International Games for International Perspectives

Even though students were stuck at home, the First Grade spent the spring traveling across the globe, all without having to pack a bag. “The backbone of our First Grade Curriculum is the Seven Continents of the world.” said First Grade teacher, Ms. Tang. “Over the course of the school year, we journey around the world, specifically looking through the lens of children around the world — where they live, what they eat, how they go to school, how to live and play. This not only ties into our Social Studies curriculum — it is interdisciplinary.” 

Throughout the school year, First Graders get a chance to explore the seven continents of the world, using the lenses of art, science, music, social students, language arts, and even physical education to inform the curriculum. “How people play” has also been an integral part of the First Grade syllabus, manifesting in Games Around the World, which highlights games such as Parcheesi from India, Yut Nori from Korea, Fox and Geese from Norway, and Mancala from Western Africa as a way to help students identify and appreciate cultural and societal differences. The unit and its complementary event have been beloved by students and families for about 20 years.

But when the school announced that it would be closing its doors for the remainder of the school year, First Grade teachers “knew [they] needed to adapt in some way.” The solution? Have the student become the teacher. “As part of our weekend homework, we asked First Graders to teach their families how to play the games we learned this year.” Ms. Tang explained. “Though we sent instructions for one or two games a week, we asked our First Graders to “be the teacher” and show their families how to play. This gave them a level of responsibility and ownership over their homework.” 

The newly remixed curriculum also provided a platform for students to be even more creative than usual, with many students “creating their own game board and playing pieces…We had kids creating Mancala boards out of egg cartons, cups and other household containers!”

Despite the sudden changes teachers, students and families had to make, the heart of Games Around the World, and the entire First Grade curriculum, identifying and understanding our differences, remained intact. “In today’s world where we are struggling with similarities and differences and how they affect our everyday life, we want our students to identify with others who may live elsewhere, but have lives very similar to theirs.” started Ms. Tang. “We also wanted them to celebrate their differences. We want our students to become people who recognize, understand and appreciate similarities and differences. Teaching racial literacy is at the core of our curriculum, and the Games Around the World event is just a small manifestation of that. And in today’s climate, racial literacy is more important than ever.”

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“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.

Goodbye Rhinos

Guest Post by Kim Chaloner, Dean of Community Life & Science Teacher

While focused on marching with our inspiring student leaders to oppose gun violence yesterday, and contemplating the awful costs of gun culture, I and some of the Grace community noticed an unusual site in Astor Place. Stacked in a solid and imposing 17 foot triplet, three bronze Northern White Rhinos arrived Wednesday, composing the largest rhino statue in the world. Their realistic forms, both delicately detailed and full of heavy meaning, told yet another story about gun violence and the need for our community’s attention to fight for a safe, sustainable and peaceful world.

“The Last Three” is a sculpture created by Gillie and Marc Art, public artists who have gained a reputation for making public sculpture a tool for conservation. As their website details, “Gillie and Marc’s coveted public artworks can be found all over the world including major cities such as Shanghai, New York and Sydney.” On Thursday morning, the couple, along with the Village Alliance, introduced the statue to the public. Having had the opportunity to meet the rhinos themselves, they created this piece to bring their story to the world.   

As the current Environmental Science teacher, I am all too well aware of the the gravity of these beautiful creatures’ personal stories, and this memorial to their waning existence. I was lucky enough to visit threatened Southern White Rhinos at Lake Nakuru Kenya in 2011 thanks to a Grace Faculty Travel Grant. These rhinos were brought back from the brink of extinction after hunting almost wiped them out, but the Northern White Rhinos will most likely be lost.  The Northern White Rhino, despite desperate efforts by the global community of conservation biologists, has only these three members left. Under armed guard at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya are Sudan, the last male, and his daughter and granddaughter, Najin and Fatu. These last three members of the subspecies represent the final victims of the brutal trade in rhino horns for mythical medicinal purposes, as well as hunting, poaching and habitat loss. As beacons of a global loss in species, said to be the sixth extinction as we see species going extinct at what is estimated to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates scientists have estimated.

I will certainly be bringing my students to Astor Place to, as the artists encouraged the public, feel and experience Sudan, Najin and Fatu. Speaking with INDE creators at the opening ceremonies, I learned that there is an iPhone app that allows kids traveling through Astor Place and walk with the rhinos to learn more about their plight, called INDE. Also, everyone is encouraged to write a goodbye message to the rhinos on the goodbye rhinos website, where notes to the species will be used to petition for better conservation practices.

Kim Chaloner is the Dean of Community Life at Grace and Environmental Science Teacher. One of the many roles she fills at Grace is coordinator of the school’s sustainability programming. Ms. Chaloner is in her nineteenth year at Grace Church School. Prior to working at Grace, Ms. Chaloner worked for the Wildlife Conservation Society.