I Got You (I Feel Good)

Social distancing hasn’t stopped the GCS Jazz Ensemble from (digitally) jamming together. In an effort to get everyone’s week off to a bright start, the high school troupe put together a spirited cover of James Brown’s iconic song, “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, which Mr. Kadajski, High School Instrumental Music Teacher, sent to all students, faculty and staff.

Mr. Kadajski described for us the students’ experience of creating this piece, as well as his process for putting it all together:

We’ve been having zoom classes in a way that is similar to how we have in-person classes during school.  We start by tuning, followed by a warm-up on a scale and rhythm. Usually I play my sax while the students play along with me, but they are muted. I then put on the backing track to a piece we’re working on and we play through that together, again while they’re muted. We go into breakout rooms in zoom, and I ask each section to work on a particular set of measures with section leaders leading the sectional. I hop into each breakout room and help each group.

In terms of the video, I had students send me an audio take of them playing their part along to a backing track using headphones. I then imported and mixed their audio files together using Logic Pro X. I then had them send me a video take of them playing along to the backing track. I used Final Cut Pro to compile all the videos and added the mixed audio from Logic into the compilation. That was the process in a nutshell.

A Silver Anniversary’s Silver Lining

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.

The idea of coming upon the unexpected

as something carefully arranged

by a prior hand that linked

all its forms aesthetically

to explain a disordered garden

at the height of its disorder,

a gesture not yet carried out, gently stirring

with no way of knowing what will become of it.

From Cecilia Vecuña’s Chance Encounter 
And one of Ms. Olivares’s selected poems

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.”

The Adaptability of Scientific Collaboration in times of Crisis

By Kim Chaloner, Dean of Community Life & Science Teacher

Neuroscientists and Education Researchers Join our Environmental Science Elective to Develop a Scientific Study of COVID-19

Before our distance learning adventure began this month, members of NYU’s Neuroscience team, including members of their Teaching and Learning research group, teamed up with our Environmental Science class to explore and develop the team’s new student-scientist collaboration platform, MINDHIVE. As they describe, “MINDHIVE is a web-based citizen science platform that supports real-world brain and behavior research. It is “designed for students & teachers who seek authentic STEM research experience, and for neuroscientists & cognitive/social psychologists who seek to address their research questions outside of the lab.” MINDHIVE  will eventually develop a large platform to pair students with neuroscientists who will develop research study proposals together. An earlier collaboration with my class and the same team, carried out in 2016 and 2017, was featured in a New York Times piece. We’ve continued the collaboration since then, and for this year, our original idea was to study young people and climate anxiety, developing a research project that looks at how students respond to information about the global crisis of climate disruption.   

The closing of both schools, as well as the unprecedented circumstances of responding to a global pandemic, may have thrown off many learning experiences, but this collaboration was custom built for this particular brand of scientific work. Students at Grace focus on collaboration, real-world learning, and cross-curricular exploration. In these circumstances, our program was ready to keep moving forward.  

Students began their online collaboration this week, studying how scientists balance the need for fast results with the need for solid and reliable data. Like in the climate crisis, the public is weighing the value of acting early and relying on scientific consensus with what seems like more immediate concerns like keeping the economy on track or waiting for completely unanimous conclusions. Our students, with depth and subtly, talked about the most recent studies neuroscientists and social scientists have published and carried out regarding responding to this pandemic, one fantastic example can be found here. They proposed their own study topics of study and discussed them with our team including Suzanne Dikker (pictured in our Zoom chat below). Students asked excellent behavioral research questions like, “If you have family members living overseas, do you worry if their countries aren’t doing enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus and do you see the risk differently?” and “If you are an introvert and normally don’t see people, has the fact that you are now prohibited from seeing anyone strengthened your desire to see people?”  Students talked about how teenagers are reacting to information and how they evaluate what to trust in the media.

As we continue to develop our research project with MINDHIVE, including the input of scientists working on the ground to understand the social nature of the crisis, we are grateful to have this collaboration in place, ready to enter the online learning world.

Scientists and Education Researchers Present on Our Call:

Dr. Suzanne Dikker (Amsterdam)

Veena Vasudevan 

Sushmita Sadhukha 

Rebecca Martin 

Kim Burgas 

Engin Bumbacher 

Ido Davidesco (in spirit!)

A Renaissance Day for a New Age

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. 

Ellie R. ’27 presents her project about Nicolaus Copernicus

Third Grade Art Students Inspired by Harlem Renaissance

As a part of their discussion of the Harlem Renaissance, Mr. Robinson’s Third Grade art students were tasked with researching two art forms that were created and popularized during the intellectual, social, and artistic boom. Their research culminated in the creation of two separate original pieces of art inspired by their research. Mr. Robinson and the students have been holding critiques during Zoom Art classes.

In celebration of World Art Day, and of the students’ creativity, we thought we’d share a few of the students’ projects here. You can enjoy images of their projects below:

Mandarin Students Learn in New Environment: The Kitchen

Before Spring break, students in Ms. Chien’s Mandarin V class were busy discussing their favorite fast and comfort foods as a way of practicing the culinary-centric vocabulary they had been studying. Once Grace’s Distance Learning plan commenced on March 30, the conversations they were having, and the way Ms. Chien was teaching, suddenly shifted.

So far, distance teaching, in Ms. Chien’s case, has provided its own set of challenges; Ms. Chien noted that she often finds herself “hopping around the breakout rooms.” More importantly, teaching via Zoom has provided her with plenty of new teaching opportunities, such as introducing a new setting to her students: her kitchen.

In this new environment, Ms. Chien is not only able to teach them new vocabulary, but is able to use it in actual conversation, talking them through the preparation of some of her favorite noodle dishes. Of teaching from home, Ms. Chien said, “It’s actually a luxury to have all the props within a step. I can show them everything easily. They get to see the authentic materials. I think it’s a benefit of online learning.”

Using her cooking demonstrations as inspiration, students have been tasked to make cooking shows of their own. Each student will have to film a segment of them cooking the very comfort foods they discussed before Distance Learning began. And they will have to narrate it entirely in Mandarin. “I look forward to having them put their various language skills in one project: writing/ typing while writing their plots and scripts, speaking, reading, and listening while we did a rehearsal on Zoom.” Ms. Chien said.

She also noted that, while the project would center around the practice of a foreign language, it will, overall, be a holistic learning experience. “Students will integrate their skills in theater such as staging, public speaking, acting, and looking at camera, and in technology by editing the movie and making sure the subtitles match what they are saying.” Ms. Chien added, “The language component does not have to be 100% perfect, as long as it conveys the meaning and shows their passion of the language and the dishes they make.”

“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.

Seeing Double

At schools like Grace, teachers develop a knack for seeing double—for viewing our students both as they are when they arrive in September and as we expect them to be come June. Each lens is crucial for coaching students through a successful, transformative year.

Great teachers have a well-tuned September lens. They understand the hopes and fears that young students carry to school with them on their first day, and they quickly gain a sense of the habits and expectations older students take with them into the classroom, lab, studio, or gym. They tease out what students already know, and they notice what sorts of questions leave them stumped, tickled, curious, or bored. Like chipmunks hoarding acorns ahead of the long winter, great teachers spend September greedily collecting scraps of information about their students—from favorite books to favorite baseball teams—knowing that any stray detail they remember might become a source and sign of trust and affection. Such teachers use a September lens to look at their students, getting to know them as they are.

Great teachers also have a finely developed June lens, a set of expectations and goals for the year and a picture of the results that their instruction and support will strive to foster. They use this June vision to plan backwards, thinking about the knowledge, habits, virtues, and skill they seek to develop in their students, and they craft their lessons with that vision in mind. When students catch a glimpse of themselves through a teacher’s June lens, their reactions can run the gamut from disbelief (There’s no way I’ll EVER be able to factor a polynomial like that!) to cautious optimism (Well, I trust you, and if you think my stage fright won’t be an insurmountable obstacle, then I guess I’ll audition for a part) to flattered surprise (She really thinks I’m capable of all that? Wow!). Great teachers use a June lens to speak to students’ aspirations, and they show how the school year can narrow the gap that divides the people they are from the people they hope to become.

One of the things I find so exciting about working at Grace is that the school is full of great teachers, the sort endowed with 20/20 vision whether they are eyeing students through a September lens and getting to know them as they are or whether they are squinting through a June lens to see the first traces of the students they’ll become by June. It’s impossible not to be inspired by colleagues whose faith in their students is so great and also so grounded in reality and not just wishful thinking.

When a faculty is adept at viewing students through a September lens, students feel known and loved for who they are. They feel listened to. They know that teachers care about what interests and inspires them.

When a faculty is talented at seeing students through a June lens, students feel as though their teachers believe in them more than they do themselves and trust them more than they themselves think they deserve. When teachers’ high expectations are also clear, consistent, and grounded in a strong relationship with students, a strange alchemy occurs, mingling the teachers’ hopes for the year with students’ own dreams and aspirations.

With the first weeks of school well underway here at Grace, I’m excited for the year ahead and inspired by the colleagues I get to work beside. May our double vision serve our students well and last right up until June when the present reality and our hopes for the future merge and mingle into something clear and bright.