Lower School News
By Richard Boerner, Superintendent
The concept of a think tank is not a new one, but it is rather uncommon in schools. Why is this the case? Why don’t schools look more outwardly and leverage outside expertise and research to drive improvement?
Graded has been a vanguard in international education for nearly 100 years. As a leading academic institution, we continue to push, grow, and improve upon our strengths. It was this desire that inspired our design of Think Tank 2019. As we shared in early-April, Graded brought together some of the world's best thought leaders to help us prioritize and implement our next steps toward continuous school improvement. What was refreshing was that we chose to do this not because we had to, but rather because we had the capacity to do it.
So, what did we learn? What advice and expertise did our guests share that we, as a learning community, could act upon to enhance the experience of our students? To determine this, we needed to listen, reflect, and think. After Think Tank concluded, we talked to the participating faculty and administrators, as well as our Board of Directors. Then on Thursday evening, two weeks later, 85 faculty voluntarily gathered to learn, understand, and offer input.
Through these extended dialogues, additional outreach, and further discussions with our Think Tank experts, we have distilled and synthesized what we learned and have thoughtfully developed our path forward.
A repeated piece of advice offered by many of the Think Tank experts was to resist doing too much. Dr. Kevin Mattingly, professor of science of learning at Teachers College, Columbia University, said it best, “Great schools try to do too much, so select a singular focus, with evidence of result, and be unrelenting in making progress.”
As I previously stated, Graded's students are excelling. Teaching and learning are strong. In short, results are impressive. However, Graded can be even better. We can create more meaningful and lasting connections between what students learn and what they do with that information. In fact, I would argue this is why education exists: for students to gain knowledge, develop skills to interpret the knowledge, and apply those skills in real-world, lived experiences.
To accomplish this objective, Graded will apply cognitive science research known as the "science of learning.” It will help us ensure that students, via inspirational instruction, harness deep, enduring, and transferable learning that will be evidenced in their work, their thinking, and their lives. In partnership with Dr. Mattingly and Columbia University, our faculty will begin in-depth training in the science of learning.
Additionally, we will share with students the strategies and approaches to making learning stick. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the content they learn and discover ways to apply and transfer their learning to new situations. The depth and quality of student work will serve as evidence of these new ways in which they “think about their thinking.” As we utilize the best approaches for students, we will measure how these neuroscience strategies positively impact their learning.
During a recent conversation with our Leadership Team, Dr. Mattingly said that “Graded is undertaking groundbreaking work in the science of learning.” He strongly encouraged us to publish the work.
While keenly focused on deepening learning experiences for our students, we cannot and should not ignore the critical role that belonging plays in the success of a learner. So, we will also focus on ensuring that students and faculty belong – that they feel connected, valued, engaged, and heard. This initiative, in partnership with the Institute for Social Emotional Learning, will ensure that students have the mindset, well-being, and sense of purpose needed to engage more passionately in their work and transfer what they learn into meaningful experiences after Graded.
Think Tank served as a catalyst that allowed our faculty and administration to reflect on and engage with the research around learning. It helped us develop a thoughtful plan to continue our improvement on behalf of the students we serve. As we near 100 years as an academic institution, we build upon Graded’s strong foundation.
I am honored to lead our school through this exciting and compelling time of growth, and I look forward to your active engagement with us on this journey. If you are curious to learn more about the science of learning, I encourage you to read Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, a book by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel.
One School, One Community, One Graded,
VLADMIR CRUZ, DIRECTOR OF TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION
JAMES FORSTER, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
ANNA HAMMERNIK, LOWER SCHOOL ASSOCIATE PRINCIPAL
PAUL HAVERN, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF COLLEGE COUNSELING
KEVIN KOOIENGA, LOWER SCHOOL COUNSELOR
JENNIFER RIBACHONEK, LOWER SCHOOL OPTIMAL LEARNING SERVICES TEACHER
TIM TROTTER, HIGH SCHOOL MATHEMATICS TEACHER
1. You’ve worked as a Spanish bilingual teacher and are also fluent in French. Tell us about how and where you mastered these languages.
My mom was Brazilian and my father is German. As a kid, I was always exposed to several different languages at home. When we moved to California, learning Spanish was relatively simple, and I spent many months after college in Central America refining my skills in Spanish. I then returned to California to work with San Francisco’s Mexican and Central American population, teaching grades 1 and 3. Also, at 17, we moved to Geneva, Switzerland. Believe it or not, I didn’t want to go. In the beginning, I rebelled, but then decided to make the best of it. I took three hours of French classes a day and dedicated myself to the language. I enrolled in University of California, Davis (UC Davis) a year later and chose to major in French. After college, I bought a one-way ticket to France and decided to apply my knowledge to real life. I was a bit idealistic at the time: no job, no work visa, little money. I spent nine months working on farms around the countryside and had one of the greatest experiences of my life.
2. What was your life like when you were in grade 5?
As a kid, I moved around a lot. Moving from place to place helped me become the open-minded, accepting person I am today. I adapt easily to change and am resilient in stressful situations. I didn’t always love moving around during my elementary school years. Making new friends and always saying goodbye is stressful, but I am grateful that I was given the opportunity to grow from these experiences. As Graded is somewhat a transient community, I continue to struggle with goodbyes and new friends. I know many of our students deal with this reality all the time. After all is said and done, meeting so many wonderful, diverse personalities is what makes Graded a wonderful place to be.
3. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “fun”?
Fun is getting out of the city and enjoying nature — the beach or the mountains, in the company of family and friends. That’s ALWAYS fun!
4. What type of museum do you most like to visit?
I used to complain when my parents dragged me to art museums as a child, but ultimately, I gained an appreciation for art. I like going to modern art museums. São Paulo's Pinacoteca and the MOMA in New York are two of my favorites. When I visit a museum, I try to imagine what an artist was feeling or thinking when he/she created a piece.
5. What’s one guilty pleasure you enjoy too much to give up?
Listening to true crime podcasts.
6. What do you hope scientists will completely figure out some time in the next 20 years?
I think we live during a pivotal time in history. It is so exciting to be in education, because the kids we work with every day will be making decisions and discoveries that will affect humanity as a whole. My hope involves sustainable energy and zero waste. It is hard to imagine what Earth will look like in 20 years, if we continue with the current rate of consumption. I would like to see society make huge shifts in its use of resources. Science and technology, along with a radical human mindshift, is our only hope for survival. I know this sounds a bit radical, but it’s true. If we can’t figure out how to live sustainably, we will need some retirement communities on Mars for us to live out our final years.
7. What creative activities do you engage in?
I love cooking. My favorite thing to make is vegetable stir fry. The thing I love most about cooking is watching loved ones enjoy the work and energy that went into preparing the meal. I also like making art, especially woodblock and linoleum prints. I play some guitar, but I often find myself getting frustrated because it is so hard. I guess I’m not patient enough. In general, I am very creative. I love dancing and listening to music, doodling, or just plain coloring.
8. What are the best ways to inspire or motivate people?
The only way to inspire people is by example. People feel inspired when they see others inspired. We are generally attracted to people who are happy or people who appear to be doing grand things with their lives. When I am around people like that, I tend to also feel happy or motivated to do something larger than myself. Being around inspired people leads to conversations about inspiration and the desire to make a difference. I could never expect to inspire my students if I didn’t feel inspired, or in my case, feel a total love for being with young people.
9. What’s your favorite season of the year? Why?
I love spring. Every season has an emotion or a way of being that goes along with it. Autumn is nesting and winter is resting. Spring is time to start new things and to fall in love.
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Sometimes I don’t like to admit this about myself: I am a competitive person. Graded prepares students for the competitive world we live in. I don’t mean to say we are preparing our students to be competitive. On the contrary, we are teaching students collaboration and communication skills. But at the same time, through the rigorous demands of our curriculum, we are preparing our kids for hard work, giving them stamina, and exposing them to high-quality challenging content and skills. I often refer to Graded as one of the best schools in the world, and I can say that with conviction.
by Angela Park, Communications Associate
“It’s not easy being green.”
A school’s green initiatives might not make a significant difference in a city that produces roughly 20,000 tons of waste every day. However, an ecologically-conscious mindset, developed at a young age, may influence an individual’s decisions over a lifetime.
At Graded, the Lower School Green Club encourages students to engage in sustainable living practices and raises awareness of environmental issues. The club, led by grade 5 teacher Patricia Gehrels and grade 3 teacher Leigh Ann Fitch, meets every Thursday after school in Gehrels’ fifth grade classroom. After dropping their backpacks and grabbing a handful of healthy snacks provided by the teachers, club members gather around in a circle in the front of the classroom. Students learn and discuss a variety of topics: recycling processes, insects, ecosystems, and gardening basics — to list a few.
This semester, students opted to start a garden at Graded. To some, planting a garden may appear to be a simple task, but there is more than what meets the eye. Over the course of several weeks, students patiently and diligently mixed worms into the soil, raked leaves, cleared the sod, and added layers of cardboard beneath the compost before planting seeds and flowers.
“Planting the carrots was my favorite part,” said fifth grade student Valentina L. “I also learned about all the benefits of being in contact with nature, how nature can help you, and how you can help nature back.”
Students have witnessed symbiotic relationships between different organisms. “I thought that all animals were bad for the garden,” said third grader Lorena B. “But actually, insects are really good for the garden, and bird poop is really helpful [as a fertilizer].”
Club members have also undertaken other green initiatives at Graded, including recycling. Third grader Arianna H. recalled her first project, where she and her friends “went around from first to fifth grade classrooms to collect all recyclable materials.”
While the gardening project will be ongoing, club members will come together to decide upon their next green project. “At the Think Tank, they mentioned how problem-solving is important, but even more important is problem-finding,” affirmed Gehrels. “It’s this idea of ‘Let’s walk around the school and see how can we improve what we already have.’”
“Our job is to hone their vision a bit, asking them ‘Do you notice that? What does that tell you?’ We’re here to point them to things and get the questions going in their heads,” added Fitch. “When they get older and have the power to facilitate larger change, then maybe this will have been a positive influence for them.”
As Valentina aptly concluded, “Graded could be a greener school, and if we work together we can make it happen."
The Lower School Green Club meets every Thursday from 3:15-4:00 pm in Patricia Gehrels’ E01 classroom. Students in grades 3-5 are welcome to join. For more information, please contact Patricia Gehrels at firstname.lastname@example.org.