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  • Writer's pictureTatiana Chen

Farewell to Our Gribulous and Grobulous Head of School Ms.Catarina!

After devoting over 15 years to EABH, most recently as Head of School, Ms. Catarina Chen is departing to work for the United States State Department, where she will provide support to American-international schools and to U.S. Embassies/Consulates throughout the Caribbean.  She has had unwavering commitment and loyalty to EABH, all thanks to a lucky coincidence that landed her the position as head of school in the first place. Ms. Catarina was living in California, USA, and working hard as an elementary school teacher when, on a trip to Brazil, she visited the high school her husband attended. There, she was suddenly offered to substitute a teacher for the time being–and she accepted. Soon after she was promoted, and continued to receive multiple offers, climbing up to a full-time position as a teacher, PYP coordinator, Lower School principal, and, finally, Head of School. Despite being unfamiliar with Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language, she persisted and sought knowledge with unwavering curiosity throughout her years, leaving her mark in both the school and the broader Belo Horizonte community as an impactful educator and administrator who bridged the gap between Brazilian and American education. 

Ms. Catarina herself is an international citizen, like every member of the EABH community. Born in Seoul, South Korea; raised in Assunción, Paraguay; and residing and teaching in Los Angeles, California, she then made a big leap of faith to move to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. She has fiercely grasped all those aspects of herself to make EABH a home to over 20 nationalities represented by children who aspire to pursue a global education. Under her leadership, the school gained authorization from the College Board and the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) to be an official AP and IB-certified school. She also assisted in obtaining accreditation standards according to protocols of the AdvanceED and the Brazilian National Ministry of Education. All of these titles effectively certified the international education and dual diploma programs at EABH. 

In her long-standing mission to enhance all students’ education, whether abroad or locally, Ms. Catarina has pursued an extensive and impressive background herself. She holds a bachelor's degree from the University of California Los Angeles, a Master’s degree in administration from Pepperdine University, a Teachers College Fellowship at Columbia University, and is currently enrolled in the Advanced Management Program at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. 

Ms. Catarina implemented the preschool program at the school for students aged two following the birth of her daughter, Tatiana Chen. With said introduction, EABH flourished in numbers for all grades, but most prominently in the PYP program, which helped the school go from 106 students in 2009 to 534 students in 2024. With the expansion of student enrollment and classes doubling in size, the EABH Future Program was born to incentivize donations and fund better infrastructure, technology, and sustainability within the community. 

During her grand achievements inside the warm school community, Ms. Catarina was also reaching great heights outside to increasingly contribute back to the global community of international educators. Far prior to securing a job offer at the US State Department as a Regional Education Officer for Strategic Initiatives and Special Programs, she was awarded both the National Distinguished Principal Award and a certificate of appreciation from the same department. She has been a founding member of AMISA Women in Leadership; a member of the Education Executive Committee of United World College; and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE), Academy for International School Heads (AISH), School Rubric, American International Schools in the Americas (AMISA), formerly AASSA; and former president of the Association of American Schools in Brazil (AASB). 

Ms. Catarina has shared her great experiences with the world through the co-authorship of the book International Education Leadership: Stories from Across the Globe: Leadership Lessons from 13 International School Leaders.

In gratitude for her dedication to the growth of the EABH family, the school paid homage to Ms. Catarina in a school-wide assembly, where we heard from a variety of community members, including board members, the Community Relations Department, the new Head of School Mr. Kerry Timmerman, and various students such as Júlia Ribeiro (G10), Student Council president, Antônio Zica, Lower School student, and Tatiana Chen (G11), Ms. Catarina’s daughter. Tatiana, when speaking onstage, emphasized how Ms. Catarina was not only a devout mother and wife to her family (recently-graduated son, Lucas Chen, and alumni husband, Tim Chen), but to the entire EABH community: “When it takes a village to raise a child, Mom, you’ve empowered the village and supported it with all your heart,” a reference to her philosophy of devoting time, effort, and love to raising students and citizens inside the school.

As upsetting as it is to see her bid farewell to EABH, Ms. Catarina is leaving behind a beautiful legacy that will continue to thrive under our new Head of School, Mr. Kerry Timmerman. Being a well-experienced educator as well, with 20 years of experience, Mr. Kerry has demonstrated his great enthusiasm to lead this new chapter for EABH. Contrary to what many may believe, Ms. Catarina will not yet move to Washington D.C., for her new job, but will instead be residing in Beagá’s beautiful mountains until it is time for her second child to finish high school at EABH. She still has plenty of time for visits–that is if she is not abroad in the Caribbean islands overseeing international schools.

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