Middle School News
Last year, we envisioned a new Upper School Library that would provide our students with an inspirational and flexible learning center. Just a year later, our dream has become a reality.
In her August 2018 Gazette article, Learning Reimagined: Why We Should Invest in Innovative Spaces, Chief Strategic Communications and Advancement Officer Susan Clain wrote about the critical relationship between space and learning, as well as the importance of funding such transformational spaces.
On August 15, 2019, we inaugurated a beautiful new Upper School Library, home to more than 17,000 volumes, including print books, magazines, and ebooks. Graded's renovated library, captured in the accompanying photographs, features comfortable furniture and inspiring signage that incorporates the school's vibrant color palette. The library's main reading circle serves as an area for class instruction, while study rooms and booths allow our students to work both independently and collaboratively.
The Graded Libraries' most popular program, the Visiting Author Series, was hosted in our new space for the first time earlier this month. Alan Gratz, author of the young-adult novel Refugee, spoke to students in grades 5-10 about dire situations that force individuals to flee their homes and seek refuge. During his visit, Mr. Gratz delivered presentations, facilitated class discussions, and led writing workshops. These activities enabled our students to better empathize with refugees and further understand the harsh conditions and challenges that they continue to face today.
The Visiting Author Series returns next month, this time to the Lower School Library. With the support of the Graded Annual Fund, we look forward to welcoming visiting author and illustrator Peter H. Reynolds. Best known for The Dot, a picture book about a girl who unearths her artistic talent, Mr. Reynolds will conduct Lower School activities that foster creativity and self-expression.
All my best,
1. You earned an MA in neuroscience from Brown University and then went on to pursue an MA in Teaching. Was it always your intention to become an educator?
No, for much of my life I expected to work in scientific research as a career. I have always loved science, but I reached a point where I knew I did not want to spend my entire life working in a lab. It was important to me to remain connected to science, but I wanted an option that would allow me to spend more time with people than lab rats. I thought seriously about becoming a nurse. However, when I thought about how much I enjoyed tutoring and teaching lab skills to others, I knew that teaching science was the right path for me.
2. Why middle school?
When I was an apprentice teacher, I taught in a high school first and then in a middle school. I enjoyed the high school classes, but when I got to the middle school, I realized that teaching middle school is much more fun. The level of excitement and enthusiasm of middle school students doing lab activities won me over. That kind of energy is contagious and inspiring.
3. Where is your favorite place to backpack and why?
I don't have a single favorite place to backpack, but I have learned that my favorite places are cold, dramatic mountains with forests and glaciers. In South America, some of the most impressive places that I have backpacked are Isla Navarino, south of Ushuaia, Argentina, and along the icefield close to El Chalten, Argentina. The scale of the natural world is so large and powerful in those places, that it makes me feel small in the best way.
4. What is your most exciting wilderness travel story?
That is really difficult to say. I think exciting wilderness stories usually mean that something did not go according to plan in a significant way. While I enjoy having trips that are beautiful and challenging, I try to plan so that trips do not become epic stories. That said, there are always exciting moments. For example, when you have to cross steep snowfields or pick the right spot for fording a river in high water. The intensity of those moments definitely adds to the overall wilderness experience.
5. As an undergraduate at Duke, you conducted an independent study at the Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry. What did you learn?
While the research projects that I was involved in related to the impact of pharmaceuticals and various chemicals on memory, I think the more interesting lessons came from the day-to-day experiences in the lab. It was a lot of responsibility caring for lab animals and I had to train them to push levers for food and navigate mazes. I learned why you should never wear sandals when working with lab animals. Once a lab technician had to resuscitate one of my animals when it had a bad reaction to medication, and I had to learn how to recognize and avoid those situations.
6. Who was your favorite teacher? Why?
My favorite teacher was one of my high school English teachers. I actually wasn't sure how I felt about her for the first couple of months because she always gave copious amounts of stern feedback on our writing. Seeing whole paragraphs of my writing crossed out or covered in critical commentary was difficult to swallow at first. However, when I tried applying her feedback, I could tell she was right, and my writing became clearer and more expressive. Her class always demanded hard work, but as I continued, I could tell that my writing was undergoing a dramatic evolution. She was wonderful in many other ways: pushing our analytical thinking, bursting into song in the middle of class, and frequently telling us to "question reality." But the greatest thing she did was push me to be a more concise, more intentional writer. Despite the labor, in the end, I feel as though I received a gift.
7. What kinds of things do you like to cook?
Most of the food I cook is fairly simple: vegetarian fare such as soups, casseroles, and pasta. But I also enjoy longer cooking projects and trying to make new types of food. Since I've lived in São Paulo, I've experimented with making a lot of foods "from scratch" such as yogurt, kimchi, different types of bread, and tortillas. There is a lot of science involved in cooking, so I like to research, experiment, and see what happens.
8. Which movies have you watched over and over again?
I rarely watch movies multiple times. I am much more of a reader than a movie-watcher. Even with books, it is rare for me to reread them because I like novelty and new ideas and information. The exception to this in both books and movies is if they are about human endurance or adventure. For example, I've read Endure by Alex Hutchinson twice and I am utterly fascinated by it.
9. You like running, swimming, and indoor rock climbing. What is one piece of advice about lifelong fitness and health you'd give Graded parents, students, and coworkers?
I think it is important not to make gigantic fitness goals, but to try to find a sustainable level of exercise that does not feel like an obstacle when you are tired or stressed. I try to do something active most days of the week. If I'm really busy, it might just be a walk or some stretching, but it takes a lot of pressure off if I'm not up for a long run on any given day. I also think it is important to have exercise that is fun whenever possible. Running with other people is more entertaining than running alone and rock climbing is kind of the grown-up version of all the tree climbing I did as a kid.
10. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Graded is my first experience teaching in a school where I have worked with some of the same students over multiple years and in different contexts outside of the classroom. Between this and the warmth and friendliness of so many people here, it creates a very tangible feeling of being part of a community. I value the fact that families at the school are so willing to get involved with activities on campus.
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,