“Once upon a time three kids were in different places and they wanted to get together.” And so begins “The Long Haul to American Fun,” illustrated and dictated by Ms. Sarah Adler’s Early Childhood Language Group.
The Language Group, which met twice weekly throughout the year, was designed to support the reading and writing skills of Grace’s Kindergarten students. This year, at the students’ prompting, they wrote a book to culminate the class. Ms. Adler has led the group for years, but this year presented unique challenges (and even an unexpected advantage) with the shift to distance learning in the spring. Ms. Adler noted, “Initially it was difficult to conduct the class remotely, but the children soon adapted. They even enjoyed being able to see my screen as they dictated the story while I typed it. They delighted each time I made a typo and were able to correct me. In the end, this gave them a great sense of pride and accomplishment.”
“The Long Haul to American Fun” follows three children who, after an unexpected hiccup, find themselves stranded in the Californian desert. They have to quickly find shelter, all while avoiding some very prickly cacti. They manage to travel by wing glider to American Fun, a glorious theme park in Coney Island, replete with water slides, swimming pools and games. After a short excursion to Alaska to view the Northern Lights, where they befriend a fluffy dove and a furry dog, the children return to American Fun for more water park hilarity before finally traveling safely back to their homes.
Film and Media Majors spent this year preparing to shoot their final film over spring break. After months of planning, and with spring break about to begin, Seniors Sasha Q., Otto L., Lucinda L. and Charlotte G. found their planned shoot and production completely shut down. Recognizing the less-than-favorable hand his students had been dealt, photography and film teacher Mr. Todd gave them the option of adapting their existing scripts or creating new films. Without exception, the students accepted the challenge of crafting entirely new films before graduation, even though they had already been working on their final projects for months.
As the students began writing their new scripts, Mr. Todd shifted the focus of his class to delve deeper into the study of the avant-garde films and the pioneers of alternative cinema. The curriculum clearly inspired his pupils, whose films, either by design or necessity (or, more likely, a bit of both), began moving in a more surrealist direction, exploring the streets of New York City; a lofty apartment; even a kitchen sink.
The uncharted territory lent itself to a somewhat surprising result. Said Mr. Todd, “While the students did not have the chance to experience building a production crew and filming with all the resources Grace has to offer, they were given the conceptual freedom to explore improvisation and a taste of auteurship on a level they probably wouldn’t have had prior to this crisis.”
By Pam Vlach, Dance Specialist, Lower & Middle School; Director, Middle School Dance Ensemble
The past few weeks, the middle school dance ensemble has been working with Aphiwe Mpahleni, who’s zooming in from Cape Town, South Africa to share the history and technique of Gumboot. The first week of her residency, the students learned about the emergence of Gumboot in the gold mines of South Africa as a tool for communication and protest in poor working conditions. The racial inequities in South Africa as related to the origins of Gumboot were particularly poignant for students. The second week, the seventh and eighth graders practiced the technique of Gumboot and learned a combination that we’ll likely incorporate into the middle school dance concert next spring.
In planning this unit, Aphiwe and I met several times to discuss content and strategy for online teaching because it was important to address both the possibility of unreliable technology and specifics of pedagogy that are culturally informed. We wanted to create a process where the middle schoolers could learn successfully while experiencing the cultural intricacies of Gumboot in an authentic way. Although there are certainly challenges in teaching dance remotely, it’s also an excellent opportunity to think outside the box and make the world a little smaller for the kids.
Technologically, nothing is perfect. During one class, my speaker stopped working and I didn’t realize it. There were a few minutes of Aphiwe communicating with the kids and I couldn’t hear any of them (but thought the problem was on their end). When I realized what had happened, I was incredibly embarrassed and apologized, and the kids laughed, then we continued on with class. I share this because in teaching remotely, connecting with the students has sometimes meant showing some vulnerability in learning these new online tools and platforms. We’re all in it together, and we’re learning as we go.
This month marks the 25th annual National Poetry Month, first introduced in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to celebrate poetry in the United States. Normally, budding and seasoned poets alike mark the occasion in New York with percussion-punctuated readings, festivals and workshops.
This year’s event looks just a little different, but Woody Loverude, Writing Center Director, and Christina Olivares, Director of College Counseling and Poetry Liaison to the Writing Center, are honoring the silver anniversary in a special way. Each day during the month of April, they email a poem to Grace faculty, staff and High School students, accompanied by a recording of themselves reading the selection and an explanation of why they chose it.
With each poem they share, Mr. Loverude and Ms. Olivares are creating a sense of community during this time of extreme isolation. And the responses have been overwhelming, suggesting that the poems are perhaps resonating with people in a way that they might not have were we not in such an unusual time. This outcome has been one of the highlights for them.
Mr. Loverude noted, “While I don’t think emailing the poems out has reached more people, it does seem that because of these emails and because of the virus, more people are emailing us back to share their appreciation of the poems in general or a specific poem in particular. And my favorite emails to get are ones from unexpected corners, those people who I didn’t expect to be actually reading/listening to our daily poems. It’s been a gift and a joy to hear from all corners of our community.”
When Grace moved to distance learning, Grade 5 teacher Margaret Meyer was faced with a decision: interrupt the more-than-20-year tradition of Renaissance Day, or proceed with a virtual event that even Leanardo da Vinci himself could not have imagined. For Ms. Meyer, the choice was an obvious one.
“It never entered my mind not to proceed with Renaissance Day. I knew my students would make it work on the small screen just as well as if we were all sitting in our classroom together. This has proven to be the case. It’s not every day 11-year olds produce research papers on international topics. Our fabulous fifth graders came to value the experience of having written their research papers by virtue of having worked long and hard to make them happen. My confidence that the Renaissance Day experience would be even better via distance learning this year was richly rewarded,” Ms. Meyer stated proudly.
She also knew that conducting the presentations online offered an unexpected advantage: family members and friends who might have been unable to attend a live event could now partake in the fun of watching the student presentations, which began on Tuesday and will continue for several weeks.
Preparations for Renaissance Day began months ago, before the new normal, as Grade 5 students started the process of writing their first serious research paper and creating accompanying projects. First came the prompt from Ms. Meyer, who asked students to consider the time between 1200 C.E. and 1600 C.E. and identify two events that occurred in regions throughout the world, including Asia, Africa and the Middle East, in addition to Europe. Students then shared their findings with one another, engaging in lively discussions, following which they narrowed in on their topic of choice. Everything from Chinese architecture circa 1500 C.E. to the advent of the printing press in Europe to the contributions from the Muslim world to the fields of science, math and literature.
It is crucial to Ms. Meyer that she avoid the Euro-centric narrative of the Renaissance. Instead, she teaches students to view the world through an international lense, helping them to understand the vast contributions made by all peoples. Equally important to her is to instill in students a desire to think critically, even if that sometimes (occasionally) means that she’s proven wrong. In fact, she delights in receiving emails from students who, after fact-checking on their own, are eager to contradict something she said in class. “It’s all part of teaching them to be independent thinkers,” she says. “I’m pretty much right. But I’m not pretty much perfect.”
When asked what it was like to write their first research paper, responses from students were, well, mixed. Many students echoed the sentiment of Hudson A. ‘27, who said, “It’s a fun process because you made the paper, it’s your creation and you get to share it with everyone who reads it.”
Still most agreed that the task was not without its challenges. No surprise as Ms. Meyer evaluates her students’ work as both their history and English teacher; that means papers must not only be rich in content but also well-constructed and, of course, properly cited. This includes an official acknowledgement form thanking the family members or friends who provided assistance throughout the process. After all, writing a research paper, like so much else in life, is a collaborative effort.