Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has a corporate culture that emphasizes giving back, and some 1,600 graduates of its Colégio Embraer Juarez Wanderley, in São Jose dos Campos, are evidence that the industry–and the company–benefit from the effort. With that in mind, the company is opening its second school, in Botucatu.
The first class of the original school, better known as simply the colégio, was accepted in 2001, and three years later every student in that class graduated, with grades that entitled them to free tuition in the country’s prestigious, state-run university system. According to school superintendent Pedro Ferraz, 80 percent of those graduating do go on to attend one of those universities.
Including that first class in 2004, the school can boast a 100-percent graduation rate, impressive in a country where the public school system has a dropout rate hovering in the 50-percent range.
Last year, Embraer itself saw the dreams of its students transformed into reality as 12 of those earliest graduates who went on to receive degrees in engineering returned and were hired by the company.
“We didn’t hire them because they were graduates of colégio Embraer,” said Ferraz. “Just as they had to compete to get into the school, they had to compete for their positions at Embraer. They were that good.”
Every year, the school selects a new class of 200 from among as many as 4,000 applicants. They must come from the public school system; reside in the São Jose dos Campos region; write an essay; and score well on exams that include Portuguese, math, science and social studies.
Those who are selected attend the school on full scholarship, which includes meals, uniforms, books and transportation to and from the school. They will attend school 10 months a year, six days a week from 7:30 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (seven classes), taught and encouraged by a staff that includes 33 teachers.
It is rare for a student to drop out, said Ferraz, but those who do so in their first or second year are quickly replaced by other students from the candidate list. He noted that since the school opened its doors, fewer than 10 students have dropped out.
The class size varies from time to time as Brazilian law ensures that the children of teachers are allowed to study in the school where their parents work.
The first year, said Ferraz, is more attuned to orientation and general studies, while the last two include special focus on university preparatory learning. During those last two years, students will also visit local businesses, from hospitals to engineering firms, and an emphasis is placed on laboratory work in science, computer science and math. “The curriculum places an emphasis on the link between learning and real life,” he explained.
The cost of the program is not insignificant and is borne entirely by Embraer. At $700 per student per month, times 600 students, times 10 months, that comes to about $4.2 million, amortized over the 12-month year, including teacher and staff salaries and overhead costs.
Taking the commitment further, Embraer is currently investing $2.5 million in a second school–Colégio Embraer Casimiro Montenegro Filho–in the town of Botucatu, about 125 miles northwest of São Paulo and approximately 175 miles from São Jose dos Campos. The first class, said Ferraz, is expected to enter the school in February.
Both schools are named for men whose careers were closely associated with a love of and belief in the benefits of education. The late Juarez Wanderley was an engineer and defender of education- and training-based initiatives for employees throughout the 24 years of his professional life at Embraer.
Casimiro Montenegro Filho, who died in 1999, was a Brazilian Maechal-do-ar (air marshal) in the Brazilian Air Force. While a lieutenant colonel, he proposed creation of the Instituto Technológico de Aeronáutica (Aeronautical Technology Institute) and the Centro Técnico de Aeronáutica (Aeronautics Technical Center).
“Both men believed seriously in education,” said Ferraz. “And Embraer is convinced these schools will transform the lives of the children who attend them, as well as the lives of the teachers, administrators and everyone who comes in contact with them.
“These schools and everyone who studies and teaches in them also represent Embraer’s corporate attitude toward social responsibility,” he added.