UCLA School Principals Honored at International School on Mind, Brain and Education

Leyda Garcia of UCLA Community School and Georgia Lazo of UCLA Lab School awarded MBE Erice Prize for humanistic and innovative education of immigrant and refugee children.

Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Georgia Lazo, Ph.D., principal, UCLA Lab School, and Leyda Garcia (’07, Principal Leadership Institute), principal, UCLA Community School, attended the International School on Mind, Brain and Education, Oct. 16-20, at the Ettore Majorana Foundation and Centre for Scientific Culture, in Erice, Sicily. Garcia and Lazo, along with Carlina Rinaldi, head of Fondazione Reggio Children, were honored with the 2018 MBE Erice Prize for their innovative work as school leaders. Dean Suárez-Orozco directed this year’s course on “Migrants and Refugees in the 21st Century: Children in and Out of Schools.” Garcia, Lazo, and Suárez-Orozco joined the MBE Class of 2018, which includes 140 Nobel Laureates.

Garcia presented a talk on UCLA Community School, the University’s pilot school in the Koreatown-Pico-Union area, serves “Unaccompanied Minors: Our Most Vulnerable Newcomer Students.” Lazo, who leads the research-based UCLA Lab School on the Westwood campus, took part in a panel on “Serving Migrant and Refugee Children and Families,” and chaired a discussion on “Engaging Immigrant and Refugee Youth In and Out of Schools.”

Suárez-Orozco participated in a panel on “Mass Migrations: The New 21st Century Map,” and chaired a discussion on “The Work of Education in the Transition of Migrant and Refugee Youth.” In addition, Carola Suárez-Orozco, UCLA professor of education and psychology, spoke on “A Compassionate Perspective: Re-Imagining Migration.” Adam Strom, Adam Strom, director of Re-Imagining Migration, and Veronica Box-Mansilla, research director, Re-Imagining Migration, also presented their work at MBE.

Suárez-Orozco was invited to direct this year’s course by MBE founder, Antonio Battro, whom Suárez-Orozco met through his involvement and membership in the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. The Wasserman Dean notes the Vatican’s prioritizing of issues surrounding global mass migration and forceful displacement, and the impact of approaching these challenges through an interdisciplinary lens.

“What’s unique about this encounter is that we had humanists, practitioners, social scientists, and brain scientists all coming together around the crisis the world is witnessing on the forceful displacement of people,” says Suárez-Orozco. “Of course, children are our biggest responsibility.”

Lazo says that her MBE experience was, “not only a tremendous honor but it was very exciting and inspiring to be amidst an interdisciplinary team talking about not only the data around refugee and migrant children but from a practitioner’s standpoint, learning about what it is that we can do as leaders at the ground level to support all our children. We had some very interesting talks about the ethics behind approaching all of our children from a humanistic perspective, including all of our children in our schools, regardless of their backgrounds.”

Suárez-Orozco says that the “extraordinary alignment” among the diverse cadre of scholars, practitioners, and scientists was a hallmark of MBE, and presented the potential for solutions to the worldwide concerns around the children and youth of migration and their education.

“With humility and with an open mind, we can begin to learn from one another,” he says. “When you do basic research, you are ‘once removed’ from many of the issues and the implications of the research to the practice. I think what Erice showed was the extraordinary synergies that can be created. Professor Battro and others were so moved by the presentations of Georgia, Leyda, and Carlina Rinaldi. To receive the 2018 MBE Award for their contributions to the issues addressed in the course – immigration, refugees, and the education of children – is really an amazing tribute to the work all of our principals are doing.

“For the first time in history, half of all forcefully displaced [persons] are children and youth.  Without Georgia, Leyda, and Carla at the table, we’re not going to move the needle; not going to improve the practices of engaging with children, who through no fault of their own, find themselves often in extraordinarily stressful [circumstances].”

Lazo says that MBE revealed more commonalties than differences among the world’s nations in working with refugee and migrant children and youth.

“One of the challenges that seems to come up [often] is how to approach teaching students when they’re learning a second language,” she says. “Another common challenge is attitudes about refugee and migrant youth. Sometimes, there is hesitance and fear about children who are different. Speaking with scholars and researchers helped me to understand that as practitioners and school leaders we have a lot of influence about how we are going to lead our respective teams and school staff to approach the work with migrant and refugee children.”

Suárez-Orozco says that there are still unique challenges and solutions to be found around the globe.

“Germany probably has one of the best systems in the world to get – especially older – immigrant and refugee youth into a pathway to well-paying jobs in the trades,” he says. “Some other countries are struggling with these issues. We found in many countries that it is really civil society that is stepping up and is delivering existential relief for populations that are facing really terrible odds. There was a very interesting presentation from the Interamerican Development Bank showing the role of civil society in Brazil, in easing the transition and delivering basic services. We learned about very heroic efforts in countries like Turkey and Lebanon, who are absorbing the brunt of the massive exodus from the Middle East and Africa today.

“If you’re a refugee child in Sweden, or a refugee child from Honduras in the Pico-Union [area of Los Angeles], very different trajectories, very different experiences. We learned a lot and we have a clearer sense of how much work remains to be done.”

Lazo says that conversations with Rinaldi, who leads Reggio Children, reinforced the solid connections between research and practice at UCLA Lab School.

“We have always taken the humanistic approach to teaching and learning,” she says. “I was reminded and inspired that this is not something that we do because it’s easy, but because there is an ethical demand for us to do this as [school] leaders.”

Featured speakers at MBE included Teoni Stathopoulu, National Centre for Social Research, Athens, Greece; Theresa Betancourt, Boston College; Marcelo A. Pérez Alfaro, Interamerican Development Bank; Markus Heide, Uppsala University; and Hideaki Koizumi, Engineering Academy, Japan.and Francesca Borgovoni, OECD, France.

For the statement, “Mass Migrations: A Planetary Emergency” from this year’s International School on Mind, Brain and Education, click here.

For a full program of this year’s International School on Mind, Brain and Education, click here.



Above: Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco directed a course on “Migrants and Refugees in the 21st Century: Children in and Out of Schools,” at the 13th annual International School on Mind, Brain and Education in Sicily last month. UCLA alumnae Garcia and Lazo were recognized with the 2018 MBE Erice Prize along with Carlina Rinaldi, founder of Reggio Children, for their innovative work in serving immigrant and refugee children and youth. 

L-R: Leyda Garcia, principal, UCLA Community School; Georgia Lazo, principal, UCLA Community School; Rinaldi, and Suárez-Orozco. 

Courtesy of Marcelo Suárez-Orozco