Quarantined in California, Lower School Teacher Aaron Braszell gives us a glimpse of his typical day, connecting with his students, volunteering to help local communities in need, and keeping himself entertained during his free time.
DAVID ALLEN, UPPER SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER
ALASTAIR BOYD, HIGH SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
JANELLE DAY, MIDDLE SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
JON EXALL, MIDDLE SCHOOL SCIENCE TEACHER
KEVIN HEALEY, HIGH SCHOOL IB PHYSICS TEACHER
LYNDSAY HEALEY, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 4 TEACHER
LORI LALIBERTE, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 1 TEACHER
SALLY ANN MERRIMAN, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 3 TEACHER
CLAIRE MORRIS, MIDDLE SCHOOL HUMANITIES TEACHER
JUSTIN MORRIS, IB COORDINATOR AND HIGH SCHOOL ECONOMICS TEACHER
EVA PALMIERI, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 3 TEACHER
MARK PATE, MIDDLE SCHOOL STEM TEACHER
COLLEEN QUINN, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 4 TEACHER
MARLA STARR, LOWER AND UPPER SCHOOL OPTIMAL LEARNING SERVICES (OLS) TEACHER
DAVID TRAJTENBERG, MIDDLE SCHOOL PRINCIPAL
HELEN TRAJTENBERG, HIGH SCHOOL THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE (TOK) TEACHER
ALEX WASHKO, LOWER SCHOOL GRADE 1 TEACHER
THOMAS YATES, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
How did your American parents get into the horsehair business?
The crazy story goes like this... My father's father, Samuel, was a horsehair trader in Russia during the early-1900s pogroms during which the Czar's army harassed and killed Jews. His business was buying horsehair from farmers and selling it to brush makers. He packed a suitcase filled with horsehair and boar hair and brought it with him on the ship to the US. The customs agent on Ellis Island took one look at it and had no idea what in the world it was, but decided to let him through. My grandfather then started a business in Philadelphia and brought over all five of his sons.
When World War II ended, the family could no longer get horsehair from China, their main supplier. They had heard there were good horses in Argentina, so my uncle Harry was sent down there on a ship. On the journey south, someone mentioned that the horses were better in Brazil (they weren't), prompting Uncle Harry to hop off the boat in Santos.
Uncle Harry then sent for his youngest brother, my father Irving, and they started their business in Brazil. In the 1950s, when plastic brushes replaced those made with horsehair, the business was transformed into a plastics company called Monofil, which closed last year when my brothers retired.
Why did your parents send you and your two brothers to Graded?
I grew up as an American expat in São Paulo, Brazil. My parents, Shirley and Irv, belonged to that notable group called sojourners — those who immigrated but never fully assimilated.
In 1946, my father persuaded my mother to leave their home in Philadelphia for a trip to Brazil. Initially, my father promised my mother they would stay for two years. The two years became four, then eight, then sixteen... My mom passed away in 1999 in Brazil. Though they remained expats, and we spoke English at home. My two brothers, Murray and Bill, stayed in São Paulo, married, and raised beautiful Brazilian families.
When I was growing up in the 1950s, America held an incredible mystique. We used to love traveling to Santos from Guarujá to visit the American ships docked in the harbor, going onboard to feel "American air" (air conditioning). We also spent a lot of time at the English club where I heard "Rock Around the Clock" for the first time and fell in love with Rock 'n' Roll.
At the time, Graded was populated mostly by Americans sent to Brazil from big companies such as Caterpillar and Ford, missionaries, and eccentric world travelers who wanted their children to have an American education. So it made perfect sense for me and my brothers to attend Graded.
What made Graded special? What is your fondest memory of Graded?
In 1988, the wonderful class of 1965 held its 33rd Year Reunion at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. My closest friends, Arrigo Jezzi, Mike Kanarek, Bill Korpff, and Elaine Moon, helped to organize it. I wrote the toast below for that reunion and read it again at our 40th and 50th reunions. I feel it's the best way I can convey my love for that wonderful class, my wonderful classmates, and the unique world we created together.
A Toast to the Class of 1965
Come gather around, dear classmates of mine
And let us return to the scene of the crime
Where we experienced it all for the first time,
Where Leo, Art, and David danced the can-can in a line,
Where Mike Kanarek was our Albert Einstein,
Where Woody beat EA across the finish line
(When they said he didn't – we knew they were lying),
Where our cheerleaders teased us with their short hemlines,
It was like no other place at no other time
It was Guarujá in the summertime
Where the cops if they caught you shaved your heads 'til they shined,
Where even a quindinho or a pãozinho at the barzinho could taste so sublime,
Cachaça with lemon – who ever heard of lime?
All of this happened, once upon a time.
Yes, there we stand on the first day of school
All dressed up like nobody's fool
Geez, aren't the new kids from the US supercool?
In the schoolyard where memories are lost and found
Steve learned from Arrigo how babies were born,
Shot cats eyes for keeps on the lower playground.
It didn't take much to amuse us those days,
We went through marbles, a dodgeball, a steal-the-bacon craze.
And oh yes, you must remember this –
The spelling bee Lisa Smith won with the word "analysis"
Way back in the younger grades
Elaine played Becky in Tom Sawyer, and I remember when
We debated whether dogs or horses were a man's best friend.
In 9th grade they moved us from the old school to the new
The school stunk for a month with the newly-laid manure.
Breath swirled on a cold day before school in the halls
We watched the fight of the century – Roger Reuben and Charles
In the men's locker room from the top of the stalls.
A fighting spirit was part of the scene
They say Colby fought Brennan, Charles Chan fought Mr. Beans
Why in Morumbi we'd call your bluff
Graded High School – we were tough.
We could fight each other – cause the streets had no crime
What can you say for the innocence of those times?
We sang Flow Gently Sweet Afton with Sperber before every class
Played "Intellectual Football" out on the grass.
Now according to Perry, we weren't the world's fastest learners
But – hey – we did dissect a worm and managed to light the
We "studied" math with Mrs. Ho,
Diagrammed sentences with de Mello,
We wrote like hell for Ms. Patel,
After each period – saved by the bell!
Senior Jacyro, Mike the Jan, and Miss Szeghetti –
Was it yesterday I found some gum in our spaghetti?
Dona Lucia, Mr. Mickle, Penteado,
We were present for the coup 'gainst Jânio Quadros.
And we still remember – no one ever forgot
Where we were in tenth grade the day Kennedy was shot.
Was it 9th grade? A play, Shall We Join the Ladies – remember when
Someone said the wrong line, and it started over again?
We needed a bald man from the USA
To teach us what it meant to act in a play
When Colby said act, you acted – or prayed!
Alex Reti was Romeo, but yet,
We couldn't get Elaine Moon to play Juliet
He found a star for Oklahoma in Dick Vobroucek.
Jeanette as Ado Annie, Steve, the Persian Peddler
played opposite each other.
She called him up years later – told Steve's wife
she'd once been his Persian lover!
Once backstage some paint cans mysteriously up-ended
Leo, Woody, Steve Collins, and Evan cleaned off with a shower and
before it all ended
Steve ran howling through the halls bare-ended!
Then with Brennan, they contended
For all extracurricular activities were suspended!
Dance parties started in the 9th grade
We learned to jitterbug, the twist, and the latest dance craze –
We danced cheek to cheek at the chaperoned canteen.
Though in Brazil, we thought that we'd try
For a class ring American as apple pie
The jeweler agreed to etch an eagle
But we got it back emblazoned with a seagull!
And then it happened – graduation
We scattered over God's creation –
Orlando, California, Rio, Kansas, Tel Aviv
So far that some couldn't make it – maybe next time – c'est la vie.
So squeeze some tears into a glass, mix in the sweetness of the years
Chill it till the ice cubes freeze
With who we are, we've made our peace
Now we can look back with ease,
Lift a caipirinha's worth of memories.
At graduation we scattered like seeds to the wind,
With no one to share them, the memories thinned –
But we came back together from the ends of the earth
To prove it all mattered, how much it was worth.
So now that none of us can touch our toes
I know you're wondering, or so I suppose
Why do I look slightly different – is it my glasses? My clothes?
But no – you can feel proud to be among those
Who still remembers Steve's old nose!
After receiving your MA in literature, you earned your PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. What drew you to this area of study?
Even at an early age, I was aware of the beauty and power of folklore in my own life. As expats living in relative isolation, my two brothers and I grew up close. We developed our own accent and our own humor. To this day, my brother Murray and I still greet each other, "Yo, sire." Someone once asked my brother why we use that phrase. He answered, "Respect." Decades later my own children, Ben and Eliza, call each other "Swine" or "Swinedog": no respect! When my son Ben received an award at the Sundance Film Festival for his film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, he came to the stage and proudly announced, "I'd like to thank my sister, Swinedog."
In Brazil, our family had an apartment on the first floor of a fifteen-story apartment building in a lovely beach town called Guarujá. One day, Murray was passing out Chiclets, and rather than taking one, I took five. Murray responded by asking, "Why don't you just jump out the fifteenth-story window for a breeze on a hot day?" Ever since then, when I overdo anything, my brother calls it "jumping out the fifteenth-story window for a breeze on a hot day." I knew, even back then, that this artful banter was at the heart of life.
Years later, when I was studying Old English poetry in the library at the University of Pennsylvania, I took a break from my graduate studies and wandered aimlessly through the stacks. I chanced upon two or three books by a writer named Benjamin Botkin, who had worked for the WPA's Federal Writers' Project established during the Great Depression. One was called New York City Folklore, another Sidewalks of America. I opened one of Botkin's books to a random page and can still recall the children's rhyme I read there:
I should worry
I should care
I should marry a millionaire
He should die
I should cry
I should marry another guy.
This is the job for me, I immediately thought. Listening to people's stories and rhymes, searching for diamonds in the rough. Soon after this encounter, I discovered that the University of Pennsylvania had a Department of Folklore and Folklife. I arranged for an interview with the department chair, Dr. Kenneth S. Goldstein, who explained to me that folklore is a religion, and folklorists are its missionaries. I promptly reported for duty.
You are the founding director of City Lore, an organization dedicated to the preservation of cultural heritage. Tell us more about City Lore and the work you do to maintain the beliefs, customs, and stories of grassroots cultures.
In 1985, I founded City Lore, New York's center for urban folk culture. We are the first organization in the United States devoted expressly to the "documentation, preservation, and presentation of urban folk culture." Our mission is to foster New York City's – and America's – living cultural heritage through education and public programs. City Lore encompasses a Lower East Side gallery space, performances, lectures, the People's Hall of Fame, a POEMobile that projects poems onto walls and buildings, and education programs throughout the five boroughs. City Lore documents, presents, and advocates for New York City's grassroots cultures to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places, and traditions. The organization also works with a wide range of partners to develop exhibitions, publications, and documentary films, and to advocate for the rights of street performers, ethnic clubs, and other grassroots cultural expressions in New York City. Described as "wise renegades" by Sonnet Takahisa, the group has also been described as a "practical application of a utopian endeavor" by the writer Marc Kaminsky. In a March 21, 2020 article in The Wall Street Journal, I'm quoted as saying, "We believe in grassroots creativity as a redeeming force in society and a symbol of the irrepressible nature of the human spirit."
You have served as a regular commentator for nationally-syndicated public radio shows; coproduced films and the storytelling series American Talkers for NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday and Morning Edition; coauthored award-winning books; and penned op-eds for The New York Times and Newsday. Of which of your professional accomplishments are you most proud?
I am most proud of my latest book, The Poetry of Everyday Life, published by Cornell University Press. Part memoir, part essay, and partly a guide to maximizing your capacity for fulfillment and expression. The book taps into the artistic side of what we often take for granted: the stories we tell, the people we love, the sports we enjoy, and the metaphors used by scientists. I feel that it expresses my philosophy of life and of living more succinctly than anything else I've done.
You have remained in close contact with your friends from Graded. What continues to bind you after all these years?
Let me close with this poem I wrote to Jocelyn Glacken, one of my dear friends from my high school days.
In my high school annual
Always remember "our Brazil,"
Not the Brazil of Bossanova
Or pulando carnaval
Tipping moleques on the street
To find a jeitinho so they don't
Shash the tires of your car
Just some crazy expats at an international school
In the hinterlands of Morumbi
A beach in Guaruja
50 years, 5,000 miles
Yet "Our Brazil" still stays in view
A word with no translation – maybe longings
Longings, longings for "our Brazil"
I'll remember all of you until...
If you were to go back in time, what advice would you give to your teenage self?
When I was a teenager at Graded, we had an assembly program with a psychiatrist, a guest speaker from the US. After his talk, one of my classmates raised her hand and asked, "You know when I grow up I would like to become a writer, but my parents think I should go to secretarial school because I can always get a safe job as a secretary. What should I do?"
He answered, "In this world, you should always do what you want to do – and the world will roll over and find a place for you." I've always remembered that – I've tried to live up to it, and I've often shared it with young people who are asking the same questions.
How have you kept busy at home during the pandemic?
City Lore has a long tradition of documenting the ways our communities respond to rapidly changing circumstances. As we started to think about our response to COVID-19, we recalled how we were able to approach the September 11 disaster some 20 years ago with the project, Missing: Streetscape of a City in Mourning. After the planes flew into the World Trade Towers, we immediately began documenting the street memorials with our wonderful photographer Martha Cooper. Our work culminated in an exhibit we curated for the New York Historical Society in 2002. It has become a major archival resource for researchers, writers, and others studying and documenting that time, and is a reference and model for humanities scholars and institutions working on the current pandemic.
Inspired by our 9/11 initiative, we launched a project called Touching Hearts, Not Hands. Already this is documenting and preserving the creative responses that have emerged in response to COVID-19 — we have collected hundreds of songs, poems, videos, images of signs from shop windows, and other material since our first eblast about the project went out on March 13.
As part of Touching Hearts, we started a group poem called It Takes a Pandemic. The responses have been tremendous from poets and non-poets alike.
Graded booklovers were ecstatic!
In April during the quarantine, the school Libraries offered the community an opportunity to retrieve more good reads via Curbside Checkout. The initiative was a huge success. Ninety-seven requests were submitted and the Library team curated more than 1,000 books for students and families to enjoy.
To participate in the Curbside Checkout, students and families completed Google forms to request new titles. The Library staff then selected books, checked them out, and packed them in bags for students and families, which they made available for curbside pick up in the Graded Parking Garage. A member of the Library team was in the garage to hand families their books, so there was no need to get out of the car.
Graded parent Natalie Della Rosa, whose family took advantage of the Curbside Checkout opportunity raved, "This is such a great resource you and the team are offering families. We love reading hard books more than electronic editions. Having access to the library is a bit of a godsend when we are stuck at home like this!"
Reading is a fundamental skill for academic success. During this period of social distancing, it is also a wonderful way to travel, escape, experience, learn, connect, and develop empathy. The Graded Libraries' goal remains to get books into the hands of students. To this end, we have added a number of resources to our Google sites, so that students may access both eBooks and audiobooks.
However, even with these wonderful digital collections of fiction and nonfiction titles, we know that many students prefer to read in print. After days of Zoom meetings and online classwork, a break from screen time is welcomed. While most school libraries have closed their doors during the pandemic, our team really wanted to go the extra mile. Promoting reading and making our wonderful collection of books available to students was the impetus for Curbside Checkout.
The Library team orchestrated Curbside Checkout while adhering to the best health and safety practices. Following the recommendations of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we made sure to quarantine returned books before handling them and making them available for checkout. In addition, while handling and distributing books, Library staff wore masks, gloves, and practiced frequent handwashing.
Prior to distance learning, the Graded Libraries have always allowed returning students to check out books for vacation reading. We know many students and families look forward to this opportunity each year. After experiencing a successful Curbside Checkout, the Library team will make Vacation Checkout a reality this year, too. Keep reading!
By Susan Clain, Chief Strategic Communications and Advancement Officer
After I had fastidiously unpacked, washed, and stored the items from my grocery delivery; scrubbed my now-perpetually-chafed hands; and sunk into my sofa, my intercom buzzed.
"Uma entrega para você. Uma sacola," announced the porteiro. A delivery for you. A bag.
I must have left one of my grocery bags downstairs, I thought. So I underwent a now-familiar routine, redonning my face mask before reaching for hand sanitizer and paper towels – just to ride the elevator.
Since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, I had been leading Graded's crisis communications. My team drafted the school's COVID-19 response plan, produced health and safety guidelines, published Graded's Distance Learning Plan, and sent daily email updates.
In mid-March, the school transitioned to an online platform and the city went into lockdown. Communicating with clarity from afar took on greater importance. We built the Graded from a Distance website and produced videos. We sent out surveys, emails, and WhatsApp messages, created social media content, and produced the Graded Gazette.
By April, I was languishing. Social distancing was hard. Gaining an understanding of a fluid health crisis and its implications for Graded required an almost obsessive focus. My paltry exercise regimen consisted of laps around my living room. I missed the bountiful hugs I received each day at Graded. I was in a mental, emotional, and physical stupor – roused only by the nightly cacophony of pots and pans.
Like many of you, I was concerned about the health and safety of family and friends – in my case, parents in a high-risk group; a sister and her children quarantined in the viral epicenter of Brooklyn, NY; and a critical care/pulmonologist brother and his nephrologist wife working on the front lines.
Phone conversations had been dominated by the virus. Everyone I spoke to was convinced they had it. A cough or stuffy nose sparked mild panic. My colleague reported difficulty breathing. "Probably stress," I tried to assure him. "Yeah, probably," he responded.
I attempted positive thinking. While others were sick or grief-stricken, I had a job and food. I thought of my mentor who had survived the Holocaust. How could my solitary confinement, replete with Netflix, begin to compare to his ordeal hiding in a hole from the Nazis?
I felt guilty for feeling down.
When I arrived in the apartment entryway, instead of a stray grocery bag, I was comforted to find a small bag with a ribbon and card that read:
Thank you for your inspiring words during this difficult time. Here's a treat for a sweet Sunday.
The sender, a Graded mother and friend, had also experienced life abroad. She understood culture shock, language barriers, and alienation. But she also realized the capacity of community – the power of individuals to lift one another up.
I returned to my apartment fortified.
I wondered what it must have been like to live in 1918, when an influenza epidemic chased World War I, whirling indiscriminately around the globe. The Spanish Flu, as it was dubbed, also drove the world into quarantine.
But unlike today, people a century ago remained largely disconnected. For a while, the Bell Telephone was heralded as the Spanish Flu's panacea for loneliness. That was until the telecommunications system was crippled by increased customer demand in the wake of a phone operator shortage.
Internet outages and Zoom bombing aside, today's technology is truly wondrous. During these strange days of social distancing, technology has helped Graded cultivate community and mitigate isolation. Online classes, video conferencing, and virtual parent coffees have enabled uninterrupted educational delivery. Faculty/staff happy hours and game nights have addressed the need for social interaction.
At a time when Brazil's economic divide is most pronounced, technology has also allowed us to harness the talents and energy of Graded's stakeholders in a mission to give back. A newly-designed Graded Beyond Boundaries program enlists faculty volunteers to teach underserved Brazilian students via WhatsApp. Students are soliciting funds for a São Paulo facility that houses young cancer patients and their families. PTA members have raised R$100,000 for food baskets and materials for makeshift hospitals, and in conjunction with the administration, delivered perishable food items to a nearby NGO.
What drew me to Graded initially was the school's vibrant, kind, and tight-knit community. Nestled in Latin American's largest metropolis, it was a verdant sanctuary — a place where people from diverse cultural backgrounds came together and found common purpose. Children laughed. Curiosity and creativity abounded. It was an American school with a Brazilian soul; Graded was magical.
It still is.
To keep our community connected and informed during the school closure, we have created a Graded from a Distance section of our website. Visit the site for information on community events, updates, resources, and inspiration.
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!