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News & Press: Founder Story

Juan Paulo Sánchez on moving out of the classroom to make an impact

18 December 2018  
CREE Cerro Navia | Chile| 1 school | 450 students


I felt a huge sense of social injustice but in that school, I had no control over what I could change outside of my own classroom.

I grew up in the countryside of Santiago and was very fortunate to receive an amazing education. I had very involved parents who put me in a private school and it was a guarantee that I would go on to university. Thanks to my schooling opportunities, I was able to attend the University of Santiago and even study abroad. While at university studying engineering, the founder of Enseña Chile came and spoke about the program. I was inspired by the impact the program had on low-income children and decided to apply.

I was placed in a small rural government school in the south of Chile and was shocked at how the system worked for low-income students. It was a big contrast compared to my own school experience growing up. I felt a huge sense of social injustice but in that school, I had no control over what I could change outside of my own classroom. This feeling of social injustice fuelled me to take action beyond my two years with Enseña Chile. I decided I wanted to be in a place where I could make a real difference.

Teaming up with two other Enseña Chile alumni who had similar experiences in their placement schools, we decided to open our own school. We wanted to start a school where teachers were invested in changing the system and believed in the potential of each and every student. I was connected to the KIPP charter school network in the US and joined them for one year to participate in their training for school founders. KIPP supported us in our first year of opening and they stay actively connected to our school.

Seeing students change and grow to reach their potential is what keeps me committed to this cause. When you see a student start to thrive that many teachers previously thought was not strong, it is amazing.

In our school, we spend a lot of time hiring the right teachers to make sure that they are aligned to our vision and share our belief that all children can achieve high academic results. We also invest a lot of time training our teachers to continue their professional development. Our ultimate goal is to become one of the best schools in Chile in terms of academics and have a high rate of student graduation, entrance into university and graduation from university. We focus on developing character to ensure our children can achieve this. We want this school to become a proof point that low-income communities can have as good results as higher-end private schools communities can. Visit our Instagram page to see more of our work.

At different stages of our growth, we have had different challenges. In the beginning, our biggest challenges were funding and construction of our new building. Right now, our biggest priority is improving the coaching of our teachers. Despite the challenges, I have had many good memories along the way. Seeing students change and grow to reach their potential is what keeps me committed to this cause. When you see a student start to thrive that many teachers previously thought was not strong, it is amazing. I also enjoy our school celebrations that allow students to showcase their talents. This week, we had every class perform songs from the Lion King musical and it was fantastic.

My advice to a new entrepreneur who wants to start a school would be to start small, just have the early grade levels in your first year. Another important piece of advice I wish I had known was to start with clear roles and responsibilities for the founders and the senior leadership team. This eliminates confusion with who owns what part of the organisation. Lastly, I think it is essential for the leader of the organisation to have a coach for advice and guidance. When you are the head of your organisation, most people look to you for direction. It is critical to have a support system of your own.

Outside of work, I enjoy being a farmer. I live in countryside and have a farm with lots of animals. I also go fly-fishing in the south of Chile once or twice a year. I love horse riding and started playing polo this year. Anything outdoors and around animals is where I like to spend my time.
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