The Long Read: Living Lives Centered Around Learning - Eileen & Victor Ferreira

With a combined total of nearly 60 years of teaching at ASH over the last three decades, staff alumni Eileen and Victor Ferreira are finally putting their feet up to embark upon life's little pleasures and surprises as they enjoy their next adventure together: retirement. This past year, both Victor and Eileen said farewell to their colleagues, classrooms and their students, with Victor retiring last year in June and Eileen in December. Their departure from ASH takes with it some key school history; being some of the few remaining staff who taught during the days when ASH was located in historic Scheveningen, scattered across no less than six different buildings. Their journey at ASH is centered around learning: learning as teachers to grow in their careers and passions; and how student learning has changed, helping their students carve their own paths through strengths and passion exploration. The ability to change and recognize their own strengths undoubtedly helped them lead such meaningful teaching careers, impacting the lives of thousands of students during their time at ASH.

Let's rewind to 1980, when Victor (Vic) and Eileen were newly married, looking pointendly for adventures and new challenges. Even then, their teaching careers had seen them take posts in Ecuador and Egypt, where they uncovered their strengths in teaching abroad. While in Egypt, an opportunity presented itself to move to the Netherlands and teach at ASH, from then Director Dr. Gail Schoppert. Eileen would teach third grade and Vic would embark upon developing an EAL (English as an Additional Language) program for the high school (HS). Always up for a challenge, they jumped at the chance to teach for “a few years” in The Hague. Little did they know that “a few years” would lead to an ASH adventure involving two daughters (now ASH alumni), moving campuses, positions, and of course, now retirement!

Setting into Dutch life and teaching at ASH, meaningful opportunities to grow as teaching professionals presented themselves over the years. Vic started out teaching EAL and then went on to teach English literature at the IB/HS level - in fact many alumni fondly recall his passion for language in the classroom to this day. He always found ways to teach beyond the classroom, coaching several seasons in soccer, softball, baseball, and basketball, as well as being the delegation director for THIMUN (The Hague International Model United Nations). Vic and Eileen were both dedicated to seeing their fellow colleagues succeed as well; Vic held positions on the (internal) Teaching Association (TA) and Works Council committees over the years, with Eileen heading up the TA social committee and welcoming new staff at the start of each school year. 

Arguably though, Vic's 15 year career as ASH’s IB/AP (International Baccalaureate/Advanced Placement) coordinator was the most perfect of platforms for his strength and passion for student learning to shine. His individual and caring approach with each of his students helped him find his way to this unique, exciting new role in managing the IB and AP course offerings at ASH, now a standard position amongst international schools with these curriculums. His role as coordinator helped ensure that not only our students had success in these two intense academic programs, but also that ASH as an institution was at the forefront of educational excellence in these program developments. 

Eileen’s career at ASH matches the diversity and impact of Victor’s; with her own strength of language and student learning at its core. While her teaching took her to and from traditional classroom settings over the decades, she spent the better part of her career in the roles of elementary school librarian and elementary school EAL teacher, respectively. Interestingly, both these roles drew from her own passion for language and from her strength in helping students acquire language through the joys of reading. Eileen has a gift with words, to help children find their words, and open their imaginations to the written language - something that our alumni recall fondly when thinking back to their younger ASH years. 

Eileen reflects, “We’ve both had fascinating and fulfilling experiences as teachers at ASH. Since beginning our overseas careers in 1980, international teaching has allowed for abundant opportunities to meet new colleagues, students and families from all over the world. We were able to travel extensively during sports trips, conferences and for pleasure. Out of all of our posts, the Netherlands holds a special place in our hearts as our daughters Abriel and Rose were both born in Voorburg. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have had Dutch neighbors and friends who welcomed us to their country with open arms and made our lives so very rich over the years!”

Meaningful Learning and Teaching Experiences
Looking back over their journey and ASH experience, we asked Eileen and Victor to share some stand out memories of meaningful teaching and learning experiences. With a combined total of 60 years at ASH, they managed to narrow down a few moments to share with us below: 

Eileen recalls: "It was great fun having the opportunities and resources to invite award-winning storytellers, authors and illustrators throughout the years. Observing student engagement and enthusiasm during these sessions was joyful and everyone involved learned so much from these talented tellers of tales! A favorite was inviting Dick Bruna, author of the Nijntje/Miffy series. While giving him a tour of the school, he shared the struggles of getting his books accepted in certain countries, as they were considered 'too simplistic'. He explained in depth to the older students how influenced he was by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and that eventually, as his books gained huge appeal in the Netherlands, it wasn't long before he became a worldwide success. Students were impressed by his resilience and exceptional determination. 

Another memorable experience was organizing a schoolwide Harry Potter evening at the peak of this series’ popularity. Students, parents and staff were all involved and, as a community, dressed as our favorite characters, created the sorting hat, concocted food recipes, potions, trivia games, readings of favorite sections and devised an enormously popular Quidditch game played in the large gym! (Coaches O. Davison and V. Ferreira were instrumental in figuring out the strategies and adapting lacrosse equipment to catch the Golden Snitch!) Students did not want to leave that night and begged to do it again soon. It was a magical interdisciplinary happening of the highest order! I will always be thankful for the many local and international professional development opportunities ASH generously supported every year. They enriched my skills as an educator and as a lifelong learner. I embrace these and so many ASH memories with fondness and look to the future where memorable adventures await!"

Vic shares: "There were so many great teaching/learning moments with students and colleagues alike at ASH that it is difficult to choose the most memorable. One of the most memorable is our collaboration with Harvard's Project Zero. Jim Yarnell (current ASH music teacher), Pete Stedman (a former history teacher), and I, representing the arts, social studies and language/ culture respectively, collaborated on a field trip to the Mauritshuis in The Hague. Based on the MUSE project (Museums Uniting with Schools for Education), we combined classes and had students experiment engagement with the iconic 17th century Dutch art on display. Student groups each discussed different "entry points" ranging from the feeling of colors on the canvas to the story each painting told. Discussions and debates took place among the students at a level I had rarely seen. Outside of structuring the activity, we, as teachers, had very little to do with all the learning that went on! 

The other 'most memorable' experience was a collaboration with our drama department. Dick Freedberg, drama teacher at the time, and I engaged in a student-centered project using Harold Pinter's short play Mountain Language. The student's first studied the play in English, then translated the play into their own languages engaging in all the difficulties inherent in such a task. We then had the students explore the interpretations and how this all might look on the stage. What resulted was a mirrored performance in English on one side and five languages on the other. The students made decisions on the setting, the tone and the blocking. This project was later nominated for The Herman J. Jacobs Fonds Prize under the title: "Reflection on language is reflection on self" - though we did not win the big prize, we certainly won with our students and their performance.

These are just two moments over 32 years, but my career at ASH was filled with many significant and meaningful experiences both great and small. It is what ASH is all about.”

Today, as we find Vic and Eileen getting comfortable with their retirement, they are happily pursuing their passions in learning and language, strengths nurtured throughout their careers as teachers. They have a long list of projects both personal and professional that they are looking forward to completing in this new phase of their lives. Eileen looks forward to getting back to drawing and calligraphy, as well as studying Irish Literature. She has already been busy baking bread and cookies collected from old family recipes from Ireland, Nova Scotia and her Mom’s cookbook. While the bread is baking, both Vic and Eileen have finally been making a dent in the many titles in their bookcase that have been neglected for some time. Vic is working on improving his Dutch language skills with the goal of taking a few classes and attempting to read the Dutch literary canon. He has also been enjoying the challenge of learning sign language.

While on paper they are “retired”, the ambitions of these two self-professed lifelong learners will most certainly prove to continuously bring them moments of joy and adventure, as they put their strengths for learning and growing at the center stage of their lives. The ASH community, in Wassenaar, the Netherlands and across the globe, wishes them well as they explore a busy retirement life together! 



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