As a child in the 1980s, I was one of the lucky ones. Somehow, I thrived in a traditional public school system- even if I didn’t love it. I wasn’t hit with a ruler everytime I misbehaved like generations prior, but I sat quietly in my seat, absorbing information passively and methodically. If I talked out of turn or acted out, I was relegated to the far corner of the room in shame— no one taught me how to handle my emotions better next time. If I didn’t do my homework or failed a test, there were no second chances. So, I copied off the chalk-filled black (or green) board into my notebook as if it were gospel. I earned good grades only to convince adults (and perhaps myself) of my “fixed” intelligence. No one helped me pinpoint who I was and what I had to offer my community and world. I loved learning and was perpetually curious, but that came largely from outside the classroom during off hours, where I poured over books and creative activities, able to inspire myself.

Many other children in this type of educational setting weren’t- and still aren’t- so lucky. When I later became an English and ENL teacher, I vowed to be a different kind of educator than I had experienced. I vowed to make learning fun for my students, and show them I cared, and to extract and expand the love of learning and intrinsic curiosity that is innate in all young children. I pledged to encourage creativity and self-expression, and to prepare them for what today’s world needs. While I still strive everyday to be this kind of teacher, I sometimes find myself limited by the constraints of what I call “The System:” the “teach to the test” model that’s prevailed since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2003. Not to mention the required “over-academized” curriculum, and other mandates put in place by remote superiors lacking in authentic classroom experience themselves. The enrichment curriculum I created during the pandemic, Artsy English and Artsy Espanol, which teaches social-emotional and language skills through the Creative Arts, was one way I attempted as an educator to fill in the residual gaps of this flawed “system.”

When I became a parent, I had to worry not only about the education of the hundreds of students who’d graced the seats of my classroom, but that of my son, Austin, as well. When we moved back to Buffalo from my husband’s native Ecuador soon after his birth, we knew Austin’s schooling was paramount, but we vacillated over where to live. We knew we couldn’t afford private school tuition, but didn’t want to live in the distant homogenous suburbs where diversity was too often a politically-correct afterthought. Being both a product of, and later a teacher of, Buffalo Public Schools, I knew that many of the schools in the district struggled to meet diverse students’ complex needs. We knew we needed something different- something that prepared all students for a successful and purposeful life that strengthened their community and world. A school that embraced the model of education that I’d always craved to experience as a student and later freely implement as a teacher.

Considering that our son was bilingual and bicultural, our first priority was an inclusive school that had an internationally-minded curriculum and a genuine appreciation for cultural and racial diversity. We hoped the school would promote an authentic understanding of one’s unique identity, where students as young as kindergarten could begin to develop a sense of purpose, express their own voice, discover their interests and values, and embrace their strengths. We wanted our son’s teachers to model and encourage in their students an open mind; and to instill curiosity and passion for independent knowledge-seeking through an emphasis on inquiry-based learning. We hoped arts education in all modalities (kinesthetic arts, music, visual arts, drama), as well as science and social studies, would be offered from the start— every year. It was important that learning through play plus real-world experiences and exploration were as ubiquitous in school as books. We valued students being able to move their bodies outdoors year-round and having time to eat and socialize freely on a daily basis. We knew firsthand the relevance of schools supporting the development of social-emotional skills in order to thrive in the real and often unforgiving world. Growth mentality- where a child is instilled with the faith that she can always do better tomorrow- had to be a pivotal value.

After much searching, we finally landed on a school that fulfilled all of the above: Buffalo Commons Charter School. We then realized that the dream of every parent- for their child to have a better education and upbringing than they themselves had- would come to fruition for our family, and for free to boot!  We couldn’t ask for a better quality education for Austin than BCCS. It’s truly like having all the benefits of a top-notch private education combined with the diversity-and-wallet-friendly advantages of a public one. We passionately encourage you to become part of their family. We look forward to seeing you at BCCS this September!

Amy Quinde is the owner and founder of Head & Heart International, a unique educational consulting & curriculum company with an overarching goal of preparing students successfully and authentically for their future.  They aim to enhance students’ social-emotional, life, & language skills through creative and purpose development endeavors with a cross-cultural emphasis.  In doing so, they strive to fill the many gaps left by our traditional education system.  Head & Heart International currently offers enrichment curriculum programming for K-12 schools as well as consulting services focused on career and college readiness for high school students and their families.