A series of letters between Graded Superintendent Richard Boerner and Ariel Raz, head of learning collaboration at the Stanford d.school. These letters address the use of design and futures thinking in schools to navigate uncertainties amidst a global pandemic and improve distance learning.
Welcome back to the United States! I suspect that after being in Brazil for the last school year, it must feel like you hopped into a flying metal tube from some science fiction saga and have been transported into another reality.
While I've had the great fortune of being healthy, safe, and grounded over the last five months, the pandemic has been incredibly disruptive to how our group at the d.school has worked with K-12 schools. Of course, with that disruption comes opportunity. But despite my natural optimism, when I think about what each school must do to prepare for the next academic year, it still feels daunting.
I suspect that the feeling stems from the difficulty of navigating uncertainty while preparing plans that remain solid, specific, and communicable to the wider school community. It's been helpful to reference the work my colleague Lisa Kay Solomon has done on the intersection between futures thinking and design. In design, we take on an empathic lens towards the human experience, embracing complex problems in the hope of creating equitable and liberatory outcomes. Futures thinking gives us the ability to look further out, practice flexibility, and rehearse critical decisions, setting the conditions for an adaptive school community.
The cloud of uncertainty brought to schools by the spread of COVID-19, racial inequities, and an economic downturn require a unique approach. We believe that approach must blend an equitable design approach with an active posture towards the future.
How do we use design and futures thinking to plan and prepare for this unique moment?
- Futures thinking helps you investigate and explore possible futures and their effect on your organization. It helps you develop a long-term vision based on macrosocietal conditions.
- Design is about discovering and understanding what people might need in that future and co-constructing experiences that will build their skills, mindset, and abilities to thrive in that future.
- An equitable lens helps design with our community members who have been historically marginalized, and amplifies their voices as we design together.
- Both methodologies hold a method of parallel prototyping, or creating multiple versions at once. In futures thinking, we work within multiple possible futures to better understand what's possible. In design, we plan for multiple prototypes and iterate on them based on feedback.
- Our hunch is that when futures thinking and design is incorporated into K-12 planning, these two methodologies enable schools to be more agile, imaginative, and ready for disruption. It builds our muscle for change by mitigating "change fatigue" and helps us be "change fit."
- When you structure such work through a collaborative process, it spreads adaptive knowledge across your organization so that many members can rise to challenges as they arise.
I wonder about how these methodologies play out in your school. How have you worked with your community over the last few months, and how has design and futures thinking impacted how you've prepared for the fall?
Your friend in California,
During the 15 years I have been working overseas, my travel home this summer was by far the most bizarre and unsettling. My break will be short, as I will return to Brazil within the next two weeks to begin the 2020–21 school year in the most unique way — from a distance.
For us in Brazil, the pandemic arrived swiftly and hit aggressively. Our campus doors closed on March 13, and we remained in distance learning mode until June 10, at which time we concluded our school year.
I must confess that responding to the pandemic while leading an international school was one of the, if not the, most challenging professional experiences of my life. Living with ambiguity is unsettling. Sometimes school leaders are described as "town mayors" and when in doubt, people want answers. Moving so quickly to distance learning required our teachers to be incredibly nimble and flexible. Soon after our distance learning launch, I began to pivot my thinking to the future — to August and the opening of a new school year. Questions that immediately came to mind were:
- How would we design learning when we could not predict the modality in which we would be operating?
- In what ways could we ensure the best learning experience for students while mitigating the risk of viral transmission?
- What actions and measures would we need to take, in the midst of a pandemic, to ensure our community the confidence to send their children to school for in-person learning?
As Graded began to face this looming reality, we needed a way to bring clarity, objectivity, and process to our thinking and decision-making. For the last few years, Graded has, fortuitously, been deeply embedding design thinking into our operational structure.
We started on a macro level by formulating assumptions about the future and making bets as to what the months ahead might hold. We then used that thinking to help us design various scenarios in response to potential conditions we might face. We considered student schedules, course offerings, transportation, internal and external learning spaces, health and safety, cleaning protocols, lunch experience, and student movement throughout campus. This design/futures thinking experience offered us several pathways, which ultimately allowed us to prepare multiple deployable solutions.
As we conducted our design experience and tackled specific COVID-related challenges, we reached out to our stakeholders. By assembling a short-term faculty task force, engaging our Board of Directors, and holding parent information sessions, we built confidence, understanding, and community. Trust during moments of disruption is key.
Our reopening plan, Eagles Reunite, prioritizes the health and well-being of our students and faculty, while allowing for an optimal learning experience.
We will prioritize student, faculty, and staff health, safety, and well-being over all other objectives:
- By establishing and promoting practices and policies that reduce the risk of viral transmission and enable us to be responsive and agile when facing evolving health circumstances.
- By ensuring hygiene- and health-related policies are research-based, effectively implemented, clearly communicated, and diligently enforced.
We will emphasize student learning and the integrity of faculty instruction:
- By providing as much face-to-face instruction as is safe.
- By conducting full-day in-person instruction with physical distancing when it is safe.
- By ensuring that the social and emotional needs of students and teachers are met.
- By providing the greatest level of instructional consistency between in-person and distance learning modes.
Ariel, it seems to me that inequity is further heightened as we engage in remote learning. I am curious how the issues we are facing in Brazil are being seen in context to those in the United States. In what ways are you deploying design and futures thinking to help remedy the ambiguity schools around the world are facing? In what ways are you designing for equity as these schools plan for reopening?
Be well and stay safe my friend.
Hello again, Rich,
In my nine years as an educator, I can only recall one other instance where the American education system felt like it was under an existential crisis similar to today. It was 2012, and we were approaching the holiday break down in Louisiana, where I worked for a rural school district. As I tightened my tie and gathered my belongings for the 20-minute drive to school, I checked my work email. I clicked on a message from my principal, notifying me of a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Struggling to process the emotional weight of the news, I read the next few lines. Here were direct instructions that we may not, under any circumstances, discuss the news with our students, and that counselors were available to support as required.
I went through the motions as well as I could that day, doing my best to maximize the instructional days while numb from shock. My sixth-graders were likely studying fractions (it feels like all we ever studied in sixth-grade) and I noticed one of my pupils had his head face down on his desk. He lifted his head ten degrees and in the sleepy, pained breath of a middle-schooler asked, "Mr. Raz, did you hear about those kids that got shot?"
Suddenly, I realized what should have been obvious: on this day, we needed to stop the clock and move away from content. Students throughout the entire United States were experiencing a moment of trauma, a moment that had to be spoken about, understood, and processed – a moment that demanded a response. And I, not being one to rankle my superiors, I was frozen: do I buck the system, or do I answer my students?
Today, I feel that you and I find ourselves as actors in a system that's in a similar moment of crisis. Not only are students feeling the shock of school closures, but agony at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others. Much like school shootings, racism is an endemic threat to equality and justice in American society. And the presence of both has a profound impact on students' ability to feel safe in schools.
These profound historical moments have enveloped the collective consciousness of American society, and we can be certain that our students, be they are entering pre-K or matriculating into college, are managing a complex emotional universe. Like us, they seek to understand what's happening and find their own place within this moment.
In the 2018-2019 school year, my colleagues at the d.school explore how we make sense of navigating ambiguity. As part of that series, our Executive Director Sarah Stein Greenberg recorded a short interview where she references a piece by marine biologist Aaron Hirsh. He writes "[e]very pedagogical situation can be thought of as a kind of triangle among three parties: the student, the teacher, and the world that student and teacher investigate together." This school year, we should offer ourselves the freedom to examine and understand the outside world with our students.
Part of this project requires us to look inward. I've found it helpful to develop a practice of self-awareness, and interrogate how my identity shapes my understanding of the historical events that unfold around me: How am I positioned with respect to power? How does that influence my relationship with my students? How does my own identity affect how people treat me and how I perceive the world?
And part of this work is outward and organizational. The near-term future of education is one where we should expect conditions to change, schools to shift, and educators to pivot. Amid this change, a consistent process can help offer guidance and consistency as educators work to advance towards equity. Here are a set of powerful actions you can repeat as part of a design process:
- Ask yourself whose voice is missing from the choices your organization is making. Identify vulnerable populations in your community and design with them. Reach out to the school community members who aren't captured by learning experience and redesign the learning experience to include them.
- Experience student life as students experience it. While you may be unable to physically shadow a student when school opens in the fall, you can experience their remote school day. Talk to an adult in their life to get a sense of their home schedule. Contact their teachers to understand their academic schedule, and ask to access the online platforms they use. If the student is unable to log in, request permission to speak with them by phone so you can understand what their school day is like at home. Use that experience to craft human-centered insights to guide improving the learning experience, be it hybrid, remote, or in-person.
- The Liberatory Design resource collection, shared by my colleagues from the d.school K12 Lab and the National Equity Project, offers scores of suggestions for engaging in equitable design work.
When I first came into the classroom, I was guided by a tendency to control all that I could. I was most comfortable when the learning experience traveled across a straight line: information was passed from me to my students. I would receive a signal back, and my task was to correct or accept that information and move on. Over time, I became aware of how we were poorly-served by the district-mandated pedagogical model, and we began to explore my diverse, experiential learning.
I look at the morning when my sleepy, middle-school student asked me about the school shooting at Newtown with a mix of shame and sadness. I must admit that I did not have the courage to rise to the moment. Partly, I felt it wasn't my place, that I didn't have the training, and perhaps I feared reprisal from a local teaching administration where I felt I was an outsider. I realize now that I was designed not to rankle my superiors, and of course, it was easier to travel the path they carved for me, the path of least resistance.
You and I are both in a unique, privileged position: we've been designed by schools, succeeded in schools, and now, have the opportunity to redesign schools. How do you think of your role as superintendent during a time when we may need to stop the clock on content and assessment? What might a courageous educator look like to you? And how might you lead your educators to address old inequities as you manage the new crisis caused by the pandemic?
Stay safe and be well,
We, as educators, have long spouted a "less is more" or "depth over breadth" approach to better schooling. Yet, many times we are just paying lip service to this construct. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to reexamine educational delivery — now as a matter of pragmatism. Distance learning has required our teachers to move slower, cover less, and pause to ensure students are grasping content and concepts. It has forced us to assess in new ways. What is becoming more and more apparent to me, to our faculty and, most excitingly, to our students, is that just maybe we won't ever return to some of our former ways.
The constraints this crisis has placed on educational delivery and assessment have spurred a reconceptualization of "content coverage." How much "stuff" is enough to learn? Schools must challenge their conventional thinking. How many war battles and dates should one memorize in 10th-grade history to ensure understanding of cause and effect of conflict?
Seminal moments like the one in which we are living challenge our frameworks. They should awaken us and make leaders consider what really matters. These are moments of deep introspection and serve as opportunities to pivot one's actions.
What are the "things" we want students to know and be able to do? I'm not talking about dates, times, or formulas, but rather those deep, enduring learning experiences that can be transferred. The learning that sticks. Cognitive scientists suggest that only learning that is deep, enduring, and transferable — the content that is accessible over time — is worthy of being taught. So, why, in schools, do we spend so much time on things that don't adhere to what we know works best? Don't get me wrong, content matters. However, content without purpose and meaning does little beyond the immediate moment of recall.
Before COVID-19 swept from continent to continent, teachers at Graded were implementing these science of learning principles. They focused on challenging themselves to first understand and assess the needs of every learner in their care. Now in the midst of the pandemic, our work continues.
Most recently, in July, when leading our faculty pre-service training, Dr. Kevin Mattingly, professor of science of learning at Columbia University, challenged our faculty by asking them to ensure that all of their students could answer the following questions with a resounding "yes."
- I belong to this academic community.
- My ability grows with effective effort.
- I can succeed at this.
- This work has value to me.
Learning is an experience held by the student and fostered by the teacher. Dr. Mattingly calls this "inside-out teaching." By starting with the learner, we begin to deconstruct what they already know, what they care about, and what they want before we teach them anything. Ultimately if done well, we can ensure the learning can be used in their lived lives.
Now, we find ourselves living within a new reality. The medium in which we teach, be it in-person, at-a-distance, or blended, does not change the need for this most important work to continue. In fact, it necessitates its acceleration to ensure learning is equitable regardless of the education platform.
In order to offer service to the faculty and students in my care, I must be courageous. I must not allow this moment to prevent us from the real reform we need both in my school and within the education space at large.
Ariel, your questions have challenged me! They will hold me accountable for my actions today and in the future. This is the true power of thought partnership. Your personal journey, shared in your last letter, resonates so deeply within me. It speaks to the educator you knew you should be in the moment, but were restricted from being. We must, as leaders, allow our teachers the space, know-how, and time to be the true artists they were meant to be. This takes courage for them and for me.
Thank you for reminding me of this most important truth.
Be well my friend and let's march on — bravely!
Staycation has never been more fun!
In response to the pandemic, Graded launched Graded+, an expansive online vacation learning experience. During the June/July school break, students in grades PP-12 participated in three-week enrichment sessions taught by our talented faculty members.
When enrollment opened in late-May, 621 participants registered, representing a whopping 47% of Graded's student body! Over the two holiday sessions, students immersed themselves in 153 courses listed in the Graded+ Course Catalog.
At the conclusion of the six-week period, 1,892 certificates were awarded in myriad subjects, including science (Synapses and Circuits - Neuroscience and Learning), mathematics (The Mathamagicians), theater and cinema (Non-Academy Award Winners), arts (Let's Get Artsy), languages (Parlons Française!), and sports (Shake it Up).
The photos here showcase our students and teachers in action this winter break.
1. You're a science teacher. How did you decide that you wanted to teach and what parts of teaching science do you enjoy most?
I've always loved biology, and for a time even considered attending medical school. However, as a senior in college, I actually realized I wanted to teach science. Growing up, many of my friends' parents were teachers, and I always viewed the profession positively. Summers off were also very appealing.
I enjoy teaching anatomy. It tends to generate the most student interest, which leads to more productive class sessions. I have tons of random facts about anatomy stuck in my head. When I notice kids are starting to lose focus, it is easy to get back on track by throwing out, "Hey, your small intestine has the same surface area as a tennis court," or "Humans are the only animals with chins."
2. As you look back at your school years, what was your crowning achievement - your moment of glory - as a kid?
I dominated my neighborhood in Tecmo Bowl in 5th grade. Tecmo Bowl is an old American football video game on the original Nintendo console. If you let me pick the Raiders with Bo Jackson today, I'd still be unstoppable.
3. What kinds of things do you do on vacation and in your free time?
We try to get outside as much as possible. Over the last few years, we've spent quite a bit of time visiting national parks around the US. Graded's schedule allows for the opportunity to visit places like the Grand Canyon during the off-season. You pretty much have the place to yourself then. Last year, my son and I hiked down to the bottom and back. He gained so much confidence from the experience.
Last December, I bought a camper van. We got a good deal because it smells like a cheap motel room and burns oil. We call her Ol' Smokey. While my kids seem to genuinely enjoy it, my wife is undecided; but I think she's coming around.
4. Do you have any advice for your students as they resume distance learning?
Advocate for yourself! If you don't understand the lesson, ask questions. If you want to know more about a topic, reach out to your teachers. Teaching and learning is a relationship. Relationships work best when both parties feel like they are being heard.
5. You taught in Saudi Arabia before coming to Graded. From your experience, what was one interesting thing about living there?
We lived in Saudi Arabia before they had traffic cameras. The roads were chaotic. It was stressful when my family was in the car, but pretty awesome when it was just me. Our last year there they started to install radar and driving by myself became expensive.
6. French fries or onion rings?
7. You've worked with your wife Laura, an Optimal Learning Services teacher, for nearly 20 years. What's that like?
We met working together at our first school in St. Paul, Minnesota. We're both passionate about our work, and it is humbling to be the least competent teacher in the house. I've heard some people say they can't imagine working with their spouse. However, our lives, especially since we've started to work abroad, have always centered around school, so it hasn't ever been an issue.
8. You're a track and field coach. Do you run?
Since my early teens, I've relied heavily on running to maintain my emotional health. Obviously, regular exercise has physical benefits, too, but as a coach, I try to emphasize that running is a great means to deal with stress and anxiety. I enjoy coaching track because it is such an inclusive sport. Anyone can join the team, fast or slow. We just want kids to work hard, have fun, and, hopefully, become life-long runners.
Early on, I found that signing up for races was a good strategy to stay focused and motivated. At this point, I think I've run about 45 marathons. The most memorable race was in Rome. The course went by St. Peter's Square as the Pope was giving mass. I was raised Catholic so I took off my hat. The least memorable race was in North Dakota. There was a horse at mile 20 alongside the course - that was about it.
9. What book is on your nightstand right now?
The Outsider by Stephen King.
10. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
I'm incredibly impressed with the quality of education my children have received at Graded. As a High School teacher, I can't imagine the complexities of teaching elementary-aged kids. Year after year, Jack and Cora have had amazing experiences with teachers who have totally different styles of teaching. It has been fun to observe their lessons in distance learning. I often "borrow" the techniques and approaches I see in their lessons and adapt them to use with my own students.
Deborah Leipziger '85 is an international consultant, author, poet, and founding director of The Leipziger Group, where she currently advises companies and organizations around the world on human rights and environmental issues. She is a senior fellow in social innovation at the Lewis Institute at Babson College and has authored several books in the fields of sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Deborah has also taught at renowned American MBA programs, lecturing on the topics of social innovation, sustainability, and corporate social responsibility. In this edition, Deborah talks about how her years at Graded sparked her passion for writing and inspired her lifelong commitment to helping businesses create both social and financial value.
What brought you and your family to Graded?
I was born in Brazil but moved to the US when I was little. My family then moved back when I was twelve and I spent a year at a Brazilian school. My mother thought the American system would be more suited to my learning and transition, and chose Graded. She and her sister had studied at Graded, so it was kind of a family tradition. I was really lucky to receive a scholarship to study at Graded from 1980 to 1985, and enjoyed an amazing high school experience.
Tell us more about your amazing experience at Graded.
It was a very pivotal experience for me. I remember we had a wonderful writer's workshop, and I think it was the first time I started to think of myself as a writer and realize how powerful that could be. I wrote some of my first poems and first essays at Graded, and I was part of different writing communities. I wrote for the literary magazine Figa and also had an essay published in The Eagle Eye. That was my first publication, so it's something I'll never forget. I also had a huge amount of encouragement from my teachers and that was wonderful. My Portuguese teacher, Dona Emma, really encouraged me and inspired me to write poetry. At some point, I did an independent study in poetry that some teachers had created for me. I explored the lives of different creative people to discover what made someone "creative."
I also had deep friendships with kids from all over the world. My parents are European; my mother comes from an Italian family and my father is German, so I connected with the Graded community because it was so global. Everybody had two or three nationalities or had lived in multiple countries. I think that sparked my interest in global issues (which really influences my work now) and a desire to travel and live in different parts of the world.
You are a changemaker in the fields of corporate responsibility and sustainability. When and how did this interest arise?
I think it really did start at Graded; I tell people that when they ask me this question. Each day, I would go past the favela that was in front of Graded. The school had never had any kind of contact before with people in the neighborhood. In one of my classes, Educação Moral e Cívica, we started a group project and decided to go to the community and bring food, clothing, and books. I talked to the principal about it and at first, he was horrified. He then realized he wasn't going to stop me. It was a big moment for me because I realized that I didn't need permission to make a difference. Realizing this changed my life. Also, being in school with a lot of children of people from multinational companies, I asked myself, "Why is there so much poverty in Brazil? With so much wealth, why don't multinational companies address poverty?" So it was the kind of question I lived with, and I began to explore this in college and graduate school.
You studied economics and international studies at Manhattanville College and later pursued an MA in public administration at Columbia University. How did your studies lead you to your career choice?
My studies in college were very much influenced by the question I began to explore at Graded: "What can be done to address poverty?" In those days, we didn't really have environmental studies – it wasn't a choice, a course that was offered. At Columbia, I was able to create my own program, with classes from the Law School, the Business School, and School of International and Public Affairs to create a focus on international social development. This area of corporate sustainability and responsibility was a really new field then. I remember in my first job out of graduate school, the question was "What are multinational companies doing to promote development in a positive way?" I was thrilled to be working on this. As it was pretty new at the time, I remember going to the library only to find there were no books on this subject. There were just books on the bad things companies were doing. So I thought, "Here I am. I am a writer doing all this research. What a great opportunity!" I then teamed up with a group of academics in the UK, and we wrote the first book about corporate responsibility published in 1998.
While living in Europe for 12 years, I got to help companies develop some of the first codes and standards in the field. Now large companies have teams of 20-30 people working on these issues. Back then, they had lawyers who were very careful and cautious and customer service staff who listened to consumers' concerns, but they didn't really have dedicated sustainability staff, human rights teams, and diversity and inclusion teams – so that's really recent.
You also have done a fair share of teaching in graduate business programs. What do you teach today?
I am a senior fellow in social innovation at the Lewis Institute at Babson College, so I'm not currently teaching directly. But I have taught lots of Business School students about sustainability, human rights, and the work that I do because I love mentoring students. Teaching has been really great! Many of my former students are now executives at global companies, and it's always great to advise and learn from them.
I also realize that part of my teaching happens through writing. Writing different textbooks or case studies is part of what I bring to this field. One of the areas that really interests me is language and nomenclature. I feel like we are just developing the language of this field, which is really compelling. Even terms like "sustainability" or "inclusion" aren't the kinds of terms that we need. I think they are placeholders for the kinds of vocabulary that we need. So that's part of what I'm working on now: "What is the vocabulary for building sustainable companies or building companies that are ready for addressing climate change and addressing human rights challenges?" I am just finishing up a study on how companies are responding to COVID-19 and to humanitarian disasters, in general. That has also been very interesting: "What are the ways in which companies can fight the pandemic we face?"
What is your favorite hobby or pastime?
I love writing and reading poetry. Cooking with my daughters is also a favorite activity, especially as it allows me to integrate my Brazilian and Italian roots. Nature is also a big part of my life, and I take long walks every day.
Do you visit Brazil often? What is one thing you miss?
Not as often as I'd like! I have three daughters, and it's complicated traveling with everybody. However, we did make a trip a couple of years ago, and I hope to come back soon. I am really into color and I miss seeing the colors of Brazil; it's so inspiring. The street art is amazing. I took my daughters to see Beco do Batman and that was their favorite thing. It's really just full of life and color, and that is something I deeply miss.
Do you still remain in close contact with your friends from Graded?
Yes! I'm in touch with a lot of my high school friends on Facebook, and I visited one of my best friends from Graded in California last year. We have recently formed a group that gets together on Zoom every two weeks, so that's something I want to continue. I have a strong connection with my Graded friends to this day. Maybe even more than [the connection I have with friends from] college and graduate school.
What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Graded has given me the ability to feel comfortable with different languages and in different cultures. I use that so much when I travel. I have spent a lot of time in Asia over the past couple of years, and I always feel really excited to embark on a trip. People sometimes ask me "Well, aren't you worried?" And I reply, "No, I feel at home in the world." I think Graded gave me that gift.
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has impacted approximately 47.8 million K-12 students in Brazil, 38.7 million of whom study at public schools. In March, the São Paulo state government announced school closures in response to the health crisis, impacting 3.5 million students in state schools and one million students in municipal institutions. Many of these students lack the necessary technological tools or parental support for distance learning.
Immediately after the announcement, members of the Graded Learning Lab discussed ways in which Graded could support public schools. The idea to establish Graded Beyond Boundaries, a Graded faculty-led initiative to offer assistance to public school educators with distance learning, was born. Following the local government's actions to increase internet accessibility to marginalized students, public educators solicited technical support from the Learning Lab to better understand the available technology tools and software available for distance learning.
From March to June, thirteen of Graded's faculty members provided more than 65 public school educators with twelve technical training sessions on online educational tools, including Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Zoom, EdPuzzle, Padlet, Screencastify, as well as the messaging platform WhatsApp. Graded faculty members also offered classroom observation opportunities and additional office hours during which they exchanged ideas and assisted teachers with lesson planning. Feedback has been extremely positive, and the Learning Lab will continue this partnership throughout the semester.
To learn more about the Graded Beyond Boundaries Initiative or ways to support our partner schools, please contact Director of Analytics, Innovation, and Research Shauna Hobbs at email@example.com.
Anuário 2020: Todos Pela Educação
Governo de SP planeja ensino à distância durante fechamento de escolas por conta do coronavírus (G1 SP)
Alunos vão receber 3,5 milhões de kits com material pedagógico e de orientação para período de aulas em casa (Secretária da Educação do Governo de São Paulo)
Quarantined in California, Lower School Teacher Aaron Braszell gives us a glimpse of his typical day, connecting with his students, volunteering to help local communities in need, and keeping himself entertained during his free time.
DAVID ALLEN, UPPER SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER
ALASTAIR BOYD, HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
JANELLE DAY, MIDDLE SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
JON EXALL, MIDDLE SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
KEVIN HEALEY, HIGH SCHOOL IB PHYSICS TEACHER
LYNDSAY HEALEY, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 4 TEACHER
LORI LALIBERTE, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 1 TEACHER
SALLY ANN MERRIMAN, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 3 TEACHER
CLAIRE MORRIS, MIDDLE SCHOOL HUMANITIES TEACHER
JUSTIN MORRIS, IB COORDINATOR AND HIGH SCHOOL ECONOMICS TEACHER
EVA PALMIERI, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 3 TEACHER
MARK PATE, MIDDLE SCHOOL STEM TEACHER
COLLEEN QUINN, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 4 TEACHER
MARLA STARR, LOWER AND UPPER SCHOOL OPTIMAL LEARNING SERVICES (OLS) TEACHER
DAVID TRAJTENBERG, MIDDLE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
HELEN TRAJTENBERG, HIGH SCHOOL THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (TOK) TEACHER
ALEX WASHKO, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 1 TEACHER
THOMAS YATES, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
How did your American parents get into the horsehair business?
The crazy story goes like this... My father's father, Samuel, was a horsehair trader in Russia during the early-1900s pogroms during which the Czar's army harassed and killed Jews. His business was buying horsehair from farmers and selling it to brush makers. He packed a suitcase filled with horsehair and boar hair and brought it with him on the ship to the US. The customs agent on Ellis Island took one look at it and had no idea what in the world it was, but decided to let him through. My grandfather then started a business in Philadelphia and brought over all five of his sons.
When World War II ended, the family could no longer get horsehair from China, their main supplier. They had heard there were good horses in Argentina, so my uncle Harry was sent down there on a ship. On the journey south, someone mentioned that the horses were better in Brazil (they weren't), prompting Uncle Harry to hop off the boat in Santos.
Uncle Harry then sent for his youngest brother, my father Irving, and they started their business in Brazil. In the 1950s, when plastic brushes replaced those made with horsehair, the business was transformed into a plastics company called Monofil, which closed last year when my brothers retired.
Why did your parents send you and your two brothers to Graded?
I grew up as an American expat in São Paulo, Brazil. My parents, Shirley and Irv, belonged to that notable group called sojourners — those who immigrated but never fully assimilated.
In 1946, my father persuaded my mother to leave their home in Philadelphia for a trip to Brazil. Initially, my father promised my mother they would stay for two years. The two years became four, then eight, then sixteen... My mom passed away in 1999 in Brazil. Though they remained expats, and we spoke English at home. My two brothers, Murray and Bill, stayed in São Paulo, married, and raised beautiful Brazilian families.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, America held an incredible mystique. We used to love traveling to Santos from Guarujá to visit the American ships docked in the harbor, going onboard to feel "American air" (air conditioning). We also spent a lot of time at the English club where I heard "Rock Around the Clock" for the first time and fell in love with Rock 'n' Roll.
At the time, Graded was populated mostly by Americans sent to Brazil from big companies such as Caterpillar and Ford, missionaries, and eccentric world travelers who wanted their children to have an American education. So it made perfect sense for me and my brothers to attend Graded.
What made Graded special? What is your fondest memory of Graded?
In 1988, the wonderful class of 1965 held its 33rd Year Reunion at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. My closest friends, Arrigo Jezzi, Mike Kanarek, Bill Korpff, and Elaine Moon, helped to organize it. I wrote the toast below for that reunion and read it again at our 40th and 50th reunions. I feel it's the best way I can convey my love for that wonderful class, my wonderful classmates, and the unique world we created together.
A Toast to the Class of 1965
Come gather around, dear classmates of mine
And let us return to the scene of the crime
Where we experienced it all for the first time,
Where Leo, Art, and David danced the can-can in a line,
Where Mike Kanarek was our Albert Einstein,
Where Woody beat EA across the finish line
(When they said he didn't – we knew they were lying),
Where our cheerleaders teased us with their short hemlines,
It was like no other place at no other time
It was Guarujá in the summertime
Where the cops if they caught you shaved your heads 'til they shined,
Where even a quindinho or a pãozinho at the barzinho could taste so sublime,
Cachaça with lemon – who ever heard of lime?
All of this happened, once upon a time.
Yes, there we stand on the first day of school
All dressed up like nobody's fool
Geez, aren't the new kids from the US supercool?
In the schoolyard where memories are lost and found
Steve learned from Arrigo how babies were born,
Shot cats eyes for keeps on the lower playground.
It didn't take much to amuse us those days,
We went through marbles, a dodgeball, a steal-the-bacon craze.
And oh yes, you must remember this –
The spelling bee Lisa Smith won with the word "analysis"
Way back in the younger grades
Elaine played Becky in Tom Sawyer, and I remember when
We debated whether dogs or horses were a man's best friend.
In 9th grade they moved us from the old school to the new
The school stunk for a month with the newly-laid manure.
Breath swirled on a cold day before school in the halls
We watched the fight of the century – Roger Reuben and Charles
In the men's locker room from the top of the stalls.
A fighting spirit was part of the scene
They say Colby fought Brennan, Charles Chan fought Mr. Beans
Why in Morumbi we'd call your bluff
Graded High School – we were tough.
We could fight each other – cause the streets had no crime
What can you say for the innocence of those times?
We sang Flow Gently Sweet Afton with Sperber before every class
Played "Intellectual Football" out on the grass.
Now according to Perry, we weren't the world's fastest learners
But – hey – we did dissect a worm and managed to light the
We "studied" math with Mrs. Ho,
Diagrammed sentences with de Mello,
We wrote like hell for Ms. Patel,
After each period – saved by the bell!
Senior Jacyro, Mike the Jan, and Miss Szeghetti –
Was it yesterday I found some gum in our spaghetti?
Dona Lucia, Mr. Mickle, Penteado,
We were present for the coup 'gainst Jânio Quadros.
And we still remember – no one ever forgot
Where we were in tenth grade the day Kennedy was shot.
Was it 9th grade? A play, Shall We Join the Ladies – remember when
Someone said the wrong line, and it started over again?
We needed a bald man from the USA
To teach us what it meant to act in a play
When Colby said act, you acted – or prayed!
Alex Reti was Romeo, but yet,
We couldn't get Elaine Moon to play Juliet
He found a star for Oklahoma in Dick Vobroucek.
Jeanette as Ado Annie, Steve, the Persian Peddler
played opposite each other.
She called him up years later – told Steve's wife
she'd once been his Persian lover!
Once backstage some paint cans mysteriously up-ended
Leo, Woody, Steve Collins, and Evan cleaned off with a shower and
before it all ended
Steve ran howling through the halls bare-ended!
Then with Brennan, they contended
For all extracurricular activities were suspended!
Dance parties started in the 9th grade
We learned to jitterbug, the twist, and the latest dance craze –
We danced cheek to cheek at the chaperoned canteen.
Though in Brazil, we thought that we'd try
For a class ring American as apple pie
The jeweler agreed to etch an eagle
But we got it back emblazoned with a seagull!
And then it happened – graduation
We scattered over God's creation –
Orlando, California, Rio, Kansas, Tel Aviv
So far that some couldn't make it – maybe next time – c'est la vie.
So squeeze some tears into a glass, mix in the sweetness of the years
Chill it till the ice cubes freeze
With who we are, we've made our peace
Now we can look back with ease,
Lift a caipirinha's worth of memories.
At graduation we scattered like seeds to the wind,
With no one to share them, the memories thinned –
But we came back together from the ends of the earth
To prove it all mattered, how much it was worth.
So now that none of us can touch our toes
I know you're wondering, or so I suppose
Why do I look slightly different – is it my glasses? My clothes?
But no – you can feel proud to be among those
Who still remembers Steve's old nose!
After receiving your MA in literature, you earned your PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. What drew you to this area of study?
Even at an early age, I was aware of the beauty and power of folklore in my own life. As expats living in relative isolation, my two brothers and I grew up close. We developed our own accent and our own humor. To this day, my brother Murray and I still greet each other, "Yo, sire." Someone once asked my brother why we use that phrase. He answered, "Respect." Decades later my own children, Ben and Eliza, call each other "Swine" or "Swinedog": no respect! When my son Ben received an award at the Sundance Film Festival for his film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, he came to the stage and proudly announced, "I'd like to thank my sister, Swinedog."
In Brazil, our family had an apartment on the first floor of a fifteen-story apartment building in a lovely beach town called Guarujá. One day, Murray was passing out Chiclets, and rather than taking one, I took five. Murray responded by asking, "Why don't you just jump out the fifteenth-story window for a breeze on a hot day?" Ever since then, when I overdo anything, my brother calls it "jumping out the fifteenth-story window for a breeze on a hot day." I knew, even back then, that this artful banter was at the heart of life.
Years later, when I was studying Old English poetry in the library at the University of Pennsylvania, I took a break from my graduate studies and wandered aimlessly through the stacks. I chanced upon two or three books by a writer named Benjamin Botkin, who had worked for the WPA's Federal Writers' Project established during the Great Depression. One was called New York City Folklore, another Sidewalks of America. I opened one of Botkin's books to a random page and can still recall the children's rhyme I read there:
I should worry
I should care
I should marry a millionaire
He should die
I should cry
I should marry another guy.
This is the job for me, I immediately thought. Listening to people's stories and rhymes, searching for diamonds in the rough. Soon after this encounter, I discovered that the University of Pennsylvania had a Department of Folklore and Folklife. I arranged for an interview with the department chair, Dr. Kenneth S. Goldstein, who explained to me that folklore is a religion, and folklorists are its missionaries. I promptly reported for duty.
You are the founding director of City Lore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. Tell us more about City Lore and the work you do to maintain the beliefs, customs, and stories of grassroots cultures.
In 1985, I founded City Lore, New York's center for urban folk culture. We are the first organization in the United States devoted expressly to the "documentation, preservation, and presentation of urban folk culture." Our mission is to foster New York City's – and America's – living cultural heritage through education and public programs. City Lore encompasses a Lower East Side gallery space, performances, lectures, the People's Hall of Fame, a POEMobile that projects poems onto walls and buildings, and education programs throughout the five boroughs. City Lore documents, presents, and advocates for New York City's grassroots cultures to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places, and traditions. The organization also works with a wide range of partners to develop exhibitions, publications, and documentary films, and to advocate for the rights of street performers, ethnic clubs, and other grassroots cultural expressions in New York City. Described as "wise renegades" by Sonnet Takahisa, the group has also been described as a "practical application of a utopian endeavor" by the writer Marc Kaminsky. In a March 21, 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal, I'm quoted as saying, "We believe in grassroots creativity as a redeeming force in society and a symbol of the irrepressible nature of the human spirit."
You have served as a regular commentator for nationally-syndicated public radio shows; coproduced films and the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition; coauthored award-winning books; and penned op-eds for The New York Times and Newsday. Of which of your professional accomplishments are you most proud?
I am most proud of my latest book, The Poetry of Everyday Life, published by Cornell University Press. Part memoir, part essay, and partly a guide to maximizing your capacity for fulfillment and expression. The book taps into the artistic side of what we often take for granted: the stories we tell, the people we love, the sports we enjoy, and the metaphors used by scientists. I feel that it expresses my philosophy of life and of living more succinctly than anything else I've done.
You have remained in close contact with your friends from Graded. What continues to bind you after all these years?
Let me close with this poem I wrote to Jocelyn Glacken, one of my dear friends from my high school days.
In my high school annual
Always remember "our Brazil,"
Not the Brazil of Bossanova
Or pulando carnaval
Tipping moleques on the street
To find a jeitinho so they don't
Shash the tires of your car
Just some crazy expats at an international school
In the hinterlands of Morumbi
A beach in Guaruja
50 years, 5,000 miles
Yet "Our Brazil" still stays in view
A word with no translation – maybe longings
Longings, longings for "our Brazil"
I'll remember all of you until...
If you were to go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
When I was a teenager at Graded, we had an assembly program with a psychiatrist, a guest speaker from the US. After his talk, one of my classmates raised her hand and asked, "You know when I grow up I would like to become a writer, but my parents think I should go to secretarial school because I can always get a safe job as a secretary. What should I do?"
He answered, "In this world, you should always do what you want to do – and the world will roll over and find a place for you." I've always remembered that – I've tried to live up to it, and I've often shared it with young people who are asking the same questions.
How have you kept busy at home during the pandemic?
City Lore has a long tradition of documenting the ways our communities respond to rapidly changing circumstances. As we started to think about our response to COVID-19, we recalled how we were able to approach the September 11 disaster some 20 years ago with the project, Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning. After the planes flew into the World Trade Towers, we immediately began documenting the street memorials with our wonderful photographer Martha Cooper. Our work culminated in an exhibit we curated for the New York Historical Society in 2002. It has become a major archival resource for researchers, writers, and others studying and documenting that time, and is a reference and model for humanities scholars and institutions working on the current pandemic.
Inspired by our 9/11 initiative, we launched a project called Touching Hearts, Not Hands. Already this is documenting and preserving the creative responses that have emerged in response to COVID-19 — we have collected hundreds of songs, poems, videos, images of signs from shop windows, and other material since our first eblast about the project went out on March 13.
As part of Touching Hearts, we started a group poem called It Takes a Pandemic. The responses have been tremendous from poets and non-poets alike.
Graded booklovers were ecstatic!
In April during the quarantine, the school Libraries offered the community an opportunity to retrieve more good reads via Curbside Checkout. The initiative was a huge success. Ninety-seven requests were submitted and the Library team curated more than 1,000 books for students and families to enjoy.
To participate in the Curbside Checkout, students and families completed Google forms to request new titles. The Library staff then selected books, checked them out, and packed them in bags for students and families, which they made available for curbside pick up in the Graded Parking Garage. A member of the Library team was in the garage to hand families their books, so there was no need to get out of the car.
Graded parent Natalie Della Rosa, whose family took advantage of the Curbside Checkout opportunity raved, "This is such a great resource you and the team are offering families. We love reading hard books more than electronic editions. Having access to the library is a bit of a godsend when we are stuck at home like this!"
Reading is a fundamental skill for academic success. During this period of social distancing, it is also a wonderful way to travel, escape, experience, learn, connect, and develop empathy. The Graded Libraries' goal remains to get books into the hands of students. To this end, we have added a number of resources to our Google sites, so that students may access both eBooks and audiobooks.
However, even with these wonderful digital collections of fiction and nonfiction titles, we know that many students prefer to read in print. After days of Zoom meetings and online classwork, a break from screen time is welcomed. While most school libraries have closed their doors during the pandemic, our team really wanted to go the extra mile. Promoting reading and making our wonderful collection of books available to students was the impetus for Curbside Checkout.
The Library team orchestrated Curbside Checkout while adhering to the best health and safety practices. Following the recommendations of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we made sure to quarantine returned books before handling them and making them available for checkout. In addition, while handling and distributing books, Library staff wore masks, gloves, and practiced frequent handwashing.
Prior to distance learning, the Graded Libraries have always allowed returning students to check out books for vacation reading. We know many students and families look forward to this opportunity each year. After experiencing a successful Curbside Checkout, the Library team will make Vacation Checkout a reality this year, too. Keep reading!
By Susan Clain, Chief Strategic Communications and Advancement Officer
After I had fastidiously unpacked, washed, and stored the items from my grocery delivery; scrubbed my now-perpetually-chafed hands; and sunk into my sofa, my intercom buzzed.
"Uma entrega para você. Uma sacola," announced the porteiro. A delivery for you. A bag.
I must have left one of my grocery bags downstairs, I thought. So I underwent a now-familiar routine, redonning my face mask before reaching for hand sanitizer and paper towels – just to ride the elevator.
Since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, I had been leading Graded's crisis communications. My team drafted the school's COVID-19 response plan, produced health and safety guidelines, published Graded's Distance Learning Plan, and sent daily email updates.
In mid-March, the school transitioned to an online platform and the city went into lockdown. Communicating with clarity from afar took on greater importance. We built the Graded from a Distance website and produced videos. We sent out surveys, emails, and WhatsApp messages, created social media content, and produced the Graded Gazette.
By April, I was languishing. Social distancing was hard. Gaining an understanding of a fluid health crisis and its implications for Graded required an almost obsessive focus. My paltry exercise regimen consisted of laps around my living room. I missed the bountiful hugs I received each day at Graded. I was in a mental, emotional, and physical stupor – roused only by the nightly cacophony of pots and pans.
Like many of you, I was concerned about the health and safety of family and friends – in my case, parents in a high-risk group; a sister and her children quarantined in the viral epicenter of Brooklyn, NY; and a critical care/pulmonologist brother and his nephrologist wife working on the front lines.
Phone conversations had been dominated by the virus. Everyone I spoke to was convinced they had it. A cough or stuffy nose sparked mild panic. My colleague reported difficulty breathing. "Probably stress," I tried to assure him. "Yeah, probably," he responded.
I attempted positive thinking. While others were sick or grief-stricken, I had a job and food. I thought of my mentor who had survived the Holocaust. How could my solitary confinement, replete with Netflix, begin to compare to his ordeal hiding in a hole from the Nazis?
I felt guilty for feeling down.
When I arrived in the apartment entryway, instead of a stray grocery bag, I was comforted to find a small bag with a ribbon and card that read:
Thank you for your inspiring words during this difficult time. Here's a treat for a sweet Sunday.
The sender, a Graded mother and friend, had also experienced life abroad. She understood culture shock, language barriers, and alienation. But she also realized the capacity of community – the power of individuals to lift one another up.
I returned to my apartment fortified.
I wondered what it must have been like to live in 1918, when an influenza epidemic chased World War I, whirling indiscriminately around the globe. The Spanish Flu, as it was dubbed, also drove the world into quarantine.
But unlike today, people a century ago remained largely disconnected. For a while, the Bell Telephone was heralded as the Spanish Flu's panacea for loneliness. That was until the telecommunications system was crippled by increased customer demand in the wake of a phone operator shortage.
Internet outages and Zoom bombing aside, today's technology is truly wondrous. During these strange days of social distancing, technology has helped Graded cultivate community and mitigate isolation. Online classes, video conferencing, and virtual parent coffees have enabled uninterrupted educational delivery. Faculty/staff happy hours and game nights have addressed the need for social interaction.
At a time when Brazil's economic divide is most pronounced, technology has also allowed us to harness the talents and energy of Graded's stakeholders in a mission to give back. A newly-designed Graded Beyond Boundaries program enlists faculty volunteers to teach underserved Brazilian students via WhatsApp. Students are soliciting funds for a São Paulo facility that houses young cancer patients and their families. PTA members have raised R$100,000 for food baskets and materials for makeshift hospitals, and in conjunction with the administration, delivered perishable food items to a nearby NGO.
What drew me to Graded initially was the school's vibrant, kind, and tight-knit community. Nestled in Latin American's largest metropolis, it was a verdant sanctuary — a place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds came together and found common purpose. Children laughed. Curiosity and creativity abounded. It was an American school with a Brazilian soul; Graded was magical.
It still is.
To keep our community connected and informed during the school closure, we have created a Graded from a Distance section of our website. Visit the site for information on community events, updates, resources, and inspiration.