Celebrating Social Justice, Then and Now

By Dr. Akbar Herndon, Chief Technology Officer

Although we will be using a different platform for coming together this year, more than ever, we are committed to renewing our dedication to social justice during January, the month of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday. For several months, we have been hard at work preparing classwork as well as school-wide programs commemorating the civil rights movement and our ongoing commitment to fairness and human rights. Grace’s Martin Luther King program for 2021 is on schedule.

Grace has a long history of equity activism. Thirty years ago, we were one of only two New York City schools to host a Multicultural Assessment Plan (MAP) visit from the National Association of Independent Schools – NAIS. (This was one of the reasons I chose to work at Grace). In 1997, Grace sponsored a two-day, city-wide diversity conference titled “ Getting Beneath the Surface of Racism in Education”. During each of these school years, we have used the life of Dr. Martin Luther King and his birthday as a rallying point for social action. While reaching for the ideal of trying to include anti-racist instruction in our curriculum throughout the school year, January 15th (MLK’s birthday) provided a special opportunity to highlight lessons related with justice, fairness, dreams and the triumph of the human spirit. At all grade levels, a focus on past and current struggles for fairness invited stories, discussions, analysis, artistic expression and other presentations about freedom and justice. Annual MLK assemblies continue to provide a framework for shared classwork, music, visual and spoken word, celebrating social justice then and now.

Students hold signs for the 2012 Peace March

In 2004, Grace began a tradition of conducting a silent peace march (around the block and to Union Square) as part of the MLK commemoration, honoring the actions of civil rights protesters in the 60’s as well as expressing beliefs about the issues of today’s human rights challenges. Large paper mache puppets depicting freedom fighters (e.g., Dr. King, Rosa Parks, Mahatma Gandhi, Wangari Maathi and Bayard Rustin) created by fourth graders, often led the five block march. The Peace March culminated in an all school Peace Chapel, led by students. In 2015 a new dimension was added to the annual MLK program curriculum as high school students and teachers created and led a day of social justice symposiums attended by Grace high school students and middle school students, as well as occasional guests from public schools.

Two students participate in the 2020 annual Peace March

Today, faced with our newest challenge of hosting our MLK activities remotely, the Grace community has risen to the challenge. Although we will not be able to have our Peace March, we will gather (online) for an all-school Peace Chapel, and our usual assemblies and symposiums are bursting with current day topics including covid-19 inequities, Black Lives Matter movement, the 2020 presidential election and Being a True Ally. I believe Dr. King would be proud to see his legacy and its impact continued through a new dimension of technology. Most important, is our effort to help bring fairness, freedom and awareness of our interdependence into each other’s lives.

Check the eNews for a schedule of MLK 2021 program events.

Having Fun in a Safe Way

by Ted Rohrs, Physical Education

“With great power, comes great responsibility.” This Spiderman quote is perfectly fitting for the Physical Education Department. Exercising, building and practicing social skills are the main lessons taught in our Physical Education program. Students need time and space to exercise both physically and mentally, and socialize amongst peers. The biggest challenge we are facing this year is to satisfy those needs in the safest and most comfortable way possible.  

At the beginning of the school year Ms. Stone, Head of JK-8 Physical Education, supplied all EC/LS  students a PE bag and packet with various workouts and activities to do at home. The at home students have the freedom to choose what activity they feel like doing that day. As a department we felt like this approach was important since exercise is not a “one size fits all” experience. Some like running, while some prefer long walks. Some enjoy the intensity of volleyball while some find solace in the slower pace of yoga. Overall, the importance is to be exercising and enjoying what you are doing.

The students at Grace, as well as the Physical Education Department, have been lucky to keep the “big gym,” available for class use for whole the school year. The Lower School P.E. program has been fortunate to be one of the school subjects permitted to use space outside of the students own classrooms. It is beneficial to all to provide a change of scenery as well as grant space for movement. With Tuttle hall being occupied, the Early Childhood grades have been having P.E classes on the roof, playground area, recess yard, or in the classroom. Ms. Quirk and Mr. G have been working hard and becoming quite creative with the limited space. The lower school grades have been lucky to be able to have all classes in the big gym!

Lower School Physical Education Program has required some adjustments as a result of this years’ challenges. Here are some ways I have approached this year. When a student walks into the gym they look at the weekly exercise board, targeting cardio and muscular strength and endurance. These 8-10 exercises at the floor spot which are spread out safely throughout the gym. After this 5-8-minute warm-up we move on to that day’s activities. For tag games we use a 6-foot pool noodle to tag one another or if it is sports lesson then each student has an individual piece of equipment. Equipment is wiped down after each class or recess as well as hands being sanitized as they leave the gym. 

Group games, cooperation and the classic P.E. games, except for dodgeball, have always been the cornerstone to the P.E. program. In games like 4 corners, Islands, Do You Want to Build a Snowman, and Blindfold Trust Walk; the students still can socialize while working on cooperation and trust. I have always incorporated yoga into my lessons to cool down and refocus before entering the classroom but this year seems more important than ever. Exercising with a mask is not an easy or comfortable task, yoga has been essential to calming and controlling the breathing of our students.

During our soccer and basketball units I have allowed some of 4th graders to be captains. They have been working so well together and captains have been leading the charge with group exercises, managing game-plans and giving feedback on skills and strategies. I can’t write a blog about the Physical Education Program without giving kudos to Ms. Toy and Mr. Pelz for filling in during Ms. Stone and Mr. Pazos’ absence. They have been a great addition, incredibly supportive and loved by the children.