Middle 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!"


Isabella Krell, Senior Communications Officer -

by Isabella Krell, Senior Communications Officer

Distance learning did not stop tutoring and mentoring from happening at Graded!

Success at Graded - The American School of São Paulo entails more than just academic achievement. Students must have strong communication and organizational skills, as well as perseverance, motivation, and confidence to thrive.

Mentoring and tutoring can help children and adolescents flourish in school (Miller),1 and, according to Charles Bonas, founder of an educational company in the UK, both principles can be viewed "along a spectrum" (Rowe).2 Tutoring focuses on academic development, whereas mentoring goes a step further and addresses one's overall well-being. "If tutors are ski instructors teaching perfect technique," Bonas explains, "mentors are the mountain guides enabling pupils to explore unimagined places and perspectives, cultivating a unique craft" (Rowe).3

Graded's Mentoring and Tutoring (GMT) Club pairs high-schoolers with Lower and Middle School students seeking academic support and general life advice. Weekly one-on-one meetings provide students with the opportunity to work with a dedicated tutor/mentor, promoting intellectual and personal growth. Young students meet with the same tutor year after year, which fosters a solid and trusting relationship. High School students interested in tutoring choose the subject areas and grade levels on which they would like to focus. Once matched, tutors assist students with their homework assignments, projects, and test preparation.

"While academic support is key and at the heart of GMT," says Olivia P., a Graded senior and GMT leader, "the club's mentoring component is arguably even more important." Mentors help students with time management, organizational skills, friendship support, and goal setting. "They act as thinking partners for their mentees," Olivia explains, "which is critical during the pandemic, when students may be struggling with social distancing and virtual learning."

Some mentors are experts in a specific subject, while others are generalists. However, all Graded mentors and tutors must be natural motivators and trust builders. The trick is to match students well. Having common interests and similar experiences is beneficial in ensuring that the mentor and mentee will get along.

Olivia explains, "We might choose to pair a young, Korean child who recently moved to Brazil with a Korean high-schooler, who speaks the same language, comes from the same background, and has also gone through the experience of moving to Brazil." By drawing on passions or interests, mentors can successfully inspire further learning.

Between 50 and 70 high-schoolers sign up for GMT annually and undergo training to become tutors and mentors for younger students. Under the guidance of GMT advisor Ms. Carla Hillman and club leaders Isabela A., Olivia P., and Rafael J., more than 100 Graded students participate in the program either as mentors or mentees.

GMT's leaders devote time and resources to train tutors and mentors at the start of each school year, providing basic advice on working with younger kids. One of the club's primary goals for the coming year is to invest more in training and development to guarantee mentors are more equipped and confident. Aside from training, Lower and Middle School teachers provide year-round assistance to tutors. When a teacher or counselor recommends a student for GMT, the tutor communicates with that faculty member regularly to learn about the student's specific needs. Tutors frequently meet with students' parents to gather additional information. 

The benefits of GMT are noticeable for both mentors and mentees. "I like meeting every week," says Lower School student Rafaella. "If I could, I would meet twice a week with my mentor. I have improved in my classes because of him, and he has helped me get through a lot." Santiago G., Rafaella's mentor, states that "One of the reasons I decided to join GMT was because I understood how it felt to struggle in a class or to feel out of place at Graded. I had a lot of trouble socially adapting and academically succeeding while I was in Lower and Middle School. My own GMT tutor, who supported me throughout my Lower and Middle school years, was important in helping me overcome these issues at Graded. GMT allowed me to grow both socially and academically and helped me to achieve great things subsequently. My own experience made me want to become a GMT tutor since I was aware of the socio-academic influence that a tutor can have on students."

Similarly, GMT tutor Marina S. notes that she joined the club because she wanted to provide a form of support that is rare to find. "Different individuals learn in different ways, and I believe GMT allows mentees to learn in a way that is most beneficial for them. I, for one, am a visual learner who color codes my notes to help things stick in my head. As a tutor/mentor, I've discovered that experimenting with various teaching and learning approaches with my mentee has helped me become more adaptable. It also helps the mentee discover more about themselves and what they require to be successful." Marina says that a large part of her ability to stay organized and focused stems from the support she has had from her teachers, tutors, and mentors, so being able to exchange roles has been enriching and rewarding. "What I love most about being a GMT tutor is being able to connect with young children! They are so funny and outgoing - it is refreshing and inspiring to see little humans being so honest and true to themselves." Marina also believes that being a GMT tutor has helped her develop strong communication and leadership skills. It has been gratifying to see that her effort helps her mentee succeed academically and socially.

Tutoring and mentoring may be traced back to ancient Greek poet Homer's epic tale The Odyssey.4 Since then, these practices have evolved. Tutoring and mentoring are now used in academia, businesses, and even personal lives.5 Just as no two people are alike, no two mentoring pairs or relationships are the same. Some mentor/mentee pairs focus on teaching and academic support, while others choose to explore their personal lives and experiences. Regardless of the technique used during a session, the outcome is the same: mentors assist mentees in unleashing their full potential. Graded's Mentoring and Tutoring Club is doing a tremendous job of combining both principles and applying them to students' everyday lives to foster their social and academic success.

Works Cited

1Mentoring Students and Young People: A Handbook of Effective Practice, by Andrew Miller, TAYLOR & FRANCIS, 2016, pp. 130.

2,3Rowe, Jenny. "Best of Mentors: What Makes a Good One?" School House Magazine, School House Magazine, 11 Feb. 2019, www.schoolhousemagazine.co.uk/education/tuition/what-makes-good-mentor/. 

4"Mentor." Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mentor. Accessed 3 Jun. 2021. 

5Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, by National Academy of Sciences et al., National Academy Press, 1997, pp. 1–2, www.nap.edu/read/5789/chapter/2#2. 

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