Graded Faculty Member, 1979-2021
"Is Graded my family? My home? My professional curriculum? My soul? My essence? My happiness?" Sanda Mendonça asks herself. To her, Graded - The American School of São Paulo is all of the above.
Sandra's Graded story began in January 1979 while she was just a college student at Mackenzie University. At the time, she was searching for an internship to supplement her pedagogy curriculum. Sandra was studying the Montessori method and wanted to delve further into this area of education. As an English speaker, seeking a job at an American school was the obvious choice. Sandra recalls her visit to Graded. "We lived in an analog world at the time, with no internet and no mobile phones. So it was just my map and I – on a bus heading to Morumbi."
The day after she visited the school, Mrs. Pickering, the Lower School principal, invited Sandra to join a Montessori classroom and help out during a January vacation course. Overjoyed by the prospect of assisting with everyday tasks and presenting Montessori materials to parents, Sandra gladly accepted a permanent part-time teaching assistant position. During her first years at Graded, Sandra participated in the further implementation of the Montessori program.
Upon graduation from college, Sandra got married, had two children, and decided to leave Graded to stay at home for a few years. During that period, she never lost touch with the school. In 1983, Sandra became a co-teacher and started a new program at Graded called Transition 1 (or T-1), an intermediate-level grade for students not yet prepared to enter grade 1. She then went on to become a grade 1 teacher.
In 1986 after remarrying, Sandra moved to Saudi Arabia and served as a volunteer at the American International School – Riyadh. She returned to São Paulo in 1990, then, already a mother of three children: Karen, Daniel, and Gabriela. "When I arrived, guess where I went first? Graded School!" Sandra recalls. She was in luck; a grade 2 teacher had recently resigned. Mr. Apple, the Lower School principal at the time, interviewed her and offered Sandra the teaching position. She has been teaching second-graders since then. Sandra vividly remembers discussing this opportunity with her best friends, Graded teachers Susan Burnquist and Itanira Heineberg. "Together, we formed the 'dream team!'"
Paige Geiger, Graded Board Vice President and former Lower School Principal recalls, "From student teacher to experienced teacher, Sandra Mendonça has lived a significant professional experience at Graded. I so appreciate the time we spent together in this work." Paige goes on to say, "Sandra's dedication to the work of the school, the demands of a challenging school day, and the ever-evolving needs of her students over so many years should inspire. May you find challenge, reward, and happiness in these next wonderful years."
Graded teachers and principals were incredibly supportive and willing to help Sandra from the very beginning. "I have been learning every day since my first day at Graded, 35 years ago," she explains. She has earned a Master of Education from Senac School and attended several postgraduate courses in Brazil and abroad, at Columbia University's Teachers College, through Graded's Professional Development program. Even as an experienced teacher, Sandra believes it is important and rewarding to continue to learn.
The entire Graded community is grateful for Ms. Mendonça's commitment and zeal throughout her long and fruitful teaching career. Many who are fortunate enough to have been her student, mentor, or friend have only positive things to say. Former student Gianpaolo Hickey '13 remembers her being "so patient, kind, and passionate; an incredible person!" Sofia Renault '14 fondly recalls 'reading time,' and Pablo Arenas '14 remembers the 'Hopes and Dreams' assignment. "Ms. Mendonça always brought the best to class," classmate Kaique Castro '14 added. Sandra also left a strong mark on students' parents! Last year, Beta Sabra's daughter was in Ms. Mendonça's class. "She LOVED her and so did we!" she exclaimed.
"Sandra is passionate about everything she does," says Lower School Principal Vance Boisjoli. "Whether it is teaching her students, baking a cake, caring for her cats, exercising, or engaging in any of her other many favorite activities. When I enter Sandra's classroom, I know I will be greeted with a smile and an excitement to share the work her students have just completed. Sandra's positive nature and sense of humor are memorable. Last year, Sandra told me she was teaching the child of a student she had previously taught. How many teachers can say that they have taught two generations within one family? Both Sandra and the parents were filled with joy to have this experience! Sandra has told me repeatedly she will continue to return to campus to be part of our community after this school year. We look forward to it!"
"Graded means everything to me," Sandra states. "I owe the school thanks for a fulfilling professional career and the education of two of my children. I even met the love of my life, Francisco Di Bella '68, here at Graded in 2002, and we are happily married. Thirty-five years have flown by! This is NOT my goodbye. I will be available to continue my Graded 'career' as a volunteer, a substitute teacher, a tutor, or a storyteller! See you soon, Graded family!"