera and family. Venessa and Ember at The Oxford School in Los Santos have been amazing since day one, and we look forward to more from them! To everyone who has helped and is helping. This is happening because of everyone and for everyone. Gracias a Dios!