by Shannon Beckley, Director of Teaching and Learning
Graded's commitment to each one of our students and families is captured in our vision statement:
"Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world."
This vision is borne out of community-wide reflection upon our valued traditions and plans for the future and drives our Teaching and Learning team's work. Graded's vision prompts our school and faculty to examine curricula, student learning experiences, and professional approaches. In an ever-changing world, reviewing and adapting our work is an ongoing journey. Over the past several years, we have hosted Graded's Think Tank, studied with experts in cognitive science and design thinking, and begun to weave teaching practices for deep, enduring, and transferable learning into our classrooms.
At Graded, deeper learning is the convergence of what authors Jal Mehta (Harvard University) and Sarah Fine (High Tech High School) call the virtues: mastery + identity + creativity. Learning is most profound and long-lasting when it results from the intersection of knowledge and skills (mastery), motivation and purpose (identity), and the ability to produce and create in new ways (creativity). When we plan and organize our classrooms to foster the development of these virtues, we know that we will graduate students who are knowledgeable, action-oriented, confident, innovative, and globally-focused.
Equipping our faculty to teach in this manner is critical to our overall success. In March 2021, Graded's Learning Lab began implementing an innovative professional learning experience designed by Graded teachers for Graded teachers. The "Deeper Learning Pilot'' is a 10-week intensive course produced by the Teaching and Learning Department in collaboration with external partners Dr. Kevin Mattingly of Columbia University, the Stanford d.Lab, Explo Elevate, and the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). The course is delivered by the school's four deeper learning coaches and two curriculum coordinators. Twenty Graded teachers enrolled in the initial offering.
Our pilot is designed as a series of informational workshops and classroom coaching cycles. During the workshops, teachers come together across grade levels and content areas for two to three days to study, learn, and plan. They explore the following guiding questions:
- What is deeper learning?
- How do we foster the virtues of mastery, identity, and creativity in our students?
- How can I apply the deeper learning frameworks to my own learning and professional growth?
Each workshop series is followed by a two-week classroom coaching cycle during which teachers match with a deeper learning coach. Together, they practice applying strategies that promote deeper learning with students. As part of the coaching cycle, faculty collect and analyze student work to understand its impact on student learning. This sequence repeats three times and culminates in a celebration of learning.
While the faculty learning journey is still in its infancy, teachers are already reflecting upon the impact this work is having on their teaching and their students' learning:
"I have never experienced learning like this. I have never learned in the same way the teacher is teaching me to teach."
"I am taking a hard look at my curriculum and standards. I want to examine them through the lenses of a 'focus on the concept' and 'big ideas!'
"The concepts we are learning about will make a HUGE impact in my classroom... I am most looking forward to seeing my students develop as independent problem solvers in a community of learners."
It has been said that when teachers are learning, students are learning. Over the next school year, the Deeper Learning Pilot will expand, and we envision that by the end of 2022 all Graded teachers will have participated in the program. We believe that combining a robust curriculum with purposeful and motivating learning experiences will further develop Graded students, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in novel ways. They will become individuals who positively impact the world.
Reference: Mehta, Jal and Fine, Sarah. In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. Print.
by Isabella Krell '11, Senior Communications Officer
"Art challenges students to see the world differently, to explore their artistic and cultural understandings, to reach beyond perceived boundaries, to analyze and problem-solve, and to recognize possibilities. Most of all, it teaches students to ask questions."
- Amanda York, IB Visual Arts teacher
There are many reasons why students choose to study visual arts. The world today needs creative thinkers and requires collaboration across disciplines. "People," explains IB Art senior Marcos A., "need to look at things in many ways in order to be successful." Interdisciplinarity is a way of thinking, doing, and relating to the world. Classmate Luisa M. believes she has learned how to do that through her experience as an IB Visual Arts student. "Art is as interdisciplinary" and something that "changes as you change," she states.
International Baccalaureate (IB) Visual Arts is a rigorous research-based program that is also very student-centered. It puts discovery at the forefront of a holistic learning experience. "The course," says Maja, second-year IB Visual Arts student, "challenges your creativity and your technical skill; it challenges you on an individual level. It forces you to get involved with your thoughts and your struggles and to create something meaningful to you and others."
Under the guidance of High School Visual Arts Teacher Amanda York, Graded's IB Visual Arts students hone their creativity and problem-solving skills as they work toward technical proficiency and confidence as artists. They experiment with and critically reflect upon a diverse variety of contemporary techniques and media to express their ideas, in addition to analyzing and contrasting the visual arts from multiple perspectives and contexts. Research, investigation, and reflection on artists, art history, and ideas across cultures and disciplines are at the core of their learning experience. For senior Eduardo K., the IB Visual Arts program has "taught [him] to place [him]self in other people's shoes."
Over two years, students learn to understand the creative process by developing a body of artwork, seven to ten pieces, unified thematically or through related ideas. In the classroom, students have the freedom to explore media, techniques, and ideas, while teacher Amanda York helps to facilitate learning. "Art is not created in a vacuum," says Ms. York. "Exploring the work and ideas of other artists, thinkers, and disciplines throughout history and across cultures is essential to their learning experience. We focus on developing an understanding of the creative process and turning a kernel of an idea into an artwork. For the students, it's a little like learning to walk: they are eager to see quick results but get frustrated with the process, fall often, and sometimes it's painful. Creativity requires perseverance. It also helps to become comfortable with ambiguity because they must learn how to move forward without the certainty of knowing where they will end up. That also takes courage. Students discover new aspects of themselves; they learn to trust themselves and trust in the process of learning."
Ultimately, students implement what they have learned during two years in their Final Exhibition, the culmination of each student's IB Visual Arts experience. Students must apply their knowledge about the curatorial practice to share their artwork with the public. Each artist writes a curatorial rationale explaining the exhibition concept, how each artwork relates to that concept, and the impact of their curatorial choices on the overall presentation.
"Art is one of those things that you want to be physically present for," says Ms. York, "so I wasn't sure what to expect when we moved to distance learning so early in the process. I'm still struck by surprise and then admiration for this group of students who continued to show up, stick together and even thrive. The diversity in the artwork, ideas, and approaches reflect their styles and personalities; it is a testament to the authenticity that these students bring to their work."
This year's IB Visual Arts Exhibit highlights the work of ten seniors who will go on to an array of post-secondary pursuits, including the fine arts, education, architecture, design, economics, business, and environmental studies.
Under normal circumstances, student artworks are showcased at Graded's Lemann-Tully Art Center for several weeks. This year, due to the pandemic, the IB Art Senior Exhibit has a new virtual home. A video interview accompanies each student's work and conveys their process, concept, and art story. We hope that you enjoy this tour showcasing our senior artists. We are very proud of the incredible work they have produced.
1. You have a Master of Education in School Counseling from Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. What led you to pursue school counseling?
School counseling is the perfect blend of two things I love: education and helping others. Before pursuing my Master of Education in School Counseling, I realized that I spent a lot of time helping students reactively – seeing a problem and coming up with a "Band-Aid solution" to get them through. I realized I wanted to be in a role that helped students proactively build skills, identify issues that might cause problems for them, understand themselves as humans and learners, and advocate for themselves in the school setting. School counseling allows me to do this.
2. How does school counseling look different at Graded than at other schools in which you have worked?
The biggest difference I notice here is how the community values the role of the counselor. The Graded community is eager to seek a counselor for support, consultation, and/or collaboration. Sometimes the stigma around "seeing a counselor" impedes people from seeking support. That is not the case here. At Graded, I feel like we are viewed as an integral part of the school, helping students to achieve success. I also appreciate that if a counselor has an idea that could promote belonging, student success, or well-being, we receive the green light to move forward with the idea. Graded trusts me as a professional, and I appreciate that.
3. What are the parts of your job that other people might not know about?
There are so many. I guess the biggest piece is that a school counselor does not provide therapy. We help students access therapy, but we are not the providers. The terms "counseling" and "therapy," often used interchangeably, are different skill sets with different outcomes. Another piece of my role is that you have to perfect the "counseling face," which means staying neutral at all costs without verbal affirmations, head nods or shakes, or any sort of agreeing or disagreeing. I use it on my husband a lot, to his displeasure! pleased.
4. How do you explain your role to students and community members?
The best way to explain my role is that I am a helper. My job is to make sure that students feel safe at Graded, and I am there to help them with that. This can mean physical or emotional safety and looks different for every individual. I also explain that my job is to be a questioner. It is not about providing the solution for anyone's problem but instead asking the right questions to help them arrive at their own solutions.
5. What is one thing that you're currently passionate about?
Well, recently, it has been trail running. My amazing sister is a trail runner in the States, and she has encouraged me to start doing races, as well. Trail running is the perfect blend of movement and nature – all with my favorite running partner (my husband) by my side. I am so passionate about it that during a race in October, I fell and broke my patella but kept running to finish the course. So, now I am passionate about healing to get back out to the trails and become an even stronger racer and runner.
6. As a child, what was your idea of fun?
Anything that involved being outside. My sister and I had all sorts of amazing outdoor "hobbies." They included collecting and analyzing bugs, harvesting tree sap, building forts in the old cow feeders, fishing in the stream on our property, making perfume from random flowers and plants, digging in the compost piles for worms for said fishing, riding dirt bikes and quads around the property, helping my dad in his shop, riding horses, and more. Fun was anything that involved creativity, doing, making, and being outside with my awesome brothers and sister.
7. Would you enjoy a month all alone in an isolated, beautiful, and safe place with food and shelter provided? Why or why not?
I know I could do it because I know I am capable of doing hard things. However, I would not enjoy it because I would be without my husband, who is my best friend, my partner in crime, and the person who keeps me grounded and in a good mental headspace. If I could find a way to bring him (and frescobol) to the island, then sure, I would be ready.
8. Have you discovered a spot in São Paulo that you think everyone should visit at least once?
One of my favorite places is the back garden at Museu da Casa Brasileira. Pre-COVID, the museum had something in the garden each weekend - live music, craft or food festivals, kids weekends with entertainment and acts, garden shows, and more. It is a nice place to go and just sit and be. Even though you are in the middle of the city, it feels like a slice of nature and stillness with great people watching. I am eager to visit again when the world opens back up.
9. Are you more of a rule keeper or a rule breaker?
Rule follower. Full stop. I start sweating, simply thinking about breaking the rules. I wish I could be more rebellious, but my middle-child, people-pleaser instincts are too strong.
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
The energy. Being on campus provides an energy that is hard to explain. I think it is a combination of the amazing humans, the beautiful grounds, the dedicated staff who keep our space clean, safe, and green, the excitement in the classrooms and on the fields, the strong coffee and delicious meals prepared for us, and the palpable love of education that makes this place buzz. Even on "off days," it is hard not to pick up on the positive energy and feel a little bit better when you arrive on campus. It really is a unique place to work and learn, eh?!?
by Elizabeth Marvel, Associate Director of Admissions
When the school day ends, Eaglets flock to the Graded Athletics Fields. A wide array of Lower School student-athletes are enthusiastic members of the Eaglets Soccer Program, which introduces the basic principles of soccer and keeps the game fun. A great success, the club continues to grow and has almost doubled in size over the past year.
All students are welcome to join the Eaglets, with no tryouts necessary. Olivia H. saw her older brother play with the Eaglets and followed in his footsteps, joining two years ago. Nicholas H., also in his second year in the program, says he participates because he loves soccer and wants to spend time with his friends.
Graded Eaglets build individual technical skills under the guidance of supportive coaches and later implement them by participating in scrimmages and friendly games. These matches also allow young athletes to realize their roles as parts of a team. The Internal Soccer Championship, consisting of games in which students from third to sixth grade compete, became one of the program's highlights. Gabriela B. enthuses that the matches are very fun and adds, "I really liked the medals!"
These student-athletes learn valuable lessons on and off the field. "We have two big targets: developing soccer skills and life and cognitive skills with the same importance," says Eaglets Program Coordinator Carlos Pereira. "Commitment, self-control, cooperation, self-confidence, respect, discipline, meritocracy, leadership, and solidarity are part of our methodology."
Through the program, young athletes notice their improved soccer skills. Hamilton A. notes he's become better at defense, and Gabriela B. and Olivia H. say they've been working on a new technique to kick the ball. The Eaglets are also aware of the skills they can take off the pitch. Gabriela B. smiles, "I used to be very competitive, but I've learned the value of teamwork." Olivia H. adds that she's cultivated leadership skills while participating in the program. Nicholas H. exclaims, "I've learned a lot about sportsmanship!"
Of course, this year looks different. The program has implemented safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, such as mandatory masks and more individual activities. It has also suspended matches against fellow clubs and schools. Hamilton A. says he misses these games and is very eager to resume them in the future. However, he comments that his favorite aspects of the program remain: being with his coaches, playing with his friends, and learning new skills. Mr. Pereira is glad to offer the Eaglets program during this time, remarking that it's an "opportunity to return to socializing and playing sports, which is very important for students' physical and mental health."
Mr. Pereira and his cadre of talented coaches lead a transformative soccer program in which students work hard, grow stronger, and become a part of a community. Rafa V. has played soccer since he was three, but his time with the Eaglets has deepened his appreciation for the beautiful game and given him new opportunities, like being invited to play with the JV team. When asked if he's proud to be an Eaglet, he beams, "Of course!"
1. What years did you attend Graded?
I attended Graded from Kindergarten in 2001 to senior year in 2014.
2. You were a member of the Graded Scholar Program. How did it impact your life?
Access to a Graded education was such a blessing for my family and me! Receiving a scholarship allowed me to pursue everything that I set my mind to. The Graded Scholar Program was a tremendous opportunity that inspired me to work hard and to aim high. Graded exposed me to different experiences and ideas I had not imagined. For example, the concept of studying abroad, or even living abroad, never crossed my mind. In middle school, I realized I would like to attend college in the US, and I started laying out my plans for the future. Graded made that possible for me - from expanding my horizons to offering the best resources and connections to help me achieve my goal.
3. What made Graded special? What is your fondest memory from your 13 years there?
What was most special to me at Graded were my relationships with my classmates and my teachers. I always looked forward to going to school because Graded was filled with people I wanted to be around 24/7. The levels of love, respect, and appreciation I was surrounded by throughout my time at school cannot be measured. Also, the class of 2014 had some of the most amazing people to ever set foot at Graded (and I'm totally not biased). On a serious note, though, I regularly find myself wishing I could relive all the after-school adventures with my friends and all the school trips, which says a lot to me about the amazing experience Graded was for me.
4. What were your biggest challenges at Graded?
Some of the courses, especially IB, were challenging. Learning, however, wasn't that hard. My biggest challenge was time management. My dad worked at Graded and arrived by 6:30 am, which meant that I did, too. I'd wake up at 5:00 am, go to school, attend all my classes, participate in after-school clubs and activities, and get back home at around 8:00 pm to do homework, have dinner, and get to sleep at a reasonable time before repeating everything all over again.
5. What clubs and activities were you involved with?
In middle school, I joined the soccer and futsal teams. When I got to high school, I gave up futsal and joined the volleyball team instead. I was also a part of MUN (Model United Nations) and the Graded Jazz Band.
6. Did you take a class or have a teacher at Graded who was particularly impactful?
Definitely. To start, my Kindergarten teachers influenced me tremendously because that's when I started learning English. And they did a fantastic job because, by first grade, I was doing pretty well already. Oh boy, I don't want to skip any teachers. They were all so great. Two teachers who immediately come to mind are Guilherme Faria and Robbie Stange. Music was my greatest passion throughout my time at Graded, and those teachers elevated my skill level and my love for music in ways that are hard to define. However, when it comes to molding character, I feel like the most important class for me was Peer Group Connection (PGC). The program allowed me to dive deep into how I interacted with those around me and taught me how to empathize better with others.
7. You studied Computer Science at Skidmore College on a full scholarship! What led you to this field of study, and how do you think it has impacted your view of the world?
The one thing that I've always wanted to do was be able to help people on a large scale, and very early on (around middle school), I decided that the easiest way to do that was through technology. My objectives haven't changed since then, but being more involved in the field has made me realize how much power I have at my disposal and how much responsibility I bear to help those around me. Computer science reaffirmed both my negative and positive perspectives of the world around me. However, it also taught me to balance and observe people and things not through a lens of judgment but understanding. My minor at Skidmore was in music. So I pursued my passion for Computer Science but didn't forget about my hobby!
8. What kind of work are you doing currently, and what are your professional goals?
After I graduated, I enrolled in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program and accepted a job offer in Jacksonville, FL, referred by a friend. I currently work at CEVA Logistics, a freight management company, as a software engineer. I spend most of my day writing code. I mainly build customer-facing web applications and develop websites/mobile applications in my free time. All of my professional goals are entrepreneurial. My objective is to establish my own companies by age 30 to provide me with a stable income source so that I may take a step back from all the programming and start researching neural technology. Once that has been achieved, my life goal is to create at least one piece of life-changing technology.
9. What are your favorite hobbies?
Playing bass is my number one hobby. I generally rely on music to give me a break from my routine. My instruments bring balance into my life. I don't typically have much time to do anything other than programming, but I always make sure to allocate some time for music. Videogames are also on the list, but I don't play them as often as I used to.
10. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to Graded students?
I'd tell them not to be afraid to be ambitious. Your chance of failure is higher when you aim too high, but in the end, you'll have achieved much more than you would have, had you set the bar lower. There's a lot of knowledge to be found in failure. Also, make sure you build relationships as soon as you get to Graded because your friends will help you achieve your goals. You can always learn a lot from those who surround you.
Superintendent Richard Boerner speaks to educational recruitment and strategic consulting firm Carney, Sandoe & Associates about innovation in education.
Editor's Note: Having heard about the impressive steps that Graded: The American School of São Paulo has taken in the past few years to elevate the teaching and learning process, we reached out to Graded's Superintendent, Richard Boerner, to talk about the changes and their implications for innovation in all schools. Among other initiatives, Graded has entered into a partnership with Stanford University's d.school to drive innovation in the curriculum. Through additional work with Dr. Kevin Mattingly, a cognitive science instructor at the Klingenstein Center at Columbia University's Teacher College, and COGx, a research and development company in applied cognitive science, Graded is also incorporating new instructional and assessment strategies with the goal of helping all students learn deeply and develop lifelong metacognitive skills. To work with the faculty and help facilitate the transition, the school has also internally hired and trained four "deeper learning coaches." What follows is an edited version of our conversation.
CS&A Staff: Part of the movement for innovation in schools today simultaneously seems to be a re-examination of mainstream education of the past 30-50 years — a looking back to figure out how to move forward in a more effective way. What do you see when you look back? What did we collectively get right and what clearly needs fixing?
Richard Boerner: There's much that we've gotten right in the past 30 years regarding high-quality teaching and both formative and summative assessment. We just haven't applied it widely enough. We erred in the 1990s and early 2000s when the focus in schools was fundamentally about driving only academic achievement, measured by various test results. It's not all we did, of course, but we let it dominate our work in schools. In the process, we failed to be of service to the kind of deep learning that should be the essence of education.
At Graded and elsewhere, we've been rethinking the core question: Why do we go to school? The resulting conversations have been pushing schools to shift their programs in favor of helping students develop lifelong cognitive skills — develop one's mind, one's ability to think, to create, to collaborate, etc. At the rudimentary level, these essential elements of learning were lost even in how we trained teachers. When schools focus only on the achievement end of education, and not on the process of how one thinks, how one takes in and processes information, we are selling students short.
Ultimately, content-heavy lessons coupled with high-stakes measurements — SAT, ACT, IB, AP, etc. — have offered universities an easy way to calculate and rank students. That's the main reason schools bought into this system. But we know we can and should do better.
The other stumbling block has been dealing with the anxiety and leeriness about change — especially when you're changing something that, on paper, seems OK, and when parents have a choice about which school to send their kids to. So it's understandable that schools have been cautious about rocking the test-prep boat. Fortunately that's starting to change.
At Graded — and at other schools as well — we're getting back to this central question of the purpose of education. But this time we're also equipped with much greater knowledge about how children learn and how to teach in a manner that brings out the best in each child. Schools that see themselves as innovative today know they are on a better path than they were 20 years ago. But it's still challenging. We need to be very clear about why we do what we do — so we can bring along all constituents in the process of building better schools.
CS&A: The word "innovation" is used widely now in education circles, but often with different notions of what innovation means. What does it mean to you and in context of the work you are doing at Graded?
Boerner: Essentially, we see innovation as a way to embrace the kinds of actions in education that can provide a profoundly better experience for all students, not just in school but also in all dimensions of life after school and college. In my mind, this is innovation because it's asking us to focus on taking action in schools today whose results cannot be immediately known. In a way, we are placing a bet that the learning experiences students have today will in fact benefit their future self. This is a profound shift from the short-term, college prep thinking. The result of our work, while we want it to engage students in the moment and serve them well in college, ultimately manifests itself much later in their lives.
If we really want to measure the success of our students, we shouldn't just measure them when they are 18; we should also measure them at 30 when they've taken all they've learned in school and have applied it to work and life.
At Graded, we're conducting testimonial interviews with our graduates. If we're doing our jobs right, our graduates should talk about the deep, rich, meaningful learning experiences in school and offer concrete examples of how the skills they have developed can be transferred in an array of uses. We want to know we've given them the skills to adapt, thrive, contribute, create, lead, succeed — and enjoy life. Our measure of success is that when they look back, they will say thank you for preparing them well.
Innovation isn't about some radical new way of teaching or running a school. Yes, there are product innovations in educational technology that can be helpful and enable other changes. But innovation, to me, is about taking enough risk to do what really matters. It's about taking the steps that get at the core of the school's mission, to leverage all the knowledge about brain science and learning so that we help each and every student both succeed in school and in the complicated thing we call life.
Innovation is not about the tools. It's not about improved test results. It's not about the short-term goals. It's not about the computer. It's about the intellectual and emotional well-being of all students coupled with engagement and success now and in the future.
CS&A: You have written about the intersection of design-thinking and future thinking. These are complex concepts that aren't always easy to wrap one's mind around. Or perhaps it's better to say it's not always clear how the ideas behind these terms get translated into programmatic change in schools. Can you talk about how, at Graded, these concepts inform what you do?
Boerner: In all candor, I came at design thinking a tad cynically. I didn't think of it as a gimmick or fad, but I thought of design thinking as simply a term that describes what great thinkers have always done. Our director of analytics, innovation and research, Shauna Hobbs-Beckley, pushed back on my thinking. She was the one who convinced me that we need to engage in understanding design thinking as it applies to education in general and infuse it into our conversations about improvements at Graded. To that end, four of our teachers have been trained at Stanford University's d.school to better understand design thinking and to launch conversations here on how we can use it to address programmatic challenges. These faculty members have now become the creative catalyst in our discussions about change — about advancing the generation of ideas about teaching and learning. I think all of us have come to see that having an actual process has helped us a great deal in identifying core questions.
Personally, through my time at the Klingenstein Program at Columbia University in 2019, I have evolved my understanding about the intersection of the design-thinking process and education. In particular, Dr. Kevin Mattingly's course on The Science of Learning encouraged me to think through all the issues and challenges related to quality education in the 21st century. Right now, at most schools, the core of learning is still content. We may supplement this content with conversations on how students learn and explore matters such as creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, social-emotional engagement and all. But if we say that the fundamental purpose of school is to have every student be thoughtful in their ability to learn deeply and be able to transfer that learning to a variety of circumstances, then we need to flip the paradigm — think of content as a vehicle toward a greater end.
But of course, that's easy to say but really hard to do. How do you flip this paradigm? How do you physically set up your school so the content is the vehicle and not the end-product? How do you then reframe the way instruction is delivered? This is where design thinking comes in. The process has given us the strategies to tackle these big questions, which will ultimately reshape much of what we do at Graded.
So I consider the design-thinking process to be a lifeline. It's something to draw on as we find our way through from where we are to where we want to be. It helps us articulate how we get from an idea to something tangible and applicable.
CS&A: And Stanford's d.school has been helpful in this process?
Boerner: Absolutely. When we had to shut down the school in March due to the pandemic, we immediately reached out to the d.school for help. We already had a good working relationship, but this seemed an opportunity to accelerate our work. I was more or less placing a bet that we were not going to reopen until August, and that we could use the time to future-design a plan for reopening in a way that would incorporate the kind of changes we've been talking about. So in April we started building out our reopening plan for August. With the help of Ariel Raz and Laura McBain at the d.school, we went through umpteen prototypes, and today, actually, we're doing a flight test of all of our new design elements. Next week, we open the high school at 50 percent capacity with these new initiatives.
CS&A: You've described this COVID-19 pandemic and the forced shut down of schools as a seminal moment forced upon us. How do you see the shift to remote learning driving key questions about schooling?
Boerner: For us, the advent of COVID-19 accelerated change exponentially. It forced us to reckon with a number of issues in our teaching and learning practices, particularly regarding content coverage. Ultimately, we came to understand that we need to slow down the day, teach less content, and help students go deeper into understanding and exploring the content we teach.
While the sudden shift to distance learning was tough all around, it turned out to be an opportunity for us to practice what we preach about improving education for deeper learning. We began to experiment in how we could use this time to support our early initiatives into deep and enduring learning. For instance, we experimented with different models in which some days students didn't have synchronous lessons but would connect with teachers online to discuss their learning, to process what they were learning. And the feedback from students and teachers indicated that this shift in practice has been engaging and effective.
To better understand the experiences and outcomes, we also conducted fishbowl activities over the summer. We would sit with 10 or so students and ask them a series of questions. In turn, they talked about their experiences while the teachers listened. After 20 minutes, we flipped the table and put the teachers in the middle and asked them to talk about what they heard the students say. In the last 20 minutes, the students came back in the middle to correct the record and otherwise highlight what they want teachers to know about their learning experiences.
Interestingly, some of the students would say that they may have covered less content in their online classes in spring, but that they could recall information better and felt they were learning more deeply. Almost to a person they felt the learning experience much more vividly. That told us something about what kids were actually learning, what was sticking. And it raises the key question: Why do we work so hard to teach them a boatload of content if they can't recall much of it three months later? Isn't it better to focus on less content, but go more deeply into it so students remember and infuse into their thinking so they can use it in the future?
CS&A: What has been the impact of this experiment on the start of the current school year?
Boerner: When we reopened in September we pivoted our instructional approach to almost completely synchronous online classes in the upper school. This shift came with some significant rethinking of what the synchronous and asynchronous experience actually looks like. We consciously started with a different instructional model. In every block, students connect with their teacher, but we highly discouraged having students sit on Zoom for 80 minutes. The teachers are taking the best of what they do as educators and adapting it for the realities of a 2-D platform. A teacher may have kids go offline and write individually or have a pair of students get together and talk in a breakout room. Or they might help students individually for part of the class time. So if a class starts at 9 am, the kids may meet at 9 am, but then go off on their own or in small groups during the class period. The teacher bounces around and supports them. In some ways, this is not at all innovative. It mirrors what good teachers do in the classroom. But it's also tremendously innovative in that we're taking the time to identify best practices and putting it to use in a whole new platform. There's no question that most of us prefer being in a physical classroom, but it's been highly instructive to learn from the online platform how to identify flaws in teaching practices and work to improve them, for any platform. And when students return for in-class learning, we'll continue this process of encouraging deeper learning.
At the same time, we're trying to allow for constant feedback in the design process. It enables us to better understand what is working and what isn't. Of course, the proof is in the pudding. But it's good to see the way the process has enabled movement, has helped us to dive into the space that we've wanted to be in for some time now — a place where we really do get to reexamine what works and what doesn't and actually make changes.
CS&A: Around 20 years ago, Dan and Chip Heath wrote Made to Stick, focusing on, among other things, how we can make learning stick in schools. We don't hear many references to the book these days, but we see more and more schools focusing on this concept of stickiness — designing programs that enable deep learning, not for tests but for life. In your design process, how much do you focus on this question of stickiness?
Boerner: This is the foundation of our focus right now. We truly want to know what information and skillsets stick with our students and why. What we're also trying to do is determine how we train teachers to prioritize this deep learning — and how we then translate it into student experience. The science of learning has been known for 20-plus years, but it has not been widely translated into classroom practices. We're trying to get to a place where we're clearly infusing brain-science learning into all classes and develop better ways of gathering evidence of student success. How do I translate the brain science of learning into, say, a third-grade classroom? What does the scientific term "productive struggle" mean to a fourth-grader vs. an eighth-grader vs. an eleventh grader? How do I leverage the concept of productive struggle in a way that enables all students to find their learning sweet spot — that place where they are challenged to learn and have intrinsic motivation to learn, where they are not overwhelmed or discouraged. We have this body of knowledge on all this and we want teachers to understand and use it well.
CS&A: Do you have a sense of how you'll address the measurement of deeper learning?
Boerner: We're interviewing some companies to help us better understand how to measure the outcomes of our deeper-learning initiative. The study we're planning to engage in will not be an empirical double-blind study because we're not going to not do this with some kids. But we can certainly look at data from pre- and post-study. The goal is to develop a highly useful assessment matrix.
Generally, we're doing everything we can to get this change right. Dr. Kevin Mattingly is our science and learning advisor in this process. The Stanford d.school is helping us bring our resulting ideas up to scale — create a prototype of how we're going to implement changes. And we have a third partner, COGx, that will help with developing a curriculum around the skill sets we want students to develop.
What is unique about what Graded is doing is that it's not a coalition of the willing. It's not something that we're going to do just with high school kids. It's not a lab site that addresses cognitive science on the side. We're looking to transform teaching and learning across the whole school. We want to see if we can systemically transform what we are doing so that all students have deep learning experiences and, in developmentally appropriate ways, develop the metacognitive skills that will serve them well now and in the future.
CS&A: Resistance to change is always an issue. Part of that resistance may just be an unwillingness to try something new. But in many cases, teachers truly believe they are doing a good job and don't think changing practices is right. How are you helping reluctant faculty in this transition period?
Boerner: As noted, we have trained four teacher as deeper learning coaches. Their job is to help all of their colleagues. Recently, our academic leadership team met with these coaches and we were working on designing what we call our North Star — that fixed point we are trying to get to. To be successful in this initiative, we need to be very clear about our goals and we need to be able to articulate them to our faculty and community. In the meeting, a member of the leadership team asked, "What's the problem we're trying to solve here?" In truth, there is no problem. We're a good enough school. We have good enough results. We could do none of this work and we'd still be considered to be doing a good job. But I think there's plenty of research that makes it clear we can do better — and why we should try.
Perhaps the best way to look at the drive for change in education is to use an analogy from another profession. If we were a group of surgeons and we were trained in a new methodology to conduct surgery in a way that would save more lives, and yet we chose not to employ those methodologies, it would be malpractice. Right? We should all be fired. If in education, we know there are ways in which students can learn better, learn more deeply, that this shift can transform their lives — and that there is already evidence that deep, enduring and transferable learning enhances student performance — if we chose not to it, that's a kind of malpractice.
So... it's almost like we don't have a choice. We have to engage in the process. And I think all schools should do this. It gets to the core of why we are educating young people.
Now, teachers have to fundamentally believe this. They have to accept that some of their teaching doesn't stick or doesn't stick enough, and that there is a better way. That's a bit humbling. But if the literature on learning can show evidence that these new approaches to teaching and learning are more effective, that they help things stick, then I think we have an argument to make. There is also a bit of a carrot for teachers here. COGx and Columbia University will collectively endorse and certify our teachers as cognitive science teachers. From a marketability standpoint, that couldn't hurt an educator moving forward.
CS&A: It sounds wonderful that Graded has the attention and support of the d.school and Columbia University. But in the process, you must be asking your teachers to be far more public about what they do.
Boerner: Getting a faculty to have a common purpose and a shared belief about how to move forward together does mean we have to be more public about our teaching. Part of the challenge is setting up a new professional culture. We're trying to do this with our learning coaches who connect with all teachers. We're also holding 12 "Reflective Wednesdays" when we meet in small groups after school to reflect on our practice. Sometimes it's a straight up conversation. Sometimes we'll review a video of one of the teachers teaching and then dissect it through the lens of science and learning. We're planning to also use this time to have our learning coaches lead conversations on a particular aspect of deeper learning. All of it is designed to continue the process of improvement.
Right before the pandemic, we did some demo videos with Dr. Mattingly. In front of the whole faculty he dissected the high school principal's demonstration teaching. It was a phenomenal, rich experience. Afterward, we asked teachers if they'd be willing to have some of their classes videotaped and have the tapes shared in our Reflective Wednesdays. Eighty-two teachers agreed.
CS&A: Do you think you could have gotten to where you are today without the help of the d.school, Dr. Mattingly, and others?
Boerner: I think we could. But it would take us a longer time. And I'm not sure we could have done it as effectively as we have. Part of the value of the consulting support is simply confirming one's hunching, quelling one's doubts, having the courage to move forward. When you are trying to reimagine a school, that's such a massive undertaking. So it really does help to have outside experts guide you, confirm your thinking, offer ideas, help work with constituents, and frame the process in a way that makes it possible to achieve.
Having someone training you in how to understand the design-thinking process is much better than stumbling along on your own, trying to figure it out. Now there are other organizations and folks who do this work with schools. But the valuable thing about Ariel Raz and Laura McBain at the d.school is the way they think. They obviously have a philosophy about how design works to implement change, but they are also educators and can be valuable critical friends, challenging and pushing us. Our partnership accelerated so much that from April through August we were meeting every Saturday for four hours with our entire leadership team.
As a side note, we've also opened a space called the Learning Lab. It is where our learning coaches and our teaching and learning department operate. Our goal is design ways to approach learning that are proven to be effective, then we want to both employ it in our school and push that knowledge and information out — provide a way to help other educators and schools here in Brazil and throughout the world.
The Learning Lab
CS&A: Sounds like you have a long to-do list.
Boerner: Yes. We are taking on a lot. And doing it all in particularly challenging times. But it really does feel like this is the time for looking as deeply as we can at what we truly want to achieve in all schools and how we can reimagine and reshape our programs to accomplish what are clearly increasingly important outcomes — for both individual kids and the society as a whole.
CS&A: Tools and challenges aside, research also shows that the teacher and student relationships are key. How does this fit into the work you are doing at Graded?
Boerner: The research is clear on this. Intellectual engagement matters, but identity, meaning and purpose matter even more. It's so important that all students have a sense of who they are and of belonging to a community, a class. To understand the concept of belonging, we have to look at learning at the granular level. We talk about this all the time in our faculty meetings. Belonging means you feel welcome, you feel competent, you feel you can take risks. Fundamentally, if we don't get belonging right, all the other stuff doesn't much as matter.
It's interesting to note that some students today are actually thriving in their online courses because they don't have that sense of uncertainty about belonging. They say they are more relaxed and focused and comfortable in the arrangement. This is something we've taken note of and will think about more carefully when we start up in-person learning again.
CS&A: Last question. Graded's values for all members of the community include: intellectual curiosity, perseverance, respect, integrity, and kindness. Other schools have similar lists, but our sense is that there's still a tendency in most school to prioritize academic achievement. At this moment in history, however, such values seem so essential, primarily because they seem to be missing in many sectors of society. How do you keep them forefront in your teaching and daily activities?
Boerner: In our last meeting, in framing our North Star conversation, we talked a great deal about values. In particular, the word "equity" kept popping up. Of course, equity has all kinds of layers. In the context we were discussing, one of the things that we think this work will do is it will help level the playing field from those who excel in school and those who don't. In every school, it seems, there are many smart and capable students who aren't succeeding for one reason or another. What I believe is that many of the kids who struggle in school don't have the same set of tools as those who are succeeding. It's not a cognitive difference in most instances. It's more about those who received the school learning tools early on and those who didn't. What we've seen in schools is that when you start school behind your peers, you tend to get further behind over the years. We want to change this paradigm. We want to continue to support the kids who would succeed in any system, while also offering the tools to help all kids in the middle or those who are struggling from the start so that they can achieve at much higher levels.
This is the equity challenge for all schools. I know that private schools have an advantage here, with smaller class sizes and greater resources. But if we can create a program that clearly shows evidence of leveling the playing field for all kids, I think there are ways this knowledge can be used more broadly. That's the hope for us, at least.
But to get back to the heart of your question about values, I just wanted to add that you are right. Our school and others focus on helping students develop and, indeed, embody core values — intellectual curiosity, perseverance, respect, integrity, and kindness —because these are the shared values the world clearly needs. So we do talk about them in our discussions about design thinking and school innovation. Along with everything we do to reimagine our program at Graded, we'll always keep these values at the forefront. The world needs smart and good, caring people.
Men's Choir, Gospel Choir, Bel Canto, Honor Choir, Alumni Chorale, Women's Choir, Guest Conductor, Master of Music Education... all this much before you got to Graded. What are you involved in at Graded?
I'm now doing a few more things that I love just as much. I have an unusual position in that I'm one of the few teachers who teaches all three divisions. In the Lower School, I teach grade 5 music with my teaching buddy Gian Aquino. In Middle School, I teach grade 6 choir and the junior choir. Lastly, in High School, I direct the senior choir (grades 9-12, mixed voices) and TRebels (grades 9-12, treble voices). I love it! I get to be involved with students of so many different ages and stages, which in choral music is fun because of how their voices change from childhood to adolescence.
When and how did you decide that music, and particularly choral music, was the direction your professional life was going to take?
I have always loved to sing. My mom told me how I sang as a young child (just like I do now, from the top of my lungs). I studied music in college, but I never set my sights on becoming a teacher. I was writing and singing a lot of pop songs, and I wanted to pursue that. However, when I realized how much work, dedication, and rejection it would entail and how time-consuming it would be, I became a substitute teacher instead to help pay the bills. That was the first time I got excited about teaching kids, and I just fell in love with it. Once I was hooked, it was clear to me that I not only loved music but also loved teaching kids to love it, too.
What popular song have you heard on the radio in the past year or two that you think is truly great?
OK, I am a huge Sara Bareilles fan. She has skills playing the piano. She writes lyrics and music. And her voice! This past summer, I heard her arrangement of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," about which Elton said he'd "never heard anyone sing one of my songs like that, ever." It's a great arrangement, and Sara, in my opinion, improves on Elton John's version (actually, Elton admitted this as well!). Of course, it's a great song already, but Sara draws your attention to the lyrics by giving the song a very spare introduction and builds up until she just kills the high notes, and you're covered in chills. Watch it on YouTube. It has certainly stayed with me.
When was the last time you pushed yourself to your physical limit? Explain.
When each of my three children finished grade 8, I took them on a trip anywhere in the world they wanted to go. In 2014, my youngest chose Peru, and we hiked the Salkantay Trek for five days to Machu Picchu. It was a decent hike, but at 3,000 to 4,600 meters (15,092 feet) up, it's the elevation that can do you in. Of course, the best part about hiking 76 km (45 miles) at that elevation is doing it with your kid! We met some great people from around the world, and it will be a lifelong memory. It didn't push me as much as my four weeks of Shaun T's "Insanity Workout Program," but it was a lot more fun.
Which of the five senses do you treasure most? Why?
Well, certainly I love to eat, and being a singer, I cherish hearing immensely. But if I had to choose which I treasure most, it would be touch. I suppose it's the one that connects us, right? I was raised in a family with German-American roots on my mom's side and Portuguese-American roots on my dad's. So, family gatherings were incredibly different depending on which side of the family we were visiting. My mom's family was very stoic, a bit stiff, hand-shakers, and very solid and reliable. My dad's family was loud, and when you came for a visit, all the aunties stooped down for kisses. I guess my connection with my dad also really imprinted the importance of touch – of a hug. And yes, Brazil suits me well in this regard.
Who's your favorite comedian?
I'm not a huge comedy fan, but it would have to be Trevor Noah. Adorable, smart, interesting, and his book is such a great read (funny too)!
What would you say to people who have never sung in a choir because they believe they can't sing?
This is a great question because it's so central to what I do. Honestly, here's my question: Did you have to learn math even though you weren't good at it? What about English (or Portuguese)? We don't learn things because we're good at them; we're good at them because we learn them. Yes, some people start ahead of the pack because they're born with a natural head start ("talent"). But if I can learn to do math (which I hate), you can learn to sing. So get out there and sing! (Parents and teachers have asked if I'd direct a choir for adults at school, and I said yes, so I'm just waiting for someone to ask me to run a rehearsal.)
What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Wow, there are so many things I love about Graded. I really love the green campus, students' smiling faces, staff, teachers, and parents. I love the Arts Center and its music rooms. But I think my favorite thing about Graded is the interesting lives of all the people here. There are students from all around the world. As someone who loves to travel and is interested in foreign cultures, I find the exposure to so many people from so many different places fascinating – invigorating, really. I love how I've picked up an interest in Korean culture and language from my students, which I didn't have before coming here. I also enjoy how Brazilians have these wonderful stories and recipes and how they use language so expressively. In addition, I find it interesting to see how Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, and other English-speaking people share a common language, but not necessarily common experiences. It can be cliché, but it really is the people at Graded that make it fascinating and, for me, a wonderful place to be. I totally enjoy teaching here.
By Elizabeth Marvel, Associate Director of Admissions
Every Thursday afternoon, a group of burgeoning young magicians reviews the "Rules of Magic," which emphasize secrecy, innovation, practice, and respect, and turn a prosaic Zoom screen into a place of wonder and mystery.
Upon arriving at Graded at the start of this academic year, Middle School Principal David Trajtenberg created Magic Club. Mr. Trajtenberg enthuses, "I love sharing magic tricks with students and seeing how it might ignite some of their passions and strengths. It's a real confidence booster when you can do it well."
Graded middle schoolers jumped at the chance to join the club. Carolina B. recalls that she had already dabbled in some magic and was excited to learn more. Nathan M. adds, "I saw the opportunity pop up, and I thought it would be fun and exciting to learn and show off some cool tricks."
Magic Club members convene every week to learn new tricks and deepen their knowledge of the performing art. In one session, students learned about mentalism through Kirigami, a deceptively simple yet impressive mind-reading demonstration created by the eminent mentalist Max Maven. In another, they virtually connected with a professional magician.
The enchantment doesn't stop when students sign off Zoom. These budding illusionists practice the tricks they've learned in the club, as well as independently online, by presenting them to their families at home. When they come together on Thursdays, they are eager to perform nifty sleights of hand for their fellow club members. Nathan M. remarks, "We can show each other tricks and explain how to do them. It's not like a club where you watch people do tricks, and that's all."
Mr. Trajtenberg is proud of the effort these student-magicians put into perfecting illusions. "When it's evident that they have some ownership over the effect and have worked to make it better and better, it feels like the purpose of the Magic Club is coming to life."
Participation in Magic Club allows students to cultivate several skills. Mr. Trajtenberg notes, "There is so much to learn about psychology, public speaking, human relations, theatrics, visual perceptions, and more. Anyone can do a magic trick. But only those with a real interest in those more rigorous topics can truly excel in the art of magic." The club instills confidence in students and promotes camaraderie. Elisa C. exclaims, "Even if we do something wrong, no one laughs at us!"
The students look forward to the day the club can meet on campus. Nathan M. acknowledges, "I am looking forward to learning magic tricks in-person, so we have the essential tools to complete a magic trick to its full potential." Mr. Trajtenberg is also eager to move the club from a Zoom room to a classroom but says, "For now, we're talking about basics, getting to know each other, and having fun."
Elizabeth Bobrick '73 is a visiting scholar at Wesleyan University, where she currently teaches ancient Greek language and literature in the Department of Classical Studies. She is also involved in Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education. Elizabeth's published works include scholarly articles on Aristophanes, Sophocles, and Theophrastus and essays on topics ranging from baseball to seasonal teaching anxiety. Having served on several nonprofit boards, Elizabeth remains active in her community's social justice initiatives. She received her PhD from Johns Hopkins University.
When did you attend Graded?
I attended eighth grade and part of ninth grade at Graded.
What brought you and your family to Graded?
I started halfway through middle school because I got kicked out of the American School in Santos. It's a funny story... My family lived in Santos, as Petrobrás had contracted my dad's company to build a plant in Cubatão. A new headmaster came in. He was very strict, and my brother and I were not happy about him. To our surprise, we were invited not to come back. My parents wanted me to go to an American high school, so that's how I ended up at Graded. It was my good fortune to arrive at Graded earlier than we had planned. I had to commute from Santos back and forth, which was not great, but it was worth it.
Was being at Graded an impactful experience for you?
Living in Brazil and being at Graded, in particular, was the antithesis of everything that had made me unhappy in America. At Graded, it was okay to be smart, whereas it was not cool where I came from in the US. Interestingly, when I got to Graded, I realized that I was far from being the most intelligent student. My classmates were excited about learning! They considered it "the thing to do," not some terrible burden. That created a fascinating atmosphere for me. Now that I think back, I had extraordinary teachers - so devoted! I remember Mr. Bobbert, Mr. Lanoue... They were just fantastic!
What did you most love about Graded?
I loved the mix of people. I had the chance to meet international students at The American School in Santos, but Graded was unique. There was such a range of backgrounds at Graded and so many opportunities to meet people! My first friends were those whom everybody cheerfully referred to as the "missionary kids." I met many of them through drama class. Everyone was so amicable, and I remember continually feeling very welcomed and excited to go to school. Honestly, I'm very jealous of the international students I met in eighth grade who had been at Graded from a young age. Lucky them! Graded is special to me because while I studied at the school for only two years, being there allowed me to see that you could have different teenage years than those I had envisioned. You would get the support and encouragement you needed to do well and achieve your goals. Graded opened up the world further to me.
Was there a particular class and teacher at Graded that you loved?
Absolutely. I think everybody loved English teacher Mr. Bobbert. He covered such a wide variety of texts. We read and presented "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and I had the opportunity to play the role of Puck. In the same class, we analyzed advertisements. The sophisticated manner he taught us to examine ads has never left me. As a teacher myself, I often find myself looking back at how he taught many (rowdy) students with such ease and how he made everything fun and interesting. I think, "Wow, that must've been hard..." but there was never any sign from him of anything other than pure enjoyment.
Elizabeth (on the far right) in a Graded play as Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, 1970. (Elizabeth's friend, Carlasue Henderson, is in the center holding a bouquet. Elizabeth wishes she knew where to find her. Carlasue's brother also went to Graded.)
When did you discover your love of languages?
I have always had an interest in languages. My family lived abroad in Australia, where I was exposed to a different kind of English. I also took a few Spanish classes in the United States, but being in Brazil sparked a new-found love and passion for learning and studying new languages. It was the first time I had the chance to be fully immersed in a new culture and almost forced to learn the language, and it excited me. I remember carrying around a yellow Langenscheidt English-Portuguese dictionary with me everywhere I went. I instantly became my mother's translator -- communicating with our "empregada" and chauffeur on her behalf, and accompanying her on grocery store trips to Pão de Açúcar, where I helped her order "carne moída." I realized then, living in Brazil and learning Portuguese, that I had found my "thing." At the time, I did not envision that I would work with and focus on ancient languages, but I realized that languages would be a part of my future.
Tell us a little bit about your undergraduate education. Where and what did you study?
By now, you can probably tell my family moved around quite a bit: from Brazil, to Australia, and Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands. I had become used to change and had grown to love traveling and discovering new places. I started my undergraduate education at Windham College in Vermont, mainly because it allowed its students to travel and study overseas. As an avid reader and writer, it was also a unique experience to attend a college where American-Canadian novelist and screenwriter John Irving taught. Taking full advantage of the study-abroad opportunity, I traveled to Switzerland. There, I met a professor from another Vermont-based college, Marlboro College. I ended up transferring there to complete my undergraduate degree. At Marlboro, I was ecstatic when I realized I could study everything I loved: languages, philosophy, poetry, and drama. I fell in love with the school and its curriculum. Marlboro also allowed me to reconnect with Lisa James, a dear friend I met at Graded and with whom I am still in touch with today!
After receiving your bachelor's degree, what was your motivation for pursuing a PhD?
Like I mentioned earlier, I always loved going to school, learning new things, and being in a classroom environment. Whenever I thought about my future, it always involved a school scenario. Through the years, I realized I wanted to become a classics professor, and the only way to become one was by getting a PhD. Had I known how hard it would be, I might not have made such a quick decision to pursue one, but I have not regretted it. I got a tremendous tenure-track teaching job at the University of Missouri after earning my PhD, and realized I loved teaching! I also realized that the next step in my teaching career would not be a walk in the park. Professors are required to study, research, and publish regularly. In doing that, I noticed that the more I focused on my specialty, the less free time I had to learn about exciting new subjects, and I missed that. Ultimately, I made a life-changing decision. After becoming engaged to a Wesleyan professor, another classicist, I chose to resign from my full-time teaching career and move to Middletown, CT, to get married and start a family.
What are you working on now?
When I moved to Middletown, I became a part-time professor at Wesleyan University and have taught there for the past 30 years. Throughout my student and teaching years, I developed an aspiration to become a writer. I took advantage of what Wesleyan had to offer and met incredible professors in the English department. When I spoke about my desire to start writing, my colleagues encouraged me to give it a try, so I did. I wrote, I got published, and I worked my way into teaching a nonfiction writing course. I just finished writing a book chapter about teaching classics in prison.
Tell us a little bit about your involvement with Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education. How did you get involved, and how has this experience impacted you?
Teaching in prison has been the most important experience of my life, along with my role as a mother. I got involved in the prison teaching program through a Wesleyan undergraduate student, who got permission from the Department of Corrections to start tutoring at a Cheshire Correctional, a maximum-security facility for men. Once established, the program grew, and Wesleyan joined forces with Bard College's Prison Initiative, a pioneer in prison education programs across the United States. Today, the prison teaching program has become highly competitive, with more than 60 teachers.
I had never visited a prison before joining the program, so I didn't know what to expect from this new experience. It turned out to be extraordinary! These inmates are among some of my loveliest, best students. One of the most moving things about teaching in prison is that you have the opportunity to coexist with people who come from different backgrounds and have undergone profound transformation without much encouragement or assistance, except perhaps, from one another. It is a unique atmosphere. On top of that, meeting these incredibly intelligent prisoners who have had little-to-no access to education made me reflect and wonder, "What path would they have perhaps taken if they had had a better education?"
It was interesting to learn about the connections inmates made between the literature we read together in class and their lives before prison. For example, we read Sophocles' Greek tragedy Ajax, whose eponymous character is a hero in Homer's Iliad. In the play, other Greek warriors show disrespect, and he decides to take his own life. Before doing so, the community begs him not to leave them, claiming they will be helpless without him. I remember clearly when, at that moment, one of the prisoners in class slammed his book on the desk angrily and said, "Each one of us has had someone tell us, 'Please don't do this...' And we didn't pay any attention at the time. Now, look at where we all are." It was also curious to see how distressed these men were about the harm caused to the communities in Greek tragedies. They have been the "bad guys" in their communities, causing harm to their families and friends, of which they are now fully aware. Their insights amazed me.
Besides teaching at Cheshire Correctional, I have also volunteered at a local juvenile lock-up and a state prison for women, where I taught writing. The teaching experiences I had in these prisons have impacted me tremendously because they have allowed me to see and understand the "other side." Inmates were astounded that somebody would dedicate their free time, out of their own free will, to come in and teach them. It has been eye-opening to see the prisoners' transformations and has caused me to reflect upon my own life.
Tell us a bit about the other social initiatives in which you've been involved.
I joined an incredible group called the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition, led entirely by people of color. I thought I knew a lot about racism and knew what it felt like to be a minority, having lived in a place like Saint Croix where whites are the minority. After joining, I realized that I knew close to nothing. I have learned so much through this group, and it has been eye-opening.
I also ran for the Board of Education here in town many years ago, where I served for about five years. Because I was kicked out of school all those years ago in Santos, I made a point of going to all expulsion hearings and pleading for the person by claiming that 13-year-olds have terrible judgment. "Don't kick someone out of school because they decided to do something to show off to their friends," I said. "You'll give them a terrible life if you do that." Often, I'd say, "I am the only PhD within a hundred-mile radius who got kicked out of junior high," and it would bring some attention - so I'm very proud of that accomplishment.
What are some of your hobbies?
From the time I was old enough to hold a book, reading became my number one hobby. I love it! Last year, I took up my first art class ever - drawing - and had a fabulous time. Of course, studio art is out now because we can't be physically together in the studio, but I hope to take that up again. My favorite way of relaxing is to have people over for dinner, where we just sit around, talk, laugh, and tell stories.
What do you miss the most about Brazil?
"A praia e a gente." I miss the opportunity to speak a foreign language, too. When I was in college, I learned German, and that overtook my Portuguese. However, one of my great triumphs was being asked on a trip to Portugal if I was Brazilian because I had a Brazilian accent. I was fluent at the time. That was a thrill!
by Susan Clain, Chief Strategic Communications and Advancement Officer
Agility. Innovation. Community. As I reflect upon the unprecedented events of the 2019-20 academic year, these words resonate; they permeate how we have operated academically, budgetarily, and philanthropically. The adaptive, resilient nature of our students, parents, faculty, staff, and Board members as we have migrated from in-person, to distance, to blended and dual-synchronous learning has, and continues to be, extraordinary.
When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Graded closed its campus doors for the first time in 100 years. The coronavirus and its social, cultural, political, and economic repercussions have engendered real darkness. Consequential circumstances have thrust us all into unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, territory. However, we have learned to embrace, or at least tolerate, ambiguity and change. We have grown more nimble. We have questioned how and why we do the things we do and, sometimes, we have discovered better ways to do them.
Such was the case in the Office of Institutional Advancement. After producing a physical annual report for many years, we shifted to a digital version. On behalf of my team, I am pleased to present Graded's online 2019-20 Annual Report. This report provides an overview of the school's financials, highlights our accomplishments during a most unusual year, and recognizes the generosity of our donors. It is dynamic and includes photographs and videos. I encourage you to peruse and explore it on your mobile device (on which it is best viewed)!
Thank you again to our stakeholders for your dedication. We are so very grateful for your support during this very challenging year! I am confident that together we will grow, flourish, and overcome.