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News & Press: Founder Story

Maria Adelaida Lopez on the power of early childhood education to transform lives

30 August 2018  
aeioutu) | Colombia| Early Childhood Education ECD | 30 ECD Centers | 24,000 children

When I was younger, I had two dreams. One was to become a teacher and the other to become an artist. I am now both. I am convinced that, through art and education, we can transform communities, building values and principles fundamental to dialogue, respect and a peaceful living.

I never imagined I would become part of the founding team of an organisation, even less as their Pedagogical Director, designing the curriculum for innovative, high quality Early Childhood Centres!

I love art and pursued this diligently to the point of selling everything I owned and moving to the United States (despite not speaking a word of English!) to complete my MA and ultimately teach as a Professor. As a lecturer, I was shocked by the lack of creativity, lack of resourcefulness and lack of resilience of the Art students I was teaching. As my colleagues and I reflected on this, we concluded that their early childhood education had allowed them no time to explore or be creative and we were seeing the results of that. I thought my first job in ECD as an artist for an early education centre in Miami would be temporary – I had no experience with children and was looking for jobs at the University – but I fell in love with the children, with their curiosity, with their perspective on life, their questions, their creativity, their exploration.

I found I had lots to offer the children and also the staff in terms of Professional Development. I began to study and learn more about ECD during this time. When Nathalia, the Founder of aeioTU flew to the States in 2008, she invited me to become part of the small start-up team. I questioned whether she really wanted an artist as Pedagogical Director, she said that this was one of the reasons she was asking me! Her vision to bring innovative high quality education to all children, assuring an equal start in life for them, regardless the place or conditions they were born with resonated with me. Her desire to think outside of the box, to be results oriented but also to pay attention to process, to listen, invite comment and build her team, all were an inspiration to me.

I remember a young boy called Caleb who was fascinated by light switches. We took him on a journey to understand how light affects his daily life. He mastered drawing techniques, colours, art as a medium to communicate and we learnt how to partner with children to listen to them, to motivate them, to inspire them and to enable their exploration. This is AeioTu’s model.

When I started, the aeioTU team was 6 people and we are now 1,100 staff.
It has been an incredible journey and we continue to follow Nathalia’s leadership in terms of encouraging dialogue, feedback, participation, inclusion and reflection amongst the team. We work to build spirit and strength and inspire them for their commitment. We want the team to know that they are an important part of the aeioTU family. Their work has impacted the lives of more than 140,000 children.

As we have grown, we have had successes and faced challenges. I can say that I am proud of the way we have strengthened the culture, listened to educators, influenced the families of the children in our care and empowered our staff. We have certainly battled with the amount of forms, regulations and requirements that have been necessary and with maintaining quality while scaling! We are working now on how to simplify our policies and processes so that we remain simple and effective and don’t become bureaucratic. New areas for us are being part of a global platform like GSF and collaborating globally as well as learning the language of tech – how to improve our digital knowledge and utilise this to optimise teacher efficiency.

Scaling is not just about growing rapidly, but it is about how to reach more children and families in an efficient and intelligent way.

My top tips for someone starting out or moving to scale are:
  1. Scientific evidence and documentation of children´s learning processes are key elements for advocacy and social mobilization and therefore if you can be part of research studies, take every opportunity
  2. Strategic planning and a clear set of indicators help us monitor our progress. This is fundamental. You need to be able to measure the quality of what you do to continue improving.
  3. You cannot get anywhere without a team full of passion and the needed strength and character to achieve its goals. Constantly ask –and expect- your team to think out of the box and innovate.

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