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Executive Q&A: Daniela Sarbu on the Vision and Impact of Waldo International School

Daniela Sarbu is a dedicated educational leader, whose profound personal journey inspired the establishment of Waldo International School. With a background rich in both personal experiences and academic credentials, Daniela brings a unique perspective to the world of education. Her initial encounters with the educational systems in Romania and later shifts in her academic pursuits have deeply influenced her approach to education, emphasizing understanding over rote learning. Daniela's vision for Waldo International School stems from a deeply rooted belief that education should be transformative, not transactional.

Under Daniela's leadership, Waldo International School has become a beacon for progressive education, where the focus is on nurturing not just academic abilities but also critical thinking and personal growth. Daniela’s strategies include individualized learning plans, smaller class sizes, and an integration of International Baccalaureate programs, each designed to foster a holistic development of students. As a visionary, Daniela is not only looking to educate but to inspire students to be curious, engaged, and thoughtful individuals.

In an exclusive interview, Daniela shares the inspirational story behind Waldo International School, its distinctive educational approach, and her aspirations for its future. Join us as she elaborates on how the school’s commitment to understanding, critical thinking, and personalized education sets it apart, making it an ideal environment for fostering the leaders of tomorrow.

Q: Can you share the story behind the founding of Waldo International School and what inspired you to start this educational journey?


The story behind the founding of Waldo International School is deeply personal and rooted in my own experiences and values. It all began with the birth of my first son when I encountered the challenge of finding a school that truly resonated with what I envisioned for his education. Despite various options in the area, none quite captured the essence of the educational journey I had experienced in Romania.


My own educational background in Romania played a significant role in shaping my vision for Waldo International School. I firmly believe that education is the most powerful tool we can give to our children. It's not just about imparting knowledge but about fostering understanding and critical thinking. This belief was ignited during my high school years when I faced a pivotal moment that redirected my educational path.


As I prepared for medical school, a humiliating experience in a math class altered my perspective. I found myself embarrassed by a teacher's insistence on memorization rather than understanding the concepts. It was a moment of realization that rote memorization wasn't the path to true learning. I vowed never to allow such an experience to hinder my education again.


Driven by this conviction, I sought out a college that prioritized comprehension over memorization. With determination, I gained admission to the Academy of Economic Studies, which required a thorough understanding of mathematics rather than mere memorization.


This journey, marked by both challenges and epiphanies, laid the foundation for Waldo International School. It's a place where we prioritize understanding over rote memorization, where we empower students to engage critically with the material and cultivate a lifelong love for learning.


In essence, Waldo International School was born out of a desire to create an educational environment where every child can thrive, where learning is not confined to the classroom but extends to a deeper understanding of the world around us.


Q: How does Waldo School's individualized learning approach differ from other educational models, and why do you believe it is important for student development?


Waldo School's individualized learning approach stands out from traditional educational models in several key ways, emphasizing personalized growth and holistic development. Our School customizes learning plans to meet each student's unique needs, interests and learning styles. There is no one size fits all in Waldo School. With this personalized approach we ensure that students are challenged at their appropriate level and they create a strong educational foundation. Students are encouraged to delve deeply into the subjects, develop a through understanding, and apply their knowledge in real world contexts without the need to purely memorize concepts.

Beyond academic achievement, Waldo School is committed to nurturing the whole child – intellectually, emotionally, and socially. Through a variety of enrichment activities, extracurricular programs, and community engagement initiatives, students develop essential life skills, resilience, and a sense of purpose.


I believe that this individualized learning approach is crucial for student development because it recognizes and honors the unique strengths, interests, and learning styles of each student. By providing a supportive and flexible environment where students can pursue their passions, overcome challenges, and take ownership of their learning, Waldo School empowers them to reach their full potential and become lifelong learners and critical thinkers. This personalized approach not only fosters academic success but also cultivates self-confidence, independence, and a love for learning that extends far beyond the classroom.


Q: With a focus on small class sizes and critical research skills, how does Waldo School ensure that each student receives the attention they need to thrive academically?


At Waldo International School education is not one size fits all. Our commitment to small class sizes and the development of critical research skills is central to ensuring that each student receives the personalized attention they need to excel academically and socially. At Waldo School, we recognize the importance of equipping students with the skills they need to navigate an increasingly complex and ever changing world. That's why we place a strong emphasis on developing critical research skills, including information literacy, analytical thinking, and effective communication. Through hands-on projects, inquiry-based learning experiences, and guided research assignments, students learn how to evaluate sources, analyze data, and construct well-reasoned arguments. We aim for our students to develop into confident, independent learners prepared for success in highschool, college and beyond.


Q: Can you elaborate on the significance of the International Baccalaureate programs at Waldo School and how they contribute to a student's holistic development?


The International Baccalaureate (IB) programs offered at Waldo School play a significant role in fostering holistic development among students. The IB programs at Waldo School expose students to a diverse range of cultures, perspectives, and global issues. Through an internationally-focused curriculum, students develop an appreciation for cultural diversity, intercultural understanding, and global citizenship. This exposure helps students develop empathy, respect, and a sense of responsibility towards others, contributing to their holistic development as compassionate and culturally-aware individuals.


The IB curriculum is renowned for its academic rigor, challenging students to think critically, analyze complex problems, and engage in inquiry-based learning. By encouraging students to explore connections across disciplines and apply their knowledge in real-world contexts, the IB programs at Waldo School promote intellectual curiosity, creativity, and a deeper understanding of the world.


The IB programs at Waldo School place a strong emphasis on the holistic development of students, nurturing their social, emotional, and personal growth. Through activities such as community service, leadership opportunities, and reflection exercises, students develop self-awareness, resilience, and a sense of purpose. The IB learner profile, which encompasses attributes such as being caring, reflective, and principled, guides students in becoming well-rounded individuals who are equipped to navigate the complexities of the modern world.


The IB program contributes to a student's holistic development by fostering global awareness, academic excellence, essential skills, personal growth, and preparation for higher education. Through a comprehensive and rigorous curriculum, the IB programs empower students to become principled, open-minded, and engaged learners who are prepared to make a positive impact in an increasingly interconnected world.


Q: Beyond academics, Waldo School offers a wide array of extracurricular activities. How do these clubs and sports programs contribute to the overall education and well-being of students?


Extracurricular activities at Waldo School play a crucial role in enriching students' educational experiences and promoting their overall well-being. By offering a diverse range of clubs and sports programs, Waldo School provides students with opportunities to develop essential skills, cultivate interests, build relationships, and foster personal growth, ultimately preparing them for success in all aspects of life. Extracurricular activities provide students with opportunities to develop skills and interests beyond the academic realm. Whether participating in sports (swim in our indoor swimming pool, cheerleading, soccer, basketball, tennis, golf etc), arts, music, public speaking, theater, or chess clubs, students gain valuable experiences that contribute to their holistic development. These activities foster creativity, leadership, teamwork, and resilience and create friendships, build empathy and learn to work effectively in diverse teams.By encouraging a healthy balance between academic and extracurricular pursuits, Waldo School supports students' overall well-being and helps them thrive both inside and outside the classroom.


Q: The swimming club, facilitated by an on-site saltwater pool, is quite unique. How has this feature been received by the students and parents, and what benefits have you observed?


The on-site saltwater system pool and the accompanying swimming club at Waldo School have been met with tremendous enthusiasm from both students and parents alike.Being the only private school in Jersey City to offer such an amenity, parents view it as a significant advantage. The convenience of having swim classes held within the school premises eliminates the need for additional travel and scheduling logistics, making it easier for families to incorporate swimming into their children's education.This accessibility ensures that more students can benefit from swimming instruction and enjoy the associated health and wellness benefits.

Q: Looking ahead to 2024, what are the key areas of growth and innovation for Waldo School, especially regarding the expansion of the middle school and sports facilities?


As we look ahead to 2024, Waldo School is focused on several key areas of growth and innovation, particularly in expanding the middle school and enhancing our sports facilities. We are looking to growing our school into a much bigger location to host upper elementary and middle school. In addition we are in the process of getting accredited for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme which starts at 6th grade. We have already received the accreditation for the Primary Years Programme since 2016. This program serves ages 3 years old to 5th grade inclusive.


Regarding sports, this year we plan to introduce basketball and volleyball teams - Waldo Owls to start competing in local and regional competitions. In addition we already started preparing for our Waldo Fencing team.


Strengthening our ties with the local community and fostering meaningful partnerships with organizations and stakeholders is a key priority for Waldo School. We envision collaborative initiatives that promote civic engagement, cultural exchange, and service learning opportunities for students, enriching their educational experience and instilling a sense of social responsibility and global citizenship.


Investing in the professional development of our faculty and staff is essential to maintaining the highest standards of excellence in education at Waldo School. We are committed to providing ongoing training, mentorship, and support to empower educators to innovate, collaborate, and continuously improve their teaching practices. By fostering a culture of professional growth and learning, we ensure that our dedicated team remains at the forefront of educational innovation and best practices.


Q: With the ethical integration of Artificial Intelligence into the curriculum, what are your goals for incorporating AI, and how do you envision it enhancing the learning experience for students?


Incorporating Artificial Intelligence into the curriculum at Waldo School represents a significant opportunity to enhance the learning experience for students and staff alike, while also ensuring ethical and responsible use of technology.


One of our primary goals is to promote digital literacy among students and staff. By integrating AI into the curriculum, we aim to equip students with the knowledge and skills they need to navigate an increasingly technology-driven world. This includes understanding the capabilities and limitations of AI, as well as developing critical thinking skills to evaluate and analyze AI-generated content. As we integrate AI into the curriculum, we are committed to ensuring ethical and responsible use of this technology. We have implemented stringent rules and policies to govern the use of AI in the classroom.

AI has the potential to personalize the learning experience for each student based on their individual needs, preferences, and learning styles. By leveraging AI-powered adaptive learning platforms and educational tools, we can tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of every student, providing targeted support and enrichment opportunities as needed.


AI can help educators collect and analyze data more effectively, enabling them to make data-driven decisions to improve teaching and learning outcomes. By leveraging AI analytics tools, educators can gain insights into student performance, identify areas for improvement, and adjust instruction accordingly. This data-driven approach empowers educators to better support student learning and success.


Q: The culturally rich student body and language programs are integral to the Waldo School. How do these elements foster a global perspective among students, and why is this important for their future?


The culturally rich student body and language programs at Waldo School play a pivotal role in fostering a global perspective among students, contributing to their personal growth and preparing them for success in an interconnected world.

Waldo School's culturally rich student body exposes students to a diverse range of backgrounds, traditions, and perspectives. Interacting with peers from different cultural backgrounds fosters empathy, understanding, and appreciation for cultural diversity. By celebrating cultural differences and promoting inclusivity, students develop a broader worldview and learn to navigate diverse environments with respect and sensitivity.


The language programs at Waldo School provide students with the opportunity to learn and communicate in multiple languages. We offer Spanish as part of our curriculum and in addition there are different language clubs offered after school. Some of the languages are French, Italian, Mandarin, Hindi, Russian.


By embracing cultural diversity, promoting language acquisition, raising global awareness, and instilling values of peace and understanding, Waldo School empowers students to become compassionate, informed, and engaged global citizens poised to make a positive impact on the world.


Q: As Waldo International School continues to grow and evolve, what are your long-term aspirations for the school, and how do you plan to continue meeting the needs of your diverse student body?


As Waldo International School continues to grow and evolve, our long-term aspirations are centered around creating a dynamic and inclusive educational community that nurtures the academic, social, and emotional development of every student.


Our foremost aspiration is to maintain a commitment to academic excellence while providing a supportive and nurturing environment for all students. We aim to continuously elevate the quality of education at Waldo International School by implementing innovative teaching methods, incorporating cutting-edge technology, and offering a diverse range of academic programs and extracurricular activities.


Our long-term aspiration is to continue offering personalized learning experiences that meet the individual needs, interests, and strengths of every student. By tailoring instruction, providing differentiated support, and offering opportunities for self-directed learning, we strive to empower students to reach their full potential and pursue their passions.


We aspire to build a strong school community where every student feels valued, supported, and connected. Through collaborative partnerships with families, educators, and community organizations, we aim to create a culture of belonging and mutual respect that fosters student success and well-being.


By staying true to these aspirations and continuously striving for excellence, we are confident that we can fulfill our mission of empowering students to become lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and compassionate global citizens.


Q: For prospective parents and students considering Waldo School, what message do you want to convey about the value and experience of joining the Waldo School community?


At Waldo School, education transcends textbooks; it's about fostering critical thinking, creativity, and character development. Through personalized learning and a spectrum of extracurricular activities, students embark on a holistic journey, preparing them not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well.


With a faculty dedicated to guiding, inspiring, and challenging students, Waldo School cultivates a safe and supportive environment. Here, students are empowered to explore, innovate, and excel, laying the foundation for success in their future endeavors.


Joining the Waldo School community means becoming part of a vibrant and supportive community that values excellence, integrity, and collaboration. We invite you to experience the transformative power of a Waldo School education and join us in shaping the future leaders, innovators, and global citizens of tomorrow.


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