Learning Isn’t Linear: Desmos Final Projects

by Morika Tsujimura and Sonia von Gutfeld, Math

The last few weeks of eighth grade bring a familiar chorus every year—grumbles about the workload when summer feels so close, joyous celebrations of milestones and accomplishments and a rollercoaster of emotions as classmates reflect on their time together in anticipation of the changes high school will bring. The Desmos project is a culminating math assignment that brings out all three motifs in raucous harmony, a melding of adolescence and algebra.

Desmos is an approachable, web-based graphing program we use throughout the year. With this project, students find new, creative ways to apply this tool. First, students draw a Grace-themed design on graph paper that they then convert into equations and inequalities in order to reproduce the image on Desmos. Utilizing various types of functions learned over the year, students write equations for straight lines and curves and restrict them to the segments they need for their drawing. They also shade sections by using inequalities instead of equations. (You can view some of their projects on our Academic Excellence page.)

Anna L.’s griffin

The Desmos project is first an opportunity for the eighth graders to review the types of functions learned (linear, quadratic, and exponential). Once students start engaging with the parameters of the project, however, there are many more layers to explore. Grappling with how to generate a recognizable image on the graph often generates the “aha” moment when the abstract relationship expressed in numbers and letters suddenly makes sense in a concrete way. Manipulating slopes of lines by trial and error might be how it starts, but applying the patterns of parallel and perpendicular lines empowers students to work with greater efficiency. Though they have already studied how the terms in an equation affect the shape of its graph, sometimes it takes trying to make a curve look more like a shoulder or a piece of the Grace quatrefoil for those understandings to fully click.

Nate B.’s Grace Church School logo
Jonas C.’s Grace Church

The project goes beyond reinforcing math content and allows students to hone the skills it takes to be a good student, and specifically a math student. From time management to breaking down tasks into smaller steps, to knowing when to ask for help, to sharing new knowledge with peers, all of the benefits of project-based learning come into play. In addition, the technology that allows students to see instantaneously how a line on the graph changes according to adjustments in an equation provides a low-stakes way to take risks. This is crucial to developing problem-solving skills and the courage to try new things. Many students ended up incorporating more detail than they had first imagined possible or learned and used equations beyond the requirements and, in turn, extended their mathematical understanding.

As teachers, we initially added the requirement that the drawings relate to Grace Church School in order to streamline the decision-making process and help students make personal meaning of the assignment. It has had some surprisingly sentimental outcomes, especially at the end of this singularly stressful school year. We read reflections on how their designs revealed favorite memories of early childhood, after school routines with friends, the experience of singing in the church — special connections that made Grace home. For our students to be able to express even a fraction of those emotions and their growth using a few dozen algebraic functions might be well worth the ups and downs of those final weeks of Middle School.

Eighth Graders Conquer “Le Grand Concours”

by Mischa Antonio, French

Each year, Eighth Grade French students take part in Le Grand Concours, an annual national French contest sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French, and this year was no different with Grace students earning accolades in the national event.

In spite of the pandemic and the difficulties it brought for students and schools, nearly 30,000 students in all 50 states competed in the 2021 event, including Grace eighth graders who did exceptionally well.

Students of French in grades 1-12, in all 50 states and abroad, take a written test and compete against students with similar educational backgrounds.

Eighth grade students participate in the contest each March. That in mind, there is no specific preparation that takes place. Instead, students continuously prepare for the test throughout their education in the French language. ‘Le Concours’ is designed to test the cumulative learning that has taken place during the years of study and the ability the students have to apply their knowledge to a variety of contexts on the spot. 

As a class we discuss the vocabulary, topics and grammar points that are likely to present themselves. But with no definitive list of prerequisites for the exam, students are very much required to demonstrate their language skills in real time and in real world situations. Students do have access to previous contest papers and so I encourage them to practice in the weeks before so that they are familiar with the format.

There are two parts to the contest : Part A is Listening Comprehension and Part B is Reading Comprehension. Students have an hour to complete the contest online, selecting the correct answers from multiple choice answers.

This year there were 2,257 students enrolled in Level 01. 521 of these students received an award. The awards are allocated for the following achievement:

  • Platinum award: Highest score in level/division (National rank 1)
  • Gold Award: Students in 95th percentile
  • Silver Award: Students in 90th or 85th percentile
  • Bronze Award: Students in 80th or 75th percentile
  • Mention d’Honneur award: Students in 70th, 65th, 60th, 55th, or 50th percentiles

Grace students did exceptionally well with four students achieving Gold Awards and two achieving Silver Awards.

Sylvie F-E, Elizabeth G., Josephine R. and Tenley S. earned Gold Awards and Juliette R. and Javier C. earned Silver Awards.

Students pose with their award certificates

In the New York Metropolitan Division, only eight Silver and 8 Gold Awards were awarded in their level; Grace Students made up over one third of the recipients. 

At the end of 8th grade students achieve a very high level of French at Grace and are able to communicate very effectively in written and spoken French. They demonstrate excellent comprehension skills and a considerable knowledge of Francophone culture and language. 

Grace language students leave Middle School as competent and confident linguists who continue their language journeys in High School and achieve excellent results.

I am very proud of the work the students do at Grace and I am constantly impressed by their achievements.

I would like to congratulate this year’s Eighth graders on their success in the most difficult of years, and I look forward to working with the new 8th graders next year!

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High School Students Share NYC History Through Podcasts

By Jason McDonald, History

In the Spring 2021 semester, I offered New York City History as an elective for juniors and seniors. The History Department had offered New York City as an elective before, but this was the first time I had taught the course. 

Early on in the semester, students were tasked with creating a podcast about a New York City history topic of their choice. Several students chose to study segregation in public schools; two chose the history of Central Park. From Washington Irving to the 2021 election, the topics represented deep interest in the history of our city. I was impressed with the depth and breadth of their interests.

A key part of each student’s production process was interviewing an expert in their chosen field. These experts, ranging from politicians and historians to reporters and civil servants, reflected the variety of the students’ podcasts. Many of them were also connected to our community. Tia Biasi, Grace’s associate director of advancement, secured Andrea Marpillero-Colomina ’99, who advised a student interested in urban planning. Parent and 2021 Comptroller candidate Zach Iscol was another interviewee. Arthur Platt, architect and the uncle of two Grace students, was another expert we interviewed. Hugo Mahabir, head of the high school, helped us secure an interview with his former student Jake Dell of Katz’s Delicatessen.

GCS student Jackson G. ’22 with Katz’s Delicatessen owner Jake Dell, one of the experts interviewed
for the Spring 2021 New York City History class

All the students conducted interviews over Zoom, and then edited the podcasts using the software of their choice. Students were instructed to present themselves as the expert in the recording; we listened to several different history podcasts to learn about how the final cut should sound. 

In addition to their interviews, students sourced a selection of academic research. New articles were introduced to students each week and they were invited to dive deeper into the ones they found most interesting. We read historians such as Grace parent Barnet Schecter​, Mike Wallace (the historian and author of “Gotham”), Russell Shorto, Terry Golway, Jacob Riis, and many more. It was imperative that I included many women, Hispanic, African American and LGBTQ+ authors to represent the diversity of New York communities. We started with Native American culture and settlements, and moved to Henry Hudson in 1609, Peter Stuyvesant and the New Amsterdam colony, slavery in early New York, Civil War Draft Riots of 1863, Tammany Hall, skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge, Fiorello LaGuardia, Robert Moses, the AIDS crisis, the 1977 blackout, and Hurricane Sandy among many other topics. We also watched films about the Irish in Inwood in the 1960s, Ken Burns’s 1981 documentary “Brooklyn Bridge,” and his brother Ric Burns’s eight-part documentary, “New York City,” from 2003. 

Throughout the year, and to make up for the lack of field trips to local landmarks that traditionally are a part of this course, we were also visited by a number of guest speakers via Zoom. The staff of the Merchant House Museum presented on wealthy New Yorkers during the Victorian era. The President of the Women’s Firefighters Union talked about the incredible sexism women faced in the New York Fire Department. The Whitney Museum shared protest art from the AIDS movement. The Transit Museum “toured” their preserved train cars. Though varied, each visit helped inform students’ perspectives as they created their podcasts.

This was an exciting project, and student feedback was very positive. Working in hybrid mode was difficult, but the combination of virtual learning, rich primary and secondary readings, and podcast production was a hit. And for me, listening to each project was a wonderful conclusion to an enjoyable and meaningful semester. 

You can listen to all of their projects here.

Celebrating Pride in an Unprecedented Year

By Jean-Robert Andre, Dean of Equity and Inclusion, and Susan Sterman-Jones, Theater

What does Pride look like when our city’s world-famous parade and celebrations can’t happen?  Students of the Middle School C.H.A.N.G.E group (Challenging Hate and Norms of Gender Expression) asked themselves that very question at this and last year’s Pride Chapels, held annually at the end of the year. There’s no doubt that these last two Pride months have been characteristically different from what we’re used to. Two years ago, New York hosted World Pride in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and Grace Church School families and teachers marched in the parade for the 3rd year in a row. That summer, LGBTQ+ leaders and organizations made a concerted effort to remind us of the roots of the “modern gay rights movement” that Stonewall catalyzed: that the uprising was in response to police violence, and that transgender people of color led the resistance. Names like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson gained a well deserved spotlight for their contributions to ensuring that what would become the Christopher Street Liberation Day march represented the rainbow of identities that make up the LGBTQ+ community.  

Little did we know that these efforts around representation and uplifting voices of color would be central to the conversations we’d have in the summer of 2020 when demonstrations for racial justice and an end to police violence gained national attention. Embedded in the Movement for Black lives was the acknowledgment that black identities span all genders and sexualities, and that statistically the most vulnerable populations are Black and brown transgender folks. June of last year saw thousands show up to the first Brooklyn Liberation March for Black Trans Lives, and instead of a traditional pride march on the last Sunday in June, people from all over New York masked up and took to the streets for the Queer Liberation March in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. The victims of transphobia, homophobia, and racism were honored alongside the unsung heroes of the LGBTQ+ movement.

As our school year and hybrid classes began in the fall amidst these national conversations, students and faculty, including members of C.H.A.N.G.E, recognized the increased importance of community, and the continued need to make our school a more inclusive place for all. Our little club had work to do! Our Pride Chapel theme this year was “We’re Still Here!” and in it, we highlighted the many ways C.H.A.N.G.E continued its work within the middle school despite the challenges of the year.  

C.H.A.N.G.E selling masks in support of GMHC (img. source: Ms. Capelle-Burny)
  • We still held weekly meetings on Zoom and, sometimes, in person.
  • We held our annual Ally Week fundraiser selling Rainbow Griffin masks in the play yard.  Proceeds went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, as comparisons between the trajectory of the Coronavirus treatment and that of the AIDS epidemic sparked important discussion.
  • We attended a virtual meet and greet sponsored by the Trinity School MS Gender and Sexuality Alliance to connect Middle School GSAs across the city, and met others doing similar work in their institutions.
  • We organized our annual LGBT Center visit which was virtual for the second year in a row, with Youth Services Coordinator, Joanna McClintick, teaching us about the history of the building and her work with LGBTQ+ young people.
  • We hosted Anastasia Higginbotham, author of What You Don’t Know: A Story of Liberated Childhood, to talk about what it means to feel supported and affirmed in your identities and did a workshop around collaging based on the illustrations in her book.
A student poses with a collage made during Anastasia Higginbotham’s visit (img. source: Ms. Sterman-Jones)

In addition to these wonderful projects, this year also meant the return of our biennial Visibility Photography Exhibit. Over the history of the four exhibits we’ve put together, we’ve experimented with different ways to educate the Grace Community in addition to celebrating the LGBTQ+ loved ones with which our families and staff choose to submit pictures. In 2016, we had a concurrent display next to the photo exhibit paralleling the history of Grace Church School with the history of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. The next year we asked community members to submit photos of changemakers in their lives or the broader movement that they knew. Throughout that year’s exhibit, we interspersed photos of activists, organizers, and influential queer people who’ve made a difference in their communities. We knew we would have to hold this year’s exhibit virtually, so we thought long and hard about how to engage our school community over zoom, and lucky for us, a family connection gave us a great idea! Jennifer Baumgardner, middle school parent and publisher, connected us to Rachel Aimee, the Executive Director of Drag Queen Story Hour, an organization that celebrates reading through the glamorous art of drag and that creates diverse, accessible, and culturally inclusive family programming where kids can express their authentic selves. Grace parents, teachers, and students were treated to a digital version of the photo exhibit, with a soundtrack provided by our very own vocalist, Andrew Leonard. We were then joined by Rachel, Mor Erlich and drag queen Cholula Lemon, to talk about their organization. Cholula  and led the audience in a read aloud, and fun and, child-centered activities of coming up with our own drag names, before reading a picture book about acceptance.

The 2018 Visibility Exhibit

We’re incredibly proud of the impact C.H.A.N.G.E and our high school counterpart, Spectrum, have had on the Grace Church School community since their respective inceptions, and we also recognize that there’s always more work to be done. 2021 saw a record number of anti-transgender bills, most directly impacting students and young people, limiting access to services like health care and athletic programs. As students of C.H.A.N.G.E and Grace Church School stated during Pride Chapel, “we are still fighting for full acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as racial and gender equality, access to good healthcare for all and improved public education so that we may see an end to poverty and homelessness in our future.” We are committing to social justice and equality for all. What will you commit to this Pride Month and beyond?

A Guide to Getting Through (and making it safely to the other side)

By Sabrina Jacob Washburn, Drama

The return of live theater is just around the corner. I read this morning that “Pass Over,” a modern riff on “Waiting for Godot” that explores race and class written by Antoinette Nwandu, will open on Broadway as early as August 4. The Public Theater is set to open its Shakespeare in the Park program soon, and many of my friends and family members are eagerly buying up tickets to shows slated to re-open throughout the fall. And, hallelujah! Many of my out-of-work actor friends are being called back to their jobs with renewed hope. New York is thirsty (dehydrated!) for live performance, and I predict its return will be as thrilling as we all imagine.

Nothing can beat the feeling of sitting in a dark space with other people, all focused on one electric moment together. It is said that audience members’ heartbeats synchronize when watching a live performance. Certainly, the experience of an ensemble of performers, technicians, and creative leaders coming together under one goal can be life-changing and long-lasting, no matter how brief or liminal the process. The high school theater company is all-too familiar with this notion, having found deep bonds and emotional connections to one another through shows like “Rent” and “As You Like It.” When the prospect of giving up this process to the pandemic for the second school year, a process that is found in the long and dark hours backstage during tech week and while covered in sawdust during strike, I wondered how Grace Theatre Company would survive. How can we continue to build these relationships and strengthen our identity as a company through the tedious and choppy nature of Zoom?

“We can’t do another Zoomsical,” I remember telling Andrew Leonard, our musical director. As successful as our Into the Woods pivot was last year, I could not envision asking our students to embark on yet another Zoom-reimagined project. They were ready for something else, something more personal and connected. So, we set out to make a movie musical, one we could rehearse on Zoom for safety purposes, but then film live on set together (with proper protocols) in order to gain a sense of that “normal” production experience everyone so desired. After some deliberation, we created A Guide to Getting Through, a musical revue featuring scenes and songs from various contemporary musicals that showcase characters finding their way through difficult moments. I also wanted to feature New York City as a symbol of our greater community’s ability to pull through the last year of sadness and uncertainty with the classic “New York tough” resiliency that I also see in so many of my students. So, we set the scenes in various locations all around Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and New Jersey.

This project was certainly ambitious. None of us on the leadership team are experienced filmmakers and there was a steep learning curve as we prepared to launch into a fast and furious shoot week in April. The universe wasn’t necessarily giving us a generous helping hand most days, either. Between rain, COVID cases in the cast, forgotten props, dying batteries, dealing with crowds in Washington Square Park, and general exhaustion, we sometimes wondered how we would pull through. Additionally, I am currently living in Los Angeles and was unable to travel to NYC for the film shoot. This resulted in “Sab-on-a-stick,” a cheeky name for the device set-up that allowed me to direct the shoot over FaceTime. Needless to say, we fought our way through some significant challenges and the show became our own guide to getting through that week.

It is these challenges, however, that actually gave us exactly what we were looking for. Cast and crew members leaning on one another and troubleshooting together brought us back to those intimate backstage moments we were craving. Long production days meant sharing meals outdoors in between calls. Last minute issues meant people had to pitch in and take on tasks they didn’t know they were capable of. In addition to making a show we were all very proud of, students and faculty alike found new aspects of themselves and their relationships that will remain strong after the show closes and the world opens up.

We wrapped up the process with a pajama-themed premiere for the cast and crew in the high school gym, followed by a closing cast party in a sunny backyard. It was clear from the cheers and tears that Grace Theatre Company has endured the many shake-ups of the last year with the same passion and adventurous spirit that has defined us in years past. Here’s to moving forward knowing that, together, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

¡Felíz día de la Batalla de Puebla!

By Leslie Peña, Spanish

Growing up in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo was something we learned about in history class…the day when the Mexican army, against all odds, defeated the French in the city of Puebla in 1862.

In the early 1860s, Mexico owed a significant debt to France. Napoleon III, sent troops to overtake Mexico City. On their way to Mexico City, they had to go through the city of Puebla. 

When General Charles Latrille de Lorencez’s 6,000 troops of French soldiers met General Ignacio Zaragoza’s Mexican troops, Zaragoza’s smaller and less equipped Mexican army held off French troops in the Battle of Puebla.

I do not remember it being a special celebration or festive day. We did not even get to miss school and all businesses were open, since it is not an official holiday.

This holiday is mainly celebrated in the city Puebla, and only in a few other places in the country where military parades take place but not parties or festivities.

Often in the U.S. I have encountered people wishing me Happy Independence Day on Cinco de Mayo. Mexican Independence is on September 16th and that is indeed a huge celebration!

What I have learned since moving to the U.S. is that the hispanics and Mexican Americans adopted Cinco de Mayo as their own holiday instead of Mexican Independence. This goes back to when the news of the Battle of Puebla reached California Latinos, especially residents of Hispanic origin, who were glad for the failure of the French plan to help the Confederacy.

Nowadays, it has still become a fun thing to do to get together with my Mexican friends and enjoy our favorite treats on this day since it is such a huge celebration in the U.S.

In my Spanish classes, I have been using this opportunity every year to explain the difference between Cinco de Mayo, or as we call it in Mexico: “The Day of the Battle of Puebla” and Mexican Independence day on September 16th when Mexico became independent from Spain.

On Mexican Independence in September we get to see in class when the Mexican president relives the chant for Independence (el grito de Dolores) from the presidential balcony facing the crowd.

This year at Grace, we went over all of these historic facts and cleared some of the common misconceptions. We had a competitive game of accurately labeling the historic facts and main historic figures as well as a puzzle. The winners who completed this correctly got to take home a “make your own conchas” kit by La Newyorkina’s Mexico city born Chef Fany Gerson. 

The winners of the make your own conchas kit were eighth graders Nate B., Estelle V. and Clara T. and sixth graders Ava C. (remote) and Nina F.

Nate B. Holding his Prize

Everyone in my Spanish class got to taste three different traditional Mexican pastries: orejas, garibaldis and conchas. Due to covid some of our traditional celebrations, such as a “papel picado” workshop and a conchas baking class have been postponed but are still in the works for later this month.

¡Felíz día de la Batalla de Puebla!

Links:

Fany Gerson’s Concha Baking Class Video

La Newyorkina’s Concha Recipe

Papel Picado How to Video

IBM’s Women in Math

By Elsa Hepner, Head of Middle School

In March of 2019, Karen Uhlenbeck became the first woman to receive the Abel Prize, which is often referred to as the “Nobel Prize of Math.” With her win, Uhlenbeck further substantiated what educators have long known to be true: women have a prominent and promising role in the field of mathematics. 

Earlier this month, as part of Community Week, fifth grade students were visited by women mathematicians from IBM. Organized by fifth grade teacher Margaret Meyer and Grace parent Michelle Peluso, the event promoted the important role  of women in math. The presenters spoke of their love for mathematics and how it led them to where they are today. The passion with which they described the field was contagious. 

Rose K. ’28 remarked, “It was really cool! I loved that we heard from women specifically talking about math since you so often hear about men and what they’re doing. They made me realize that math is everywhere.”

To illustrate that patterns and numbers are all around us, the speakers led the students in a variety of games and activities. One such activity involved an example with which the students were very familiar, TikTok. The mathematicians described the elegant algorithms that work “behind the scenes,” determining what content viewers will see as they click and scroll.

Math teacher Amber Leung particularly enjoyed this activity,  in which students’ knowledge of equivalency and proportion were put to the test. “The students were social media data analysts who had to decide which videos they should advertise more heavily so that their viewers would keep watching and in turn the company could keep making more money. It was so wonderful for the students to put their fifth grade math skills in action and in cleverly relevant scenarios!”

The Magic of Popcorn Words

By Kate Patton, Early Childhood

What is a Popcorn Word? Any current or former Grace Kindergartener will know. Teaching reading readiness as we do in Kindergarten is all at once complex, exciting, and fun. Learning sight words is an important part of this process. We use the term Popcorn Word to mean frequently occurring sight words, those words you will likely read countless times as a reader.   

Imagine yourself as an Early Childhood student, trying your hardest to crack the code of the written words around you that almost everyone else seems to know but you! When children are 5 and 6, they can typically express themselves verbally in their own words and are learning new vocabulary at a quick pace. They love sitting down with a picture book and telling themselves the story using the illustrations. Maybe teachers or families read them a book and now they can retell it on their own. 

Although some children will be reading fluently before starting Kindergarten, most will need direct reading instruction. The process of learning to read is different for each child. Phonics is typically an essential part of this process but cannot paint the full picture. Young children begin to recognize and name individual letters learning that letters make sounds. Once they know their sounds, “sounding out” may then begin, blending individual sounds to read a word. Yet, as we all know, the English language is a quirky one, and a focus on sight words must be present to make children truly reading ready. 

Popcorn Words walls in different EC classrooms

Popcorn Words are taught to be so easily recognizable that they pop out from the page much like a freshly popped kernel of popcorn! The children know you need only your eyes to read these words.  No sounding out necessary. And, of course, when you spot a popcorn word, buttering it is a must.  We encourage children to look for popcorn words everywhere, and when appropriate, they can use a butter marker, aka a yellow highlighter, to mark any popcorn words they see. (In the absence of yellow, popcorn words can be highlighted with cheese or jelly!) In the classrooms, we create Popcorn Word walls as a reference to be used daily. Children learning remotely this year created their own Popcorn Word walls at home!

Popcorn Words also play an important role in the written expression of young children. In Kindergarten, students use “sound spelling” to express themselves in writing. Yet, proper spelling begins when they start to incorporate Popcorn Words either remembering them by sight or copying them from the Popcorn Word wall. Journal prompts will often feature the Popcorn Words  we have already introduced. There are probably countless ways to introduce sight words. Read a book and count how many times you hear the target word. Write the word three times and use it in a written sentence. Write it in the air. Do a cheer. Play Bingo. Solve a word search. Create art featuring a Popcorn Word. Most morning questions and messages feature a sight word or 2 or 10!  

The expression of empowerment and excitement is remarkable when a child looks at a word, is able to read it independently, and is able to tell teachers and family that you know what that word says. As Kindergarten teachers, these are moments of joy! In the K classrooms, you might hear children asking if I is spelled I and a is spelled “a” why is you spelled y-o-u? You will hear children noticing is hiding inside “this.” You will see them scanning for Popcorn Words that might be hiding in their own names. You will hear them call out, “You just said a Popcorn Word!” Ah…the magic of Popcorn Words.  

Students enjoy learning about Popcorn Words remotely

A Dance Show for Unprecedented Times

By Jenny Pommiss, Dance

The 2021 Grace Dance Ensemble production, In These Unprecedented Times was an evening of digital dance featuring creations by students, faculty, and guest artist Alice Gosti. It was a celebration of a year’s worth of work, a communion, and an experiment! So much of our recent history has felt like just that – an experiment with no clear answers or directions. This project began as a continuation of that, as it asked our dancers to work over distance, collaborate, create and come together despite circumstances that encourage the opposite. 

The evening began with LIMINALE, a piece created by guest artist Alice Gosti in collaboration with the dancers. LIMINALE was born as a necessity to continue creating work and experimenting with virtual platforms during Covid-19. LIMINALE is a live performance created intentionally for Zoom in which each performer streams directly from their personal spaces, using environments, furniture and memory as inspiration for the movement material. This project challenges the condition of confinement, transforming living space into creative space. Activating memories and everyday objects, LIMINALE unveils surprising movements inspired by home. 

Still from LIMINALE
Still from LIMINALE

This year the students were not only challenged to step into the work of our guest artist, they were also invited to create dance works of their own. In doing so, they were forced to navigate new creative territory and ask questions of their creative process they had never had to ask before. “How do I rehearse over Zoom?” “What can I create that makes the most of this medium?” “How do I make my dancers feel a part of something?” “What are the positives and negatives of creating in separate spaces?” “How do I even teach movement over zoom?!” “Can dance continue to be the magical act it is, even in this altered context?” These are questions they asked of themselves and their dancers. The second half of the evening was devoted to a screening of these original works. It featured works by five student choreographers who directed their dancers over Zoom and in person on some outdoor film shoots.

Still from Daffodils by Josie Macdonald ‘22
Summer G, ‘21 in Painting in My Living Room by Charlotte R. ‘21

A special undertaking by senior Camryn D., included working with Ms. Pommiss’ Dance I class on, what was for most class members, their debut efforts at creating dance for the screen.

Matilda C. ‘24 in Isolating Chaos by Camryn D. ‘21

Ms. Pommiss’ Dance Rep class presented Traces Of You, which explored the technique of layering and superimpositions so that it appeared that the dancers were sharing space and dancing with each other.

Members of the Dance Rep class in Traces of You

The finale of the evening, we came together and we shook hands, was the result of a 7-hour film shoot at a beautiful empty space in The Brooklyn Navy Yard. Dance Ensemble co-director’s Ms. Pommiss and Mr. Thomas-Train conceptualized and directed this project, which required dancers to learn choreography and improvisational scores on site and make bold choices in their performance.

The Ensemble in we came together and we shook hands
The Ensemble in we came together and we shook hands

Being a member of Dance Ensemble has always been about more than Dance. It’s been about community, collaboration, expression and creativity, but this year, it has also been about resilience. It’s been about how to show up and keep going and stay grounded when the world around us has been undergoing seismic shifts. Sometimes, it’s also been about not showing up, and not feeling grounded, but still, we kept going, week after week, month after the month, and all of the time we spent over Zoom, moving, discussing, processing and experimenting, have brought us here. In These Unprecedented Times….is about meeting this moment, inhabiting it, looking at it from a range of perspectives, and from the point of view of the body.

Click here to view our beautiful digital program created by Liz P. ‘22.

World Writers

by Brian Platzer, World Writers

by Brian Platzer

I took World Writers as an 8th grade student at Grace in 1994-1995, and Dr. Kole’s iteration of the course — along with Rod Keating’s 7th and 8th grade English — was critical in launching me into a career writing and teaching literature. 

This is my 14th year teaching World Writers. From the beginning, my goals have been consistent: first, to encourage the students to think and write with more analytical precision; second, to spark in them an enthusiasm for reading and the varieties of human experience; and third, to expand their literary horizons in order to help them better be able to form and articulate their unique vision of the world. World Writers creates a community of readers for whom I can facilitate discussion of some of my favorite books, along the way helping students fall in love with reading, writing, and thinking just as I did when I was their age.

The only consistent text year after year is Night, by Elie Wiesel. Night is a masterpiece that chronicles Wiesel’s own experiences as a teenager during the Holocaust. The memoir sets the tone for the class, as it demands a brutal honesty that students build over the first few weeks and then apply to all the other works we read together. World Writers is a serious class, because regardless of the texts that follow Night, we inevitably confront a series of atrocities. In regular rotation are Gwendolyn Brooks’s Maud Martha, Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Paul Auster’s City of Glass, and Kazuo Ishiguoro’s Never Let Me Go. Over the years, we’ve also read Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe; Dreams of My Father, by Barack Obama; and a variety of stories (Franz Kafka, Eudora Welty, John Cheever) and poetry (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gwendolyn Brooks, Wisława Szymborska). These works detail all kinds of suffering and loss, and they demand to be confronted with respect for the writers and their subjects. That said, they also demand to be met with joy. That these books exist is a miracle, and it is as important that we laugh, question, argue, tease, demand, love, and hate, as it is that we empathize. And we give equal weight to authorial decisions as we do to their characters’ lives. We ask how the works are constructed. Which choices result in what effects on the reader. Why an author elected to include this instead of that, in this way instead of that one?

What all the above texts have in common is a perspective the students are unlikely to have encountered outside World Writers. Whether we are delving into the life of a Black girl-then-woman in 1930’s Chicago, a teenager enduring Chinese re-education, or a British clone mined for her internal organs, each text is very different from the next but manages to find the perfect words or phrases for emotions and feeling we’ve all had but have never been able to express. I feel lucky to revisit these works each year with a new set of students ready to think deeply, possibly for the first time, about issues they may have never confronted before. 

Ed. Note: World Writers is an elective literature course for students in Grade 8. Brian is an alum in the class of 1995 and a current Grace parent.