A Note on Thanksgiving II

by Reverend Mark Hummell, Chaplain

“Almighty and gracious God, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your name.” Collect for Thanksgiving Day from the Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Maybe it’s because I am the chaplain, but I believe that rituals are an important part of our lives.  And these are not just the rituals one would see in chapel or religious services, but proud families who post their children’s first day of school photos on social media, proms, graduations, bachelor or bachelorette parties, honeymoons, retirement parties, memorial concerts, are all ritual events that capture the passage of key moments in our lives, and help us to honor our time with one another. 

Thanksgiving is basically a ritual that brings us together with family and friends to share a meal and to give thanks for what we have. For Thanksgiving 2021 at Grace I, and the students I see walking the halls, are thankful to be together with other teachers, staff and students. Last year at this time we did not have a COVID vaccine for anyone. We were meeting in hybrid A and B models where we basically split in half because not all of us could be in the same building. We were eating in pods, or small groupings usually separated by advisories, homerooms or grades.   

This year, those in our community ages 12 and older are vaccinated, and some of us have even started receiving booster shots. More recently, children ages 5-11 have started becoming vaccinated. All of this wonderful progress with vaccines offers us the blessings of being fully together as a community in school. It has also meant that lunch and snack times have become a bit more normal.

Eating a meal together is the key ritual of Thanksgiving. Sure, we have the Macy’s Day Parade which many of us watch on television, and the Black Friday sales the day after Thanksgiving, but what is this special day unless we have a meal together? Breaking bread together is symbolic in major faith traditions. Whether it is Christians celebrating communion, Jews celebrating the Passover meal or Muslims with the Iftar meal in the evening to break the fast during the days of Ramadan, sharing a meal is a sacred ritual for many.

In addition to meals, our students have also developed some creative ways of coming together and representing the season. Two students in the High School, Bella J. ‘22 and Bella G. ‘23, created The Mental Wellness Affinity Space for students to focus on wellness during this unusual time in all of our lives with the pandemic, as well as the various issues that students face on a daily basis. In light of Thanksgiving and the expression of gratitude being spotlighted around the holiday, they thought it would be a great time to start a Gratitude Board Project (pictured)! For this project, they have created a board filled with post-its that students can write on to compliment and/or express gratitude for a person or thing specifically within the Grace community.

Within just a few days, the board is pretty full. Some of the notes include thank you’s to teachers:  “Thank you Ms. Pommiss for the Dance Assembly!,” “I am so thankful for Mr. Persaud. He is such a selfless, kind and understanding teacher…,” “Mr. Root is awesome!!!,” and many more. And, they also are grateful for food, “Thank you for bringing back the panini press.”

As we gather together this Thanksgiving, let us recall what we are thankful for, what gratitude we have this season. How our lives in times of challenge can bring out the best in us.  

In conclusion, I offer this Thanksgiving Grace from Daniel Roselle:

This is a day for thanks.
A day in which we

see or hear or feel
the wonders of the other
moments of the year.
This is a day for time.
A day in which we
think of pasts that make
our present rich
and future bountiful.
This is a day for joy.
A day in which we share a gift of laughter
warm and gentle
as a smile.
Above all, this is a day for peace.
So let us
touch each other
and know that
We are one.
For these and other blessings,
we thank Thee, God. Amen.

Jump in the (Number) Line!

by Leah Silver, Math Coordinator, JK-4

How would you solve 72 – 49?

Perhaps you begin by stacking these numbers on top of each other and crossing numbers out in your head. Maybe you’re borrowing from another number, and writing new numbers on top of old numbers. And when you get your answer, you seem to have solved this problem using a strategy totally disconnected from the numbers themselves.

I’d like to invite you to consider other strategies—strategies that may be more efficient and utilize more of your number sense. Can you think of a way of counting up from 49 (not only by ones!) until you get to 72? Or perhaps shift the problem to 73 – 50, a simpler problem to solve that would land us on the same answer?

At Grace, our goal is for our students to efficiently pull apart and put together numbers using strategies grounded in number sense and place value. The open number line, shown below, empowers our students to solve problems strategically. 

In a recent visit to the third grade classes, I was so impressed with our students’ comfort with using the open number line as a tool for solving subtraction problems. Here are some strategies they used to solve 72 – 49. 

How do our students build this comfort with the number line? Our number line work actually begins with our youngest learners, in JK. If you walk into our JK classrooms, you’ll see our students use a number path, pictured below. Under the guidance of Ms. Moller and Ms. Lasfargeas, students will guess a hidden number, put number cards and pictures in numerical order, and make hops forward and backward. Through these activities, students make the connection between quantities and their numerical representations, practice number sequence and cardinality and start to link addition and subtraction.

Our Kindergarten students spend a lot of time building on their number path work from JK. Each month they focus on a different range of numbers within 50: they begin with work from one to twenty, ten to thirty, twenty to forty and so on. Throughout the year, our Kindergarten students use their number path to practice counting forwards and backwards; identify numbers that come before, after and between numbers; use inequalities (greater than and less than); and begin to understand our number system as a base ten system. Hap, the friendly grasshopper, accompanies our students throughout the year to help them hop forwards and backwards.

This work continues into first grade, and by the time our students get to second grade, they are ready to use open number lines to solve problems. Students first create a train of Unifix cubes and then write a number line above it; this helps them connect the concrete and the abstract.

By the end of second grade, our students begin to use the open number line to solve problems like 72 – 49, shown above. Familiar with the tool of the number line, students are able to deploy it to solve more complex problems. 

But it doesn’t end there! Our third graders also use the number line to build their concept of multiplication. In the game Frog Jump Multiplication, students use the number line to make jumps of different groups of numbers, and represent their jumps with a multiplication equation.

And later in third grade and in early fourth grade, students may be presented with an open number line puzzle like this one.

Teaching our students to solve complex addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems is a team effort that begins in our JK classrooms. When students are comfortable with these visual models as math tools, they can actually use these tools as a way to keep track of and demonstrate their thinking as they solve challenging problems.

Please enjoy some pictures from our students in different grades using number paths and number lines to build their math thinking!

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.

On the Merits of Distraction

When I finished the last page of Marina van Zuylen’s lovely little book, The Plenitude of Distraction, I immediately ordered a stack of extras.  I’ve been giving them away as presents throughout this winter break, and if I have any copies left by the time we return on Monday, I’ll bring them with me to Grace.  Stop by my office, if you want to check it out.

Why have I been pressing it into the hands of my befuddled friends and family with the zeal of a street-corner evangelist?  It certainly helps that the book is relatively inexpensive, handsomely printed, whimsically illustrated, and—at just over fifty pages—short.  But what turned me into a book pusher was van Zuylen’s refreshing take on our culture of distraction and on the guilt we feel when we succumb to it.

Not sure about you, but I spend a whole lot of time privately lambasting myself for lapses in productivity.  Doing so, of course, only launches a foolish cycle, for sinking into a malaise about the undone items on my to-do list doesn’t help me get to them any faster.

Van Zuylen offers “a second look at distraction,” one intent on “extracting untold pleasures and insights from its alleged dangers, defending and celebrating the unfocused life for the small and great miracles it can deliver.”  She asks us to stop flagellating ourselves long enough to consider whether certain daydreams and reveries ought to be indulged, celebrated even, and not condemned.  Having taught seminars at Bard and Princeton on the philosophic virtues of idleness, she knows which thinkers to enlist to support her case and she has a well-tuned ear for quotable lines.

We live in a split-screen world, clamoring for us to pay attention to it.  Van Zuylen is surely right when she writes:  “Our handheld devices require absolute attention from us.  Vampires of our concentration, they guard us jealously from self and solitude.”  But they are easier to ignore when we’re absorbed in a book, especially one like this that invites you to stare out the window and think.

What a pleasure it is to read an essay that lays out its case in such unhurried, elegant prose.  No book can unravel the challenges of our bustling lives—that to-do list still needs doing!—but this one has managed to reframe how I think about being distracted.

With the new year upon us and the school year about to resume, I’m following van Zuylen’s lead and resolving to cultivate a gentler approach to distraction both for myself and for my students.  Unlike my previous new year’s resolutions, where my wandering attentions got in the way of new exercise regimes and low-carb diets, I think this year’s actually has a decent chance of sticking.

Dispatch from the First Day of School

Tell me I can only keep one holiday a year, and I’ll toss out Halloween in a heartbeat and stuff my Thanksgiving turkey back in the fridge.  The greatest holiday on the calendar is the First Day of School.

We’re in the midst of a string of first days here at Grace.  On Wednesday morning, I walked down the center stairs at 86 Fourth Avenue as the middle schoolers were climbing up for the first time this year.  All summer long that stairwell has been unsettlingly quiet.  Now, a rising tide of hope, expectation, nerves, and delight worked its way up the building, which—strange as it may sound—seemed happy to have its students back.

Certainly the teachers are thrilled to see their students return and to welcome those new to Grace.  Our Early Childhood and Lower School divisions had their first day on Thursday.  Classrooms were abuzz with excitement as students, and teachers tried out the rituals that will so quickly become the daily routines of the school year—those handshakes, greetings, calls-and-responses that, in the strange alchemy of school, are made more meaningful by repetition.

Things are humming at 46 Cooper Square, too, where our high schoolers have been in and out of the building for orientations.  Their official first day is Monday.  Mine, too, or so it will feel when I teach my first class at Grace.

I’m itching to go.  I spent most of the summer building the daily schedule for our three youngest divisions, moving around Post-It notes on a wall, trying to design days that feel balanced for students (and for their teachers).  I wasn’t alone.  There were plenty of folks here throughout the summer, chief among them our dedicated maintenance team working to spiff up our spaces.  But schools don’t feel like schools without their students, and Post-It notes are poor companions.

With the first day of school here, it’s finally time to begin again.  I’m happy to be doing so with you.