The concept of the world uniting as a global village has become a reality. With the emergence of this concept, pieces fell at the right place at the right time to provide the required acceleration for the world’s rapid growth. The rapid development in technology, the emergence of social media and video games that are uniting people across the world, have proved to be significant factors contributing to the overall development and evolution of countries worldwide.
However, what truly holds all the threads together in connecting this global village with the betterment of the world is education. While all aspects of the world are changing, the core aspects and requirements of education must change as well. With a vision to bring the world together and create a truly global village, international education is the most appropriate choice for innovators and educators helping to unite the world as a global village.
A global village involves uniting different cultures, identities, and education systems, but fitting international curriculum in that context is difficult. However, after observing these difficulties and being determined to solve these problems in the system, Founder, Akida Mashaka, an American entrepreneur, and Harvard graduate, created Barcelona High School (BHS).
Along with the American high school teacher, Amanda Slefo, Director and Partner of BHS, the foundation of an incredible international school was laid, to provide the complete development of students to become responsible global citizens.
The Genesis of a Truly International School
Originally intended to be a school academy dedicated to student-athletes in Barcelona aiming to obtain athletic scholarships to top-tier universities in the USA, BHS quickly morphed into a micro-school with students from all walks of life. Founded in 2020, Barcelona High School, better known as BHS, is an innovative, one-of-a-kind, international American school in Barcelona, Spain.
BHS is licensed by International American School LLC which provides accredited US curriculum around the world. BHS uniquely utilizes three pedagogical practices: (1) Flipped Learning, (2) the Harkness Method, and (3) STEAM Education, to educate students combined with psychosocial curriculum for emotional confidence.
Through this innovative teaching and learning experience, students are trained to become self-motivated and independent learners throughout their time at BHS and develop an astonishing amount of community along the way.
BHS can proudly call itself a truly international school as no country is majority represented since students truly are from all over the world.
Currently, the countries represented by the school’s student body include Australia, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, China, Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Palestine, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, Portugal, Pakistan, Hungary, Venezuela, Mexico, United States, Canada, Brazil, Tunisia, France, Ireland, Chile, Egypt, Iraq, Germany, Greece, and South and North Korea.
A Promise to the Future
The mission of BHS is based on a promise that it makes for its students. That promise is to help teenagers excel academically, socially, and psychologically in an engaging, caring and international environment.
Talking about this promise and the school, Akida Mashaka says, “While we are excited and humbled to be listed as the best high school in Spain, our goal has become to be the best international and American school in the world.”
The Dynamic Duo Akida Mashaka: The Flame that Drives the Growth of BHS
Barcelona High School is the brainchild of Akida Mashaka. Before graduating from Harvard Law School, Akida attended undergraduate university in the USA on a tennis scholarship where he graduated #1 in Psychology in his class. His background and experiences are a major reason why Akida places mental health as an integral component of BHS.
After moving to Barcelona, Akida recognized problems with both private and public schools in Barcelona, including American schools, IB and British schools, especially in the secondary and high school years. Akida realized that the problem was not only in Spain, but worldwide, and even in his home country, the United States.
Talking about Akida’s vision of creating a holistic school, Amanda Slefo says, “Unlike traditional schools that are still the same as when students’ parents attended them, Akida created a school concept that focuses on smaller class size across multiple grade levels, in fun, social and individualized learning environments with a family-like atmosphere. With innovative digital learning tools, along with career, life, and university advisement, and emotional intelligence skills necessary to be successful in today’s world.”
Amanda Slefo: The Guiding Lamp of BHS
Talking about his partner, Amanda, and the torchbearer of the school, Akida Mashaka says, “Before joining BHS as Director, and overseeing educational learning, academic performance, and university placement, and then becoming a Partner, Amanda Slefo, was a distinguished American high school teacher at Evanston Township High School in Chicago.”
“As a high school teacher, Amanda received multiple outstanding teacher awards. She has a bachelor’s degree in History, Secondary Education Certification, and English Language Learners Certification, and served as Education Director of the Assyrian Cultural Foundation. She has extensive experience with university placement and specializes in creating dynamic learning experiences for students,” Akida adds.
Prioritizing Personalized Growth and Academic Achievement
Being an international school, BHS has realized that the priorities and goals of each student differ. While students focus on achieving top grades, they also focus on the depth needed to expand their knowledge in areas outside their academic curriculum as well as in emotional intelligence, which simultaneously diversifies both their university applications and future options.
Talking about the learning process and outcome, Akida and Amanda highlight, “We expect each student to achieve their full potential at BHS by helping them to discover more about their own identity and learning style through interactions with their peers and their academic work.”
“We also expect students to pursue passion projects that propel them to new levels of engagement with their own interests in the hopes of combining their personal and professional lives in the future. In short, we want them to be happy with themselves, their schoolwork, and their future,” Akida and Amanda add.
Uniting Cultural Identities to make a Global Village
The concept of international schools was developed and introduced to bridge the gaps in the world as a global village. With that vision in mind, BHS encourages its students to share and discuss their cultural identities and experiences with one another through guided conversations, psychosocial curriculum planning, and school outings.
Talking about this initiative to build a global community in the school, Amanda says, “We believe that through exposure to such a diverse student body, students learn to broaden their mindsets about both each other and the world. For example, at the beginning of the year, we do an activity called ’Ancestor Investigation’, which calls for students to have discussions with their family members to unearth the oldest family story they can find, record it and share it with their peers in small groups.”
Passionate about the initiative, Amanda adds, “The stories students came back with are astonishing and range from having ancestors who escaped the Bolshevik revolution to Canada, to grandparents who had both survived the Holocaust but did not know their spouse had survived, to the parent who had escaped North Korea, and many more. These types of stories simply would not be shared in any kind of environment other than a truly international one, and the students walk away from activities like this with a deeper understanding of both themselves and others.”
Maintaining Student Engagement with Curricular and Extra-curricular Activities
As a part of curricular and extra-curricular activities, BHS has started a student club culture to bring unity and engagement and help students develop important life skills. Students are encouraged to join and start clubs that meet during and after school which are tailored to their specific interests.
Expounding on the club culture started at the school, Amanda explains,“We have the student-led Polaris Club, which was started by new students to ensure that incoming students feel comfortable, happy and accepted at BHS. Many students elect to participate in a higher level of athletics ranging from playing highly competitive tennis to soccer and water polo players who compete with traveling clubs.”
“We also meet personally with each student to better understand where their interests lie and see if we can find something in the city that aligns with it. For instance, students take guitar, dance, Spanish and other classes after school with each other,” Amanda adds.
Indulging Modern Education in Curriculum for Quality Education
BHS has combined three modern means of education learning, the Harkness method, and STEAM education provide innovative and relevant education for students.
Talking about this unique learning pedagogy combination of the school, Akida says, “Flipped learning calls for students to engage with content before it is taught to them. This in combination with the Harkness method, a radically student-centered approach, which creates pragmatic problem solvers. STEAM – which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics – is implemented at BHS to truly create a well-rounded emerging learner.”
Preparing Students for University and the Future
One way to build a high school student’s transcript is to incorporate Advanced Placement (AP) courses which are extremely rigorous and available at BHS. Amanda guides students in every step of the way to consider their post-secondary plans, from researching possible careers, countries, and universities, to the actual university application process.
Other initiatives BHS has launched include Movement Therapy courses which help students become reflective and engaged with themselves internally and introducing students to concepts such as the Alexander technique to learn how to reduce stress from their bodies.
BHS is also launching an NFT minting project alongside creative art courses, as well as exposing students to cryptocurrencies and Blockchain. The next frontier for BHS is to create future entrepreneurs who will unite the world as a global village.
Creating a Home Away from Home
BHS plans on expanding while keeping a familial atmosphere at the school. Akida and Amanda say, “The goal is for students to know they have a home here with us and to see us as an added level of support outside of their homes.”
Advising the Future International Educators
Advising the future educators entering the education sector, Amanda says, “Really study the whole child. ‘Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by the ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid’. Psychosocial curriculum planning matters. Soft skills matter. These things give students agency and the confidence to go out into the world and pursue interests that matter to them.”