Teaching with love: Meet ISN Nice director, Mel Curtis
Updated: Oct 13, 2021
The International School of Nice has a director who is strengthening and nurturing the love of learning -- and students are flourishing.
The French Riviera is a very international region and there are many options for international and bi-lingual schools. But one school, ISN Nice, is setting itself apart from the pack.
The anglophone pre-K through grade 12 IB school is in the midst of an exciting remodel and expansion. The director, Mel Curtis, is bringing her warm and focused leadership to the student body with a commitment to accompanying students on the path of life -to become life ready graduates.
Originally from the UK, Mel Curtis is a force within the international schooling realm. She brings a no-nonsense, warm, and heartfelt leadership to ISN, putting a great deal of focus on personal development in both the students and the staff. With experience as a Principal, Executive Principal and Chief Academic Officer at some of the world’s top outstanding schools in the US, Switzerland, and Dubai, she is highly sought after for her ability to bring together staff, students and parents in a mutually respectful environment that greatly improves academic and career excellence. She encourages all to participate and develop the school together, creating a safe place for risk-taking and encourages an entrepreneurial spirit.
Riviera Insider spoke with the warm-hearted director in her office with floor to ceiling windows as students happily wave hello to their Principal upon returning from lunch. Mel has been at the helm of ISN since November 2020 and already the students adore her.
“Academics are non-negotiable and getting results the right way is so important,” she tells RI, “they are excellent at many schools. What makes a school extra special is the emotional and pastoral support for students, faculty and the families.” Mel explains that even the most bright, intelligent student won’t be able to hit their academic targets if they are wracked with anxiety.
Her motto of ‘teaching with love’ is what accomplishes this mutual respect and within this safe space, students blossom with confidence and teachers feel they reach their students better. The result: students thrive academically.
Challenging the classic hierarchical school system of headmasters in high offices who don’t listen to students and want teachers who obey orders, Mel keeps an open door to students and staff, welcoming comments, questions, and suggestions from all. “We don’t experience the school like the students do,” she explains. “They are our eyes and ears and can tell us when something needs to be improved.” And it doesn’t stop there--the follow through is just as important: “If a student comes to me with a problem or a suggestion, it’s my duty to carry it out, or if I can’t, to explain to them the reasons why.” Otherwise, she adds, the students will think they aren’t listened to and that would break the trust. “This is a genuine listening school--it’s not for show.”
Mel sees herself as an agent of change – and this has long-lasting effects on the students, the staff and the families at home. Her teaching philosophy states: ‘We need to model our personal love of learning if we wish to create rich learning environments and continually ask ourselves – what impact am I having on learning?’
For this, investing in her teachers and nurturing their growth is also a priority. Professional learning and development, networking events and partnership projects with other schools all contribute to engaged, positive, energetic and happy teachers, which in turn, nurtures the child’s innate love of learning. It’s a refreshing hands-on approach to running the school. “We all take care of each other, and we get great results,” says the director proudly.
Innovative social programmes
Beyond the rigorous academics of the IB diploma, ISN has innovative and exciting programmes offered as electives within the curriculum. Some of these include:
Arts Ed - A performing arts programme that teaches students to find their voice. The programme builds confidence, presence, articulation, and self-expression through drama. As part of the Globeducate ICS cluster of IB schools, ISN is teaming up with ICS London and ICS Milan for a Carnevale event and a ‘Shaping the World’ show in the summer with some of the top theatrical actors of the moment. The highlights are having West-End actors come to teach the students throughout the year.
Essentials - A life skills programme which is embedded into the curriculum and daily life of the school, Essentials goes far beyond a traditional PSHE (personal, social, health education) class. Essentials at ISN takes an innovative approach to student wellbeing and their physical and emotional health, broaching topics such as social media use, understanding mental health, first aid, financial literacy and study skills.
Changemakers - Offers a choice of specialities from creating a start-up, Model United Nations, design thinking, youth activism, coding and more, for all ISN students to explore and develop talents and abilities, and learn more about the wide range of options available to them for their futures. This encourages our students to become active, engaged and visionary Changemakers, who use learning concepts in innovative ways.
An international support system
As a member of the Globeducate group, one of the world's leading bilingual and international schools groups with more than 55 schools and online programmes in nine countries, ISN benefits from a vast and multi-cultural community. ISN students have the opportunity to work with students from other campuses on projects, visits and shared programmes. The MUN (Model United Nations)is hosted at different campuses each year, teaching students about human rights, international relations and diplomacy. There are several other programmes in art, debate and even sport with the Globeducate Olympics.
Additionally, as a member of ICS, International Community of IB Schools, ISN families can move to another area and pick up their studies without missing a beat.
For Mrs Curtis, this support system is invaluable not only for the students but also for the staff. ISN teachers can reach out to any other school, particularly those within the ICS Cluster (Milan, Rome, Paris, London, and neighbouring school ICS Côte d'Azur), to share ideas and experiences and even set-up joint projects.
The Globeducate group proved invaluable during the pandemic and confinement. Teachers received guidance to transform their teaching to an online and physical blend and families who needed to relocate and could stay within the group.
During this past year, Mel Curtis was adamant about not closing the school. The school provided outstanding online learning when needed, but the aim was to be in school learning face to face. She also updated and modernised the mental health and wellbeing programme with a pastoral team and a certified mental health counsellor to give emotional support to the students. The space for students to meet with the counsellor has been named L’Ecouterie – a safe listening space. As a result, today, while other schools are facing rampant problems with anxiety and teen burn-out, ISN students are happy, doing well on annual exams and the last graduating class all passed with top scores.
Exciting changes are in the works with a massive redesign of the school with renovations of all classrooms, new creative spaces, a ‘maker space’ studio, a radio and film studio, a partnership with a fitness centre for students, staff and community, plus a larger library, cafeteria and faculty lounge.
If you would like to see the school for yourself, visit the website to book a tour for your family: https://www.isn-nice.com/