We reached out to schools in Beijing to ask who was making an impact on their school communities. Our terms were loose, as we were curious about individuals who made a difference in leadership, community, and charity. We don’t feel like someone necessarily has to contribute to charity to be a community star, as sometimes a great, reliable friend in a school community can make just as much of an impact. Each of these stories is special, and we’re so proud to have had the chance to talk with these students and teachers.
Brian Branks, Beijing International Bilingual Academy
When ELA Department Coordinator Brian Branks started the student support team at Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA), it was a natural development of his strong relationship with his students. Branks came to Beijing four years ago, and immediately students became an extension of his family.
“My own family hadn’t yet joined me, and so my students were my family. They knew the story and knew why they weren’t here, yet.” Originally from Orlando, Florida, US, Branks explained his third child was on the way when he headed east. Now at the eve of BIBA’s inaugural graduating class, Branks is excited for his students to take the next step of their journey, but is understandably emotional. Of the twelve students graduating, Branks has taught eight and most of them have been with him three of the four years.
His students are the top reason he stays at BIBA, commuting from the center of the city where his family is based, and keeping a level head in the class. “My number one priority is my classroom. Whatever is happening outside of the classroom, I don’t want it to impact my students.” The second reason, he said, is the staff. When explaining the student support team Branks emphasized, “It’s a team effort. I can’t take all the credit. [Students] are not in my classroom all day long. We’re a really awesome team; I wouldn’t want it to be forgotten that there is a whole crew working together on these kids.”
Branks hopes that the student support team will help students grow, that they’ll be supported in every way possible throughout the BIBA community. When asked why he started the team, he explained, “The teacher-student relationship must be taken seriously. The relationships have to be built, otherwise the students aren’t going to learn. A lot of times students feel that they have no voice. Nobody listens to them. But I do care.” He continued, “Their opinions are heard and their opinions matter.”
Based on this, the student support team comes with the mindset that “every child doesn’t walk in the classroom in the same way. It’s not a cookie cutter team.” The support team makes sure that differentiation is happening, and doesn’t make assumptions about the cause of poor performance. The team also is sure not to ignore students who are performing at high levels. Branks pointed out that often times students seem to have it all together, but one incident can make them stumble off a path. “We’re there to set them back on the path, because once they’re off, it’s hard to dig out of that.”
Photo: Uni You
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