Focus School: Pan American School of Bahia

Submitted by: Letícia Daza (PASB) and Barbara Noel (
Date: October 2021

Photos courtesy of PASB

Amid the sleek modern buildings in its commercial center, the old-world architecture of its colonial past, and the emerald green waves crashing on sunny beaches, you will find our international Pan American School of Bahia (PASB). For more than 50 years, our school has offered educational opportunities to both its international community and the larger community of Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. Most of our curriculum provides content-driven English language instruction while also offering courses in Portuguese and Brazilian social studies. Our youngest students start in our specialized Early Childhood Center and graduate with an International Baccalaureate diploma, and a United States high school diploma. The vast majority also achieve the Brazilian high school diploma. Most of our students are Brazilian whose home language is Portuguese. As they prepare for college, they develop academic language to a level that certifies them to enter top-tier, four-year universities in the U.S., Brazil, Canada and Europe.

Pan American School of Bahia building

The cheerful vibes shared throughout Brazil, also reverberate through our local and international faculty. This positive outlook naturally leads our teachers to view their students through a strengths-based perspective. Therefore, the WIDA Can Do Philosophy is a perfect fit. Why look at it any other way? This was a common refrain heard when introducing the WIDA ELD Standards Framework this past July. The can do approach is not only central to our student focus, but it is also a key component in our professional learning stance. Here is what one teacher said after a 3-day orientation:

“I could see that I already do SO MANY good moves while teaching a new language. During the training, I could see myself doing well in many different parts.”

Although PASB has been using WIDA MODEL for more than 10 years, it is this year that our school-wide goal is to facilitate professional learning around language development for student achievement. Therefore, we decided that wholly embracing the WIDA Standards and Assessment System is best for our school. The standards give teachers, parents, and students a shared reference when talking about the ways language is attached inextricably to content learning. A teacher shared that she liked most about one of our professional learning sessions: “seeing the [Can Do] Descriptors on the WIDA website and discussing and planning how they might be incorporated into our literacy instruction.”

Various administrators have also experienced using WIDA resources at other international schools and have seen the impact on student learning. This made them more eager to apply them at PASB. Therefore, this year’s goal embeds the WIDA proficiency levels into targets for student learning where proficiency level 5 is the minimum expectation for entering high school.

As a result of this school-wide commitment, teachers from across the school are beginning to plan units with a language lens. We are now focusing on analyzing student language around the WIDA Key Uses for grades K-12. Both Portuguese teachers and those teaching in English are becoming adept at identifying Language Features at the discourse, sentence, and word levels in both languages!

Popping in between any of the 19 breakout rooms in our all-staff online PDs, you might hear Portuguese teachers discussing the semiotic connections between English and Portuguese texts. You may also hear teachers discussing the ways their 3-year-old learners retell “situations using familiar language” while pointing to the WIDA Can Do Descriptors in the Key Use of Recount. One of our administrators recently observed that the WIDA Key Uses align perfectly with the writing genres being introduced in the elementary grade levels.

Furthermore, we have created a ‘Language for Learning’ team comprised of teachers across all grade levels. Together, they will study the WIDA English Language Development Standards Framework, 2020 Edition and co-create professional learning sessions for their colleagues. This ought to align perspectives across the school campus as teachers begin using the standards for assessment, planning and facilitating learning. This is the same team that will begin moderating student writing samples with content area and homeroom teachers. We are confident this will provide further alignment between content areas and school sections.

The myriad resources WIDA provides will keep us going for quite a while and they provide us with several pathways for reaching our school-wide student learning goal this year and many more to follow.

two students in classroom reading

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