Lower School News
1. You've worked at a number of international schools since you started teaching. What has been the best thing about each country you've taught in, including Brazil?
It's almost impossible to pick just one amazing thing about each country I have lived in, but I will try!
Japan has a specific "way" of doing things — from how food is presented to how to prune a plant. I loved how deliberate and mindful they are with just about everything!
South Korean culture seems like the perfect mix of old and new — with neon signs and traffic lights next to centuries-old buildings.
Singapore is a perfect lesson on how to pack diversity, modernity, and awesomeness into the tiniest of spaces.
Oman's natural beauty and kind people captured my heart in a way that still surprises me.
The UAE does everything BIG. Buildings, deserts, malls, food... it's a country that pushes boundaries and thinks there is always something beyond the best, the biggest, and the most.
Brazil? I've barely scratched the surface, but I can already see the fun, joy, and color this place has to offer. I have never been in a more vibrant, musical, and exciting place! Brazilians just seem to have a sparkle. I can't think of a better word — the smiles, the eyes, the personalities... they all sparkle.
2. What book has made a big impact on you?
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery gave me a heroine who embraces her weirdness and was unapologetically herself. Anne doesn't change who she is. The people who truly matter learn to appreciate and celebrate her quirks and exuberance. Those who don't - who needs them anyway?
3. You co-lead the Green Club. Tell us one fact that will convince every student at Graded to consider going green or going "even more green."
Every piece of plastic you have ever used is still somewhere on this planet.
Your garbage doesn't disappear just because you have tossed it in a trash can. Think about using less and choosing biodegradable options. When I scuba dive, I see plastic everywhere, and I have helped free more than one sea creature that's been trapped by trash! Do you "need" to bring in plastic plates, cups, and cutlery for your birthday party at school? They'll be used and tossed in minutes and will stay on our planet for centuries. Cupcakes are much more environmentally friendly. Plus, who doesn't like cupcakes? No one I'd ever trust, that's who!
4. Your husband, John Wolfe, also works at Graded. What is the worst — and the best — about working at the same place your spouse does?
The worst is that it is hard to escape work. If we don't make a deliberate effort to avoid "talking shop," our job could literally take up our entire life! It is much harder to achieve a work-life balance when we work with the same people, at the same school, doing the same type of job! Especially when our friends work at the school as well.
The best? We have a lot of empathy for each other. Our jobs are very similar, so I feel he really understands the joys and challenges of being a teacher. Also, his team is full of hilarious, cool people. Not only do I get to hang out with my amazing Grade 3 team, but I feel like an honorary member of Grade 5 as well. Double the fun, double the parties, double the love!
5. What do you miss most from your childhood?
I'm a farm kid from a place where everyone knows everyone. My entire high school had about 150 people. While people may not know you personally, saying your last name would be enough for someone to recall your father, your mother, your grandparents - your whole lineage. I had some teachers who actually taught my parents, aunts, and uncles! I hated that growing up. How can you get away with anything when everyone knows your family? Answer: You can't.
Now I miss it. I am so proud of my family and where I'm from. I miss being able to introduce myself as "Leigh Ann Fitch, Peter's and Ann's girl" and having someone know exactly where I fit in within the world.
6. Have you ever felt excluded? Explain the situation and how it made you feel.
I have freckles, and they are just sprinkles of fantastic all over my face. But I didn't always think like that. I got made fun of pretty badly by a couple of kids in my class. They wouldn't let me play with them because my skin looked "dirty." It really made me hate looking in the mirror and seeing those spots! I tried scrubbing my face until it was almost raw. I tried rubbing lemon juice on them. I even tried bargaining with Santa because he had a solid record of making things happen. Please note: I was about seven years old at the time, so I felt I had explored all my available options at the time.
Luckily, I had one more alternative. Her name was Tara, my friend who also had freckles. Tara didn't care what those other kids thought. We ignored the freckle haters. Tara figured that they were just jealous. Why else would they be so obsessed with us? Shouldn't they have better things to do since they're so cool? It turns out that ignoring them and doing our own thing made us boring to pick on. The freckle haters moved on with their freckle-free lives. Tara is still my best friend, and we now wear our freckles with pride. If you find yourself a Tara, get on her train and never get off.
7. What is your favorite thing to do outside of the classroom, in your free time?
Scuba diving! Did you know that humanity knows more about the surface of the moon than the bottom of the ocean? There is so much to see, explore, and learn down there. I swear that each fish has a personality and a worldview. I even imagine voices for them when I see them swimming about. I recognize how bonkers that sounds, but I'm like Anne of Green Gables. I embrace my weird!
Scuba diving has helped me learn to slow down, breathe, and observe the world around me. I'm a chatterbox, so having a regulator in my mouth for breathing forces me to communicate efficiently and carefully. Diving has its own special sign language and you need to get it right. If I could learn to say more with fewer words on land, I'd be all set! We are all works in progress, aren't we?
8. If you could be any cartoon character, which one would you be?
Let's just forget about the fact that I was obsessed with Snow White when I was in kindergarten. I only answered to the name Snow White and refused to take off the princess dress that my mom made me for Halloween. Also, can we forget that I completely lost my mind when I watched Snow White during a Disneyland parade? Let's ignore the fact that I was 25 years old when that happened. Yes, ignore and forget all those things.
9. What is your favorite thing about Graded?
Hands down: the people. I've lived in enough places to know that people can make or break a place. You can live in paradise, but if you don't feel you belong with the people you see every day, paradise changes to a hellscape pretty quickly! I've met some pretty incredible people on my travels and Graded people are tops on that list.
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.
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|