“No One is Alone” A Note from the Grace Theatre Company

As school is closed in response to the Coronavirus, the Grace Theatre Company wasted little time in experimenting with what actors and musicians can create together, even when they are forced to be in separate places. The company, which was preparing to put on “Into the Woods” as this year’s spring musical, has been looking forward, thinking of ways to produce the musical in some sort of digital context given the uncertainty of when school will open again. What’s resulted, thus far, is this experimental rendition of “No One is Alone” from the famed show.

Ms. Washburn said, “It took 6 laptops, 6 phones, 5 locations, 5 sets of AirPods, several drafts, and a whole lot of patience to produce. We learned a lot and have some good ideas about how to do it better next time.” Teachers and students in all of the arts have been looking for ways to continue the work students have been engaged in this year while the physical school buildings are closed. This is just the first of what we expect to be many creative endeavors.

Teachers want students to continue honing their craft with the same hard work and determination they have shown all year, but they are also attuned to the anxieties that so much uncertainty can bring for students and families. In describing the spirit of the choice of number Ms. Washburn said, “Since the sentiment of the song seems pertinent to our times, we hope that this little bit of sweetness will brighten your day. Most of all, we want everyone to take the meaning of the attached video to heart: no one is alone. We are all going through this together. We do indeed have a Giant in our midst. Let’s commit to being with and for each other as we figure out what to do next.”

Ms. Washburn says this is just a teaser and, truly, an experiment as they explore ways of keeping the theater company together despite the distance between them. Check back here often to see other great work happening in the arts and other disciplines while school continues remotely.

Shakespeare, Zoom, and the Faculty

By Robbie Pennoyer, Assistant Head of School, Director of Studies

Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea
But sad mortality o’er-sways their power,
How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?

                                        –from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65

My last class before Spring Break wrapped up a few hours ago.  By some measures, it was like every other class in “Poetry and Faith,” the elective I teach each spring to juniors and seniors in the high school division.  We greeted one another; I took attendance; we read and discussed a poem; students shared insightful analysis, asked poignant questions, and provoked bursts of laughter.  But one thing made the class different from every other: my students were all at home, and our class was meeting, through Zoom, in a virtual classroom.

With the spread of the coronavirus adding uncertainty about what lies beyond Spring Break—and with Grace wanting to do its part to flatten the curve and slow the virus’s spread—we canceled classes yesterday so that the faculty could spend a day preparing for the possibility of a prolonged period of school closure.  I sat in on several team meetings, as teachers strategized and traded tips for “distance learning.”  How I wish our students could have joined us—not, as I’ll forgive you for assuming, dear reader, because we needed digital natives to teach old dogs new tricks; we have experts enough in our midst for that.  No, I wish they could have joined us to see my brilliant, creative, inspiring colleagues exhibiting exactly the sort of can-do attitude we seek to nurture in our students. 

I read once that the best predictor of student success and flourishing in schools isn’t their average class size, the number of books in the library, the student-teacher ratio, or the standardized test scores of incoming students.  According to the researchers at Independent School Management, Inc., the best predictors for student achievement have nothing directly to do with the students at all but with their teachers.  It’s the presence of a growth-oriented faculty culture.  It’s teacher effectiveness and a healthy sense of community among a school’s adults that drive student success and satisfaction.  Yesterday, Grace’s faculty culture was on glorious display.  With its mix of collaboration, dedication, humor, and kindness and with my colleagues’ balance of humility and expertise, it was extraordinary to witness.  Today, with every child from JK–12 participating in Zoom classes, students have tasted the first fruits of the faculty’s efforts to prepare for the unknown that awaits us on the other side of Spring Break. 

No distance learning plan will feel like a fair substitute for school.  So much of the magic of Grace depends upon the alchemy that arises from talented teachers and motivated students being present together:  the casual friction of interactions in the halls; the crowds that gather to cheer on friends; the learning that can’t take place while seated before a laptop.  But for as long as we need to we will find a way to make this work—to be Grace and to do school, even if we’re doing so from home.  Today’s experiments in Zoom were a promising start.

The poem we read in class today was Shakespeare’s Sonnet 65.  In it, the speaker looks around at everything he’s taken for granted, everything he’s assumed will stay just the way it always has, and he sees with no small measure of fear and anxiety that it’s all more fragile than he might typically care to realize: “[R]ocks impregnable are not so stout, / Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays.”  The first dozen lines of the sonnet are questions about how, when faced with a threatening future, something as fragile as beauty or love can survive.  The final couplet offers the sonnet itself as a tentative answer—“that in black ink my love may still shine bright”—familiar from similar poems about the ravages of time.  What makes the couplet credible is the sonnet as a whole, its sonic beauty, its profound and tender questions.  The poem asks: “How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea, / Whose action is no stronger than a flower?”  And in its asking, the gorgeous question provides its own answer:  that something about love grows sturdier, immortal even, when it’s translated into perfect art.   

The love that the Grace faculty brings each day to their classrooms—which they then translate into creative, effective, and supportive teaching—lodges in the lives of our students and shapes them in small but sturdy ways.  That love is on vibrant display every day here at school.  And it will be there when we gather with our students in online classrooms.  And it will be there when we get the word that it’s time to come back to school.

In the meantime, I send my prayers and best wishes for a safe Spring Break.  

Design Thinking in Grade 8 Art

By Philip Robinson, Art

The question posed to the eighth grade art students was straightforward: once a ‘need’ is identified, what are the steps needed to bring about change? Students learned how design thinking and problem solving can be used to answer that question.

The current ‘need’ at Grace is a gallery space where students can curate and display artwork. The hallways and front display case where current artwork is displayed is only a short-term solution. And even these spaces have multiple drawbacks: students running or leaning on the art, not enough space for large scale, three-dimensional sculptures in the glass display case. So I asked students, if money was not an issue and you could design a gallery for either campus what would it look like? Where would it be? What would your first exhibition look like?

Students had to learn how to accurately draw a two-dimensional floor plan and then erect that structure using the given materials: balsa wood, plexiglass, and foam core.  Once the gallery was built the students had to think about how they were going to curate their space with original artwork: photographs, sculpture, landscapes, etc. The final results were 46 proposals for a new gallery space for Grace Church School, a few of which can be seen in the pictures here. The public display of these proposals helps to start a larger conversation and validates the students’ work. When they return to Grace in 2, 3, or 5 years from now and see a new Gallery Space that they had a hand in bringing about change.