For many years, class trips have been a staple in Graland Country Day School's curriculum. Excursions such as the Civil Rights Trip in Grade 8 bring education to life, allowing students to investigate some of the most complex, timely, and impactful issues that our country faces. While the trip to the South could not take place in person, the lessons learned from this experience are an essential part of a Graland education.
Historically, one of the most transformational and moving moments of the Grade 7 Graland trip to Washington, D.C. has been our visit to the Holocaust Museum. Despite the trip being sidelined by the pandemic, students were able to learn some of the impact of the Holocaust through a presentation and firsthand accounts from survivors and an eyewitness.
Bestselling and award-winning picture book author Jean Reidy greeted Graland students in Pre-K, Kindergarten and Grade 1 live via Zoom earlier this week with several questions, including “How many of you will be teaching guitar to your gorilla?” and “How many of you will be taking your flying saucer for a spin around the neighborhood?”
When asked their favorite part of the day, almost every first grade student will tell you that it’s recess. So, of course, when Grade 1 got to talk about recess in science class - it was all smiles!
During class with Cassie DiSanto, the students learned about simple machines, such as levers, pulleys, wheels and axles, screws, inclined planes, and wedges. With this knowledge, the first graders were given the task of incorporating these gadgets into the creation of a playground structure. After working together to construct their designs, the first graders excitedly gathered to share their playgrounds and identify the simple machines that each group had cleverly included. Everyone agreed that Graland should add a zip-line to their playground structure someday.
Third-graders recently celebrated their own, original writing at publishing parties, the culmination of their study of “information writing” and “opinion writing.” The young scribes wrote about subjects, such as basketball, horses, cats, squash, chess, dogs, swimming and more, and focused on organizing their thoughts and expanding their writing into chapters—complete with an introduction and a summary. In the opinion writing unit, the young authors each wrote about a special person, which included a bold thesis and detailed examples. At the publishing parties, students had the opportunity to share their work with their classmates and enjoy special treats.
Students in Courtney Menk’s Grade 4 math class learned recently about the benefits of walking 10,000 steps each day, including advancing one’s heart health and strengthening one’s mental health. This new knowledge was incorporated into a math lesson in which fourth graders chose one of two questions as a project prompt:
All month long, Graland preschoolers learned how they can protect and love our planet. To accomplish this, ECLC Teacher Sara Flansburg and her class busily read fun Earth Day books, constructed hats out of recycled newspaper, built creations, like boats and jewelry boxes, out of reusable cardboard, and made art out of plastic water bottles, cups, and other recyclable materials.
“Place value.” Grownups might have to dust off their math knowledge to remember what the term means. But for first grade students, it’s top-of-mind.
“We just finished learning numbers up to 40,” said Grade 1 Teacher Lisa Ross. “Much of our focus has been on place value and understanding the teens, twenties and thirties. Now we’re going into addition and subtraction up to the forties. We also challenge students with story problems, and we play compare and double-compare games.”
When she was a teenager, Rigoberta Menchú Tum became an activist in social reform in her native Guatemala. Spanish Teacher Christi James recounts her story to Grade 2 students, telling them how Rigoberta suffered many hardships
For many years, Grade 3 service learning at Graland has focused on immigration. It complements the social studies curriculum, which hones in on Colorado – who came to our state, where they came from and why. Students learn that Colorado continues to welcome immigrants and refugees, and the service learning component looks at who is coming here and why.
Last October, Grade 4 Teacher Jessica Levy and several of her Graland colleagues attended a virtual professional development seminar led by anti-bias anti-racist educator Liz Kleinrock. Inspired in part by the session, Jessica launched a new literacy unit in February, Black History Month, focused on the Harlem Renaissance, a movement in the 1920s and ‘30s that showcased arts and literature in the African American community.
When Grade 5 English Teacher Kimm Lucas and Grade 5 History Teacher Mike Willis participated in a World Leadership School training about project-based learning, a light bulb went on. What if they used Greek mythology as the centerpiece of a collaboration that would tie history and English together? History lessons about ancient Greece could be enhanced by language arts lessons about the myths, and vice-versa.
Grade 7 History Teacher Emma Simmons kicked off a recent project by explaining to students that “the U.S. Constitution was designed to be flexible and to bend and warp over time.” The framers’ goal was to establish “a more perfect union” and a government that could “maintain the delicate balance of structure and elasticity.” To achieve this objective, amendments were added to the Congressional toolbox.
In Marielle Bruant-Carlson’s Grade 8 French class, students wrapped up a unit on animals in March. They started with a review of vocabulary they had learned earlier and added new species. Students learned fun facts about animals and answered questions like “What animal sleeps the most?” in French, of course.
When Spanish Teacher Christi James and Lower School Science Teacher Sarah Jackson realized they would be sharing a Grade 2 block, they decided to “cross-pollinate” (pun-intended) their disciplines by reinforcing science lessons with Spanish and Spanish lessons with science. With a focus on pollination, they had an idea to plan a pollinator garden on Graland’s campus and take the students along for the education-packed, educational ride. The Grade 2 teachers were onboard, too.
Grade 3 students cover many genres during the year. While teachers Julie Stretz and Julie O’Connor were focused on information writing, Mary Helen Sheehan and Cole Hamilton honed in on writing a persuasive speech. Being able to write well is a crucial skill. Being able to write persuasively is an art.
Graland P.E. teachers, including Bambi Mayo who is also Graland’s athletic director, have been creative with the use of space and equipment this year to offer physical activities that are fun and engaging.
“If the kids got to decide, they would play dodgeball every day,” said Coach Mayo. “While dodging, throwing and catching are useful skills, we have been playing a wide variety of games that incorporate athletic dexterity and teach about teamwork.”
Students in Jen Chen’s Grade 8 science classroom have been learning about how metal ions give off unique emission spectra when heated. She also introduced them to the concept of why heated elements emanate colorful light. During remote learning, eighth graders watched a video to see what it looked like to burn copper compounds off pennies.
An unexpected benefit of the worldwide pandemic has been the opening up of opportunities for virtual visits to places Graland students would not have ordinarily gone in person. One such trip transported fourth graders across the country and back in time to Gunston Hall in Virginia.
Students in Julie Woodruff’s Pre-K class were treated to a celebration of Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, when two Graland parents visited virtually to share the traditions they observe in their homes at this time of year.
For the past couple of years, Spanish Teacher Kelly Viseur has collaborated with Science Teacher Michelle Benge to bring lessons to Kindergarten students that are out of this world! The tradition continued this year. While Mrs. Benge introduced a unit about the sun, Earth and moon, Señora Viseur presented sol, Tierra and luna.
By Oscar Gonzalez, Director of Equity and Inclusivity
For the past three years, Graland has celebrated Community Day, a chance for students to engage in dialogue regarding diversity, equity, and inclusivity in order to appreciate and learn from one another. The goal is to create connections and allow opportunities to see and value the humanity in every member of our community. To build strong character and prepare students to be engaged citizens and thoughtful leaders, the event focuses on three of Graland’s Guiding Principles: Build Community, Honor Individuality, and Cultivate Compassion.
In August 2019, I gave each Lower School faculty member a small succulent. We discussed how succulents could thrive under adverse conditions such as small amounts of moisture, poor soil conditions, and lack of nutrients. I asked the teachers to think about how they would “thrive” in the upcoming school year, even if adversity came their way.
Little did we know that March would bring a whole new meaning to “thrive” under adverse conditions. With COVID numbers on the rise, last spring brought school closures all over the state. Teachers were asked to teach their curriculum through an entirely new platform, work from home while tending to their families, and create materials that could be used electronically. These circumstances challenged even the most experienced teachers, and teachers worked tirelessly to fulfill Graland’s mission.
Over a year ago, the Graland Character Task Force unveiled its vision for social-emotional learning. Influenced by Turnaround for Children, the task force’s draft framework consisted of building blocks of character traits, culminating in a portrait of a graduate who is full of agency, empathy and curiosity. Though we stopped addressing this vision formally over the last nine months, the social-emotional competencies discussed in the building blocks have never been more present or more important than they are right now.
For sports fans, the idiom “deep bench” is very familiar. The concept of having a number of quality players to substitute during a game can predict a winning season for a team.
At the beginning of every school year, we spend countless hours vetting teachers who are qualified to sub in when needed -- our version of a deep bench. Our students are welcoming of guests, engaging, and eager to learn. Our full-time faculty are top-notch in their respective disciplines, and our parent community is supportive. This reputation coupled with our summer efforts allow us to hire the best substitutes available.
According to Drama Teacher Julie Lachance, Grade 3 has chosen to create their own plays for their second rotation of drama. They began the process with small and large group brainstorming sessions in which students shared their ideas.
In the fall of 2020 as the school year began, it was apparent that Grade 6 Service Learning was going to look different. While the focus would still be on homelessness and poverty, they weren’t going to be serving food to the unhoused or doing many of the other projects they’d undertaken in the past.
Students in Grades 7 and 8 studied Inauguration Day in advance of this year’s historic transfer of power. They learned about the history of the event and why it matters. Led by Grade 7 History Teacher Emma Simmons and Grade 8 History Teacher Jane Maslanka, students delved into questions like, “Why is democracy so hard?” and “Why is it so messy?”
When they returned from winter break, students in Helen Valiant’s Kindergarten class landed on Antarctica – virtually of course. They learned that the frozen ecosystem is home to at least seven different types of penguins, including Adelie, Emperor, Gentoo and Macaroni among others.
While in the process of reading “The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary,” a novel in verse about a class of fifth graders, students in Mrs. Lucas’ English class got a chance to ask questions of the author, Laura Shovan.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.