Alumna Spotlight:  Renata Andrez, Master of Arts in Early Childhood Inclusive Education

Commuting across nine time zones is the new normal for many students in the online master’s of education programs at Portland State University.

By Sherron Lumley

Renata Andrez lives in Switzerland with her family and attended the PSU College of Education from Europe. She now works at the International School of Basel. The Early Childhood Inclusive Education program is all online, and Andrez, who had originally studied journalism in Brazil, was looking for precisely what the school has to offer.

“I needed something online and in English and I was working, so it had to be flexible.”

Renata Andrez, MA, Early childhood inclusive education

“I always had a big interest in education, and I was inspired by journalism writing about human rights for children. After I started to relocate frequently because of my husband’s job, it became increasingly hard to work remotely whilst raising my own children away from home. I realized I should make a career change when I was volunteering at my daughter’s school, back in 2009. We lived in Chicago at the time. I was so touched and overwhelmed in a good way that I said to myself, ‘I have to change.’”

Renata Andrez and her students at the International School of Basel in Switzerland.

First, Andrez did the Montesori certification in the U.S. before her family relocated to Europe. In 2015, she started the program at PSU wanting to build a stronger academic foundation to develop and further her career in education. She fell in love with the program and says she still shares her books with her colleagues today.

“The Early Childhood program at Portland State is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach, a pedagogy that views children as competent protagonists of their learning. I had visited Reggio Emilia preschools and was really excited to learn more about the approach. The courses emphasized the importance of play-based early years education, a belief I hold close to my heart. I think one of the biggest strengths of the program was the value it placed on inclusion. In all of the core courses, inclusion was always embedded, so it becomes a mindset. Learning Designs was one of my favorite courses. We had to design a learning environment and it was really hands on. At the time, I was observing different classes at an international school for my action research, and a teacher accepted my offer to redesign her classroom together and to suggest changes that included the children’s ideas,” says Andrez.

“The knowledge I got from my master’s is very important to my work now. Half of my children don’t speak English as their first language and I work with three- and four-year-olds, so everything is new to them – the country, the language and being in school. When they first come, it is so important to make connections. It is a big transition time, so I establish relationships with students and families to develop a sense of community. I’m also proud of promoting many opportunities for play-based learning. Children learn through the relationships they develop with their teachers, peers, and the materials; it does not have to be heavily teacher-directed. I see that teachers with a more traditional background in education sometimes find it harder to make the shift towards play-based approaches,” she explains.

“I really loved my courses and professors at PSU.  The cohort was super interesting and very diverse. It was a rich experience to be exchanging ideas. I have done other online courses and felt isolated. At PSU, the discussions were part of our grades, so they became a core part of the learning. In my case, I did another course after my master’s to get the certification I needed to work in an international school. However, I would say to someone else to consider all the options [e.g. master’s degree or a certificate]; I would say it depends on your plans for the future,” she says.

“My youngest child is now in grade nine, which is high school. Thinking about the future, when my children are grown, I imagine being a part of a non-governmental organization, hopefully back home in Brazil, working to support families who face so many challenges to access good quality education for their children. One of the fascinating aspects of being an educator is that you might have many different ways to fulfill your aspirations,” Andrez notes.


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