Visiting Puerto Rico, a Caribbean Island and unincorporated U.S. territory, is a one-of-a-kind experience. This Caribbean paradise has a rich history and culture, exceptional food, pristine beaches, majestic mountains, relaxation, adventure, and, more than everything, a creative space for school education. Situated on a tropical 23-acre campus in the metropolitan area of San Juan, with access to the history, vibrance, and ocean of the Caribbean region, The Baldwin School of Puerto Rico is one of the prominent schools on the island. This diverse population of over 800 students of different nationalities offers the PYP, MYP, and DP programs as a World IB Continuum School.
Talking about the establishment of Baldwin School, Head of School Greg MacGilpin, Jr says, “In 1968, a group of educators and entrepreneurs had the vision of providing K-12 college preparatory education on the island. What started as a tiny school in temporary classrooms in empty fields has, over the last 55 years, become the leading PPK-12 IB World school in the Caribbean.” A non-profit, non-sectarian, international, college preparatory school, the mission of Baldwin School is straightforward: to offer a challenging and diverse learning environment that fosters independent and ethical thinking through critical inquiry, honest reflection, and positive action.
“We believe it is crucial that our students graduate with the knowledge, skills, and courage required to positively impact the challenging and uncertain world in which they live. As living with the global storms that are inevitable in our part of the world, we know our students must understand the disruption and volatility around them by obtaining an understanding of the world with empathy, that they must learn t to design and contribute towards possible solutions, and as we have done many times, support their communities with action and resources to lift up others,” explains Mr. MacGilpin.
To fulfill the school’s mission, Mr. MacGilpin and his team strive to create a constructive, supportive student/teacher relationship that is essential to ensuring positive student outcomes. Mr. MacGilpin opines, “Encouraging students through provocations and inquiry to develop ownership and agency over their learning when they are young helps them become self-motivated, independent, and confident learners as they get older. We reinforce these interactions at Baldwin, derived from a belief in relationships and a strong aspect of Puerto Rican values.”
Equally significant and often overlooked in many schools, Baldwin School considers play, fun, and joy as a part of life that must be celebrated and nurtured throughout the entire school experience, whether a Kinder student or IB diploma candidate. “Students at Baldwin have fun- in their classroom, on stage, on the field, with each other- and we support finding that balance of rigor and vigor on our campus,” pinpoints Mr. MacGilpin.
Setting New Benchmarks in Teaching and Learning
Today Baldwin School is well known for its rigorous curriculum and vibrant campus life. “We emphasize sharing our ideas frequently and collecting feedback to improve, and our faculty’s ability to inculcate such dispositions sets us apart. Through significant resources and time training, our teachers utilize a similar learners’ mindset that we want to have in our students and hold a high standard for authentic research,” states Mr. MacGilpin. Baldwin School understands that effective professional development opportunities must be ongoing for those who work with children to effectively impact student learning. The teachers at Baldwin School routinely develop their own knowledge and model for students that life-long learning is essential and useful. This development creates a culture of learning throughout the school. Mr. MacGilpin adds, “We provide opportunities both on campus, on the island, and internationally. Our faculty members attend online workshops on pedagogy, curriculum development, and wellness and conduct school visits overseas to observe and consider alternative processes.”
Over 90% of the faculty members at Baldwin School are fully bilingual in Spanish and English, all with undergraduate or graduate degrees in either education or an area of study related to their content. Some faculty teach at universities in Puerto Rico, and others are supported to pursue advanced degrees. In addition to training all IB teachers in corresponding IB pedagogy, educational practitioners from similar IB schools or experts in their field lead workshops on Baldwin’s campus several times during the year. Most recently, seminars on augmented reality and developing and aligning math assessments were facilitated with students. “With the average tenure of faculty at Baldwin around 14 years, we have the opportunity to deeply align and engage in testing our ideas and then improving practice for our own students through multiple years,” shares Mr. MacGilpin.
Baldwin School teachers use ongoing formative assessments to monitor student’s progress and the best approach to learning. It helps the teachers to understand how the students learn best and allows them to differentiate according to each student’s specific needs and goals. Mr. MacGilpin explains, “Our small class sizes and groupings offer individual attention to the students. We have multiple teachers in each classroom from PPK through grade 3, and class sizes of 18-20 students with a dedicated inclusion specialist and orientation of activities and curriculum focused on the wellness of our students.” Baldwin School has three psychologists, one for each ‘school,’ who help form a student support team and lead child protection oversight.
Building a Sense of Belonging
“While obvious, our faculty and students know that thinking happens mostly in our heads, invisible to others and even ourselves. Therefore, at Baldwin, we emphasize that all students externalize their thoughts through speaking, writing, drawing, or creating common experiences,” states Mr. MacGilpin. From Primary Years Program, Baldwin School values students speaking and presenting their ideas and thinking to their peers. The teachers encourage students’ voices and create routines in which students share and then listen to others. Mr. MacGilpin, “In all of our classrooms, discussions are centered on the student’s ideas, with the teacher acting as a guide and facilitator to deepen the learning of content.”
Baldwin School conducts Town Halls consistently to foster this independence and openness to publicly share students’ thoughts and to teach that ideas shared and feedback solicited is powerful in the learning process. “At any town hall, from grades 1 through 12, you will witness students sharing what they learned in class, presenting social initiatives for participation, asking for opinions through quiz shows, and raising school spirit. The result is an inevitably improved understanding of the world- whether it be just each other’s sphere or a global concept learned and applied creatively in multiple classes and situations,” explains Mr. MacGilpin.
As an international school, Baldwin leverages a unique mix of students that hold Puerto Rican culture and identity as primary and is a hub and host for families from other countries. “This combination brings an intercultural awareness uncommon in many peer schools and allows our students to engage with unique perspectives while deepening a sense of current place- Puerto Rico- as our chosen community,” adds Mr. MacGilpin. The culture in Puerto Rico and the community at Baldwin value the warm embrace of belonging to a community. In fact, one of the clear outcomes of the pandemic is the need to belong and be together. Throughout the school year, Baldwin School continues to host activities and workshops to engage parents with the curriculum and approaches to learning and host social events to create bonds among all the stakeholders.
“Our Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) helps organize whole community gatherings, such as Family Day and our Holiday Bazaar, and it is more often than that there is standing room only at events like SportsFest, Dia Puertorriqueno, or our Ring Ceremonies,” shares Mr. MacGilpin. The school leverages social media, weekly communication celebrating student successes, and online platforms to help families navigate school and studies and support their children. It is true that when schools and families operate in partnership, everyone benefits: students feel a greater sense of belonging both inside and outside the classroom, while families see the school as an essential asset. “We see the link between family and school paramount to our success, and we know each other by name. We support and celebrate our kids as a family. And in turn, families celebrate us and trust our processes and approach to learning,” says Mr. MacGilpin.
Learning Beyond the Walls
At Baldwin School, students have access to numerous co-curricular clubs, often generated through interest and social need. They participate in interscholastic athletic programs from ages 8-18 and can join our Stage Company or Glee Clubs or run the school’s YouTube Streaming channel. Mr. MacGilpin says, “On any given Saturday, our campus is host to a surge of activities- volleyball tournaments, play rehearsals, soccer clinics, faculty aqua aerobics- as well as student groups engaged with others on the island or, at times, traveling internationally to programs such as MUN, Close-Up, or outdoor hiking expeditions.”
Baldwin School has numerous courses where innovation and creativity are deliberately fostered. For instance, all students must take Design Cycle coursework in grades 6-10, culminating in year-long Community Service and Passion, or Personal, Projects. Baldwin employs robotics, circuit design, block programming, CAD, and other technologies and methods in this coursework. Students currently use a variety of programs, laser cutters, 3D printers, hand tools, etc., to advance their ideation and prototyping, and the new C.R.I.B. will help match the physical spaces with the learning already underway. Mr. MacGilpin shares, “We see problem-solving happening backstage to build a set or work microphones, we see it in the reactions to too much plastic in our foods, we see it in engineering a music app for others to rate and share musical tastes.”
Equally important to the materials, pedagogy, and spaces are the people who create the environment for creation and iteration. Mr. MacGilpin explains, “Our teachers inspire and encourage students to take risks with their learning and to find creative solutions to problems. See something you believe needs fixing? How will you go about it? How will you test if your idea is better? Students will make appointments with key leaders to propose ideas, send and collect survey data from their peers for taking action, call community members to ask what they need, and at certain points during their years, present their findings to larger groups. These actions promote and instill a sense of agency, leading to students wanting to create and contribute more. We believe this inevitably leads to an innovative mindset.”
Many of Baldwin’s students create smaller groups, often using learning from their classes, and extend themselves beyond the curriculum and requirements at the school. They enter local and global competitions, such as the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, AMC8 Math competitions, UPenn’s Global High School Investment Competition, and the Horn Entrepreneur Diamond Challenge. In the past three years, Baldwin School has had over 30 U.S. Presidential Scholar nominees, multiple National Semi-Finalists and Finalists, and earned significant scholarships and aid for universities of their choice. Students compete internationally through Model UN, share their community projects with local leaders, and lead student-organized events in Puerto Rico, such as the Fridays for Future and the National Honor Society’s Next Generation experience.
A Modern Space in the Middle of Nature
Approximately a third of Baldwin School’s entire campus is a dedicated, undeveloped forest, recognized as an official National Wildlife Federation natural habitat. It is a special gift for classes of all ages to explore, experiment, and enjoy the beauty of Puerto Rico’s lush vegetation. The campus at large is a beautiful outdoor space, offering the opportunity for facilities for team sports and family fun days and supporting a natural learning environment for young people to thrive. “Our 23-acre campus in the San Juan suburb of Bayamon combines modern learning spaces within natural surroundings. Children ages 3-6 explore, play, and create in our Oxman Early Child Center, students in grades 1-5 study in our Elementary School, and students in both the Middle Years and Diploma programs use a variety of classrooms within the Upper School buildings as well as other spaces on campus,” shares Mr. MacGilpin.
Each of the three ‘schools’ orients classrooms to face a large inner courtyard with social spaces and play-inspired structures, including a live-in tortoise named Mr. Dribbles cared for and growing alongside Baldwin students! The design of the three schools within the Baldwin campus is intentional – to create smaller communities with open field courtyards to allow similar-age students to share common spaces, events, and experiences and thrive indoors and outdoors every day. “We see each other every day as a community,” says Mr. MacGilpin.
Complementing the three schools and common courtyards are multiple centers that further support student experiences and offer opportunities for community activities. “Our Visual Performing Arts Center (VPAC) is a modern 500-seat theater, studio, with a green room, outdoor atrium, and multiple dressing rooms and is our hub for creative expression and celebration of talents and accomplishments,” shares Mr. MacGilpin. Baldwin’s Pennock Field House holds a full-size basketball and volleyball court, outside courts, and several classrooms and is a center for our interscholastic athletic program, wellness, and physical education programs; adjacent to the field house is a 25-meter competitive pool with a non-swimmer area for early years instruction.
“Our soon-to-be-built 17,000 sq. foot, two-story Center for Research and Innovation at Baldwin (C.R.I.B.) will physically and pedagogically change our campus’s landscape. Much like the word implies, the C.R.I.B. will be the space to nurture ideas and possibilities in their early stages, a place to teach students to prototype, to use interdisciplinary approaches in their learning to solve problems,” claims Mr. MacGilpin. The design and construction of the center support the established belief in research literacy and ongoing use of multimedia, computer sciences, applied sciences, and secondary/tertiary language acquisition and development. This center addresses the need for dedicated maker spaces that match our current desire to foster ideation, design thinking, prototyping, and presenting our ideas effectively to others.
The Way Forward
“Adding the C.R.I.B. as the third center on campus is critical to provide our community and for organizations outside of Baldwin with an additional environment for students to gain the skills required to succeed in today’s challenging world,” says Mr. MacGilpin. At the forefront of Baldwin’s education is the continuation and focus on the ability to think critically, visualize and implement solutions for complex problems, solve situations, and drive global advancements in the real-world sciences and technologies.
Baldwin School seeks continued professional development in becoming even more adept at engaging students in critical thinking, communication of ideas, and the ability and willingness to create. “With artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and hybrid social interactions all part of our children’s lives, our intent over the next three years must be to not only be aware but figure out how to incorporate such concepts into an already rigorous academic program,” shares Mr. MacGilpin. Baldwin will continue exploring its identity as a school, student body, and diverse family population in Puerto Rico.
“Who we are as a school, much like the community around us, is evolving, and we hope to become even more interculturally aware, really owning the place where our various cultures intersect, and truly becoming global adept by seeing local systems interconnected to challenges elsewhere,” pinpoints Mr. MacGilpin. In fact, Baldwin is a place where ideas from ‘the other’ can be shared and valued. As a school, Baldwin will integrate the local knowledge and wisdom of Puerto Rico by preparing its children to serve here or anywhere in the world.
Baldwin School is also working to partner with local and international talent. “We have a history of listening to and leading workshops and summer institutes on forward thinking in education, and using the centers such as the VPAC and Innovation Center, our continued goal will be to train program leaders and educators in foundational pedagogy and the studio concept, to advance design thinking at Baldwin and the larger Puerto Rico sphere. And have a ton of fun doing so,” concludes Mr. MacGilpin.
For More Info: https://www.baldwin-school.org/
About Greg MacGilpin, Jr., Head of School
Greg MacGilpin, Jr., a dedicated educator and leader at excellent K-12 co-ed schools in the United States, Puerto Rico, Lebanon, and Costa Rica, has focused his entire career on building learning communities for the benefit of students, faculty, staff, and school families. In 2023, Mr. MacGilpin completed his 30th year in independent school education, inspiring students through creating programs and constructing new spaces—all while fostering collaborative, experiential, international, and technology-rich learning to address the challenges of providing a balanced education in the 21st century.
Mr. MacGilpin, Hobart College, B.A. 1993 and Columbia University M.Ed. 2000, started his career as a kindergarten teacher, learning from the beginning that children learn when they are engaged and when we, as adults in their lives, meet them where they are. From the classroom to leading a school, Mr. MacGilpin’s goal is to instill confidence in all of the school’s constituencies, encourage us to take risks, and leap far and often. He seeks to shape school cultures for students to actively participate in their learning while discovering the rewards and satisfaction of hard work.