Lower School News
Message from the Superintendent
Graded is continuously striving to enhance educational delivery. We are committed to ensuring that all of our teaching and learning initiatives are meaningful, interrelated, and authentic, and furthermore, that they fully prepare our students for college and beyond.
To this end, we have invited some of the world’s best thought leaders to join us to participate in Think Tank on April 8-9, 2019. Together, we will work to create an even more robust, vibrant learning environment, fostering transformational outcomes for students and teachers alike.
Parents and students are invited to attend a Think Tank Panel Discussion with panelists on Monday, April 8, from 3:30-4:30 pm in Graded’s Black Box Theater. Seating is limited, so please RSVP HERE.
1. Before coming to Brazil, you taught lower school in Houston, Paraguay, and Dubai. What thread of teaching or learning winds through those experiences and feeds into what you do at Graded?
Starting my teaching career in Houston allowed me to gain an in-depth knowledge of so many different skills and aspects of the general classroom. I initially began teaching with a specialization in English Language Arts/Literacy. Those were the only subjects I taught during my first two years of teaching. Specializing in these subject areas also opened doors for me to train and get certified in English as a Second Language (ESL). Teaching in private, public, and for-profit educational settings has broadened my experience and connections to so many different types of children and learners. These interpersonal skills and knowledge in language have allowed me to adapt myself and my teaching to fit the needs of my students, no matter where in the world I teach.
2. Why grade 4?
Just coincidence. I’ve always loved the upper grades. I started in grade 3, moved to grade 2, and then eventually found my home in grade 4. I feel a strong connection to this age level and content area. Students at any age have lots of potential and capabilities, but grade 4 seems to be the age when responsibility and accountability kick in for young learners. I feel kids in this grade are ready to take control of their learning experiences and drive in the direction they'd like their education to go.
3. You come from a family of artists. Tell more about that and about where art fits in your life.
My mother is a singer and actress, currently specializing in educational/historical theater. She performs historical reenactments of legendary people of the past. Throughout her reenactments, she speaks about the importance of reading and education. Her reenactments of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad are based on “turning around and helping somebody” – mainly the young or those in need. She preaches about the power of reading and how books open worlds of opportunities. My father is a journalist and guitar player, and he was once a DJ. His passion for communications, expression, writing, and literature was a part of my childhood. In saying this, I think those traits have transcended into my career choices. As an educator, my first priority is making sure all of my students learn compassion for all people in the world, grow strengths in literacy, and become effective communicators.
4. Who is the greatest leader of all time?
In my view, Mohammed Ali and Mother Teresa are the top two greatest leaders of all time. Ali courageously spoke out for human rights and racial equality during one of the most conflicted times in American history. Mother Teresa selflessly spent most of her life helping those in need. Courage and sacrifice are two traits that amazing leaders possess. Those leaders give more than themselves for what others need.
5. Did you work while you were in high school or college? What kind of jobs did you have?
I did. I worked lots of different jobs including front desk clerk at the YMCA, an instructor at a private Catholic school, a full-time nanny, and a receptionist. Before I started teaching, I worked for four years in real estate as an assistant to brokers and agents. I also started a small pet care business. Both of the last two jobs were enjoyable and fulfilling. I learned a lot!
6. If you could write a best-selling book, what would you write about?
I would probably write a book about the faith and endurance everyday people have in following their dreams and living out their lives to the greatest purpose. There are so many amazing “normal” people walking around these days, people who are doing extraordinary things to make our world a better place. I’d hope a book like that would encourage others to take advantage of the good we all can do to make everyone’s lives better. Folks always love a good self-help or trials and tribulations story. I know I do.
7. What’s the best way to resist peer pressure?
Building your own sense of self and having a strong identity helps a lot, but that definitely takes time.
8. You love animals. Tell more about your experiences founding and owning a small animal care business.
It was a fun opportunity that came along after pet-sitting for a couple of friends. They told their friends, and then they told their other friends, and it just began from there. The business catered to owners of large dogs and exotic animals, such as iguanas, diabetic cats, and snakes. I never knew how lucrative pet sitting and animal care could be. However, once I was able to make a name for myself and maintain a steady clientele, I realized how much work actually went into running a business. I had a great time caring for so many different types of pets and helping people find someone they trusted to keep their animals safe. It’s definitely something I would love to do again.
9. What’s something about you that no one knows?
I have a nostalgic love for Winnie the Pooh. I still have a huge Winnie the Pooh bear in my mom’s storage unit that I got as a gift for my 16th birthday!
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
My favorite thing about Graded is my students and their families! I’ve loved building relationships with each of my students. They have so much light and love to spread. I hope that I can help them maintain that light and continue to spread love no matter where they go in this world. Oh, and I love Dona Emilia’s lunches.
by Olga Molina, Lower School Music Teacher
Music has been shown to help develop concentration and reasoning skills, improve language fluency, promote motor skills, and inspire better performance in technical disciplines such as mathematics and physics.
At Graded, the Lower School Music Program prepares children to join the Middle and High School ensembles, providing students with a variety of experiences, from pantomiming and folk dance to improvising and composing. Our eclectic music curriculum involves two main approaches: conceptual learning and music literacy. We expose children, throughout their musical education, to pitch, length, form, dynamics, and meter. We teach music literacy sequentially, based upon the Kodaly methodology by using folk songs from various cultures. Students not only sing these songs but also learn to play the recorder.
A musical education provides each student with a new mode of expression, clearer ideas, better memory retention, and enhanced problem-solving skills. Children, specifically, benefit from singing songs, which allow for rapid enunciation improvement. Singing can also spark significant increases in vocabulary. Socially, the practice of chamber music (music performance in groups) helps one build interpersonal skills through non-verbal means. Music is an especially apt medium for the development of a balanced and harmonious personality.
Experts speak of a “musical intelligence,” one that is not only intrapersonal (involving control over individual feelings and movements) but also interpersonal (involving the ability to understand one’s place in the world through relationships with others).
Ensuring that Graded students have access to the extraordinary benefits of a musical education in childhood has been one of my primary professional objectives over the last twenty-five years.
More recently, however, I have also taught courses for aspiring music educators. In these classes, I stress the importance of having a solid background in music and education and staying up-to-date with national and international instructional methodologies for childhood music education. Teaching children how to sing properly through vocal training is also crucial. I am honored and thrilled to have shared some of my experiences as music instructor – for children and adults – by answering viewer questions on TV Globo’s Como Será?
Click here to watch Olga Molina’s interview (conducted in Portuguese).
By Rob Switzer, Director of Athletics and Activities
A new school year brings about a fresh start and novel opportunities. This certainly is the case for our Graded Athletics program.
With the Athletics Center set to open in February 2019, a new generation of Eagles will be training and competing in our world-class facilities. Along with the brand new Athletics Center, our students will have some exciting athletic opportunities this year.
In the past, Graded has participated in the Big Four, Big Eight, and Little Eight Tournaments at Nosso Recanto (NR) camp. In February 2018, an additional opportunity emerged. The South American Activities Conference (SAAC) accepted Graded as its seventh member school. SAAC includes the following institutions:
Colegio Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Lima, Peru)
American School of Quito (Quito, Ecuador)
International School Nido de Aguilas (Santiago, Chile)
Uruguayan American School (Montevideo, Uruguay)
Lincoln - The American International School (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
International School of Curitiba (Curitiba, Brazil)
Joining this international conference places Graded on par with the world’s most elite international schools, much in the way that our arts students participate globally in The Association for Music in International Schools (AMIS).
It is a benefit to our High School students when they can report that they have competed in athletics tournaments on an international level. By participating in SAAC, Graded will also be 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 in the future, tennis.
Graded athletics teams will now compete in tournaments at NR camp one semester and participate in the SAAC tournament the next. This new format doubles our athletes’ opportunities to compete while better managing out-of-school time. Additionally, the combination of SAAC and NR will allow us to develop year-round competitive opportunities for our students.
Beginning in 2018-19, our basketball, volleyball, and swimming programs will be full-year. We are evaluating the possibility of this arrangement for other sports, too. We are still working to resolve first-semester SAAC and Big Eight soccer travel date conflicts for this school year but there are ideas for the next school year. Our junior varsity (JV) Little Eight tournaments will maintain their current schedule.
We are excited to bring international school tournaments back to our Graded campus as well. In 2019, we will host the SAAC Track and Field/Cross Country Tournament. The following school year, we will host the SAAC Swimming Tournament at our new swimming facility. These events will bring our community together as we showcase our spirit and hospitality. We will host approximately 150 students per tournament, equivalent to the number of students we hosted during our last Model United Nations event.
To see a bit of what your child might expect at a SAAC tournament, please watch this track and field, cross country, and basketball video from Quito, Ecuador from April 2018:
We are confident that Graded’s participation in the SAAC and restructured Big Four and Big Eight Tournaments will be a true enhancement to our High School athletics offerings. As we approach our centennial and the opening of our new, state-of-the-art Athletics Center, Graded continues to strive for excellence in all aspects of the student experience.
1. You majored in political science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but then got a Master of Arts in early childhood special education at the George Washington University. What caused you to change areas?
It’s actually my minor, art history, that put me on the path toward education. While I enjoyed my political science coursework, I quickly realized that my initial plan of becoming an attorney wasn’t appealing. Through my art history coursework, I interned in the education department of two museums, which sparked my interest in teaching children.
2. One of the teaching philosophies you believe in is the Shine Theory. What is it and how do you see it at Graded?
Academics and social-emotional growth often take center stage in discussing student growth and achievement. These aspects of child development are important to consider, but I also believe that all children should have something in which they shine. In past years, I’ve worked with severely dyslexic students who struggled to write. I taught them how to type instead. That became their way of shining. I’ve also integrated the arts into my classroom as another way of allowing students to shine. I see a clear link to this idea through the fourth grade’s Maracujá project, where our students pursue a personal interest and immerse themselves in several weeks of independent study culminating in a performance.
3. Growing up, what was your favorite subject in school?
Social studies! I really enjoy learning about the past and understanding the individuals who shaped their cultures into the world we live in today. I’m still a big fan of history and most of my reading outside of school is narrative nonfiction. It’s probably no surprise that I love teaching our informational reading units in fourth grade!
4. What spells adventure for you?
Adventure is an upcoming trip to a new place that is going to push me outside my comfort zone. I’m really looking forward to a trip to Bolivia this November. It’s a place I probably would not get the chance to visit if it weren’t for this experience of living in South America. I’m excited to spend several days totally off the grid at the salt flats.
5. What bad habit have you broken?
I’ve learned to be a morning person. That was not my default setting, especially coming out of college, but now I love waking up early and knocking out my to-do list early in the morning before anyone else is up.
6. You minored in art history in North Carolina. What is your favorite art museum in São Paulo?
The museums are great in the city, but since moving here, I’ve become a big fan of its street art - every wall is a museum. Eduardo Kobra is my favorite street artist. I love his kaleidoscopic murals. He recently installed a mural in the park a few blocks from my apartment and I had a big fangirl moment when I saw him painting one afternoon!
7. What is one thing you teach in the Optimal Learning Services that you think all Graded students would benefit from?
I think all students would benefit from explicit instruction in self-monitoring, self-regulation, and self-advocacy skills. As adults, we often take these skills for granted. We need to make our routines visible for students and provide them with feedback so they can learn those skills. It’s really important for students to recognize when they don’t understand their teachers’ instructions and powerful when they can explain what they need to be successful.
8. Do you have a collection? If so, what do you collect and why?
I like to collect textiles while I’m traveling. For practical reasons, it’s easy to transport textiles, but they also become items I use every day so I’m always reminded of different trips. My most recent additions are hand-painted napkins from South Africa and tea towels from England.
9. What movie always makes you laugh? Which one always makes you cry?
The movies that make me laugh are the ones that I come back to again and again. I could probably do a one-woman show reciting Legally Blonde, for example. I honestly can’t remember the last time I cried during a movie - maybe that’s what I tend to avoid!
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
The people! My co-workers are incredibly dedicated people who go above and beyond to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students. The families are welcoming and collaborative. And of course, our students are amazing and inquisitive and are ultimately why I do this job.
by Shauna Hobbs, Director of Teaching and Learning
How do we ensure that students who are exposed to multiple sets of academic standards in both English and Portuguese have consistent experiences? This challenge has become Graded’s teaching and learning “problem of practice.” To increase academic achievement and prepare students to excel, Graded is committed to providing a rigorous education while aligning curriculum and academic expectations.
Developing a Consistent Schoolwide Curriculum
During Graded’s Strategic Plan process, focus groups identified the need for a consistent experience for students, regardless of the language of instruction. Using stakeholder input as well as academic achievement data, the strategic plan outlines goals and initiatives that ensure that courses are vertically aligned, scaffolding from one grade level to the next. We want to develop quality assessments that ensure consistency in PP-12 structures and expectations in both English and Portuguese courses. By vertically aligning standards across languages, we can provide a seamless transition between our Lower School, Middle School, and High School, as well as between our Portuguese and English curricula.
We are deepening our understanding of academic standards and expectations. This is done through the creation of learning targets, and development of a PP-12 vertical alignment focused on quality formative and summative assessments. The process of curriculum work requires the identification and prioritization of skills and content necessary for students to be successful from year to year. To ensure that Graded students have what they need for future success, the goal is to go deep and narrow the number of standards taught in both languages and across content areas. By doing this we ensure from grade to grade that students have the skills necessary for increasing academics. Faculty are utilizing the research of Larry Ainsworth, to select the most important standards to be mastered (power standards) using three criteria: readiness, leverage, and the knowledge of the student in the classroom.
Finding Alignment Between US and Brazilian National Standards
The release of new Brazilian National Standards, the Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNCC) provides us with an opportune time for teachers to begin discussing the commonalities between the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards and the BNCC.
The rationale for the discussion centers on the experience of the Brazilian student whose instructional day is primarily in English and with a lesser percentage of instruction in the first language of Portuguese. Individual courses and instruction across all content areas are strong, but there is a need for academic experiences between the two curricula to be systemically connected.
A focus on common skills emphasizes the student's educational experience in English. Language development research shows that instruction of common skills in both languages enhances the heritage language and increases academic achievement.
Recognizing that the foundations of both standards--AERO and the BNCC--are aligned, we have started this process by creating a document evaluating the commonalities between AERO and BNCC most important skills and content and focusing on correlating academic skills.
After completing the vertical alignment of their PP-12 expectations, the English and Portuguese departments are correlating standards across languages. The vertical alignment of PP-12 standards inclusive of common skills, outcomes, and mastery expectations will result in a more rigorous, deeper experience for students, regardless of the language of instruction.
This process of linking the AERO standards with the BNCC standards has sparked conversations. How we can use one set of standards to support the other set of standards? How can we enable teachers to articulate when and why the one set of standards may support the other standards in depth? Discussing the meaning of the different standards has prompted richer, deeper conversations between English and Portuguese teachers. This work is resulting in common faculty understandings of the various skills students need.
Bringing Alignment to Assessments and Next Steps
As we finalize the linking of the AERO and BNCC standards PP-12, we are also evaluating how to align our assessments. Utilizing common assessments in English and Portuguese that have similar skills and common standards provides us with an evaluation of similar skills in both languages. The results will allow faculty to address and to understand student needs.
Assessing common power standards to evaluate skills and areas of challenges in both languages is a way to identify students who have academic needs that go beyond language development. While evaluation is only one data point, the results help to support the identification of bilingual students who may need cognitive supports in addition to second language services.
We are still a long way from being finished, but this work on standards and assessments has allowed us to address our problem of practice. It has started us down a road of providing a seamless experience for all students in grades PP-12 both vertically and across languages. It has also created some unintended positive results, including curricular conversations between foreign and Brazilian faculty about definitions of rigor and academic expectations.
Patricia Figueiró - Lower School and High School Spanish as an Additional Language Teacher
Stephen Cook - Lower School English Language Learner Teacher
1. What drew you to teaching lower school children?
When I was a kid, my teachers were such an important part of my life.
In several ways, my home life lacked stability. My teachers, in direct contrast, were always in the same place at the same time, interacting with me in the same, consistent manner. You can’t imagine the power of this kind of consistency until you have lived without it.
I will never forget, for example, my third grade teacher, Mrs. Deming. She met me at the door each morning and always greeting me with the same smile on her face. I knew in that moment that I was shifting environments in a way that gave me the mental and emotional space to learn and thrive.
I want to create this same experience for children. For this reason, for example, I meet my own students each morning and shake each child's hand, give some hugs, and say good morning to start the day.
2. You worked for nearly a year teaching and developing curricula in Namibia. Tell us more about that experience.
I actually did not move to Namibia intending to work with kids. In fact, after teaching for five years, I was not sure if I wanted to continue in the career. With the help of a pen pal, I decided to travel a year in southern Africa, exploring other possible life opportunities.
After about two weeks in Namibia, I met a Namibian man named Ricky who had been helping to collect supplies to provide to local shelters, or “places of safety,” where women had opened their small homes to children who had lost their mothers to HIV/AIDS. He invited me to go along one day to help deliver these supplies. I soon found myself working with these kids, teaching basic literacy and math skills. I would walk through the community, from one house to another, meeting with groups of children who were eager to experience any form of schooling. When I was blocks away the kids would already spot me approaching, and I would hear them chanting, “Andrew! School time!” as they hurriedly collected the few supplies we had to work with and sat themselves down expectantly. During that year of working with those kids - the year that I had set aside to explore other options - one thing became crystal clear. I was meant to be a teacher.
3. What contradiction in life have you had to learn to accept?
Things do not always happen for reason. They often just happen. But if we try, we can usually make sense of them in retrospect.
4. What is something about you that most people don’t know?
One life option that I seriously considered was going to seminary, which is a school that educates people to become priests or ministers. I applied and was accepted to a seminary in New York City in my mid-twenties. I think it appealed to many of the same parts of me that make me love teaching: educating people, being in front of groups, and counseling those in need or experiencing difficult moments.
5. You have taught children in orphanages, children with special needs, children in charter schools, and gifted children. What one factor from all of these experiences do you use every day at Graded?
Kids, like all of us, just want to be seen and heard. When interacting with any individual student, I try to make sure they have my undivided attention. I also try to interact with each of my students individually at least once in the day so they know someone is looking out for them.
6. What do you think needs to happen to make the world a better place?
All people need equitable access to education, regardless of any aspect of their identity or their access to wealth. Furthermore, this education needs to be a process that intentionally builds empathy for others and creates a drive in students to be central players in creating social, economic, and environmental change.
7. What is your idea of a good time?
Favorite Day: Wake up, drink coffee, read, walk my dog, go to the market with my husband, cook lunch, and watch movies.
8. What is your motto?
Leave people better than you found them.
9. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
I sometimes wish we could put a GoPro on the head of one of our students and see their perspective through a single day. I think you would see a kid who is involved in a wide variety of learning experiences, a kid who spends their time in beautiful spaces, and a kid who interacts with many adults who care deeply for them as individuals. That is my favorite thing about Graded: the loving and enriching experience we strive to create for our students.
In March and April, Graded’s Advancement Department hosted four Grandparents and Special Friends Days for each of its Lower School learning communities. Grandparents, parents, family members, and friends spent the morning at Graded enjoying a student-led assembly, visiting the classroom, and getting to know one another over refreshments. It was a privilege for us to welcome guests who play such an important role in our students’ lives.
Graded’s Advancement Department is responsible for areas at Graded which serve to strengthen the institution including fundraising, internal and external communications, alumni relations, community relations, and public relations.
I recently finished a most profound read entitled The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose, Faculty Director of Mind, Brain, and Education at Harvard University. Alan November, Keynote Speaker at Graded’s iNNOVATE 2017 Conference recommended it to me.
In his work, Rose states that averages exist everywhere. Averaging can be helpful for an airline to determine an estimated flight time or for a grocery store to approximate how much milk to purchase each week. However, when it comes to students and learning, an “average” falls short.
The practice of averaging a student’s results over time was influenced by Frederick Taylor’s theory on efficiencies and systems in labor productivity. In the early part of the 20th century, Taylor, often referred to as the first management consultant, introduced the idea of standardizing work in factories to maximize efficiency. This notion required workers to conform to an average series of actions.
The philosophy was later adopted by schools and continues to impact classroom structure today. Executing this practice, a teacher delivers to learners at the midpoint, meeting the efficiency need. However, students at both ends of the learning spectrum miss out. By focusing on personalized learning, we are aiming to meet each students unique learning needs.
What we are finding in recent research, and what is confirmed by Rose, is that this focus on “sameness,” to ensure maximum efficiency, is detrimental to learning. Let’s take reading, for example. The "sameness" philosophy and a Tayloristic focus suggest that every child learns at exactly the same moment.
Simultaneous skill acquisition would be easy and efficient for the teacher, but humans do not process information at the same pace. Students don’t learn to read on the same day or even in the same week. There is little or no correlation as to when a child learns how to read and their long-term achievement or future success. We watch reading develop over time, as a student’s ability and comprehension improves.
This individualized pace and process of learning is central to Graded's belief that a grade should not equal the sum of a student’s results divided by a denominator. This average simply does not reflect an individual's longitudinal learning trajectory. It also assumes that all children learn identically and simultaneously. We know that this is not true.
Similarly, when grades are used to rank students, the method falls short as a valid measure. In fact, in the End of Average, Rose addresses Ergodic theory and states that one can only use a group average to make predictions about individuals if two conditions are true: 1. Every member of the group is identical and 2. Every member of the group will remain the same.
What is more important, and the focus of our grading reform efforts, is assessing the individual. In 2015, Graded discontinued averaging students’ grades to determine an overall final grade. Our decision to reform our middle and high school grading practices was influenced by the groundbreaking content of Ken O’Connor’s Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades and supported further by Rose’s The End of Average.
Setting measures of growth for each student that are reflective of their abilities and their desired outcomes is our goal. In fact, it drives each student toward our Vision as a school: Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world.
Currently, our faculty are working with leading assessment specialists. Together, they are developing and implementing evaluative methods that provide feedback students and deliver evidence of longitudinal growth.
Graded is also not alone in our efforts to move from averages. At Brown University, for example, the institution does not average grades, nor does it report a GPA. Many other prestigious K-12 institutions and medical schools have adopted these same assessment practices.
We welcome you to learn more and ask questions. If you are interested, stop by and join me in conversation.
|“If someone proposed combining measures of height, weight, diet and exercise into a single number to represent a person’s physical condition, we would consider it laughable….Yet every day teachers combine aspects of student’s achievement, attitude, responsibility, effort, and behavior into a single grade that’s recorded on a report card and no one questions it.” - Thomas R. Guskey, Five Obstacles to Grading Reform|
As I write to you, I am in New York attending the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). AAIE is a professional development center for more than 500 international school heads, which works to advance and advocate for global education.
The work of conference keynote speaker Douglas Reeves is at the foundation of Graded’s grading and assessment reform practices. Dr. Reeves has worked with education, business, nonprofits, and government organizations throughout the world. The author of more than 30 books and 80 articles on leadership and organizational effectiveness, he has twice been named to the Harvard University’s Gutman Library Distinguished Authors Series and was named the Brock International Prize Laureate for his contributions to education. Dr. Reeves received both the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the Parent's Choice Award for his writing for children and parents.
As you are aware, Graded School is in the process of reforming its grading and assessment practices. Since my arrival in São Paulo in July 2015, no change has caused so much conversation and questioning.
One of the reasons for this is that, as parents, we were “graded” under a traditional model. This model has not changed since the beginning of the industrial age, at which time it was formulated under the pretense that the “average” of students’ work over time would be the best way to reflect their achievements. However, over the past 10-20 years, what we have learned about adolescent brain development has turned much of that on its head. Graded is on the leading edge of a worldwide movement to reevaluate how to assess student learning.
This reevaluation is occurring in a majority of well-developed international schools, as well as hundreds of US independent and public schools. Over the next several months, I will be sharing a series of articles that highlight the ongoing changes to our assessment program and the related research on which it is founded.
For now, I invite you to read Douglas Reeves’ exciting article, Busting Myths About Grading. I hope it causes you to reflect upon your child's experience and Graded. If it inspires questions, please reach out to me or any member of the administration. We look forward to talking to you.
In the spirit of continuous learning,
1. As a Harvard undergraduate, what inspired you to major in Latin American History and Literature?
First, I had always wanted to learn Spanish. My mom had told me it was my first language, because as a baby, I had a babysitter from Puerto Rico. Apparently, I came home requesting "carne" for dinner! In high school, we only had French and Arabic as language choices, so I wanted to be sure to learn something new in college. Second, I had decided to major in government, but when I attended my first class as a freshman, I was overwhelmed by more than 300 students and a famous professor lecturing from a pulpit. I didn’t like the competition among students to be the best in the class - it almost seemed like a job interview. So I immediately switched majors to something that would count my Spanish classes as credit toward my degree. I also wanted to visit South America in the future.
2. Who is your fictional hero?
I always identified with Leigh Botts from Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary. Leigh was a troubled, lonely child and I was, too. Being an only child raised by a single mom, I was always looking for attention from someone like an older brother or sister or father figure. The Graded Library has a copy of this book, if you’re interested in reading it.
3. As an Optimal Learning Services teacher, you work with kids who experience learning challenges. What drew you to this work?
I have a natural tendency to help those who have less or who struggle. I started with animals and rescue pets, and then I helped younger students in school as a tutor. My first job was working as a playground supervisor for elementary kids when I was in high school. It is just who I am. Being able to focus on teaching children who don't necessarily get everything the first time hooked me on teaching. I think all children have the potential to show us their strengths. Sometimes you just have to look a little deeper to find them.
4. You’ve been both a teacher and an administrator. What’s your favorite part of each position?
As a teacher, I enjoy the "ah-ha" moments that kids have when they understand a concept or master a skill. That is the best. As an administrator, I loved when parents realized their child’s gifts and relished them. I also loved seeing kids perform. In both positions, I have enjoyed attending students' basketball games and music recitals outside of school. They see how much I care about their "whole learning."
5. Why did you choose to teach internationally?
I grew up with a mom from France and a dad from the US Virgin Islands. They met in Germany, so you know they were travelers as well! I was not happy at age eight when we moved to Morocco, because I was torn from my friends and all that I had known. But within a year, I was thrilled. I spent 10 years in Morocco, and it is now a large part of who I am. Since then, I have always traveled whenever I had the chance. The fact that I could connect my love of travel to my career was just a bonus.
6. What has surprised you about Brazil?
The number of people here - just the immensity of it. I like the smiles on peoples’ faces and the friendliness that you experience everywhere. It is so pleasant.
7. When and where were you happiest?
I have always been happy in nature, mostly when I’m under the sun. I love the beach, and I love to hear the waves.
8. What is it that you most dislike?
I cannot stand when people are dishonest. That is my biggest pet peeve. I also don’t particularly like coffee or chocolate. People think I am crazy.
9. What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend a lot of time and money traveling and enjoying very good food. I don’t mind spending a little more to have a party at the dinner table! I think that is where most of my money goes. Overall, relaxing and enjoying the good things in life make me the happiest.
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
What I like most about Graded is the international feel. It reminds me so much of my school in Morocco, and I think children are lucky to have an experience like this. I made lifelong friends from my elementary and high school experience overseas. I hope kids here get that, too.
As an educator, I believe that part of my job is to inspire students - inspire them to become engaged citizens, find a career, pursue a dream, take a stand, feel empowered, take risks, act, try, fail and overcome, and find the meaning of success. How do I add all that to my curriculum when I teach them?
Seven years ago, I participated in the annual Destination Imagination Team Manager training at Graded. In this training, I learned fun class management techniques, icebreakers, and different strategies to encourage student collaboration. Little did I know that I would find a way to blend curriculum with my ideas of good education. As a result, I started what I hope to be a life-long relationship with Destination Imagination!
Our students need 21st-century skills, vital skills for a future that is difficult to picture due to the rapidly changing world in which we live. The ultimate goal of Destination Imagination is to find opportunities that inspire learners to try different approaches to solving problems.
Destination Imagination is a global organization, present in more than 45 US states and 30 countries, with more than 150,000 students and 38,000 volunteers. For over 30 years, this nonprofit organization has been providing a hands-on program that fosters students' curiosity, creativity, and courage through open-ended academic challenges in the fields of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) and service learning. Students learn patience, flexibility, persistence, ethics, respect for others and their ideas, and the collaborative problem-solving process. At the end of every season, students and their teams get together for tournaments to present their solutions.
The Brazil Affiliate Tournament is a two-day event where teams from all participant schools get together to share and celebrate their creative solutions to the program’s challenges. This event leads to the Global Finals, a final tournament in May, in the US, where the best teams from all over the world compete. Participants not only present their solutions to a greater audience, but also have the opportunity to engage in different workshops, camps, and activities sponsored by Destination Imagination partners such as NASA, 3M, Disney, the Motorola Solutions Foundation, the Oracle Academy, Mayo Clinic, and the Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, among others.
This year, the Brazil Affiliate Tournament will take place at Graded on March 16 and 17. We are excited to have this tournament at our school again and to welcome 130 young creative minds from grade 3-11. Participants will come from São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Bahia and they have all worked hard to create an original solution to their STEAM and Service Learning challenges.
Graded has been offering this program as an after-school activity for 15 years. The feedback we received from former participants confirms the research findings about the benefits of student participation in extracurricular programs that foster creativity and teamwork. Some of these benefits include more active participation and creative solutions when working on given tasks, improved self-confidence and persistency, risk taking in sharing and elaborating ideas, flexibility in collaborative work settings, and awareness of one’s talents and strengths.
Destination Imagination also teaches us, adults, to be guides and supporters, giving these young minds autonomy and allowing them to own their learning, becoming the protagonists of the process.
The Destination Imagination experience profoundly touches the hearts of those who are or have been involved at some point. Everyone is welcome at the affiliate tournament, and participants are always delighted to have an audience encourage them! Destination Imagination is always looking for volunteers. Please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the truest sense of Graded’s mission, I recently had an inspiring moment and have taken on a new challenge. At the 2017 Innovate Conference in October, I was honored to work with 35 students from grades 8 to 12. Our task was to prepare a new series for our educational conference called “Student-Led Fishbowls.”
Fishbowls? What are those? Sitting in circles, students discussed, gave feedback, and shared their perspectives about school and the lives they lead. Each session was 90 minutes and in each, teachers from Graded and other schools around South America observed and intently listened. I was fortunate to assist in moderating the conversation with our students and probed students to talk candidly about their experiences at Graded.
What the other teachers and I heard was inspirational. Students discussed a wide range of topics: the effects of technology in their lives, student stress, how they are assessed, and how they perceive inspirational instruction, among other things. Not only did they articulate their views clearly, but they were often quite profound. Their “voices” were true, their perspectives were real, and, most importantly, their suggestions were impressive. These conversations sparked so many ideas that I have already begun discussing how we can utilize them at our school and in our learning community.
Hence my new challenge. I’d like to begin a new series called SUPBowls during which I will meet with various student groups in each division – High School, Middle School, and Lower School – and listen intently to bring their perspective and reality to the front of our decision making.
Beginning next semester, we will have periodic fishbowls and invite our faculty to listen in as we discuss what students want me to know. I look forward to listening hard, reporting on what they share, and taking action on their ideas.
Inspired by students and challenged to listen to their voices to ensure their success,
The Graded Libraries are thrilled to welcome back award-winning author, Linda Sue Park, the week of November 27-December 1. Ms. Park is the author of more than 20 books, including A Single Shard, winner of the 2002 Newbery Medal, and A Long Walk to Water, a New York Times bestseller. She has traveled to 46 states and 16 countries to talk to audiences of all ages about books, reading, and writing.
While at Graded, Ms. Park will be busy. Throughout the week, she will meet with all PK5-grade 12 students. In addition to working with students, Ms. Park will offer a presentation for parents and a professional development session for staff. The parent presentation will be on Tuesday, November 28, from 8:15 am-9:00 am.
Students in grades 4-8, who are eager to meet Ms. Park in a smaller setting and talk with her about her work, are encouraged to participate in an Essay Contest. Twenty-five students will be selected for a special lunchtime event.
Aspiring writers in the High School have the exciting opportunity to participate in a Writing Workshop. A small group of selected students will meet with Ms. Park twice during Community Time to develop and hone their skills.
As part of “Reading Workshop,” our grade 5 students read Ms. Park’s book, A Long Walk to Water, and work on analyzing themes. In a TEDx Talk related to A Long Walk to Water, "Can A Children's Book Change the World?" Linda Sue Park talks about how books provide practice in responding to unfairness in life, and how empathy for a book's characters can lead to engagement in ways that have significant impact in the real world.
Livro Fácil will have copies of Linda Sue Park’s books available for sale, and during her visit, students will have the opportunity to have books personally autographed.
Guest author visits are an enrichment experience for students. They promote literacy, provide an opportunity for students to see professional writers and their processes, and reinforce what students are learning in the classroom about the writing and revision process. They also showcase effective public speaking, develop an understanding of the importance of research, and model both passion and perseverance.
The Graded Libraries appreciate the support of the Graded Annual Fund in making Ms. Park’s visit possible.