Marta Palacios

Marta Palacios Principal, Bruce-Monroe elementary school Dr. Marta Palacios, principal of Bruce-Monroe Elementary School in Northwest, Washington, D.C always wanted to become a part of the education system in DC. As a young immigrant parent, she didn't like what she saw-the barriers to bilingual education for dual language students and the lack of respect and opportunities for school involvement for parents. Already a teacher in her native El Salvador, she worked for eight years to obtain her undergraduate degree from the University of the District of Columbia, and went on to become a teacher and attained her masters and a doctorate as a fellow at Georgetown University. In 1999, the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) asked her to become the assistant principal at Bruce-Monroe. Two years later, a committee of parents, teachers and community members unanimously chose Palacios as the principal, making her the first Salvadoran doctorate to serve as principal in the District.

"I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to help parents have a voice, to empower them. I wanted programs to be inclusive and treat everyone with respect," recalls Dr. Palacios. Today her strategies for parental involvement and her dual language program at Bruce Monroe is recognized as one of the best in the region and is a model for schools looking to break down cultural differences and build community and connection. "We're creating a community of learners. We all learn together--parents, kids, teachers. This is what motivates me to come to school every day."

Dr. Palacios admires Finland's strength in dual language programs in Finnish/Swedish and Finnish/Russian-Bruce Monroe School belongs to the Embassy Adoption Program and is the Embassy of Finland's school-and looks forward to consulting on the first Finnish/Spanish program launching this fall in Helsinki. "This is an opportunity not only to take all I've learned and share that message in a new arena," says Dr. Palacios, "but to learn about the Finns' nationwide curriculum system."


Future Forward – Dr. Marta Palacios

Dr. Marta Palacios, principal of Washington, DC’s Bruce-Monroe Elementary School, talks about her recent immersion in Helsinki education as a journey into the three Ps– play, pedagogy and professionalism. “In Finland there is no rigorous model of teaching and observation, but in terms of moving ahead with instruction and the way teachers work together, I now find myself referencing Helsinki, saying, this is the way it’s done in Finland.”


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Journal of Marta Palacios on April 8

I arrived at the Helsinki airport on Saturday, March 21, 2009.  As soon as I finished picking up my luggage I saw a young lady holding my name on a piece of paper; that young lady was Virve Vakiala, the coordinator of the Bilingual Spanish / English Program.  We hugged and talked all the way to the Hotel Haven as if we had known each other for a long time.  Once in the city, I met up with the science teacher from my school, Lynn Lahti Hommeyer and her friend Mirja Pirinen.  We walked the fashionable Esplanadi Street and looked at the fabulous window displays of the Marimekko, Arabia and Iittala shops.  We also walked to the outdoor market place.  I had to buy a winter hat because of the cold. (more…)

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Virve Vakiala Coordinator of Bilingual Spanish-Finnish Instruction Virve Vakiala
Kati Takanen Development Consultant Kati Takanen

Children’s Education

The Finnish education system offers everybody equal opportunities for education. The school network is regionally extensive, and there are no sex-specific school services. Basic education is completely free of charge, including instruction, school materials and special needs education. Schools also provide warm meals, health care, dental care and commuting.

Basic education encompasses nine years and caters for all those between 7 and 16 years. Schools do not select their students but every student can go to the school of his or her own school district. The vast majority of students attend public schools. In addition, there are many private schools.

On all school levels, teachers are highly qualified and committed. Master’s degree is a requirement, and teacher education includes teaching practice. Teachers work independently and enjoy full autonomy in the classroom.

Based on this system, Finnish schools achieve excellent results: the nation's 15-year-olds, at the end of the comprehensive school curriculum, have scored the highest marks in the world when assessed in mathematics, reading or scientific skills by the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Finnish society strongly focuses on its youngest citizens. Finnish municipalities are obliged to, and always do, provide publicly funded childcare for every child whose parents request it. The parents of a new-born child are entitled to almost one year of paid parental leave.

The Education Department, City of Helsinki

The Social Services Department / Child Day Care, City of Helsinki