How a Small Brazilian Language School Went International During the Pandemic
U2 inspired young Ícaro to learn English, today he runs his own language school and teaches English to others with Whereby. Read more here.
Ícaro Franca never thought of himself as a teacher. In fact, he never aspired to be one. But as a young boy growing up in Aracaju, Brazil (just north of Salvador), Ícaro loved listening to English songs.
Curious to learn what they were singing about, he would read the lyrics to himself. Ícaro eventually started attending an English-language school to further his understanding of the language and never stopped. Even after he graduated he continued studying independently.
During his college years, Ícaro met his business partner Yuri Marques. They worked together for many years and have gotten more than 15 years of teaching experience before they decided to become entrepreneurs.
Today Ícaro and Yuri are the founders of Connect, a language school located in their hometown of Aracaju. They presently have ten on-staff teachers and have taught approximately 1000 students since they opened their (physical) doors in 2015.
The business was going great for Ícaro and his business partner, Yuri. Teachers were happy, students were happy, and everyone was thriving.
Until the pandemic.
Going hybrid, staying grounded
Pre-pandemic, Connect classes were 100% in-person for both their VIP flex classes (one or two students to one teacher) and their small group classes (capped at 10 students). But the doors had to shut when quarantines went into effect, leaving Ícaro and Yuri with just two weeks to find a solution and completely shift their business model online.
Luckily, Yuri, as well as another teacher on staff, had previously used Whereby to teach classes virtually and they both liked it. So, they decided to test it out.
Though initially skeptical, Ícaro now believes Connect can never go back to 100% in-person classes; the hybrid model is here to stay. And moving forward, the school plans to offer both in-person and virtual classes.
A personal connection
“We treat people like people, not like numbers,” says Ícaro. “Schools in general in Brazil are focused on getting the grades [so the kids] get into college.” He explains there are about 50 or 60 students per class in a typical school.
And that’s why Connect only offers private and small group classes. “That way the teachers can know the student’s name, the student’s needs, and bring the student actively into the learning process,” he continues.
And it shows. Students often tell Ícaro they feel like a part of the Connect school, not just like a random piece that can be easily replaced.
A ticket to freedom
Ícaro and Yuri see education “as a way of setting people free.” This freedom is both literal and metaphorical. Many Brazilians share a love of travel, which makes the ability to speak English a valuable asset for anyone wanting to travel abroad. It can also be the key to post-secondary education; fluency in at least one other language is mandatory for anyone seeking a Master’s degree and two for a doctorate in Brazil.
Because Ícaro and Yuri were able to adapt and offer online classes during the pandemic, they now have students who choose (and prefer) their online classes. “They don’t want to leave their house,” laughs Ícaro. So even though they’ve re-opened their (physical) doors, Connect continues to offer virtual classes.
This hybrid model has helped them make their school even more accessible to students everywhere. Where they were once focused on attracting local students, Connect has now gained students from other states in Brazil, as well as other countries. The students love online classes as much as the founders and teachers do. Their business has transformed, but their teaching philosophy and values remain unchanged – and as strong as ever.
Using Whereby has been instrumental in the success of their evolving business.
“It is a very intuitive tool to use. Students do not feel afraid of where to click and how to share, and they don’t have to subscribe to anything. They just click the link and they’re redirected to the platform,” says Ícaro. And that’s one of the things he loves most about using Whereby, its practicality and ease of use.