for Education and Innovation
My name is Brando Fermi Crawford. I am a Co-Founder and the Executive Director of International Mansion. International Mansion is a concert and lecture venue, an educational center, and an accredited Preschool, Kindergarten and 1st through 8th Grade school. This is a re-imagining of Co-Founder, Maria Fermi's school of 25 years, and stays true to our simple, original mission statement, "To educate the young and the young at heart".
Here is a quote of mine from a panel that recently took place for Associazione Montessori Internationale that sums up our determination to change education:
"During the Belle Époque, great educators like Montessori and Piaget theorized about education... Now in modern times, acts like "No Child Left Behind" define education as we know it today- education is lost in theory and dogma, crumbling without common sense- we want to revolutionize education to what it should have been about all along- learning how to live a real life in the real world."
Brando Fermi Crawford at the "Montessori Today" Conference, July 2019
To give you an idea of what makes our school and approach to education special, here is how our process works from admission to implementation:
Our directors require a series of meetings with each family to get to know each one of them on a personal level- the purpose of our approach is to create an environment where each child receives a personalized approach to their education, so naturally we start by knowing who they are to their family and what the dynamic is at home. We as directors, want to identify the gifts, strengths and weaknesses of each student before educating them. At our school, the priority is the happiness of children, and as we have learned achievement comes with happiness, because happy children care about their future- whereas unhappy children are stuck in the past and present and start to struggle with boredom- what we feel is at the root of a poor future. To clarify this is not happiness without reasoning, but instead is best defined as happiness through reasoning.
The most important aspect of our school is that all of our students leave with mobilized knowledge, meaning that our students learn skills that demonstrate a real life application. We stay away from abstract learning like learning grammar rules without context, or multiplication on paper- we certainly stay away from teaching to a standardized test. Instead we focus on approaches: that our students are all fluent in Spanish by learning through Immersion, Math is learned in the context of architecture and finance, history is taught using current events writing is taught using articles from newspapers like the New Yorker and using, what the world considers, great writing, as a template: a process that actually improves writing over time and so on.
Our teachers are not necessarily educators by profession but are chosen by the experience and attitude, not the higher education of each candidate.
Our chemistry teacher, Maria, is originally from Russia and has a PhD in Chemistry and our Fine Arts instructor, Xxavier, was raised in the inner city but is trained in Opera, Fine Art and was in preparation for the Olympics in Karate- both of them are equally valuable and inspire in different ways. They both teach a class together comparing their upbringing in Russia and the South Side of Chicago respectively and their dealing with authoritative powers, culture shaping regulations by city officials, and finding solace in education. While their educational backgrounds are vastly different, their approach comes from a place of life experience, a love of knowledge and the ability to impart both. Imagine being a child exposed to that kind of lesson early on in life!
Students receive one on one time every day without exception and are paired by interest and ability and not by age. Both of these points are crucial and traditional schools limit the implementation of both of these concepts. Our school is racially and socioeconomically diverse.
Our teachers are consulted with and are not robotic or dogmatic when teaching because they are given the creative freedom true teachers need in order to truly practice their art.
Our students’ needs are put first: students have access to food and water throughout the day (rather than confined to just lunch) and the start time is customized to their sleep schedule (and sometimes their parents’ work schedule) with most students starting at 9:30am.
Our school also functions as a private language, music, arts, athletics and tutoring school for all ages (including adults) and abilities, pairing experts with students to help them learn outside of school.
We also use the space as a venue for concert and lectures and the proceeds from the tickets go towards the education of Foster children and Children with Need at our school. This allows us to draw funding from an external source without considering augmenting tuition (thus ruling out middle class participants and creating another “elite” school which we believe is not as effective in changing society) without relying on using tax money as the public school system has the benefit of receiving, but without the freedom to create new, more effective school systems.
Our approach is “common sense”, but in the USA, the voices addressing the education crisis are not being heard, certainly not by our government- who naturally have other priorities, but also it is not by the media in general. We need this system worldwide and quickly- but we also recognize that we are luckily to start the first ever of our International Mansions in Oak Park, IL, a community with such earnest ideals and close enough to the city to make a difference both locally and in the Chicago area at large.
We have made a system that makes this kind of education affordable. But that is where we need help. We, the founders, currently serve as the primary donors- we always will serve that role, giving both our time and all we have toward our cause- but we want to put more students through this kind of education than the ones we have now. This upcoming year we have accepted 30 children of vastly different backgrounds to our school. We currently have five excellent candidates who are either from the Foster System, Low Income Neighborhoods, both, or just have a General need, that are on a waiting list to attend our school. These are children that demonstrate a gift in a particular area that could use our personalized approach and also have a need for a system that feels dramatically different than the one that failed them.
In order to formalize this donation process, we started the International Education and Innovation Foundation.
I believe you can help shape the world by helping us with one of these two opportunities for charity through our foundation:
1. Sponsoring an event at our school. We ask our sponsors to front the bill for catering, musicians, and the maintenance fees associated with upkeep of our historic home for any individual event. Upcoming opportunities include our Season of Concerts and Lectures. The event is dedicated to the donor or to a family member of choice or can be left anonymous.
2. Sponsor or assist in sponsoring the tuition for one child to come to our school. While, $25,080.00 covers year round schooling 12 months per year for a single full time student. We also accept smaller contributions to cover partial tuition.
While donating is always made in the benefit of the children who attend our school, any person, family or organization who donates above $10,000.00 receives generous benefits separate from the write off. These donors receive access to all our events of the season, with behind the scenes meet and greet with guest artists, and can take one language or music class year round, on us!
We are happy to host any potential donors at our mansion's study (the one room that is not under construction) to discuss possibilities.
Brando Fermi Crawford
Co-Founder and Executive Director