As a young boy attending Catholic school in Pasto, Colombia, Paulo Cesar Arango, now a 4-5s teacher at Manhattan Country School, loved to learn. He enjoyed studying the languages and cultures of different countries and developed a particular fondness for the United States.
“I found out that America has such a big impact on the world...and that trickles down to the culture and the music and all the things that everyone does on a regular basis,” says Paulo. “I felt a deep connection to this land…. I wanted to be a part of the American living.”
When Paulo was presented with the opportunity to participate in a U.S.-based YMCA program for students from Colombia’s marginalized regions, he jumped at the chance. In 2005, he began working at Camp Sloane, a summer camp nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains in Lakeville, Connecticut. From the moment he left Colombia, Paulo knew he wanted to make the United States his permanent home.
But it would be several years before he would be able to make that dream a reality. After a couple of years at Camp Sloane, Paulo moved to New Orleans to work as a Spanish teacher in the undergraduate labs of Tulane and Dillard universities, a position that allowed him to draw on his multilingual abilities. The next year he enrolled in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College. It was during this time that Paulo was introduced to MCS. He began working at the school, first as an intern for 6-7s teacher Laura Swindler and 8-9s teacher Debbie Weiss. The following year he became Laura’s assistant and then he worked with Aimee Ostensen in the 7-8s.
“During that time, I started to see Paulo’s potential as a classroom teacher,” says Cynthia Rogers, MCS’ director of high school placement, who has years of experience as a classroom teacher herself. “I began to mentor him regarding what would be a good age range for him to work with…. When an opening came for an assistant in the 4-5s, I thought this would be an ideal spot for Paulo.”
The 4-5s were indeed a good fit and this year, after three years of working as an assistant with Sarah, Paulo began his first year as a head teacher, leading one of MCS’ two 4-5s classes.
Shortly after arriving at MCS Paulo decided to pursue the steps necessary to become a U.S. citizen. First he needed to secure an H1B visa. MCS Director Michèle Solá served as his sponsor. She enlisted Cynthia to help coordinate the paperwork needed for the temporary work visa. After three years, Paulo was eligible to apply for a green card. Michèle signed on as a sponsor of this effort and again called on Cynthia to help.
“Paulo came highly recommended from Sara Wilford at Sarah Lawrence,” says Michèle. “...His interest in art and gifts for working with very young children on building a pluralistic community were evident from the beginning…. The decision to support his pathway to United States citizenship became an investment in the school’s future, knowing that MCS was on a path to double the classes in the Lower School.”
Paulo describes the green card process as challenging and complicated, but one that was well worth the effort. On October 21, 2016, he received an email from his lawyer, Dominic Kong, informing him that he had received his green card.
“It was an emotional moment for me,” Paulo explains, proudly showing the email he still has on his cell phone. “I want to thank all my mentors from the bottom of my heart—Laura, Aimee, Debbie, Sarah, Mary, Michèle, Cynthia—and the [MCS] community that has been so supportive.”
With one milestone reached, Paulo is already looking forward to applying for citizenship, a process he will be eligible to start in four years. Until then, he plans to continue in his position as a 4-5s head teacher at MCS. It’s a role he sees as so much more than introducing children to school and teaching them how to be a student. “My job is also introducing new families to the MCS culture and the philosophy,” he says. “We’re giving them the foundation to go through all their years at MCS.”