It was a balmy São Paulo morning and the jacarandas were in bloom. I had recently arrived in Brazil and, as chief advancement officer, was taking every opportunity to meet members of the Graded community.
“Bem-vinda! Tudo bem?” a Graded mother exclaimed as she enthusiastically embraced me. Then she whispered, “You have a difficult job. It’s not like the U.S. here. We don’t have a culture of giving.”
“Then we’ll need to cultivate one,” I smiled.
I wasn’t convinced, however, that Graded lacked a culture of giving. After all, the school was established in 1920 and had expanded over the years. Graded had always been a nonprofit institution. There had never been a school owner. Who had paid for the land and the construction? At most schools, tuition does not cover these kinds of capital expenditures.
So I did some research.
Since its advent, Graded has been the beneficiary of philanthropy. Our students today are the recipients of the generosity of yesterday’s donors.
In 1920, the American Chamber of Commerce partnered with six American companies - Citibank, Dow Chemical, General Electric, General Motors, Ford Motor, and Goodyear - to found the São Paulo Graded School (SPGS). Together, they funded a two-room schoolhouse for American families who sought an American education for their children. Here, Mrs. Ruth Kolb and Miss Bel Ribble taught Graded’s first students.
In 1928, a new school building was constructed with Chamber of Commerce funds on Mackenzie College land. In return, Graded agreed to cede ownership of the school to Mackenzie after 15 years.
Under the leadership of Head of School Maurice “Tio” Vernon Powell, Graded acquired land on the corner of Rua Coronel Oscar Porto and Rua Teixeira da Silva, close to Avenida Paulista. Again, the Chamber of Commerce began a robust capital campaign to raise money for a new building. Individual and corporate contributions covered most of the construction costs.
To accommodate more students, the school underwent an expansion in the early 1950s, but as Brazil’s industrial boom led to more interest in Graded, there was an even greater demand for space. When Graded planned its 1961 move to the current Morumbi location, once more, the school undertook a large fundraising campaign.
Since that time, fundraising has not ceased. Over the last half-century, and with the support of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the Alumni Association, Graded has raised funds for new buildings, scholarships, and professional development. In 2004, the generosity of individual and corporate donors made the spectacular Lemann-Tully Arts Center possible.
The Centennial Campaign
In 2011, Giving to Graded was instituted. Three years later, it was renamed the Centennial Campaign, an ambitious project to fund three key strategic initiatives -- the Graded Campus Project, the Graded Scholar Program Endowment, and the Excellence in Teaching Endowment.
As of June 30, 2017, donors had committed R$29,070,714 to the Campus Project, and our combined endowments closed with a balance of R$21,202,021.
The generosity of our Centennial Campaign donors has enabled Graded to undertake the Graded Campus Project and recently break ground on a new state-of-the-art Athletics Center. It has helped Graded support 10 Graded Scholars, highly gifted students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who diversify and enrich our community. Centennial Campaign donations have also provided Graded faculty with rich professional development opportunities, including Innovate 2017, the Columbia Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, and the Assessment Training Institute.
Debunking the Myth
In reflection, I agree in part with the Graded mother who welcomed me to campus. Yes, I have a difficult job and no, it’s not like the U.S. here. Brazil is a different country with a distinct history. However, as I dug through archives, I discovered that Graded does, indeed, have a culture of giving. Without our donors, Graded, as we know it, would not exist. We would not be Latin America’s leading American school serving an international community. Yes, we do have a history of philanthropy. We have had one ever since Mrs. Ruth Kolb and Miss Bel Ribble took roll in a two-room schoolhouse.
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