High School News
I am pleased to share with you a series of interviews we conducted with members of the class of 2019. We spoke to seven Graded students at the end of their senior year, prior to their departure for university. Our goal was to capture their essence and learn from them, as they reflected upon their Graded experience.
We have their standardized test scores recorded and grades calculated. But how do we reveal a student's true substance, as they prepare to embark upon a new chapter of their lives? Clearly, our students, like their counterparts around the world, are more than just a number or two.
As you listen to these students, you will gain an understanding of the powerful nature of the Graded experience. Some of our interviewees are "lifers." Others attended the school for just a few years. Yet, they share this impactful journey, which is Graded. This school has provided them with freedom, structure, license to fail, and space to succeed. It has nurtured their passions, producing accomplished athletes, actors, mathematicians, writers, musicians, and humanitarians. These students demonstrate the ability to reflect deeply and an understanding of the profound role Graded has played in shaping who they are and who they hope to become.
Our interviewees strongly exemplify the "Science of Learning" principles we espouse at Graded. They have learned to distill and synthesize information, think critically and creatively, and express themselves clearly. They will carry these deep-rooted skills with them well beyond high school graduation.
Deep, enduring, and transferable learning is the true measure of a student's PK-12 academic experience and success. At Graded, we are committed to ensuring every student has the character and skills to learn how to learn, reason, and empathize.
Happy holidays and enjoy this short film!
1. You have a master's degree from the University of São Paulo in Brazilian literature. What influences in your life led to your interest in literature?
My father was an avid reader and he was my greatest influence. The Russian writers, for example, were some of his major passions in literature, especially Tolstoy. Graciliano Ramos was probably one of his favorites in Brazilian literature. He is one of mine, too.
2. As a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
I wanted to be a musician, professional runner, and journalist, among other things. Teaching became my dream job when I was around 18, after I took two semesters of electrical engineering and realized it was not really my field. I took the Vestibular again, this time for Portuguese/English language and literature.
3. You dabble in music in your free time. Do you play any instruments?
I mostly listen to music whenever I can, but I also occasionally play the drums and other percussion instruments with friends and do some DJing.
4. What was the hardest era of your life?
The hardest period was when my youngest brother passed away in 2002.
5. What is one book by a Brazilian author that best embodies what it means to be Brazilian?
Memórias póstumas de Brás Cubas by Machado de Assis is certainly one of them because it encapsulates so many characteristics of our country, for the good and for the bad. Also it is a true masterpiece in terms of narrative building: its narrator, for instance, is a dead man!
6. Where is your favorite spot in São Paulo for weekend fun?
I enjoy the Barra Funda/Santa Cecília area right now because it is a neighborhood with nice bars, restaurants, and clubs and not as crowded and/or expensive as other spots around the city.
7. What dream has come true for you?
One of them, for sure, was visiting London for the first time in 2010. It has always been a city with a lot of connections to my life: music, literature, history, soccer, among others. Being there was finally seeing for myself what I had only learned from books, TV, and radio, so it was really a dream come true.
8. What's your favorite expression and when did you last use it?
One of my favorites is "Tô ligado..." and I especially like to use it with my students. At first they laugh and don't believe their Portuguese teacher allows himself to be that informal. That is always a good starting point for discussing the appropriate use of formal and informal language.
9. Who is your best friend and in one sentence, how would you describe this person?
A great friend of mine is Breno Deffanti, a Portuguese teacher in the High School. He is not only someone really fun to be around, but also someone I know I can count on in good and not-so-good times.
10. You coordinate the Vivas Palavras Contest at Graded. Tell us more about it!
Vivas Palavras is our annual Portuguese literary contest that has been going on for the last 15 years. Eloisa Galesso and Mario Spanghero were the teachers who first came up with the idea. I have been coordinating the project for the last 11 years. All students taking Portuguese and more advanced levels of Portuguese as an Additional Language in grades 4-12 participate. Students write poems and short stories, and the best pieces are published in a special Vivas Palavras book released in April or May. Our students come up with impressive work, demonstrating exceptional creativity and mastery of the Portuguese language. The Vivas Palavras books are available in the library.
11. You've been teaching at Graded for 20 years. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
Collegiality. It is great to know you have colleagues who are willing to give their best in order to enhance our programs with collaborative projects and activities.
1. You have a master's degree in educational equity and cultural diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder with an emphasis in linguistically diverse education. How does your degree help at Graded?
For my entire career up until Graded, I taught in school districts where the vast majority of students were minorities who faced oppressive educational, economic, social, political, and belief systems. I sensed that in order to create a thriving classroom culture, I had to spend every day telling them a different story than they had heard all their lives: you matter; si se puede; you are safe; you belong; I will not insult you by expecting anything less than the best; I got your back.
It turns out, my master's degree equipped me with the language and pedagogy for this innate belief: affective filter. Some fancy education and linguistic researcher named Stephen Krashen found lots of evidence to back up the idea that students who are learning a second language will not learn unless they feel safe in a classroom, unless teachers take measures to lower their affective filters. #micdropyo
It's what we all know, isn't it? Despite our busy culture, distracting interactions, and never-ending multitasking, the risky presence of our authentic hearts is required to learn. Yes...a second language. But I would argue a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g.
THIS is the core of who I am as a teacher, from the "hood" to the halls of Graded. And I have learned that it doesn't matter, the parents' paychecks, or access to resources, or the native language, or the color of the skin, or the status of citizenship: All people need love.
And so I take certain measures to create in my classroom a space safe for hearts: mindfulness, check-ins, circles, feedback opportunities, laughter, raw transparency, daring conversations, and nonacademic moments of human beingness. This is also why I took on the role of the Community Connections Coordinator. I see this as an opportunity to advocate for students, to build a meaningful mentoring program, and to foster vibrant space at Graded for hearts.
It also is why I am a fierce advocate of adult culture at Graded, too. Our teacher hearts matter, too. We can sometimes get so consumed filling the cups of our students and our families that we forget to fill ours, too.
We need people who are guardians of hearts. This is why I teach. #heartsmatter
2. What is your favorite way to spend a long weekend or short vacation?
I used to have the perfect dog, Spooner. He would go, go, go when we went, and he would chill, chill, chill when we were at home. He was my animal spirit.
On the weekends, I live in the soft paradox between activity and inertia. So my first answer to this question is...
Naps! Or as my best friend calls them—because they are long and sluggish and hard to wake up from and kind of ruin her nonstop agenda—"day sleeps." There is nothing like crawling into the darkened sanctuary of my comfy bed and disappearing under the weight of blankets to just let go, to breathe (and maybe to snore).
But, on the flip side, I love to explore. From breweries to beaches, mountain trails to museum halls, one of the reasons my husband and I moved overseas was the call of adventure. Our first year here, after getting settled in, I think we traveled every long weekend and holiday break. Truth be told, I can get a little obsessed about travel planning (I think my other life calling is to be a travel agent), so that's half the fun. Right now we're dreaming of a trip to New Zealand, so that's taking up my free time. #firstworldproblems #I'lltakeonefortheteam
3. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my mom getting up long before the sun, playing a few games of Atari with me curled on her lap, before she headed off to work. All my life she was up in the blue-cold-quiet-darkness of the morning. I didn't get it.
And now, as the trajectory of life goes, I find myself also a morning person. I get it. There is something so special about the stillness of the morning. Our apartment porch is perfect for this: we have flocks of chattering parakeets and those yellow Brazilian birds who sound like they're yelling "Hercules" and doves that wake the sun with their melodic song. And, I am at my best in the morning. Work that takes me an hour in the afternoon or evening takes half that time in the morning. So I like to make my mornings as productive as possible, be it hitting the gym or getting to work early. Because of this, I am most definitely not a night owl. I am in bed every night by 9. #dinnerreservationsat5please #ohwaittheydon'topenuntil6
4. You're a trained yoga teacher. Does that carry over into your classroom in any way?
Yoga for me was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Though I've always been active, it is different to be together with a group of people working toward the same goal. It's even more special when we are breathing and beating with what feels like the same lungs and heart.
Yoga introduced me to being present through breath. That introduction, coupled with grieving the death of both my parents, led me to meditation. It started with a few silent weekend retreats. Then I found myself in a 5-night silent meditation retreat in the breath-giving mountains of New Mexico. I could not get out of my own head, but I had nowhere else to go. It was torture. It was transformative. Slowly, I incorporated mindfulness into my regular routine. I set a goal in 2017 to meditate every day. And I did. And it was powerful.
As someone who has always been plagued by anxiety, I felt myself changing... not out of striving, but through some kind of inward—almost magical—restoration. My own experience, coupled with my training through Mindful Schools, led me to begin offering mindfulness in my classroom. #everysingleclass
If I can have a soapbox moment: I am worried about the enormous pressure our High School students face. They are overwhelmed and sleep-deprived and hyperalert and double-triple booked and overstimulated and constantly behind and always worried about their future (which is so very bright) and bombarded with messages of not being good enough (which is so very false). Again, I come back to the heart. What can I offer them, besides the best teaching, that will serve their spirits?
Mindfulness. All kinds of research tout its benefits: from sleeping better to stronger relationships to less stress to better academic results to improved athletic performance to... I could go on and on. So now I start every class with a short mindful practice. It is a moment to stop and breathe and be. It is a moment to shift from what was to what is. It is a moment to notice without judgment. It makes me a better teacher. I hope it helps my students' hearts, both immediately for that day's lesson, but also—and most importantly—for the time that comes after that.
5. In what way did your own experience as a student in middle school or high school lead you to become an English teacher?
His name is Strauss. He was my high school AP English teacher. We had the best discussions, even arguments, in class. His daughter and I bonded over gymnastics. He personally took me on a college tour. He taught me that it is not about answers, but about questions; it is not about content, but about connection.
I was fortunate: he was the apex in a long line of great teachers in my life. But honestly, this would not have happened in the same way had my parents not moved our family out of the Chicago city into its suburbs where education was, I hate to say it, better. My parents wrote my first suburban teacher a letter of commendation at the end of my 2nd grade year because they were so impressed by the difference. #zipcodesshouldn'tdetermineeducationalquality
6. If you had an unlimited shopping spree at only one store, what store would you choose? Why?
OMG, this question. I hope my husband doesn't read this, ha! First: Ulta. Ulta is like Sephora, a mecca for makeup lovers. And that I am. I am obsessed, ok maybe addicted, to eye shadow palettes. I have like ten. And I can't stop. #can'tstopwon'tstop #somebodyhelpme
It started, I think(?), when I went to beauty school. I took a break from college and became a cosmetologist, and I loved what I could do with makeup looks on myself and friends. I am especially obsessed with eyes. At one point, I would clip out of magazines images of eye makeup styles I liked, and they were all hanging on my bathroom closet door. #creepy
I'm not that far gone now. But rarely do I repeat the same eye makeup look in a week. #eyeshadowfordays
My second choice, despite the cliche, would have to be a bookstore. Doesn't it just smell like an old soul? The rows of words and stories and pretty displays of stationary and endless selections of journals just waiting to be filled and choices of cards to gift people. Being in a bookstore makes my heart happy.
7. What's your favorite animal?
Ahh, the easiest question. Horses. Though not easy to explain.
If there are any spiritual readers up in the hizzy, you know about John Eldridge. He is an author who writes about "divine rumors." It's like a hint of something eternal, a whisper to something greater than us. Something we can't quite articulate, or capture, yet nonetheless we feel it, we deeply experience it. That, for me, is horses. When I see them, smell them, groom them, ride them, I am transported somewhere better, somewhere "wholer," somewhere right. Sometimes, just a glimpse of one grazing on a distant hill is enough to reduce me to tears.
I ache for horses. Though I have never been able to afford my own (either space- or price-wise), I seek them out whenever I can. My husband and I were so very fortunate to spend about a week on horseback through Patagonia. It was... divine.#takeme(horse)back
8. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
The very thing that makes the world go round: hearts.
From day one, the students embraced me and welcomed me and made me feel part of the community. The staff, the leadership, and my colleagues treat people like humans, not data points. The parents greet me warmly with beijos at conferences, and we form true partnerships. This campus is also good for my heart. I love walking in early to the serenade of birds in the Student Center and the slant of the sun through the trees. Looking out from my classroom and seeing people learn and linger in hammocks is therapeutic. And I would be remiss to not mention the vivaciousness of Graded... and Brazil. Hands down the best parties I've ever been to as a teacher. #workhardplayhard #partyhearty
by Alejandro G., Grade 10
My alarm went off at 3:20 am on Sunday, September 22, the morning of my first Classroom Without Walls (CWW) trip. After some difficulty, I found the will to get out of bed and change into the travel clothes I had picked out the night before. I quickly double-checked my luggage and was out of the house, arriving at school right on time to meet up with my mentoring group in the Graded Student Center before departing for the airport.
Nearly all 10th graders embarked on the much anticipated trip to Lençóis Maranhenses, a legendary region of Brazil I had heard of many times before but had never visited. I knew the journey there would be somewhat tedious – between the bus ride to the airport, the three-and-a-half-hour flight to São Luis, Maranhão, and the long bus ride to the city of Barreirinhas where we would be staying. However, I knew that once there, I would have a great time.
After finally arriving at the hotel that evening, our guides advised us to set our alarms for 6:45 am, as we were scheduled to leave for our first adventure by 8:00 am. My group would be the first of the three to visit the famous sand dunes of the Lençóis National Park; I couldn't wait. After a long and bumpy drive via pickup truck, we arrived at the dunes that instantly stunned me with their beauty. They were unlike anything I had ever seen before. For starters, they were much bigger than I had expected, and the sand felt incredibly smooth, albeit very hot, under my bare feet. We trekked through the dunes, passing small lagoons with dramatically blue water, until we arrived at our destination: the magnificent Lagoa Azul. We slid down a tall dune into the lagoon and swam in it for a while, taking it all in. We then continued on to Lagoa Bonita. I was astonished by the stark contrast in the elements: strong winds, scorching heat, and the cold water. At the end of an incredible day. I was exhausted but exhilarated.
The next day, we traveled by motorboat along the Preguiças River to Marcelino, a self-sustaining artisan community. There, the locals showed us the entire process of using 100% natural fibers to make iconic artisan bags. They demonstrated how they extract and dye (all with natural coloring) fibers, which are delicate and malleable strands obtained from buriti plants that grow near wetlands in tropical areas of Brazil. The artisans then weave the dyed fibers with incredible skill to make beautiful boxes, baskets, bags, and accessories such as colorful bracelets. As if the experience itself weren't enough, we left Marcelino with souvenirs the artisans made specially for us. Happy and hungry, we then headed to lunch at Restaurante Casa da Farinha by the river. Upon finishing our meal, we were led next door where the restaurant owners make their own manioc flour (farinha de mandioca). We learned all about the starchy root vegetable and observed the flour-making process, starting with the meticulous peeling of the root.
On Wednesday, the last day of activities, we again left on the boats. This time we were heading towards the ocean to explore the town of Mandacaru, and we met a group of local fishermen in the fishing village of Atins. They shared with us a number of interesting stories about their profession and about the challenges they have faced since Atins became a popular kitesurfing destination. It was eye-opening to get the fishermen's perspectives on the impact of kitesurfing on the main local economic activity. After this incredible learning experience, we went to another beach and walked through smaller dunes to swim in a lagoon.
Later that afternoon, we took the boats back to the hotel. As the sun lowered in the horizon, we were able to appreciate the particularly beautiful scenery. It was an unforgettable closing to a great trip. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity, not only to explore those amazing landscapes, but also to interact closely with local communities and experience Brazil in a way that many have never done.
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 have a degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin. What inspired you to become a social studies teacher?
My desire to teach came fairly late in life. I was working as a substitute teacher in various school districts to supplement my income. During that time, I had an experience as a long-term substitute for a history class that made me realize how much I love history. I realized during that same month that I wanted to devote my life to being a history teacher.
2. How has life changed for high school students since you were in high school?
I began working for money at the age of 15, first as a grocery clerk and then as a dishwasher, waiter, and bartender. These were all jobs that I had in high school. I don't think any of my students have ever had a job during high school. Also, students are so much kinder and smarter now.
3. What would your dream day as a social studies teacher look like?
I would start the day with a prep period with my colleagues moderating Extended Essays and planning the welcome party for the new member of our Social Studies Department who would be joining us next school year. Then I'd teach IB History, a lesson evaluating the effects of the First World War. During Flex, there would be an Extended Essay consultation with Giancarlo W. At lunch, I'd be discussing the Grateful Dead with students Pedro C. and Rodrigo M. while eating baião de dois. Then for third block, I'd work with grade 12 students in the Theory of Knowledge Socratic Seminar on the prompt, "Can bad art shape bad people? Can good art shape good people?" Fourth block would be grade 9 social studies with a lesson on the economic causes of the American Independence movement. After school, there would be a reassessment with every single student I teach, because they all value self-improvement, learning, and exercising their skills. Finally, at home I would take a long walk with my dog Ayla and my partner Renata, followed by dinner at Bendito Bar with a live album by Phish playing on the radio.
4. If you could change one thing about your appearance, what would it be?
I can't grow a beard.
5. Tell us about Old American Junk.
Old American Junk is the moniker for my songwriting. Making music is a deep passion of mine and I have been composing songs and playing in bands for much of my adult life. I spend my summers playing shows in the United States and from time to time I also play gigs in São Paulo. People could listen by visiting Old American Junk on Spotify or on my website oldamericanjunk.com.
6. What do you remember about your first day of school or your first teacher?
I cried for an hour during my first nap time in kindergarten because I thought I would never see my mom again.
7. What is something that bothers you if it is not done perfectly?
Pasta: Don't overcook it.
8. If you could have dinner with one of the people your students learn about in your classes at Graded, who would it be?
Sir Edward Grey, the British statesman who served as foreign secretary from 1905 to 1916.
9. What "life advice" would you give every student if you were sure they would listen?
It is always now.
10. What's your favorite thing about Graded?
My partner, Lower School Pre-primary Teaching Assistant Renata Reis.
As a middle schooler, junior Olivia P. watched her older sister journey to school on Saturday mornings to teach English. Once she witnessed how her sister's volunteer work not only impacted the community at large but also the volunteers themselves, Olivia instantly knew she wanted to be a part of Friendship and Language Acquisition (FALA).
Graded's FALA program was created in 1999 to serve low-income individuals in the nearby community who lacked English-learning opportunities. Today, student enrollment is at its highest in its twenty-year history. More than 180 students — children, teenagers, and adults — from throughout the city of São Paulo travel to Graded to receive free English lessons.
Over the years, FALA has thrived. "It's incredible to see how much the program has benefited our community," said FALA Advisor and Middle School Teaching Assistant Sandra Greenwald. "I've had students reach out to me and their Graded student-teachers years later, to tell us how English has provided them with new educational and job opportunities."
The program has also greatly benefited Graded student volunteers. "Our students learn that there are many things they take for granted, such as being bilingual," explained FALA Advisor and Lower School Teaching Assistant Renata Duarte. "Through FALA, many of our students are able to make connections with people from other places and realities, that they would never have if it weren't for FALA."
When he stepped into his classroom for the first time, senior Gabriel M. thought his nerves would consume him. As he started speaking, he was immediately interrupted by students who asked him to speak more slowly. Fortunately, his fears of not "being a good teacher" quickly diminished. Fast forward the semester, Gabriel's students told him he was one of the best teachers they had ever had.
"I love being a part of FALA because I am able to help people and the community that surrounds me. I've been able to make new friendships, share my knowledge, and help people grow," said Gabriel. "The most important thing for me is to see people smile and have fun in class."
Graded students demonstrate exceptional commitment, leadership, and a positive attitude. Driven by a passion for education and gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded, student-teachers prepare their own lesson plans and improve their teaching strategies by working collaboratively with their co-teachers, advisors, and fellow student leaders. "I value FALA because it is so real. It's a little different from the other clubs I participate in, because our actions have real consequences," added Olivia. "There is a much bigger responsibility. But it has also shown me how much I love teaching and education, and that I can bring change."
The program continues to evolve and grow. Prospective FALA volunteers observe classes each week, providing their peers with ongoing feedback. After a semester, they move on to teach their own classes. FALA's leadership group strives to improve their students' experience. According to Olivia, "It is challenging, but we're currently trying to make sure everyone [teachers] is prepared to teach so that our students are more engaged in class."
Compiled by Karin Gunn, Upper School Visual Arts Teacher, and Angela Park, Communications Associate
Street photography is a genre of photography that features chance encounters within public places, capturing subject matter in its most natural form and in real time.
Last March, students in Graded's Advanced Photography class and Photo Club had the opportunity to visit the Minhocão area in downtown São Paulo for a street photography workshop with renowned street photographer and professor Thales Trigo.
Prior to this experience, students studied principles of photography and conducted extensive research on international street photographers. They were simultaneously thrilled and nervous to explore a part of São Paulo that many had not before seen. Through this hands-on experience, student photographers learned more about a photographic genre, developed techniques for approaching strangers, and improved their shooting skills.
Eduardo K. (11)
This unit was an incredible opportunity for us to gain practical experience on the street and to develop new skills. Tales' and Gunn's engagement with the group, their desire to teach and pass on their experiences to students, and our freedom to develop our own themes and choose our own subjects were extremely helpful. As this is my second year doing photography, I am refining my skills of approaching different subjects and choosing what to photograph and what to frame, instead of working on the more "technical" skills.
Reona S. (10)
I arrived in Brazil speaking no Portuguese. I'm a more introverted person, and I come from a culture where it's not very common to ask people for photos. For this reason, street photography has been an eye-opening experience. Asking strangers, "Pode tirar foto?" and seeing them be very receptive has helped me gain more confidence. This was my favorite unit last semester, and though there was a language barrier, I am happy that I was able to approach and document many different people, capturing their essence.
Matthieu D. (11)
I think that the main reason I was attracted to street photography was the place in which I shot. In the center of the city of São Paulo, there are very interesting characters, beautiful colors, and bizarre but photogenic landscapes and buildings. I believe that being able to shoot in such a diverse space allows me to further explore portrait and architectural themes.
Makoto S. (11)
The street photography experience was really valuable because it is such a genuine form of capturing a snapshot of people's lives. In other photographic styles, you get your camera and compose the shot, which is really different from going around with friends and giving each other advice about taking candid pictures. From this experience, I gained the courage to go up to strangers and realized people aren't so closed off as I had originally thought.
The culminating work from this street photography adventure will be exhibited on the 2nd floor of the Lemann-Tully Arts Center during the month of September. The opening reception will take place on Tuesday, September 3 from 3:30-4:30 pm. Here are some exhibition samples:
Photo by Matthieu D., grade 11
Photo by Cata S., grade 11
Photo by Lara F., grade 11
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