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.
1. In college, you majored in communication and psychology. Tell us about your journey to the classroom at Graded.
As an undergraduate, I didn't quite know what I wanted to be when I "grew up." However, I knew that I wanted to take classes that were intriguing, challenging, and inspiring. I've always loved reading, research, sharing ideas, and collaborating with my colleagues. My love of learning eventually led me to graduate school where I studied literacy with an emphasis on children's literature. I spent several years teaching middle school in Chicago and Denver before arriving at Graded. Teaching internationally occurred to me after spending several summer vacations backpacking through Central America, South America, and Europe. The idea of moving away from everything I'd always known was daunting but the adventure that I was longing for. I moved here in 2014 and have been fortunate enough to build a career, life, and family in São Paulo.
2. What inspires you?
My students inspire me on a daily basis. The best moments occur when they become engaged with their own learning, not because they want to earn high marks, but because they have stumbled upon something that genuinely interests them.
3. When you visit the US, what one item do you make sure to stock up on to bring back to Brazil?
There are several: French vanilla coffee creamer, ranch dressing, Kind Bars... The list could go on and on!
4. If you could trade places with any other person for a week, living or dead, real or fictional, famous or not, who would it be?
Depending on the day, my answer to this question could change. But today, I would choose to trade places with a travel journalist – someone like Samantha Brown or Philip Rosenthal. I'd spend the week traveling to a remote locale, exploring the sights, meeting new people, and eating delicious food.
5. What do you do in your free time?
Being a new mom, I don't have much "free time" these days. With so many responsibilities at work and at home, I make it a point to carve out time for hot yoga at least twice a week. I usually try to read something unrelated to school, and currently, I'm reading Black Wave by Kim Ghattas, a complex account that weaves together the history, geopolitics, and conflict in the Middle East after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
6. If you were asked to unload a school bus full of jelly beans, what would you do?
I'd display the bus for all to see and advertise a competition, asking the community guess "How many jellybeans are in the bus?" Students, parents, and faculty/staff would calculate their estimates, and the person with the closest number, without going over, would win a lifetime supply of jelly beans!
7. What was your favorite book when you were in middle school?
I loved The Baby-Sitter's Club series by Ann M. Martin. Each novel is a first-person narrative and deals with real issues that I could relate to. I also enjoyed reading The Giver because it was totally different from any other book I had read up until that point. It was dark and suspenseful, and there were so many deeper layers. Luckily, I get to reread this book each year because it's part of our grade 7 curriculum.
8. If you could be a superhero, what power would you possess?
I would choose the magical power of "apparition," as shown in the Harry Potter series. It's the ability to travel from one place to another in an instant. Bouncing back and forth between my home here and my home in the US would be super cool.
9. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
The people. Hands down.
Former Graded student Mohan Kanungo is the director of community, innovation, and impact at the Children's Council of San Francisco leading work related to community engagement, program incubation, continuous program improvement, and impact and evaluation. Prior to joining the Children's Council, Mohan served as the director of programs and engagement at Mission Asset Fund (MAF). He has worked with community-based organizations in New York and California, and has lived, studied, and traveled extensively abroad. This month, Mohan talks about how his time at Graded sparked a life-long commitment to social change.
What brought your family to São Paulo and why did they send you to Graded?
My family moved to São Paulo from Indianapolis for my dad's job. I attended middle school at Graded from 1996 to1999.
My parents knew that Graded's curriculum would prepare me for high school and college once we moved back to the United States. The school was also near my dad's work in Morumbi. Graded's diversity was important to my parents. The school maintained a strong connection with the American community, but it also had an international student body that included Brazilians.
You are American, but your parents are of Indian, Irish, and German descent and you have lived abroad in Brazil. How would you describe your cultural identity and what role did Graded play in developing it?
Living abroad had a tremendous impact on my identity. Since I am biracial and Brazil is a country with a lot of people who are also mixed, I could often pass as Brazilian. I certainly experienced culture shock when I moved there, but by the time I had left, I felt far more comfortable and at home in Brazil than I did in Indiana.
At Graded, I was a "third-culture kid." So many of my classmates had lived in different countries, which meant we were influenced by a multitude of cultures. To this day, I feel a strong affinity to Brazilian culture, and by extension, a tie to Latin America. This connection is in large part why I went on to study Spanish and work with immigrant communities.
You hold a BA in international studies and ethnic studies. What led you to these fields of study and how do you think this has impacted your view of the world?
Majoring in international studies allowed me to explore global issues, while ethnic studies facilitated my understanding of the United States. Both majors are interdisciplinary, meaning that they draw upon fields including sociology, history, law, and political science and provide distinct perspectives when addressing problems like poverty.
In international studies, for example, I learned about microfinance and how global organizations, such as Bangladesh's Grameen Bank, foster economic empowerment by providing access to a small amount of capital. In ethnic studies, I analyzed domestic economic inequality using a social justice framework. Having this combined perspective challenged my assumption that economic development is something that just happens "over there," and allowed me to understand vehicles that can lift people out of poverty. As a result, a lot of my nonprofit work has focused on supporting immigrants.
Having pursued a career in the nonprofit sector, you embody Graded's vision of "Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world." How did your experience at Graded help foster your commitment to social justice?
Before moving to São Paulo, I led a fairly middle-class, suburban life. Initially, I had a "typical American" attitude and found living in a new country incredibly difficult. Yet at Graded, I was surrounded by people whose cultures were completely different from my own, and I was able to experience things I never would have.
I became fascinated by world events, often spending my lunch period reading the International Herald Tribune newspaper in the library. I got to meet the President of India because my classmate's dad was the Consul General of India in São Paulo. This experience sparked my curiosity and desire to make a difference.
In Brazil, I became close friends with a student whose mom took care of stray dogs and cats. I helped care for them on the weekends and fundraised to pay for their vet visits and food until they were placed in a loving home.
After moving back to the States at the end of eighth grade, that initial spark became a passion for volunteerism, prompting me to lead several clubs, including my high school's Amnesty International chapter. Later in college, my approach to making a difference evolved into community organizing.
In retrospect, I can see how my time in Brazil conscientized me and ignited a passion for social justice. It exposed me to inequality and made me aware of my own privilege, leading to a career in mission-driven, socially-impactful work.
What is your proudest professional moment?
I am most proud of the work I did at Mission Asset Fund (MAF) supporting undocumented immigrant youth in the United States who are beneficiaries of a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the future of which is now being decided by the US Supreme Court. We provided them with $3 million in scholarships, funding 7,500 DACA renewals across 47 states. I was particularly proud to lead engagement with the UndocuBlack Network and nonprofits in rural areas like Mississippi to bring this benefit to more diverse immigrant communities.
On a personal level, I resonate with the stories of DACA youth since my dad immigrated to the United States and because of my own experience in Brazil. Like many of them, I had no choice regarding my parents' decision to move me to another country. My circumstances were incredibly different as an "expat," but I remain committed to programs and services that support immigrant communities.
You thought at one point that you wanted to go to law school. Why did you change your mind?
I actually went to law school in 2010, but stopped at the end of my first year because my mom got ill, and I had to take on additional family responsibilities. At the time, there was a bit of a bubble in the legal field in general. A new attorney often carried $150,000 or more in student debt and could not find a job. I was interested in immigration law, but saw that I could actually make more money working at a nonprofit than many public interest attorneys. Since making that leap, I have also been able to be more creative and responsive in roles such as the one I had at MAF leading the DACA campaign than I would have as an attorney. Occasionally, I consider going back to law school, but so far it hasn't stopped me from advancing professionally or making an impact on the issues I care about most.
What advice would you give to Graded students?
Middle school is tough for everyone. I actually got into a decent amount of trouble at Graded. I had stuff going on at home, and I didn't know how to talk about it or process it. I would encourage students who feel isolated or down to seek help from and interact with people who bring them joy, as well as participating in activities that make them happy. Investing in your mental health and overall wellness makes a difference. To this day, I see a therapist regularly. I teach yoga twice a week. Many leaders are able to continue growing personally and professionally because they value their own development and see how soft skills and emotional intelligence contribute to their overall success.
Did you have a teacher at Graded who was particularly impactful?
Yes, Mr. Mulligan. He taught 7th grade science and prompted my life-long appreciation for sustainability through hands-on activities, during which we learned about things like watersheds and acid rain. One day, he even brought in nonvenomous snakes from the Butantã Snake Institute, which is one of the largest biomedical research facilities of its kind in the world. We have stayed in touch over the years.
What was your favorite thing about Graded?
I remember a class trip to the mangroves, near Ilha Grande. I loved that experience because we got to explore caves, stumble through mud, and explore the flora and fauna on long hikes. The trip helped me understand how human development and environmental interaction can have a positive or negative impact on complex ecosystems.
Do you have a favorite hobby or pastime?
I mentioned that my first year in Brazil was especially difficult. What made the difference for me after the first year was learning how to scuba dive, which I still enjoy. Being out in the open water on a boat, I had to learn Portuguese, which helped me make friends through a shared love of the ocean. I also love adventure, including motorcycling and camping.
By Angela Park, Senior Communications Officer
Cats, dogs, turtles, birds, jaguars, oh my! These animals are just a few of those cared for by Graded Animal Alliance (GAA). Founded in 2009, GAA is a student-led club that partners with multiple animal rescue non-governmental organizations (NGOs). These organizations include Aliança Internacional do Animal (AILA), a large animal shelter that provides life care and adoption services to stray and abused domestic animals, and Mata Ciliar, a group committed to rescuing and rehabilitating endangered wild animals.
"One of the best things about GAA is that we are proactive; we have a lot of things going on all the time," said senior and club leader Fleur V. "If we're not going on visits to local shelters, we are organizing fundraisers."
The club's most successful fundraising initiative is the famous Valentine's Day Gram. Leading up to the special day, members sell and deliver orchids, succulents, and sweets to raise funds for the club's important initiatives and partner organizations. This year, GAA raised R$1,500 and chose Mata Ciliar and the Onçafari, a jaguar preservation project, as their valentine. In December, club members visited the Onçafari project in the Pantanal region to learn more about jaguar relocation initiatives after a recent forest fire that had decimated 60% of the local flora.
"The trip to the Pantanal was something brand new and unique for the group because we were able to observe the problems wild animals face in their actual habitat," said group advisor and Athletics & Activities Supervisor Lika Kishino. "Shadowing the NGO's staff allowed our students to learn not only about wildlife but also about the people who fight for the animals every day."
GAA also supports rescued animals within the local community, scheduling visits to cat and dog shelters around the area. Last September, they painted and cleaned cat cages and donated newspapers for litter boxes.
"It is always a good experience to help and care for the animals. Even small actions such as petting and showing affection improve their quality of life," beamed Fleur.
Ms. Kishino noted that students who get involved become more conscious of the problems animals face. Consequently, they display a great interest in raising awareness of animals' needs and developing fundraising strategies for partner organizations.
"I hope that from this experience students learn that even a small action can make a difference in animals' lives," said Ms. Kishino. That could be playing and making toys for the furry friends at AILA, or cleaning the labs and spaces that will become rehab enclosures."
Fleur added, "Anyone who is interested in helping animals should join the club! There are many animals that need our help."
Graded believes that a strong after-school athletics program can help prepare students for success in life. Graded sports teams stress hard work, cooperation, sportsmanship, leadership, and fair play. Over the past few years, the Athletics Program has developed and expanded, which has brought the community together like never before. The opening of the new athletics facilities has enabled us to strengthen existing teams and programs and offer countless new opportunities for students across all three divisions. Over the past three years, the number of students participating in after-school athletics has more than doubled. This growth can be attributed to the addition of new sports opportunities such as tennis, swimming, flag football, and badminton, as well as year-round sports.
The new facilities have also attracted a number of sports camps. Recently, Tiro Sports NCAA College ID Soccer Camp brought coaches from Yale, Wesleyan, and Colgate to the Graded campus. Their visit gave students a taste of college-level athletics, and the technical and tactical training it entails. Look for similar camps in the 2020-21 school year for sports such as volleyball, basketball, and swimming.
A year ago, Graded joined the South American Activities Conference (SAAC). Participating in this international conference has placed our school on par with the world's most elite international schools, much in the way that our arts students partake globally in The Association for Music in International Schools (AMIS). By competing in SAAC, Graded has also been able to expand its sports opportunities and compete internationally, not just in soccer, basketball, and volleyball, but also in swimming, track and field, cross country, and coming next month, tennis. Graded has already hosted two SAAC tournaments and will once again open our campus next month, when more than 200 athletes join us for the SAAC JV and Varsity Basketball and Tennis Tournaments. Graded will also host the SAAC Fine Arts Festival in 2020-21, showcasing our vibrant arts scene.
In addition to our international tournaments, we continue to strengthen our in-country tournament experiences. One exciting change is the next school year's restructuring of the Association of American Schools in Brazil (AASB) tournament formats. For many years, the 14-member AASB Conference has been divided and fragmented, resulting in multiple tournaments throughout the school year. Starting next year, the top two teams from the AASB Big 8 Tournament held at Nosso Recanto (NR) will compete in a Final Four Brazilian National Championship against the top two teams from the AASB International Schools Sports League (ISSL). Due to our state-of-the-art facilities and leadership in the region, Graded has been chosen to host these national championship tournaments for soccer, volleyball, futsal, and basketball through 2022.
|AASB BIG 8||AASB ISSL|
The combination of our São Paulo city leagues, NR tournaments, home-hosted events, and international competitions has set Graded apart as one of the strongest athletics programs in the region. As we approach our centennial, Graded continues to strive for excellence in athletics, as well as all aspects of the student experience.
1. Among other degrees, you hold a Doctorate in Education (EdD) and have worked in different school roles, such as assistant principal in Cairo and director of curriculum and staff development in Seoul. How do all of these experiences help you as the Lower School librarian at Graded?
For many years and through different roles, I've enjoyed collaborating with teachers and working across multiple grades. I like looking at the big picture and how all the pieces of the puzzle go together. These are key parts of a successful library program as well. Literacy leadership has also been a primary focus of my work in both my master's and doctoral degrees, and it drives my work as a librarian.
2. What adventurous pastimes have you engaged in at different points in your life?
I spent much of my 20s and 30s looking for the next big thrill – skydiving, ballooning, bungee jumping, mountain climbing, rock climbing, rappelling, sailing, scuba diving, and wilderness backpacking. I've toned things down a bit, but I still love to travel.
3. What book that you have read in the past five years has made a big impact on you?
Too many to count, really. Many of the books I read leave a lasting impression. Two that come to mind are Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning by Peter H. Johnston.
In Half the Sky, the authors share numerous devastating stories about the oppression of women around the world, while also sharing information about organizations that are changing lives and empowering women and girls. It is the lasting message of hope from those who have suffered greatly that impacted me the most.
Choice Words is a short but thought-provoking book about the power our words have to shape the experiences of the children around us, often in ways we don't realize.
4. What do you do if you can't sleep at night?
I read! (And sometimes I listen to a recording of waves crashing.)
5. What's your favorite quote about libraries? And why do you like it?
I've always appreciated one from the 1800s that is every bit as true today as it was originally:
"He is wise who knows the source of knowledge – where it is written and where it is to be found." A.A. Hodge
We are now inundated with a quantity of information that Mr. Hodge couldn't have begun to imagine. It is even more important now that we learn how to discern quality information and how to locate good sources. This is perhaps the most important part of my work with students (and adults).
6. If you had the ability to compete in an Olympic sport, which would it be?
Can we make speed reading an Olympic sport?
7. Have you ever felt excluded? Explain the situation and how it made you feel.
I think there are times throughout our lives that we feel like we would have appreciated being included in something. We all experience FOMO (fear of missing out), and I think social media has made that even harder than when I was a kid.
I do remember a time in middle school when two people I considered good friends were having a sleepover without me. One of them made a point of talking in front of me about how much fun they were going to have and everything they were going to do. I felt jealous and hurt at the time, and we got into a big argument. We made up - it took a couple of years, to be honest – and more than 30 years later, she's one of my closest friends. I consider her to be family.
8. What is your favorite place to be when you're out and about in São Paulo?
I absolutely love taking long walks in Ibirapuera Park for the people-watching, museums, and various special events and performances, which I often discover by accident.
9. What fear are you trying to overcome?
I sometimes feel afraid of the unknown, especially what the future will bring. I think this is why I've deliberately put myself into what could be considered scary situations: to face my fears and push the edges of my comfort zone. This has included adventure sports, but also "leaping into the unknown" (like Scaredy Squirrel) with moves around the world. I think it's good to challenge our fears in safe ways. Sometimes our fears are well-founded and they help us make good choices. Sometimes they are barriers to living our fullest lives. I don't want a fear of the unknown to keep me from taking chances and experiencing the world.
10. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
I love the positive energy at Graded. I love that being happy is emphasized in our strategic initiatives, along with being successful and being involved. Achieving this balance in our lives is key!
Secratária Escolar Vera Gois and Diretora Oficial Silvia Siqueira
As an American school, Graded also provides an integrated Brazilian curriculum, which is comparable to that of top Brazilian schools. In addition to offering the International Baccalaureate (IB) and American Diplomas, Graded grants the Certificado de Conclusão do Ensino Médio (Brazilian High School Diploma).
The school is recognized by, and affiliated with, the Diretoria de Ensino Região Sul I and must, therefore, comply with Brazilian educational law. The Brazilian Accredited Program (BAP) serves as the liaison between Graded and the Brazilian government.
BAP is overseen by Diretora Oficial Silvia Siqueira, who is registered with the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC), and Secratária Escolar Vera Gois. Silvia, a former Graded faculty member, who has served as Diretora Oficial at leading Brazilian schools for 28 years, is a wealth of information on the Brazilian educational system.
The BAP Office is located right across Graded's Front Office. To learn more about BAP and how it may apply to your child(ren), please schedule an appointment with Silvia Siqueira (email@example.com) or Vera Gois (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Alumna Anne Marie Speyer '53 entered Graded at the height of World War II. She recalls a collaborative, convivial environment where she learned how to debate issues and challenge the status quo. After receiving a scholarship to study in the United States, Anne Marie served in the convent for 30 years, working in school administration and later for non-governmental organizations focused on education.
Your father was German and your mother was British, yet you are Brazilian. How does this story unfold?
I have to go back in history a little while. I was born in Bahia, so officially, I am a baiana. But yes, my father was German and my mother British. My father was in Salvador on contract for an American firm when he met my mother who had gone to Bahia for her grandparents' golden wedding anniversary. They got married in 1933. I was born in 1935, before the war.
Then, the war began in 1939, and things changed radically. Two years after the war started, the American firm closed, and my dad was laid off. He was a foreigner; therefore, he couldn't get any job in Bahia. Anything. We were at a loss, and unfortunately, he was also put on a blacklist because of his German origin. He was naturalized and became Brazilian (he had three Brazilian children by that time), but he still couldn't get a job. So in 1942, we decided to go South.
We packed up everything – even furniture, and the five of us traveled by ship to Rio, but he couldn't find a job there either. Then we went to Santos, and that would be our last stop. We took the train to come up to São Paulo. As we were arriving, my mother saw the Paulista fog and said, "Let's live here. It's lovely; it reminds me of London."
How did you end up at Graded?
We rented a house not that far from Graded, by coincidence. We were about three blocks away from Oscar Porto (the location of Graded's campus from 1938-1961). My father's good friend, who was the US Consul in São Paulo at the time, naturally recommended Graded, which was close by. My older brother and I went straight to Graded, as well as my younger brother who joined the kindergarten class.
At the time, Graded wasn't an accredited school in Brazil. So my brothers moved to Mackenzie Presbyterian School after 5th grade, but since I was a girl, I didn't have to go to a school that would give me a diploma needed for college. I could stay at Graded, and I was quite happy with that. So Graded was my home from first grade with Mrs. Sherman until [the period with] Mr. Troxel, the superintendent, and Mr. and Mrs. Rowlands, Mr. and Mrs. Whinery, and many other wonderful teachers I had during those times.
What do you remember most about being at Graded?
We had a kind of conviviality and respect among us, and a kind of "let's help each other do things because the world's in a mess." We used to get a leaflet that addressed all kinds of post-war world issues. I also remember the United Nations coming around after the war, which was brand new at the time. And we had a wonderful group in class. We were 17 when we graduated, and while many came and left, I remember we had six or seven different nationalities in our class. And all were refugees of some kind. We had [a classmate] from Poland; we had someone from the free state of Danzig, from Germany, from Italy, from Armenia, and China... we had everyone there.
Our teacher, I can't remember who exactly, but someone incentivized us to start debating these important issues. You couldn't say "I'm in favor" or "I'm against." That was forbidden. You had to argue why you were in favor, and you had to argue why you were in favor of the opposing view. It's quite a different kind of study. And at the time, the Biblioteca Mário de Andrade in Consolação had just been inaugurated. This teacher of ours, he knew exactly what kinds of books we had to get there. He taught us how to use file cards, put topics on them, and do research. He told us, "When you take notes, put one subject on each card. When they're all tidied up, then you can shuffle them and order them according to what your argument will be." He gave us a whole class on how to research in order to argue your point and ideas.
Were you good at debate?
So we had Robert Civita in our class. Do you remember him? Everyone in São Paulo must know him. He was my classmate. We also had Olga Krell in our class, and the two of them used to vie for first place. That was constant. Our most marvelous debater was Civita. He knew how to turn any issue in his favor. And since I used to stutter tremendously at that time but was good at research, I was frequently chosen as the researcher, not as a debater. I didn't do much debating, but I followed the thought and picked up the right items to defend points. And I think that learning how to debate issues changed my life completely.
How so? How did this debate experience impact you?
I received a scholarship to the University of Washington, and at that time, all the foreign students (and we were many) had to first take an English for Foreigners class. I didn't even spend a day there because they moved me to a class for Americans who spoke and wrote poorly in English. But I didn't stay much longer there, and I was sent to the freshman English class. From there, I could choose whatever classes I wanted. I attribute this not only to being fluent in English, but knowing how to discuss issues and how to put things in order logically, which I learned through debate at Graded.
What else did you learn at Graded?
I learned that you grow by cooperating rather than by competing. We learned that so well at Graded because we frequently helped each other with languages and used to do our homework on the blackboard together before classes. We would turn in our own homework, and no one would copy the other. We weren't competing with each other. Now in college, I found everyone was competing with each other to knock the other one down, and this disturbed me profoundly.
You spent 30 years in the convent as a nun but also as an educational administrator. Tell us how this happened.
During my second year of college, I joined a Newman Club where we debated philosophy and theology. It was a mixed group of boys, girls, and couples who had the desire to understand philosophy and theology, and that's where I felt my vocation. I decided I wanted to go out and change the competitive world into something more cooperative. I wanted to participate in that and I couldn't see myself doing it alone, so I had to find a group to do it with. I wanted to do something meaningful, and I thought that would be the place.
I spent 30 years in the convent in Brazil. I started out as a school principal in Niterói, which was not exactly what I imagined. I wanted to avoid structures; I wanted work. Therefore, I was very excited when I was asked to become the general secretary of Movimento de Educação de Base (MEB). This was a civil society organization set up by the National Bishops' Conference. It was founded in 1961 based on a radio-supported experience in adult education carried out in Rio Grande do Norte. But with the military regime, some of these local teams were being shut down. And so I worked on coordinating the administrative and educational aspect of it, walking a fine line between the excess political and excess religious. On one side you had the military government, while on the other side, the bishops wanted education to be Catholic. But if you want real education it has to be education for all... You can be Catholic, Jewish, or Protestant... Education is not a resistance group. Education helps you to learn more so you can do more. I was on the job for ten years, and by that time, we had already almost doubled the local teams in some Northeastern states and on the Solimões River in the Amazon.
What drove your decision to change careers?
My father had a heart attack. I got to spend a few days with him, but he passed away. My mother also received a call from England telling her that her mother had passed away. Same day, same time. And my mother's sister had passed away a few months before. I felt that my severely bereaved mother needed support. I asked for a leave of absence, but they wouldn't concede, so I signed out. I have no regrets; I didn't do it in a rage. I learned to do this with discernment. Getting away from everything, you sit down for a few days, and think about your decision and go on to see all the variables, positive and negative. I spent eight days at a retreat center thinking about this, but in the end, I decided I had to leave. I didn't regret going [to the convent] and I didn't regret leaving it. After I left the convent, I continued working on my mission – non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on education.
Anne Marie visits the "new" Graded campus at Av. José Galante in February 2019.
I am pleased to share with you a series of interviews we conducted with members of the class of 2019. We spoke to seven Graded students at the end of their senior year, prior to their departure for university. Our goal was to capture their essence and learn from them, as they reflected upon their Graded experience.
We have their standardized test scores recorded and grades calculated. But how do we reveal a student's true substance, as they prepare to embark upon a new chapter of their lives? Clearly, our students, like their counterparts around the world, are more than just a number or two.
As you listen to these students, you will gain an understanding of the powerful nature of the Graded experience. Some of our interviewees are "lifers." Others attended the school for just a few years. Yet, they share this impactful journey, which is Graded. This school has provided them with freedom, structure, license to fail, and space to succeed. It has nurtured their passions, producing accomplished athletes, actors, mathematicians, writers, musicians, and humanitarians. These students demonstrate the ability to reflect deeply and an understanding of the profound role Graded has played in shaping who they are and who they hope to become.
Our interviewees strongly exemplify the "Science of Learning" principles we espouse at Graded. They have learned to distill and synthesize information, think critically and creatively, and express themselves clearly. They will carry these deep-rooted skills with them well beyond high school graduation.
Deep, enduring, and transferable learning is the true measure of a student's PK-12 academic experience and success. At Graded, we are committed to ensuring every student has the character and skills to learn how to learn, reason, and empathize.
Happy holidays and enjoy this short film!
1. You have a master's degree from the University of São Paulo in Brazilian literature. What influences in your life led to your interest in literature?
My father was an avid reader and he was my greatest influence. The Russian writers, for example, were some of his major passions in literature, especially Tolstoy. Graciliano Ramos was probably one of his favorites in Brazilian literature. He is one of mine, too.
2. As a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
I wanted to be a musician, professional runner, and journalist, among other things. Teaching became my dream job when I was around 18, after I took two semesters of electrical engineering and realized it was not really my field. I took the Vestibular again, this time for Portuguese/English language and literature.
3. You dabble in music in your free time. Do you play any instruments?
I mostly listen to music whenever I can, but I also occasionally play the drums and other percussion instruments with friends and do some DJing.
4. What was the hardest era of your life?
The hardest period was when my youngest brother passed away in 2002.
5. What is one book by a Brazilian author that best embodies what it means to be Brazilian?
Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis is certainly one of them because it encapsulates so many characteristics of our country, for the good and for the bad. Also it is a true masterpiece in terms of narrative building: its narrator, for instance, is a dead man!
6. Where is your favorite spot in São Paulo for weekend fun?
I enjoy the Barra Funda/Santa Cecília area right now because it is a neighborhood with nice bars, restaurants, and clubs and not as crowded and/or expensive as other spots around the city.
7. What dream has come true for you?
One of them, for sure, was visiting London for the first time in 2010. It has always been a city with a lot of connections to my life: music, literature, history, soccer, among others. Being there was finally seeing for myself what I had only learned from books, TV, and radio, so it was really a dream come true.
8. What's your favorite expression and when did you last use it?
One of my favorites is "Tô ligado..." and I especially like to use it with my students. At first they laugh and don't believe their Portuguese teacher allows himself to be that informal. That is always a good starting point for discussing the appropriate use of formal and informal language.
9. Who is your best friend and in one sentence, how would you describe this person?
A great friend of mine is Breno Deffanti, a Portuguese teacher in the High School. He is not only someone really fun to be around, but also someone I know I can count on in good and not-so-good times.
10. You coordinate the Vivas Palavras Contest at Graded. Tell us more about it!
Vivas Palavras is our annual Portuguese literary contest that has been going on for the last 15 years. Eloisa Galesso and Mario Spanghero were the teachers who first came up with the idea. I have been coordinating the project for the last 11 years. All students taking Portuguese and more advanced levels of Portuguese as an Additional Language in grades 4-12 participate. Students write poems and short stories, and the best pieces are published in a special Vivas Palavras book released in April or May. Our students come up with impressive work, demonstrating exceptional creativity and mastery of the Portuguese language. The Vivas Palavras books are available in the library.
11. You've been teaching at Graded for 20 years. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
Collegiality. It is great to know you have colleagues who are willing to give their best in order to enhance our programs with collaborative projects and activities.