After receiving her doctorate in education from Harvard, Dr. Ana Maria Garcia Blanco ’78 returned to Puerto Rico, where for the last 20 years she has worked as a principal in a community-based public school in Barrio Juan Domingo in Guaynabo, transforming it into a model school for children and for the other 50 schools in inner cities and countryside communities.
Ana directs La Nueva Escuela Juan Ponce de León in an impoverished suburb of Guaynabo. She and members of the community reopened it 18 years ago and employed the Montessori system, which lowered violence and increased performance. After reopening the school, illiteracy levels dropped and student performance improved dramatically. The Montessori system, which encourages self sufficiency, is credited with transforming the school and the community. Students hold community meetings to make academic and social decisions ranging from naming their pet turtle to budgeting and organizing field trips. The Nueva Escuela model is now being implemented in 20 public schools on the island, and Sacred Heart University, the Angel Ramos Foundation, and Banco Popular are also contributing to train public school teachers in Montessori methods.
How were you involved in PBHA?
I worked as a volunteer during my four years of college. I worked in Longfellow School, in a bilingual classroom with children of war from El Salvador and children from Puerto Rico. I worked as a teacher assistant in the mornings, then I came back to the Yard for class.
Can you share one PBHA memory important to you or something valuable you learned through your PBHA involvement?
The work I did in the school was very valuable to me and I think about it almost every day of my life. I worked with a marvelous teacher, Elena Villaroel, who taught me how to be a good teacher. I learned from the children things I use in my work today: I learn about the place and experience they come from when they arrive from the big cities in the U.S. to our schools in Puerto Rico. I learned about bilingual classrooms and experiences. For me what I did at PBHA was esential for my life plans and work.
How did PBHA affect your career or life choices and continue to affect them?
Going to school every other day, before going to class at Harvard, gave a lot of sense to the academic work I was doing.
Based on your experiences at PBHA and beyond, what is something that you wish current student volunteers and/or recent PBHA graduates to know?
When you study at a place like Harvard, it is good to keep in mind what you will be doing with all you are learning and growing. It is important that we give back what we are given. As we insert ourselves in a social project (like many projects at PBHA), our school experience is better, has more sense. We should put our education at the service of our community and at the service of others, so that we collaborate with the transformation of our world (starting with those places where we live). As we participate… as we insert ourselves in real life projects, our education is complete.