Mizzou Elementary: Site Visits with Our Youngest Tigers

Posted in: News

A smiling child with pink balloon.
A Grade 1 student at Colégio Magno delights in math with balloons.

Pink balloons quickly filled Verena Daroque’s Grade 1 classroom. The students were delighted for such a bright, hands-on opportunity to explore measurement. Lisa DeCastro, our Elementary Coordinator, beamed as she sat  with a group of the young mathematicians to hear more about their mathematical thinking. 

Both she and Executive Director Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver remarked that the learning environment Daroque had cultivated was “joyful.” Fishman-Weaver and DeCastro also seemed right at home in the sweet chaos of early elementary. That’s no surprise, as almost 20 years ago the two were new K-1 teachers together. 

DeCastro and Fishman-Weaver started their teaching careers in Oakland Unified School District. “We had a lot of fun teaching together all those years ago, and it’s really a dream to get to do so again,” says Fishman-Weaver. After the math lesson, the two of them started balloon volleyball games with the young learners, encouraging both play and language learning. 

Play, language learning, high-expectations, and healthy risk-taking like those observed in Ms. Daroque’s classroom are hallmarks of Mizzou Elementary. 

A teacher speaking to a class of young students.
Lisa DeCastro visits with elementary students at Centro Leonardo Da Vinci.

Since it first launched in February, 2020, the Mizzou Elementary program has served many needs locally and globally. During the COVID pandemic, the elementary program was critical for mitigating educational disruptions for all Boone County schools, including Columbia Public Schools. 

Over the past three years, the program has also been well-utilized by partner schools in Brazil. Across so many iterations, DeCastro shares that each instance of the program is unique. Some schools use the materials to run their primary English program, some enroll all students in the program, and others use the program as a supplemental enrichment opportunity. Some schools focus on science and math, and others prioritize English Language Arts. 

These “different ways of being,” as DeCastro calls them, have required her and Julie Phelps, the lead instructional designer for the elementary program, to learn right alongside our partners. 

“We’ve learned so much,” says Fishman-Weaver. “We’ve learned more about language learning, getting the text level just right, and how our different partner schools approach evaluation in elementary.”

As an inquiry-based program, our elementary curriculum puts students at the center of the learning process. In addition to standards-based, subject-specific skills, students also develop global awareness, critical thinking, and leadership skills. Throughout this program, our young learners have numerous opportunities to apply these skills as they communicate across cultures and mediums while seeking ways to make a positive difference in their communities.

A class photo with Stephanie Walter and Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver.
Kathryn Fishman-Weaver and Stephanie Walter smile with elementary students at Colégio Uirapuru.

Last month, Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Executive Director; Stephanie Walter, Director of Teaching and Learning; Lisa DeCastro, Elementary Coordinator; and Brian Stuhlman, Middle School Coordinator enjoyed time in each of our four current international elementary partner schools: 

  • Colégio Dante (São Paulo, SP) 
  • Colégio Magno (São Paulo, SP) 
  • Centro Leonardo Da Vinci (Vitória, ES)
  • Colégio Uirapuru (Sorocaba, SP) 

A teacher working with young children.
Lisa DeCastro asks kindergarten scientists about their work at Colégio Magno.

Together, our travel team played, encouraged, and celebrated the powerful learning happening in our partner classrooms. They met with teachers, students, and school leaders. They guest-taught in classrooms; led assemblies; talked with students about their learning; and laughed, sang, and shared Brazilian school lunches with students and colleagues. 

The visit was especially important for Lisa DeCastro who leads curriculum writing  and support for the Mizzou Elementary program. As our Elementary Coordinator, she has been instrumental in supporting partners and helping the program to grow. Our partners often share questions, ideas, and student work with DeCastro, and during the visits, several remarked on her kindness, patience, and expertise in elementary education. 

DeCastro says the school visits “allowed us to personally connect with the teachers and students, which was a first for the elementary program. It’s even more special to be in their own classrooms and schools along with the students.”  She plans to use these experiences as she continues to iterate the curriculum. 

The Mizzou Elementary program is our fastest growing global program. This year (2023), we celebrated 827 Mizzou Elementary students. 

“There are a lot of full-circle moments with the elementary program,” says Fishman-Weaver recounting the first classroom the group visited last month. The classroom was a kindergarten science room at Colegio Magno. 

Fishman-Weaver remembers a special moment when the teacher passed out Mizzou Elementary science cards for a lesson on habitat. She remembered when DeCastro had first started working on that lesson, and now it was happening right before them. 

She turned to DeCastro and expressed appreciation to her for her work to bring this program to fruition. As others on our team have experienced, it’s a bit surreal seeing a program or course you’ve worked on come to life in a classroom 5,000 miles away. 

At Mizzou Academy, we often say that the world is small and deeply connected. Opportunities to learn alongside our partners and elementary learners reaffirmed this core truth.