Faculty in Focus: Fabíola Oliveira, Middle School Teacher, Graded Scholar Program Coordinator

The Graded Gazette

Fabíola Oliveira has discovered her purpose. As coordinator of the Graded Scholar Program, she profoundly impacts the lives of her students and their families. A self-starter, Fabi began teaching English classes at just 16 and went on to earn a bachelor's degree in linguistics and Portuguese language, teaching licensure from Universidade de São Paulo (USP), and a graduate degree in pedagogy from Universidade Nove de Julho. 

In this issue of the Graded Gazette, Fabi discusses what she loves about working with her students, the lessons she has learned, and the unique role music plays in her life.

What role has education played in your life?

Education has played a central role in my life. Initially, reading unlocked a world of independence. It allowed me to explore the comic books I loved and gave me a sense of autonomy. However, by grade 8, my school days became tedious—the content felt irrelevant and deeply unconnected from my interests and needs. 

Attending school was non-negotiable. My mom was a teacher, and my father fought fiercely as an adult for access to education. Both came from humble backgrounds and had better life opportunities through education. The same was true for me. Although my childhood opportunities were richer than those of my parents, I knew my path forward would also be shaped by education.

It’s not in my nature to do things half-heartedly. Even though school had begun to feel purposeless, I resolved to 'survive the system' as strategically as I could—leveraging school to become self-reliant and, hopefully, fulfill my dreams. 

That new mindset changed the way I approached learning opportunities. I began to view them as steps toward a greater goal, and I searched for the relevance of what I was studying.

As a lifelong learner, I've amassed a wealth of theoretical and practical knowledge from many formal and informal learning experiences. These experiences have empowered me to express myself confidently in different contexts, cultures, and communities.


You taught your first English class at age 16. Did you know then that you wanted to become an educator? 

That first job as a teenager ignited my passion for teaching. I saw the magic that happens in the classroom when students learn, gain confidence, and broaden their horizons. I understood the privilege of being an educator—making an impact not only on this generation but future ones, too. 

Passionate, competent, and loving educators leave a powerful legacy. They can change the world! Deciding to join such a remarkable group was simple. It was then that I committed not only to being a teacher but to excellence and a deep sense of accountability. Our impact as educators transcends what we can see. We never fully grasp how far our actions, decisions, and interventions might go.


Members of the Graded community refer to you as a “treasure hunter.” Can you walk us through the Graded Hitoshi Castro Outreach Program selection process and the steps you take to identify candidates?

Over the years, we have built enduring relationships with area public schools and after-school community support centers. The leaders of these organizations cherish their students as much as we cherish ours. They do not partner with external programs unless they trust them implicitly. They understand that everyone at Graded is committed to warmly welcoming and caring for their students, and these leaders refer most of our candidates to us.

I continuously think “outside the box” when searching for candidates. In Guido’s case, for instance, I contacted an association of gifted students. I spoke to their leader and convinced her of the quality of our work before she even mentioned Guido to me. The rest is history!


In addition to coordinating the Graded Scholar Program, you teach English to middle schoolers in the Hitoshi Castro Outreach Program. What values do you aim to instill in the classroom?

The Outreach Program empowers students to reach their full potential and positively impact the world. On a daily basis, we explore intellectual curiosity, perseverance, respect, integrity, and kindness.

Students and families often report how much the program promotes maturity, responsibility, and resilience. I create opportunities for students to build self-awareness, self-worth, and self-efficacy. I encourage them to value and embrace their individuality with confidence, compassion, and self-advocacy. In addition to attaining English fluency, the program equips students with life skills that extend beyond the classroom.


What do you enjoy about working with Graded Scholars?

It is a privilege to work with our scholars and their families. My daily routine consists of learning, unlearning, relearning, reflecting, constructing, and empathizing—all in pursuit of a brighter future. That is a real dream come true!

It is incredibly rewarding to invest my time, effort, intelligence, and skills to offer valuable life opportunities to such talented, dedicated, and inspirational individuals.

While students and families often say that my dedication, persistence, professionalism, and affection inspire them, it’s actually their presence, life histories, and generous interactions that positively impact me. My experiences with the scholars and their families heavily influence much of my professional and even personal growth.


What lessons have these students taught you?

These students have taught me that there are no limits to what one can achieve. They have also shown me the meaning of bravery in countless ways.

I have witnessed the intersection of a world-class Graded education with the talent and dedication of our scholars. It is a powerful catalyst that will impact current and future generations.

Observing these students blossom has solidified a belief I've held since my days teaching public school, one substantiated by research: inequality squanders talent, hindering societal progress. Put simply, when a child lacks access to quality education, we risk losing a potential treasure.

Turning away talented candidates due to space limitations means limiting the potential impact of a remarkable individual. On a smaller scale, this also means losing the chance to enrich our current student body with a potential friend or positive influence.


You have a special relationship with music. How does it influence your daily life? 

I am a very musical person. Anytime I hear music, it captures my attention. I sometimes even need to ask colleagues to turn off background music during meetings so I can fully concentrate on the topic at hand.

I immediately focus on the melody, harmony, and arrangement of the piece, as well as the emotions it evokes. I find myself making connections between the music and other works I know. If there are lyrics, I delve deeper, analyzing the word choice, how they are incorporated into the rhythm, the sensations they produce, and the way the singer uses their voice. Well, I travel far when experiencing music!


What is your definition of success?

My response to that question evolves as I learn more about myself and the world. However, my current answer is that success is discovering your life’s purpose and dedicating yourself wholeheartedly to that purpose, leaving behind a positive, impactful legacy, and being self-reliant along the way.


How do you apply the values you instill in the Hitoshi Castro Outreach Program at home with your daughter?

My daughter, Isabela, heads straight to my class after she is dismissed from her 5th-grade classroom. My students aren’t dismissed until 30 minutes after she joins us, which allows Isabela to observe our activities and interact with my students in a meaningful way.

We often hear that values are more effectively taught by example than with words. Because Isabela witnesses Outreach Program students demonstrating Graded's core values, applying them at home becomes a natural extension.