Lower School News 

The Graded Gazette -

Susan Burnquist '73

Graded Faculty from 1986-2021 

Susan Burnquist has been a teacher at Graded for the past 35 years. The entire school community is extremely thankful for her dedication and passion. A Graded alumna herself, Susan has positively impacted the lives of countless students. This month's Graded Gazette highlights Susan's trajectory as a Graded student and faculty member.

Susan and her brothers were born in Bahia and Pernambuco to a Brazilian mother and an American father. Susan and her family relocated to São Paulo in 1961, where they settled in Morumbi. It was a peaceful neighborhood with very few vehicles at the time. The Burnquist children began attending Graded in August 1961, the school's first year on the Morumbi campus. The red-brick campus stood on top of a hill, surrounded by trees, forests, thickets, and dirt roads. Susan has incredible sensorial memories of being in class and hearing the gentle rustle of eucalyptus trees across the street swaying back and forth, as well as their invigorating scent permeating the hallways. 

In 5th grade-front row, 3rd from the right


On weekends, she remembers Graded-organized sporting events and magnificent Lower School plays. Susan was a member of the choir and the Do-Re-Mis, a singing ensemble directed by Music Teacher Mrs. Delora Tuthill. It was a tremendous honor for her and her classmates to perform at neighborhood schools and nearby theaters. The Braniff Meet, now known as Big Four, was a highlight for Susan as a junior and senior at Graded. The school's athletics teams also competed against those from other American schools in South America and learned about sportsmanship and culture.

Susan moved to the United States to study psychology after graduating from Graded in 1973. However, she returned to São Paulo after two years to pursue a degree in elementary education. Exceptional family circumstances increased her desire to become a teacher. Two of her instructors at Graded also influenced her decision. Her first grade teacher, Mrs. Wing, was unforgettable and made her students feel very special, while Mrs. Schlenker introduced her to the pleasures of reading. Susan worked at an English language school during her undergraduate years, teaching children and adults. She also spent two years at Erika's Kindergarten and fell in love with teaching during those early years.

In 1981, Susan took a brief hiatus from work and life in São Paulo and moved to Canoa Quebrada, Ceará, a fishermen's village 220 kilometers east of the state capital of Fortaleza. There was no electricity or running water, and she slept in a hammock. "Those were some of the best years of my life," she recalls, "where I learned to love the simplicity and value the little things in life. This short hiatus ended up lasting five years! "I met my ex-husband, an Argentine, and we had our daughter Duna Sol. Life would never be the same again."

Susan returned to São Paulo in 1986, eager to resume teaching and provide her daughter with an education and a more comfortable life. She started working at Graded, and for the next 35 years, taught students in grades 1 through grade 4. Susan, better known as Ms. Burnquist or Ms. Burnie, stressed the importance of establishing meaningful relationships with her students, helping them build self-confidence, and ensuring that they had the basic skills needed to succeed in the next grade.

Teaching 4th grade, late 90s


Ms. Burnie's love of books did not go unnoticed by her students. For Coranina Rocha '18, reading time was a favorite class experience. "Ms. Burnquist was an amazing storyteller!" she exclaims. Vittoria Quirino '17 shares the same favorite memory, and Gabriel Alves '08 has "vivid memories of Ms. Burnie reading The Witches by Ronald Dahl." Ms. Burnquist's storytelling style was one-of-a-kind. Cazzie Ferreira '06 remembers her using "all of the different voices [when] reading aloud to the classroom,'' while Tatiana Wlasek '02 recalls "her sweet voice during storytime." Ms. Burnie's students evidently had a strong impression of the books she read to them, as they remember book titles to this day. The BFG and The Tale of Despereaux were two highlights for Ricky Bilton '17. "My most vivid memory," Gabriela Schwartz '03 says, "was her commentary while reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.'' Isabella Cassinelli '12 remembers Ms. Burnie reading Chronicles of Narnia. Isabella adds, "It's still my favorite book, and she is one of the best teachers I've ever had!"

According to Paige Geiger, vice president of Graded's Board of Directors and former Lower School principal, it is unusual to witness someone progress from childhood to the role of a young teacher, and eventually the role of a seasoned teacher. "Susan Burnquist has dedicated a lifetime of very personal work to Graded School, years of connection with the school, students, and parents. Susan will be remembered for the many lives that she has touched, the students she has mentored, and the growth that she has fostered." Paige continues, "I deeply appreciate the years that we spent together in this rewarding profession. May the next years bring you equal reward and joy."

Ms. Burnquist, often teaching from her rocking chair, as mentioned by Gabriela Gholmia '06, was unique. The "iconic birds she had in her classroom" were unforgettable for Thomas Greco '20. Priscilla Venturini '00 remembers that Ms. Burnquist used to carry a mug full of ice and that "she loved hearing her crunch the ice in her mouth." While Gabriel da Nóbrega '12 was convinced she was related to skateboarder Bob Burnquist, his classmate Arthur Churchill '12 thought there were really skeletons in the closet! Ms. Burnquist's caring smile and charisma were a highlight for many, including Patricia Camacho '05 and Marcela Martins '18. Marcela adds that Ms. Burnie was the best teacher she ever had. "She helped me through all my difficulties."

Lower School Principal Vance Boisjoli says, "[Susan] has a genuine warmth that resonates to those around her. Her passion for supporting children both emotionally and academically is evident as soon as you walk into her classroom. Sue is also a passionate learner about not only her students' growth but also her own growth. I vividly remember the first interaction I had with Sue about digital portfolios about seven years ago. She expressed that it was going to be a challenge for her. However, days later, she was showing some of the other teachers how to support students. While I will miss having Sue teaching first grade, I am grateful to have worked with Sue and have learned a tremendous amount from her."

Susan Burnquist describes her time at Graded as "full of both challenging and incredible learning experiences." She continues, "I met, was inspired by, and learned from amazing colleagues. I made friendships that will last a lifetime. Duna, my daughter, attended Graded for 13 years, and we are grateful for her rich and memorable experiences as a student. I am thankful to Graded for the quality of life I have had, for the privilege of working with children, for teaching me so much, and for allowing me to do what I love for so long. I will miss the students and all of my Graded friends. With a lump in my throat, I announce my retirement in June 2021, completing a 60-year cycle that began in 1961. Graded has been my life and my love for many years. It is time for my family and me to move on to something new. Thank you for the memories."


What was your favorite memory of Ms. Burnie? 

  • Sofia Renault '14: Ms. Burnie used to call my best friend and me the "Bobbsey Twins," and we still call each other by that nickname!
  • Isabella Muszkat Besborodco '14: She's the best! She said my best friend and I were inseparable, so she called us the "Bobbsey Twins."
  • Julia Vieira '03: Ms. Burnquist was my teacher in second grade! It's always a pleasure to see her at Graded! Good times.
  • Andre Ahn '15: Show-and-tell and the biography show will always be a memory for me.
  • Marcelo Kheirallah '07: I once got in trouble for making a ruckus before my teacher arrived in the morning. 
  • Daniela Otterloo '05: We did an endangered species project with Ms. Burnie. Loved it. I still remember the animal I picked (manatee) and most of my classmates from the time. I live in Miami today, see manatees all the time and still remember fun facts about them.
  • Claudia Nevermann '99: Love her enthusiasm for teaching! I am so grateful one of my kids had her, too!
  • Lilian Ngobi-Pryor '03: Her daughter Duna was one of my closest friends and the first person to welcome me! I love her and her whole family.
  • Helena Segall '19: When she used to show me pictures of herself and my aunt Berta back when they studied at Graded.
The Graded Gazette -

Sandra Mendonça

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!"


The Graded Gazette -


Julia Beatriz Camargo - High School Science Teacher 
Julia has worked at Graded as a laboratory assistant for the past three years. She earned a bachelor's degree in marine biology and coastal management from the São Paulo State University (UNESP) and a Master of Science in biological oceanography from the University of São Paulo (USP), with a focus on ocean pollution and contamination. While in college, she served as a volunteer rescuing wildlife animals. Julia is passionate about Brazilian culture and traveling. When not working in the lab, she likes to spend her time dancing, practicing capoeira, watching movies, and crocheting. 



Silvana Gili - Lower School Grade 1 Teacher 
Silvana is returning to Graded after having spent many years pursuing different adventures. One of her greatest passions has always been children's literature. A decade ago, she became a researcher to learn more about the language of picture books and what makes them so interesting to young (and not-so-young) readers. Silvana earned her PhD in literature from the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Florianópolis, where she lived for eight years. She also holds a BA in English language and literature and an MA in international education from Framingham State University in Massachusetts. Silvana has always been interested in learning languages, and while living in Barcelona and Madrid, she had the opportunity to learn more about her Spanish roots. Silvana loves both the ocean and reading, so a day spent at the beach with a good book is her idea of bliss. 



Melody McCambridge - Lower School Grade 2 Teacher 
Melody is currently a second grade teacher at Alexandria Country Day School in Alexandria, Virginia. She has spent the last 13 years teaching children of all ages in public, independent, and international schools. Melody earned both her Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education degrees in the United States. Because Melody's husband works for the US Foreign Service, Brazil will be her fifth country of residence. She will be coming to Brazil with her husband Kieran, son Liam, daughter Ana, and Goldendoodle Elvis. Due to her recent three-year stay in Botswana, she has cultivated a love and respect for nature. She enjoys going on nature safaris, connecting with her local community, running, reading, cooking, and meeting new people.



Ann Neill - Lower School Counselor 
Annie, the daughter of two educators, has joyously worked as the elementary school counselor at Taipei American School and is currently at the International School of Dakar. Before working abroad, Annie worked in boarding schools as dean of students and director of student activities and service-learning, among other roles. She also has experience working as a clinical social worker in residential treatment facilities. Annie earned her BA in human development from Connecticut College and her MSW in group work from the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. Annie is married to college counselor Jeff Neill, and they have two lively children: Chase and Stella. Annie is excited to explore São Paulo, but she is really eager to push through the city's perimeter and check out the trails and outdoor spaces. 



Jeffrey Neill - Director of College Counseling, Head of Department 
In 2021-22, Jeff will begin his twenty-first year in education, having spent his career among six schools on four continents. He has recently spent time at the International School of Dakar in Senegal and Taipei American School in Taiwan after working at three boarding schools in the US. As a professional, while he has experience across all areas of school life, Jeff has focused primarily on his love of working with students on the university search process. Active in the international school community, Jeff presents, consults, and mentors regularly across the globe. This year, Jeff will complete his EdD from Northeastern University. He has an MA in English from Middlebury College and a BA in government and German from Bowdoin College. A product of independent schools, Jeff is a proud alumnus of Northfield Mount Hermon. He is married to elementary school counselor Ann Neill, and they have two children, Stella and Chase. In addition to being an avid reader, film buff, and sports fan, Jeff loves to spend time with his family, especially outdoors and traveling.



Joseph Pomainville, High School Counselor 
Joseph Pomainville has been teaching and counseling internationally for the past eight years. He will join Graded after serving as the head of counseling and learning support at the North London Collegiate School on Jeju Island in South Korea. Joseph has worked in New York, Alaska's Arctic Circle, Dubai, and South Korea. He graduated from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, with teaching and counseling degrees and is now in his (hopefully) final year of a doctoral program in educational leadership. When Joseph is not counseling or teaching, he enjoys coaching girls and boys volleyball, girls soccer, girls and boys track and field, among other sports, which he has done over the past 12 seasons. He also enjoys exercising, hiking, and playing ultimate frisbee and Quidditch.



Janan Sabeh, Director of College Counseling 
Janan is the daughter of a former international student from Syria, which inspired her decision to study abroad in Egypt as an undergraduate. Her semester abroad turned into a year, and eventually, a job assisting other American students do the same. After graduating from the University of San Francisco with a BA in politics, she returned to Egypt to continue studying Arabic. There, she discovered the world of college counseling. She began her career as an EducationUSA advisor in Egypt, where she crisscrossed the country, assisting students applying to undergraduate and graduate programs in the US. After six years in Egypt, she moved to Jordan and joined the university counseling team at King's Academy, a liberal arts boarding school with students from more than forty countries. Janan returned home to California five years later to work as the director of college counseling at Khan Lab School. She counseled the school's first graduating class and worked with the Mastery Transcript Consortium to develop a mastery transcript for the school. In addition to working with Graded students, Janan looks forward to learning Portuguese and exploring a different part of the world. When she is not walking or cuddling her dog, you can find Janan reading the news, traveling, and hiking -- most likely with a cup of coffee in her hand.



Jennifer White - Lower School Grade 4 Teacher 
Jennifer is crossing the Equator to begin her eighteenth year of teaching. This move to the Southern Hemisphere is quite a departure from eight previous years spent in Korea, China, and Japan. Before moving abroad, her first nine years as a teacher took place in the US, in her home state of Arizona. Jen grew up surrounded by Saguaro cacti and the hot temperatures of the Sonoran Desert. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in education from Arizona State University. In addition to teaching grades four and five, she spent her first six years post-university teaching middle school language arts. Jennifer is a desert girl at heart. She loves the sunshine and everything outdoors and can often be found hiking, trail running, traveling, and stand-up paddling. Reading, hitting the gym, and practicing Japanese keep her busy most days after work. From food and culture to the language and vibrant cities, Jen is excited to explore and discover all of the wonderful things Brazil has to offer.



Natalia Zanivan, Middle School Physical Education Teacher 
Last October, Natalia "Nati" Zanivan became a full-time Middle School physical education teacher at Graded. She started her career as an activities leader for school trips before studying physical education at Senac. While Nati was in college, she taught swimming, dance, and gymnastics. Nati was born in São Paulo and learned English by babysitting English-speaking children. Her English skills, teaching experience, PHE studies, and enthusiasm for teaching and learning paved the way for a PHE/swimming internship at Graded. When she's not teaching, Nati follows her passions for dancing, painting, drawing mandalas, and playing rugby.


The Graded Gazette -

Founded in 1976 as a non-profit-organization out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), EXPLO, or Exploration Learning Center, "celebrates learning through exploration." Teachers, top graduate schools, faculty, and education experts worldwide have come to the center to hear about new approaches to student-centered teaching and learning. EXPLO's Elevate is a cooperative that assists schools in designing, building, implementing, and continually improving the conditions that all learners need to thrive now and in the future.

Graded was a case in point in a case study produced by EXPLO Elevate's Director of Research, Sudipti Kumar, a researcher with 15+ years of experience in education. Kumar bases her analysis on two grounding principles that Graded has implemented for students and staff:

  1. Investing significant time and effort in developing students' metacognitive capabilities to help them progress to higher learning in a sustainable way.
  2. Embracing design thinking principles and training teachers on processes they can use as fundamental frames when preparing and thinking about their curriculum.

To learn more about how Graded uses the two principles listed above to foster learners who are empowered to reach their potential and positively impact the world, click here to read the full case report.

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