# 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.)

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.

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.

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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# 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.

• 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.

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?

# ¡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!

Fany Gerson’s Concha Baking Class Video

La Newyorkina’s Concha Recipe

# 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!”

# 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.

# Lesson Plans on a Controversy

This letter was sent to Grace parents on March 13, 2021.

Dear Parents,

Good teachers look for real-world examples to make lessons come alive for students, to frame what we want to teach them in stories that will help important ideas stick and feel relevant. There’s a lot one can learn from the recent controversy over Grace’s Inclusive Language Guide, and we wanted to highlight some of the lessons we think parents might find helpful to discuss with their children and teachers with their students—especially those asking questions about why their school is in the news.

Lesson #1

Be a critical reader, especially of controversial news stories. Students might benefit from noticing how quickly a true story (Grace has a long language guide!) turned into a false one (Grace bans kids from calling moms “mom”!). The skills we teach in English and history classrooms—the habits of looking beyond the surface of a text to consider its form and reliability, the ways it asks to be read, the strength of its arguments, the impact of its diction and tone—will serve students beyond what they read for class.  Indeed, these skills should prove essential when they turn to the day’s news to sort out good-faith criticism from alarmist bunk.

Lesson #2

Hatred is often rooted in misunderstanding. Many strangers phoned Grace or commented online to express anger and outrage about something that wasn’t true. We may not appreciate how they chose to express themselves, but we don’t blame them for their concern. Banning the words “mom” and “dad” from a child’s vocabulary would be outrageous for any school to do! There’s a larger lesson here: we can have compassion for those who are angry with us, and sometimes it’s as simple as recognizing that their anger comes from a regrettable misunderstanding.

Lesson #3

Try to write clearly. Good, clear writing requires good, clear thinking. When writing isn’t clear—when it leans on jargon or invites misinterpretation—it may be a sign that there’s more work to be done to refine the ideas you are trying to express. It is no contradiction for the school to stand by the intentions of the Inclusive Language Guide and to celebrate its usefulness as a resource while also taking responsibility for some of its unintended impact. We could have expressed ourselves more clearly and better articulated its purpose. (We could have caught a few typos as well!)

Lesson #4

Diversity makes us stronger and smarter. The Language Guide emerged from an opt-in summer project about fostering a culture of equity and belonging. The faculty and staff who participated in its creation were in many ways a diverse cross-section of the school. But the opt-in nature of the project likely meant that we shared certain blind spots. Ideas can be honed and strengthened when they meet credible challenges from those who view them differently. That’s one reason Grace celebrates diversity as a crucial component of an excellent education, one that allows individuals to benefit from perspectives and experiences different from their own.

These are timeless lessons, ones that we at Grace strive to teach our students every year. They reflect core values of our mission: our belief in the importance of an excellent education and our desire to cultivate a deep and abiding sense of belonging for every member of our community. And while Grace didn’t go looking to become a case study in why these are valuable lessons to absorb, we owe it to our students and ourselves to consider them anew; we may even gain some wisdom as we do.

In the meantime, please know how grateful we are for the privilege of being partners in the nurturing and education of your children. They inspire us every day to become better teachers and to do all that we can to make Grace a better school and community.

The Rev. Robert M. Pennoyer II
Assistant Head of School; Director of Studies

# Black History is American History

The accomplishments, impact and influence of African Americans are at the foundation of many of our country’s pivotal historical moments. Though Black History Month provides a venue for us to highlight Black history, it’s crucial that we continue to learn about and celebrate it. Afterall, Black history is American history.

Below, read the perspectives of several Grace teachers on why it’s important to learn about and teach Black history year-round, and how they continue to integrate it into their courses:

Andrew Leonard, Performing Arts:
For the Vocal Music program, teaching Black History through music is essential. I make it a point to start off Beginning Vocals in the 9th grade every year explaining that pretty much all music we listen to today can be traced back to the influence of enslaved African-Americans. All American musical artforms- Jazz, Blues, Musical Theatre, Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, R&B, Country, etc. are direct descendants of Black culture and music. While this may seem like a hefty and overarching statement, it’s the truth. If you look only at the scales and rhythms used you will find this to be true.

Therefore, it’s imperative that our Vocal Music students are not only aware of this- but they must learn it, honor it, and practice it from the beginning of their vocal studies at Grace. This plays a part in GraceNotes directly. I have made it a priority to make sure that there is a diverse body of repertoire that we learn and perform in GraceNotes. Some choral programs only focus on what some refer to as “the dead white guys”- aka classical music. While these composers are important to learn, if you are to only stop there, then you will miss the mark of being a truly well rounded and successful musician. Singing music from cultures from all over the world is a way in which GraceNotes practices antiracism daily. Also, allowing GraceNotes to dive deep into the world of spirituals, gospel music, and other forms of choral music that are traditional specifically to America, forces the students to gain a level of respect and understanding that would not otherwise be achieved. This is but only one way in which the Vocal Music program teaches and uplifts Black History all days of year, not just in February.

Enkay Iguh, Literature
A. As a person who deals in stories—telling them, writing them, and teaching them—I am always aware of the power of narrative. It is how we pass on our cultural values, it helps us define ourselves, and ultimately the stories we hear, especially as children, shape our imagination and what that imagination creates.

B.As a Black woman, I am also aware of the narratives about blackness, and especially Black woman-ness. These narratives are often dehumanizing, and to encounter them as a student was painful and confusing. What’s more, I wasn’t presented with the framework, the language to understand all that was messaged to me. Yet those messages shaped me.

If A and B are true, then it is incumbent upon me as a teacher to equip my students with the tools to dissect narratives and contextualize them. What’s more, I must combat the harmful narratives and encourage positive identity formation, especially for my Black students. I teach Black history and life affirming Black stories year round in order to give my students what I never received in high school: tools with which to think critically about the stories we tell, especially regarding race. It is a daily practice and it guides my methodology. Black history is American history, and that’s a truth every student deserves to learn.

Mark Weinsier, History:
I teach the students with whom I’m fortunate enough to work at Grace that they each have a valuable voice that deserves to be affirmed and centered. And I stress to them that they can learn to navigate power structures and be active agents of the change they wish to see in the world.  But it was my own unlearning and relearning of Black History that helped crystallize these truths for me.

Several years ago, in a moment of clarity – and to my great mortification and horror — I realized that my discussions of Reconstruction entirely lacked Black voices and agency. I honestly can’t remember what prompted this revelation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story,” which landed with this white teacher in a predominantly white institution, for one, like a thunderclap and has become the single-most revisited reference point for me in both my teaching and ongoing learning.

The more I read, the more I learned – and, in retrospect, wanted to apologize to all of the students who went through my classes as I began teaching them at Grace 19 years ago to whom I may have unconsciously done harm. Because I realized that, for longer than I care to remember, I had inadvertently taught Black History as I had myself learned it growing up in my hometown of Plantation, Florida (incorporated in 1953, which only makes its naming differently execrable): a trauma-focused distortion of the human experience in which people were acted upon rather than having the agency to dream and laugh and love and act to shape the world into the one they wished to see for themselves, their families, and their loved ones. But now I know better. I will never go back.

Now, as GCS students hope for the promise of vaccines while navigating these turbulent times on computers and microphones, they can say they have the genius of Onesimus, Dr. Mark Dean, and Dr. James West to thank. Katherine Johnson and Dr. Mae Jemison show them how to reach for – and get to — the stars. The Divine Nine and Victor Hugo Green lead by example in teaching them how to have mutual networks of support and oases of peace and dignity. The True Reformers and Maggie Walker demonstrate how to create structures out of whole cloth when unjustly denied access. Mary McLeod Bethune and the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott lead by example in how to wield economic power to fight injustice. The Pullman Porters, The Chicago Defender, and the Freedom Riders teach lessons in how to use media to bring about change. While Madam C.J. Walker and Jay-Z show how to start a business with two dollars and a dream and to build generational wealth, Kehinde Wiley and filmmaker Stanley Nelson mentor them in challenging representation. Fred Hampton’s First Rainbow Coalition and the recent #TimesUp Movement demonstrate by example how to build coalitions. And the allyship of Theodore Sedgwick to Elizabeth Freeman in suing for her freedom, of Catholic sisters of the Order of St. Joseph to Black students in desegregating independent schools in Florida, and of Brad Lomax and the Black Panthers to disability rights activists that helped bring about the Americans with Disabilities Act encourage the eighth graders – and us all – to get into what late Congressman John Lewis called “good trouble.” Because, in bending that arc of the moral universe towards justice, each of us has a role to play.

My unlearning and relearning of Black History prompted me to reexamine my entire curriculum through other lenses. I am now constantly looking out for and incorporating other stories and voices that were hidden to me in my own education – and, consequently, that I have inadvertently hidden from my students, from gender-binary-shattering Public Universal Friend to agricultural pioneer Ah Bing to Muslim founding father Yarrow Mamout to Sikh railroad builders in Oregon.

As James Baldwin once wrote in his “A Talk to Teachers,” “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.”  I’m committed to continuing to learn and teach an ever broader range of histories that speaks to the full spectrum of the human experience and to the power of human agency. And I will continue to lift up and center Black voices – as well as the many others that were hidden to me growing up – every single month of the year.

From Chelsea Flores, Early Childhood:
In Early Childhood, one might call our “unofficial” overarching curriculum, “How to be The Best You.” This curriculum consists of daily lessons on how to listen to each other, ask questions when we’re uncertain, and stand up for those who need help. The opportunities for children to unconditionally celebrate both themselves and one another are numerous in Early Childhood. One such opportunity for students is through telling stories from both around the classroom and around the world.

In First Grade, the “Around the World” social studies curriculum serves as a medium to impart upon students how the similarities and differences of people, which are central elements of an enriching community, should be celebrated. First and foremost, we want our youngest learners to see themselves and their peers in a positive and affirming light. We want them to be able to pick up books and regularly see different aspects of themselves in the stories they read. We also want them to engage with experiences and identities that differ from their own, gaining new perspectives both in the classroom and their surrounding environment. We call these mirrors and windows.

One of our biggest goals is to encourage students to challenge stereotypes and misinformation, right from the start. If we are truly to love and understand ourselves and our neighbors, then we must first learn to listen and appreciate one another. This is why listening to and learning from Black voices and experiences is not just important in February, but all year-round. In many ways, de-centering the white narrative and spotlighting Black history is an opportunity to reflect, learn, appreciate, and uplift our communities to include the multiple, often untold stories. After all, Black history is world history.

From Toby Nathan, History
We teach and learn Black histories at Grace for the same reasons that Dr. Carter Woodson built the field of Black studies a century ago: because Black histories are an affirmation of Black life and identity, and the process of illuminating, teaching, and learning Black histories is a necessary and joyful act that is as much about our present as it is about the past.

In conceiving of “Negro History Week,” Woodson identified a need to focus and fix our attention on the histories of Black people that had been, to employ the framing of Haitian scholar Michel-Rolphe Trouillot, “silenced” by generations of white historians. Indeed, Woodson feared that Black Americans had been rendered a people with “no history…no worthwhile traditions,” and that liberation would be found in unsilencing, illuminating, and amplifying Black histories.

His aim was never to silo Black history to a week or a month; quite the opposite. Woodson’s work, and the work of generations of scholars since, was to center Black histories. In fact, Professor LaGarrett King points out that Carter Woodson intended “Negro History Week” to celebrate a year of learning Black histories. Woodson and his contemporaries in the ferment of the Harlem Renaissance affirmed that scholarship and study were vital components of what Alain Locke called a “spiritual emancipation” for Black Americans.

These ideas are at the forefront of my mind because students in my course, “African American History since 1920,” are currently working to understand the contours of the “New Negro Movement,” and many are also enrolled in Kallan Wood’s “The Harlem Renaissance & Its Legacy” course in the literature department. Ms. Wood and I continue to work collaboratively on these courses, so that students can engage with Black stories and Black life across disciplines and without the limitations of any one method.

Black histories are foundational to the 10th grade “History of the Americas” course, which I teach along with my colleagues, Jaliz Albanese and Jason McDonald. History of the Americas is organized around a decolonial framework, one that explores the interconnected histories of North America, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, and does so by deliberately centering the perspectives of African-descended and Indigenous peoples across the Americas. Our teaching and learning of Black histories is, and must be, diasporic in scope, both hemispheric and trans-Atlantic, and the “Americas” curriculum for History and Literature enables students to see African diasporic continuities fragmented by colonialism, and bring these to the present. In this course, we work to teach Black histories as histories of liberation and self-determination, Black histories that are joyful, powerful, and complex.

Our work over the years to strengthen our teaching of Black histories at Grace has yielded significant and ongoing growth in our courses and pedagogy, but has been marked  by mistakes and missteps, including my own, that must be acknowledged. As a white teacher of Black histories, I have too often failed to recognize the ways that my identity and positionality – my relationship to these histories – were making it easy for me not to see the ways in which Black students and other students of color were experiencing materials we were reading or activities in the classroom. As a teacher, my work calls me to acknowledge these failures and to deliberately be a better educator and historian, to center and care for them in all aspects of my teaching life.  Departmentally, we continue to review and strengthen the skills we need to effectively teach Black histories and the histories of other historically marginalized people, because we know that our teaching must overturn and dismantle the power dynamics of the past.

We learn and teach Black histories both because these stories are central to our shared history, and because Black histories are their own vital stories, which themselves demand our attention and scholarship as students and faculty.

To adapt Arturo Schomburg’s framing of Black history, we must now all remake our past in order to make our future. We must teach Black histories all year, every year, because history is identity. It tells us who we are, and also shapes who we want to be. Bringing about a just future requires us to do justice to our past.

Selected Texts for African American History Since 1920 (so far):

Selected Texts for History of the Americas

Kallan K. Wood, Literature:
Black History Month, as Dr. Nathan has shared, was never about confinement. Black History Month and Black history is about amplifying, elevating and expanding, not restricting and contorting into small spaces. The idea of amplifying, expanding and working to take up space is at the heart of each literature course I teach.

This semester in Harlem Renaissance & Its Legacy, a literature course for 11th and 12th grade students, I have focused on the idea of expansion and amplification of the individual voice, the individual writer and the individual character. Black Studies (no matter what the academic discipline), Black people and Black experiences are not a monolith, and much of what we do has to be to constantly push against that impulse.

In the first half of the course we have studied an array of poets from a collection called Caroling Dusk, edited by Countee Cullen in 1927. In the foreword Cullen underscores this tension between the compulsion to see Black writers and Black Americans as one singular experience and the urgency to not erase the individual and their contributions. Cullen writes,

“I have called this collection an anthology of verse by Negro poets rather than an anthology of Negro verse, since this latter designation would be more confusing than accutate. Negro poetry, it seems to me, in the sense that we speak of Russian, French, or Chinese poetry, must emanate from some country other than this in some language other than our own. Moreover, the attempt to corral the outbursts of the ebony muse into some definite mold to which all poetry by Negroes will conform seems altogether futile and aside from the facts.”

Towards the end of the foreword Cullen notes,

“The poet writes out of his experience, whether it be personal or vicarious, and as these experiences differ among other poets, so do they differ among Negro poets; for the double obligation of being both Negro and American is not so unified as we are often led to believe. A survey of work of Negro poets will show that the individual diversifying ego transcends the synthesizing hue.”

This text is not only a prolific anthology, it is also an exquisite primary source document. Cullen asked each poet to submit a short biography with their poems. Reading these biographies alongside each poet’s work allows us to further emphasize individuality and make thematic connections that consider and contend with racialized experiences and expression, but are not exclusively about racialized experiences and expressions. Some of the themes we have been exploring within the Harlem Renaissance and will continue to explore into the second half of the semester (our “legacy” bit) are dreams, self-actualization, love, power, elitism, womanhood, manhood, affirmation of humanity and Alain Locke’s notion of “spiritual empaciation”.

Texts for Harlem Renaissance & Its Legacy:

# Wisely Positive

by Robbie Pennoyer, Assistant Head of School; Director of Studies

There’s a two-word phrase among the High School Division’s founding documents that has been much on my mind of late:  Grace seeks to graduate students who are wisely positive.  Wisely positive.  The words collide like flint and steel, and lately I’ve found them sparking reflections on life at Grace amid the challenges of the pandemic.

We are a school that celebrates the pedagogy of joy, and we’re dedicated to the belief that stress isn’t the fuel of academic achievement but that students learn best when motived by joy, wonder, curiosity, and their desire to make the world a better place.  Stress is an inescapable fact of life, of course, and one’s school years are guaranteed to have their fair share of it, change being both a reliable source of stress and an inescapable feature of growing up.  But I have geniuses for colleagues, teachers who can hook their students until interest and enthusiasm take them to realms of understanding they didn’t know existed, and it is a delight to work at Grace because of the joy that spills out of classrooms and echoes in the halls.

That joy is ringing at lower decibels this year.  Masks hide smiles and muffle laughter.  Social distancing keeps common spaces clear of classmates who, in other years, might carry that morning’s discussion from the classroom to the cafeteria and back.  Don’t get me wrong, every day there is extraordinary teaching and learning taking place throughout the school, and that’s true whether classes are gathering in person, online, or in a hybrid classroom.  But the pandemic makes almost everything different and harder.

How is Grace encouraging students to be wisely positive amid this pandemic?  As with any virtue we seek to nurture in our students, the first thing we can do is ensure that, as teachers and leaders, we model it.  That means being honest about the challenges we face as individuals and as a community, resisting the sort of toxic positivity that gaslights one another into vapid optimism.  It means thinking about the range of stories we can tell ourselves to make sense of this moment, and choosing to tell those that are accurate and empowering, those that orient us towards gratitude, generosity, purpose, and hope.

Second, it means pairing high expectations for ourselves and our students with humility, humor, and (lowercase-g) grace.  High expectations are one way we love each other in a school environment:  I know you think you won’t ever be able to untangle this sort of knotty algebraic equation, but I believe in you more than you do yourself, and I’m going to help you get this.  But high expectations need to be balanced with empathy and understanding.  That’s always true, but it’s non-negotiable now.  The pandemic has impacted us unequally, with some enduring heartbreaking loss while others are “merely” facing a yearlong wallop of isolation and fear.  For students to develop wisely positive outlooks, the school must respond to the needs of individuals in the context of the group.  When we do so, students will have the space and support to work on whatever is in their control and to work around or through whatever isn’t, with Grace helping them to gain the wisdom to know the difference.

Lastly, Grace can cultivate wisely positive students by helping them to appreciate the ways that joy is made of sturdier stuff than mere happiness.  A pandemic makes clear how there can exist within our experiences of joy an element of defiance.  You can hear this in my colleagues—brave, dedicated, ready for this to be over—whenever they find or make cause to laugh.  (You can glimpse it too, as when, at the end of a long week, four STEM teachers struck a pose and sent around this smile-inducing testament of how Covid-19 can’t squelch our ability to feel and spread a bit of Friday cheer.)

As grief shared is divided, so joy shared is multiplied, and many of the most joyful moments of the year have been when technology has bridged our isolated classrooms, allowing us to see and celebrate the good work our students have been doing.  Art has been a sort of ballast during these stormy times, the pandemic’s waves failing to sink the joy of our student artists:  whether fifth graders performing in December on instruments they only learned how to hold a few short months before; or drama students acting in original plays written for them (in the HS) or by them (in the MS), a Zoom window their stage and our auditorium; or dancers collaborating with singers on protest anthems they composed, inspiring reflections of our students’ resilience, drive, and inexhaustible goodness.  A pedagogy built around this sort of joy seeks not to entertain or distract but to engage and empower students till they see how capable they are of guarding and nurturing joy even amid these challenging circumstances, planting joy’s roots within themselves and beyond the reach of the turbulent forces of the pandemic.

The great artists of this sort of hard-won, defiant joy are African-American poets like Ross Gay (whose Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude reads like a blessing) and the incomparable Lucille Clifton (a national treasure, who would inscribe her books by writing “Joy!”).  They are part of a long tradition of Black artists who see how “joy is an act of resistance” (that’s poet Toi Derricotte’s phrase) and who can look without flinching at the trauma and pain of Black experience—at “its long history of having a long history with hurt” (that’s another poet, Danez Smith)—and who refuse to permit them, or the forces of White supremacy that is so often their source, to get the last word.  (I drafted the sentences above before attending the high school division’s Black History Month Chapel, which explored the theme of Black Excellence and Black Joy and was led by Grace students who embody both, their example of wise positivity and defiant joy an inspiration for the broader community.)

Our planning for next year has begun in earnest.  The Board approved a budget.  We’re at work on the calendar of events, full for now of the sort of in-person gatherings we’ve missed since last March.  By the end of Spring Break, most of the faculty and staff will be fully vaccinated.  All of this is cause for hope, for joy of a different order than what may feel available to us for now.  Till we get there, we’ll keep faith in the importance of the work before us and do it with as much wisdom and joy as we can muster.

“blessing the boats”

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that

by Lucille Clifton

Postscript:  It was no great surprise to learn that Sam Wheeler was the source of the phrase, “wisely positive.”  A beloved and long-serving Latin Teacher, Sam is the perfect embodiment of wise positivity.  Thanks for giving us this evocative phrase, Sam!

African American Poetry:  250 Years of Struggle & Song.  This new anthology from the Library of America is an extraordinary collection of poems, edited and introduced by Kevin Young.  A New York Times book review that Young wrote about a Ta-Nehisi Coates essay collection taught me the Derricotte quotation and the factoid about Clifton’s inscriptions and described (better than I have) the thread of joy running through the Black literary tradition.

Joy: 100 Poems, ed. Christian Wiman (Yale University Press, 2017).  Wiman writes of joy in his introduction:  “I took on this project because I realized that I was somewhat confused about the word myself, and I have found that, for me, the best way of thinking through any existential problem is with poetry, which does not ‘think through’ such a problem so much as undergo it.”  The poems in this collection will help readers experience and consider many facets of joy.  (At least, they did for me.)

# Want to Prompt Discussions on Equity in Science? Start by Drawing

by Jean-Robert Andre, Dean of Equity and Inclusion

Last year, at the People of Color Conference in Seattle, WA, I attended a workshop called “Incorporating Issues of Equity and Inclusion in Middle School Science.” There, two educators helped dispel the myth that science (and math) classes aren’t as amenable to incorporating antiracist and inclusive curricula as, say, a humanities class is. Through a number of activities and conversation prompts, they loaded our tool belts with things to take back to school. At the start of this year, I was contemplating how to weave our efforts towards anti-bias and antiracism more deliberately into my 5th grade curriculum, and I remembered one activity they suggested that has been reproduced in science classrooms across grade levels.

The prompt is simple – “Draw a scientist doing science.” Let me venture a guess as to what you may have pictured: A scientist in a lab coat, perhaps with frizzy hair giving “mad” scientist vibes, most likely male, most likely white, working indoors at a table surrounded by colorful and bubbling chemicals in beakers. Was I right?

This prompt has been documented with upwards of 20,000 students, and more often than not, the above description is what usually takes shape on the page. As expected, this representation of scientists and their jobs was most prevalent in my classroom too, with a few exceptions. I appreciate this activity because, as a class, we can examine our drawings across any number of different identities and factors. How many students drew an adult? How many drew a woman? How many drew a person of color? Who didn’t draw “potions”? What else are your scientists doing? Why did you draw them this way? The conversations we had after students put their pencils down were fruitful, as we dug into where these “mad scientists doing chemistry” tropes came from, and how our actual experiences with science are quite different! We brainstormed all the different fields students have been exposed to in their academic careers thus far from human physiology to astronomy, entomology, botany, geology and physics. We landed on how systems of discrimination such as sexism, racism, and other ideologies throughout history have limited many people’s access to education, training, research, and jobs in STEM, and how this has led to a certain image of science that we associate with today. In the end, we looked around the room and affirmed that each person there was a scientist, and that science can be for anyone!

Hearteningly, since this experiment was created several decades ago, there’s been a noticeable increase in a few areas of representation. In the 60’s and 70’s, roughly 1% of students drew women scientists. By the late 2010s that number rose to almost 30%, with 58% of young girls drawing women on the page. It became clear to researchers that stereotypes about the STEM fields were taking root at a very early age – all the more reason for increased representation, not only in the media, but in the classroom itself.

Each year, Ilta Adler and I introduce the 5th graders to the Ada Lovelace Project as a joint technology and science class assignment. The project draws inspiration from Ada Lovelace Day, founded in Britain in 2009 to honor Ada, the first computer programmer, and women throughout history and the present working in STEM. The walls of South Hall are lined with depictions of Mae Jemison, the first Black astronaut; Hedy Lamarr, inventor of technology that opened the door for modern GPS (and world-famous actor); nuclear physicist, Chien-Shiung Wu; and Wanda Diaz Merced, who translated light energy from stars into sound so that visually impaired scientists like her could make breakthroughs in astronomy, too.

With each intentional effort, we can further open the door for our students to see themselves in STEM fields, which in turn means more opportunities for future generations of young learners. The first step is recognizing our assumptions and blindspots and actively working to undermine them – in our case, one poster at a time.