“Have a good day. Study hard.” For a student who has attended Wells International School for any length of time, this mantra is repeated every day during the morning announcements by Mr. Ray de la Peña, the long-time headmaster of the school. As much a symbol of the school as its mascot, the seahawk, Mr. Ray has been a stabilizing force throughout his eight years at Wells, guiding it through the accreditation process and the rapid growth it has encountered since the establishment of the On Nut campus in 2006. To many of the students, however, he is much more than just the head of the school; he is a mentor, coach and father figure.
Born to a highly diverse family with Chinese, Filipino, Thai, Spanish and Hawaiian forebears, Mr. Ray grew up in the quiet hills of Kauaʻi, the oldest of the Hawaiian islands. He describes himself as having been the black sheep of the family–the child who always managed to land in the situations that exasperated his parents. Most of his early years were spent wandering the island, fishing, exploring and learning horticulture from his father, a respected academic in that field. Coming from a well-educated family–with brothers, sisters and parents having earned multiple degrees–he strongly believes in the value of learning and the changes it can make it people’s lives.
Upon graduating from high school, Mr. Ray enrolled in the prestigious engineering program at Purdue University, one of the top ten engineering programs in the world. Yet education continued to call to him, and after earning a graduate diploma in secondary education and a Hawaiian teaching license, he became a full-time science instructor in the public school system, a position he held for a decade. Drawing on his background in horticulture, he guided many students to the national level in science competitions while also following through with his second passion–volleyball–by coaching the high school boys team.
A chance invitation was the path through which Mr. Ray arrived in Thailand, as a friend invited him to work at a small school in central Bangkok. Wells International School – Thong Lor had been open merely a year and only extended to middle school. Seeking to capitalize on his extensive experience, the school invited Mr. Ray–who had joined as a science instructor–to become the headmaster of the newly planned On Nut campus, which was slated to open in two years later. Though more comfortable in the classroom, he reluctantly stepped into the role.
As fortune would have it, a better choice could not have been made. With his knowledge of the American educational system, the intricacies of the accreditation process and the rigorous requirements of a university-preparatory education, Mr. Ray led the new On Nut campus through the most rapid period of growth in the short history of the school. From its initial population of 105 students in 2006, Wells – On Nut has grown to 500 as of 2012. Throughout that time, the Wells headmaster has dedicated himself to expanding the opportunities for its students, using his knowledge the arts, sports and academics to create a well-rounded school that has seen its students accepted into top universities around the world. Among his favorite memories is the departure of Wells’ first graduating class in 2010, which included many of his first students at Thong Lor.
With two world championships in math and debate under its belt, as multiple national championships, and an expectation of Ivy League acceptances for the 2012-2013 school year, the future of Wells appears quite bright. And Mr. Ray? Now with a master’s in education; a continued passion for music, volleyball and science; and his trademark Starbucks in hand, he has continued to serve as the stable center of the school–a figure at home in the court, in the classroom and on the stage.