Lower School News
by Shannon Beckley, Director of Teaching and Learning
Graded's commitment to each one of our students and families is captured in our vision statement:
"Individuals empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world."
This vision is borne out of community-wide reflection upon our valued traditions and plans for the future and drives our Teaching and Learning team's work. Graded's vision prompts our school and faculty to examine curricula, student learning experiences, and professional approaches. In an ever-changing world, reviewing and adapting our work is an ongoing journey. Over the past several years, we have hosted Graded's Think Tank, studied with experts in cognitive science and design thinking, and begun to weave teaching practices for deep, enduring, and transferable learning into our classrooms.
At Graded, deeper learning is the convergence of what authors Jal Mehta (Harvard University) and Sarah Fine (High Tech High School) call the virtues: mastery + identity + creativity. Learning is most profound and long-lasting when it results from the intersection of knowledge and skills (mastery), motivation and purpose (identity), and the ability to produce and create in new ways (creativity). When we plan and organize our classrooms to foster the development of these virtues, we know that we will graduate students who are knowledgeable, action-oriented, confident, innovative, and globally-focused.
Equipping our faculty to teach in this manner is critical to our overall success. In March 2021, Graded's Learning Lab began implementing an innovative professional learning experience designed by Graded teachers for Graded teachers. The "Deeper Learning Pilot'' is a 10-week intensive course produced by the Teaching and Learning Department in collaboration with external partners Dr. Kevin Mattingly of Columbia University, the Stanford d.Lab, Explo Elevate, and the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning (IFSEL). The course is delivered by the school's four deeper learning coaches and two curriculum coordinators. Twenty Graded teachers enrolled in the initial offering.
Our pilot is designed as a series of informational workshops and classroom coaching cycles. During the workshops, teachers come together across grade levels and content areas for two to three days to study, learn, and plan. They explore the following guiding questions:
- What is deeper learning?
- How do we foster the virtues of mastery, identity, and creativity in our students?
- How can I apply the deeper learning frameworks to my own learning and professional growth?
Each workshop series is followed by a two-week classroom coaching cycle during which teachers match with a deeper learning coach. Together, they practice applying strategies that promote deeper learning with students. As part of the coaching cycle, faculty collect and analyze student work to understand its impact on student learning. This sequence repeats three times and culminates in a celebration of learning.
While the faculty learning journey is still in its infancy, teachers are already reflecting upon the impact this work is having on their teaching and their students' learning:
"I have never experienced learning like this. I have never learned in the same way the teacher is teaching me to teach."
"I am taking a hard look at my curriculum and standards. I want to examine them through the lenses of a 'focus on the concept' and 'big ideas!'
"The concepts we are learning about will make a HUGE impact in my classroom... I am most looking forward to seeing my students develop as independent problem solvers in a community of learners."
It has been said that when teachers are learning, students are learning. Over the next school year, the Deeper Learning Pilot will expand, and we envision that by the end of 2022 all Graded teachers will have participated in the program. We believe that combining a robust curriculum with purposeful and motivating learning experiences will further develop Graded students, allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in novel ways. They will become individuals who positively impact the world.
Reference: Mehta, Jal and Fine, Sarah. In Search of Deeper Learning: The Quest to Remake the American High School. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019. Print.
by Elizabeth Marvel, Associate Director of Admissions
When the school day ends, Eaglets flock to the Graded Athletics Fields. A wide array of Lower School student-athletes are enthusiastic members of the Eaglets Soccer Program, which introduces the basic principles of soccer and keeps the game fun. A great success, the club continues to grow and has almost doubled in size over the past year.
All students are welcome to join the Eaglets, with no tryouts necessary. Olivia H. saw her older brother play with the Eaglets and followed in his footsteps, joining two years ago. Nicholas H., also in his second year in the program, says he participates because he loves soccer and wants to spend time with his friends.
Graded Eaglets build individual technical skills under the guidance of supportive coaches and later implement them by participating in scrimmages and friendly games. These matches also allow young athletes to realize their roles as parts of a team. The Internal Soccer Championship, consisting of games in which students from third to sixth grade compete, became one of the program's highlights. Gabriela B. enthuses that the matches are very fun and adds, "I really liked the medals!"
These student-athletes learn valuable lessons on and off the field. "We have two big targets: developing soccer skills and life and cognitive skills with the same importance," says Eaglets Program Coordinator Carlos Pereira. "Commitment, self-control, cooperation, self-confidence, respect, discipline, meritocracy, leadership, and solidarity are part of our methodology."
Through the program, young athletes notice their improved soccer skills. Hamilton A. notes he's become better at defense, and Gabriela B. and Olivia H. say they've been working on a new technique to kick the ball. The Eaglets are also aware of the skills they can take off the pitch. Gabriela B. smiles, "I used to be very competitive, but I've learned the value of teamwork." Olivia H. adds that she's cultivated leadership skills while participating in the program. Nicholas H. exclaims, "I've learned a lot about sportsmanship!"
Of course, this year looks different. The program has implemented safety protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic, such as mandatory masks and more individual activities. It has also suspended matches against fellow clubs and schools. Hamilton A. says he misses these games and is very eager to resume them in the future. However, he comments that his favorite aspects of the program remain: being with his coaches, playing with his friends, and learning new skills. Mr. Pereira is glad to offer the Eaglets program during this time, remarking that it's an "opportunity to return to socializing and playing sports, which is very important for students' physical and mental health."
Mr. Pereira and his cadre of talented coaches lead a transformative soccer program in which students work hard, grow stronger, and become a part of a community. Rafa V. has played soccer since he was three, but his time with the Eaglets has deepened his appreciation for the beautiful game and given him new opportunities, like being invited to play with the JV team. When asked if he's proud to be an Eaglet, he beams, "Of course!"
1. What years did you attend Graded?
I attended Graded from Kindergarten in 2001 to senior year in 2014.
2. You were a member of the Graded Scholar Program. How did it impact your life?
Access to a Graded education was such a blessing for my family and me! Receiving a scholarship allowed me to pursue everything that I set my mind to. The Graded Scholar Program was a tremendous opportunity that inspired me to work hard and to aim high. Graded exposed me to different experiences and ideas I had not imagined. For example, the concept of studying abroad, or even living abroad, never crossed my mind. In middle school, I realized I would like to attend college in the US, and I started laying out my plans for the future. Graded made that possible for me - from expanding my horizons to offering the best resources and connections to help me achieve my goal.
3. What made Graded special? What is your fondest memory from your 13 years there?
What was most special to me at Graded were my relationships with my classmates and my teachers. I always looked forward to going to school because Graded was filled with people I wanted to be around 24/7. The levels of love, respect, and appreciation I was surrounded by throughout my time at school cannot be measured. Also, the class of 2014 had some of the most amazing people to ever set foot at Graded (and I'm totally not biased). On a serious note, though, I regularly find myself wishing I could relive all the after-school adventures with my friends and all the school trips, which says a lot to me about the amazing experience Graded was for me.
4. What were your biggest challenges at Graded?
Some of the courses, especially IB, were challenging. Learning, however, wasn't that hard. My biggest challenge was time management. My dad worked at Graded and arrived by 6:30 am, which meant that I did, too. I'd wake up at 5:00 am, go to school, attend all my classes, participate in after-school clubs and activities, and get back home at around 8:00 pm to do homework, have dinner, and get to sleep at a reasonable time before repeating everything all over again.
5. What clubs and activities were you involved with?
In middle school, I joined the soccer and futsal teams. When I got to high school, I gave up futsal and joined the volleyball team instead. I was also a part of MUN (Model United Nations) and the Graded Jazz Band.
6. Did you take a class or have a teacher at Graded who was particularly impactful?
Definitely. To start, my Kindergarten teachers influenced me tremendously because that's when I started learning English. And they did a fantastic job because, by first grade, I was doing pretty well already. Oh boy, I don't want to skip any teachers. They were all so great. Two teachers who immediately come to mind are Guilherme Faria and Robbie Stange. Music was my greatest passion throughout my time at Graded, and those teachers elevated my skill level and my love for music in ways that are hard to define. However, when it comes to molding character, I feel like the most important class for me was Peer Group Connection (PGC). The program allowed me to dive deep into how I interacted with those around me and taught me how to empathize better with others.
7. You studied Computer Science at Skidmore College on a full scholarship! What led you to this field of study, and how do you think it has impacted your view of the world?
The one thing that I've always wanted to do was be able to help people on a large scale, and very early on (around middle school), I decided that the easiest way to do that was through technology. My objectives haven't changed since then, but being more involved in the field has made me realize how much power I have at my disposal and how much responsibility I bear to help those around me. Computer science reaffirmed both my negative and positive perspectives of the world around me. However, it also taught me to balance and observe people and things not through a lens of judgment but understanding. My minor at Skidmore was in music. So I pursued my passion for Computer Science but didn't forget about my hobby!
8. What kind of work are you doing currently, and what are your professional goals?
After I graduated, I enrolled in the Optional Practical Training (OPT) Program and accepted a job offer in Jacksonville, FL, referred by a friend. I currently work at CEVA Logistics, a freight management company, as a software engineer. I spend most of my day writing code. I mainly build customer-facing web applications and develop websites/mobile applications in my free time. All of my professional goals are entrepreneurial. My objective is to establish my own companies by age 30 to provide me with a stable income source so that I may take a step back from all the programming and start researching neural technology. Once that has been achieved, my life goal is to create at least one piece of life-changing technology.
9. What are your favorite hobbies?
Playing bass is my number one hobby. I generally rely on music to give me a break from my routine. My instruments bring balance into my life. I don't typically have much time to do anything other than programming, but I always make sure to allocate some time for music. Videogames are also on the list, but I don't play them as often as I used to.
10. Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to Graded students?
I'd tell them not to be afraid to be ambitious. Your chance of failure is higher when you aim too high, but in the end, you'll have achieved much more than you would have, had you set the bar lower. There's a lot of knowledge to be found in failure. Also, make sure you build relationships as soon as you get to Graded because your friends will help you achieve your goals. You can always learn a lot from those who surround you.
Men's Choir, Gospel Choir, Bel Canto, Honor Choir, Alumni Chorale, Women's Choir, Guest Conductor, Master of Music Education... all this much before you got to Graded. What are you involved in at Graded?
I'm now doing a few more things that I love just as much. I have an unusual position in that I'm one of the few teachers who teaches all three divisions. In the Lower School, I teach grade 5 music with my teaching buddy Gian Aquino. In Middle School, I teach grade 6 choir and the junior choir. Lastly, in High School, I direct the senior choir (grades 9-12, mixed voices) and TRebels (grades 9-12, treble voices). I love it! I get to be involved with students of so many different ages and stages, which in choral music is fun because of how their voices change from childhood to adolescence.
When and how did you decide that music, and particularly choral music, was the direction your professional life was going to take?
I have always loved to sing. My mom told me how I sang as a young child (just like I do now, from the top of my lungs). I studied music in college, but I never set my sights on becoming a teacher. I was writing and singing a lot of pop songs, and I wanted to pursue that. However, when I realized how much work, dedication, and rejection it would entail and how time-consuming it would be, I became a substitute teacher instead to help pay the bills. That was the first time I got excited about teaching kids, and I just fell in love with it. Once I was hooked, it was clear to me that I not only loved music but also loved teaching kids to love it, too.
What popular song have you heard on the radio in the past year or two that you think is truly great?
OK, I am a huge Sara Bareilles fan. She has skills playing the piano. She writes lyrics and music. And her voice! This past summer, I heard her arrangement of Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," about which Elton said he'd "never heard anyone sing one of my songs like that, ever." It's a great arrangement, and Sara, in my opinion, improves on Elton John's version (actually, Elton admitted this as well!). Of course, it's a great song already, but Sara draws your attention to the lyrics by giving the song a very spare introduction and builds up until she just kills the high notes, and you're covered in chills. Watch it on YouTube. It has certainly stayed with me.
When was the last time you pushed yourself to your physical limit? Explain.
When each of my three children finished grade 8, I took them on a trip anywhere in the world they wanted to go. In 2014, my youngest chose Peru, and we hiked the Salkantay Trek for five days to Machu Picchu. It was a decent hike, but at 3,000 to 4,600 meters (15,092 feet) up, it's the elevation that can do you in. Of course, the best part about hiking 76 km (45 miles) at that elevation is doing it with your kid! We met some great people from around the world, and it will be a lifelong memory. It didn't push me as much as my four weeks of Shaun T's "Insanity Workout Program," but it was a lot more fun.
Which of the five senses do you treasure most? Why?
Well, certainly I love to eat, and being a singer, I cherish hearing immensely. But if I had to choose which I treasure most, it would be touch. I suppose it's the one that connects us, right? I was raised in a family with German-American roots on my mom's side and Portuguese-American roots on my dad's. So, family gatherings were incredibly different depending on which side of the family we were visiting. My mom's family was very stoic, a bit stiff, hand-shakers, and very solid and reliable. My dad's family was loud, and when you came for a visit, all the aunties stooped down for kisses. I guess my connection with my dad also really imprinted the importance of touch – of a hug. And yes, Brazil suits me well in this regard.
Who's your favorite comedian?
I'm not a huge comedy fan, but it would have to be Trevor Noah. Adorable, smart, interesting, and his book is such a great read (funny too)!
What would you say to people who have never sung in a choir because they believe they can't sing?
This is a great question because it's so central to what I do. Honestly, here's my question: Did you have to learn math even though you weren't good at it? What about English (or Portuguese)? We don't learn things because we're good at them; we're good at them because we learn them. Yes, some people start ahead of the pack because they're born with a natural head start ("talent"). But if I can learn to do math (which I hate), you can learn to sing. So get out there and sing! (Parents and teachers have asked if I'd direct a choir for adults at school, and I said yes, so I'm just waiting for someone to ask me to run a rehearsal.)
What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Wow, there are so many things I love about Graded. I really love the green campus, students' smiling faces, staff, teachers, and parents. I love the Arts Center and its music rooms. But I think my favorite thing about Graded is the interesting lives of all the people here. There are students from all around the world. As someone who loves to travel and is interested in foreign cultures, I find the exposure to so many people from so many different places fascinating – invigorating, really. I love how I've picked up an interest in Korean culture and language from my students, which I didn't have before coming here. I also enjoy how Brazilians have these wonderful stories and recipes and how they use language so expressively. In addition, I find it interesting to see how Americans, Canadians, Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, and other English-speaking people share a common language, but not necessarily common experiences. It can be cliché, but it really is the people at Graded that make it fascinating and, for me, a wonderful place to be. I totally enjoy teaching here.