Dwight Open World School Director, Jaya Bhavnani, Brings the IB Mission Online

Dwight has long been ahead of the curve in introducing innovative programs, so it's no wonder that Dwight was among the first international schools to introduce IB courses online. Heading up this exciting initiative is Jaya Bhavnani, who first came to Dwight in 2010 to teach mathematics.

Dwight has long been ahead of the curve in introducing innovative programs, so it's no wonder that Dwight was among the first international schools to introduce IB courses online. Heading up this exciting initiative is Jaya Bhavnani, who first came to Dwight in 2010 to teach mathematics. We sat down with Ms. Bhavnani to learn about her journey from inside the classroom to the online global classroom.

A Google search brought you to Dwight originally. Can you tell us about that?

I was teaching math and physics at an IB school in Santiago, Chile, and planning to visit my daughter in Syracuse during break. Knowing that I was going to have a very long layover in New York City ― and ever-curious about IB education ― I googled IB schools here and two came up: Dwight and UNIS. I wrote to both to see if I could arrange for a campus visit, but it was the summertime and only Dwight responded. I met Chancellor Spahn and coincidentally, there was an opening in the Math Department. Long story short, I joined Dwight and couldn't be happier!

What drew you to teaching?

Growing up, I always wanted to be a scientist. I loved physics and math ... and Einstein and Newton.

I went to Bombay University and graduated with a BA in Science and a Master's degree in Mathematics. When I graduated, I needed to work and found a teaching position where I had gone to high school. When I entered the ninth grade chemistry classroom for the first time, I loved it right away. I found working with children to be inspiring and I never looked back. I thought I had been a fool to want to be a scientist!

I earned another graduate degree in education and when my husband, an engineer, was relocated for work, we moved to the Sultanate of Oman for five years, where I taught the Indian curriculum at the Indian Central School in Muscat. We relocated again to Dubai, where I taught the British curriculum in the Dubai GEMS School for seven years. I really enjoyed living in Dubai, which is close to India, enabling us to visit family easily. From there, we moved to Chile for another seven years. It was at Santiago College, where I taught the third curriculum ― the IB. I found it to be the very best of all three and wanted to learn more, which led me to google IB schools in New York and ... you know the rest!

What do you like about the IB?

The IB curriculum is inquiry-based and promotes the development of peaceful, innovative, and creative people, which is what we need in today's world. I am passionate about the IB mission, Learner Profile, and dedication to providing a holistic, international education to empower tomorrow's leaders. The IB doesn't just "talk the talk," it "walks the walk" by putting principles into action in the classroom. At Dwight, we all live and breathe the mission. And because Dwight is an international community, the IB comes alive in so many additional interesting and innovative ways.

As a fan of the IB and part of the IB Educators Network, I have also led IB workshops, serve as a moderator and examiner for the IB, and as a site visitor and consultant to schools seeking IB authorization.

When the opportunity to bring the IB to life online came along, what did you envision?

It was such an exciting prospect not just for me but also for Dwight! Dwight was selected by the IB as one of six original schools worldwide to pilot online courses and it was a game-changing moment. We were building it from the ground up, but of course, our program was rooted in Dwight's long-standing expertise and we could draw on our collective experiences in the classroom to bring the best teaching to students without access to an IB education through our Open World School. We envisioned a Dwight campus without borders.

How has Dwight's online program grown?

We started with 12 courses and just a handful of students in 2014 and have grown to 17 IB courses plus 13 AP courses and 80 students all over the world. Students pursue online courses for a variety of reasons: They might be homeschooled or seeking flexibility in their schedule to pursue their passions at a high level, such as athletes and performers. Or they may want to add challenging coursework to their high school transcripts or, like some Dwight students, they may wish to take advanced classes over the summer.

Currently, we have 20 online students in the ICL Academy for Film and Performing Arts in LA; several of whom flew to New York last week to participate in our global concert at Carnegie Hall. So did four students who are studying at the nation's top ballet schools and taking their high school classes online with us. It was wonderful to see their amazing talents shine on stage. Of course, I know them as students, but to discover them as gifted filmmakers and performers was thrilling!

In addition, some of Hollywood's brightest young actors are Dwight online students, including: Yara Shahidi of the ABC hit series "Black-ish," and winner of an NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress and recipient of a Young Women's Leadership Network award; and Disney star of "Girl Meets World" Rowan Blanchard. We also have students who want to be professional athletes, training and competing in sports ranging from tennis and basketball to hockey and ice skating. More and more students will be joining us each year.

What makes Dwight's Open World School innovative and unique?

Many of the same things that make Dwight School innovative and unique. First and foremost, it is student-centered. We offer students the choice to take online classes alone or to pursue a blended learning experience in which they spend some time on campus doing lab work, meeting with teachers, and participating in activities. Either way, they become part of the Dwight community, receive college counseling, and benefit from the same personalization that we provide to students in the classroom. We pride ourselves on our flexibility and aim to provide the most personalized online private school education available.

Dwight has a long tradition of academic excellence and now we offer those attracted to learning through technology an engaging and rigorous educational experience. We use the latest learning platform, will be adding new courses, and look forward to our first graduation ceremony this summer!

I have to thank my team for the success of the program and, of course, thank Dwight's senior leadership for making me part of their vision of a global virtual classroom. It has been a highly rewarding experience to see how successful and happy our teachers and students are!

What is your spark of genius?

It is finding solutions to complex problems with a positive attitude. I really enjoy tackling challenges and problem-solving. For two years, in addition to teaching and before I devoted my time to the Open World School full-time, I was the Director of Scheduling for Dwight, which entails moving countless pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle around to fit every student's needs and within the teaching spaces we have available on campus. The most challenging of all was scheduling classes for students who, for example, wanted to take all three IB science courses with labs or three languages at the same time. We never said no to a family and always found a way to make it work. I do the same for our online students.

What is a little-known fact about you?

I am a passionate Bollywood fan! I love Indian music, and the Bollywood film industry just so happens to be based in my hometown. No matter where in the world I go, I always stay true to my roots.

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