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School Stories

Reimagining Graland for 2020-21

Like yin and yang, Graland’s business and instructional sides work together to ensure an extraordinary learning environment for all students. This symbiosis was never more evident than summer 2020 when preparations for the new school year played out against the backdrop of a worldwide health crisis and constraints of the “new normal.”
Innovative Thinkers
Faced with a year unlike any other, professionals on the instructional side prepared like never before. Administrators devoted the warm days and quite a few nights to creating brand-new student schedules that ensure cohorting (limited exposure) and active learning could coexist in three distinct scenarios: all on, hybrid, and remote. It was no small task; any slight shift to the schedule rippled outward to impact multiple families and teachers. The concept of “houses” was developed and cultivated over the summer, bringing a new layer of complexity to student placement and sectioning.

Division leaders recruited and trained new “flex” and support teachers to supplement classroom instruction and adapted certain experiences, such as trips, to comply with COVID-19 safety requirements. This monumental, exhaustive effort was successfully led by Head of School Josh Cobb, Associate Head Gail Sonnesyn, and division heads, Marti Champion and Nan Remington.

Teaching the Teachers
With the responsibility for student learning falling squarely on the shoulders of the faculty, it was imperative that teachers dedicate a portion of their summer break to their own professional growth. Working closely with educational experts at Boulder-based World Leadership School (WLS), every instructor participated in several hours of virtual training to address the unique demands of the 2020-21 year. Their subjects were project-based learning theories and remote learning best practices, and Graland educators responded to the challenge by creating innovative lessons that can be used in any teaching scenario that COVID-19 throws at us this year.

“The goal was to help teachers prepare to quickly pivot between remote and in-person instruction if needed,” said Jessica Catoggio, WLS director of professional learning. “Coronavirus sparked the largest-ever experiment in teacher training, and we wanted to help teachers explore how we can learn and grow from the spring remote experience.”

Carrie VonderHaar (Grade 2) and Cathy Naughton (art) were inspired to make connections between the Norman Rockwell exhibit at Denver Art Museum and social justice education. WLS introduced them to a tech toolkit they are now utilizing for a project that explores the question, “What representations of Civil Rights do you see in the art of Norman Rockwell?”

“One of the best things that came out of my summer training was collaborating with Cathy and now seeing our work make a difference with our students,” Ms. VonderHaar said. “Kids are learning to present themselves with open minds and hearts that are ready for positive change.”

History teacher Mike Willis (Grade 5) came to Graland in 2019 already familiar with the benefits of project-based learning (PBL). “I’m a firm believer in PBL because I’ve seen how it engages students, sparks their curiosity, and makes learning fun,” he said.

This summer he learned how to build these projects from scratch using a step-by-step approach that leans heavily on collaboration. He is currently developing a PBL lesson with his colleague, English teacher Kimm Lucas, to present ancient Egypt mythology in new and immersive ways. Their project launches in February and includes simulations and plenty of reading, writing, and analyzing across the two disciplines.

Business as Un-usual
Coming off the remote environment of spring 2020, business professionals spent every last minute envisioning a campus equipped to welcome students back as safely as possible. To do so involved rethinking every aspect of campus life.

A dedicated team dissected and reconstructed routines like morning drop off, afternoon pickup, lunch and snack service, facility and equipment cleaning, and even the flow of movement throughout our campus. They installed a campus-wide air ionization system, bolstered janitorial and nursing personnel, secured materials like masks and hand sanitizer, and applied campus signage to help students learn the new ropes. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the countless hours logged by Juan Botello, Director of Finance and Operations, Nurse Megan Schmid, and Israel Ramirez, Director of Buildings and Grounds; their meticulous work allowed us to usher students through our gates on the first day of school.

Other teams from admissions, communications, development, equity and inclusivity, and technology collaborated tirelessly to publish a new fall guidebook, plan a full week of fall orientation activities, design virtual admission events, support Head of School communications, and much more -- the list goes on. All this from a place of empathy for the experiences and perspectives of Graland parents, faculty, and staff.

The all-hands-on-deck effort was worth it to see how simply being together again rejuvenated our community after several long months of campus closure. There was pure joy radiating from students, faculty, and most likely several parents too on that first day back. While the year ahead will likely prove to be a marathon, not a race, we can proudly reflect on all we have already accomplished with a sense of pride in the strength and fortitude of One Graland.
Ascende Omnem Montem
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Mimi McMann manages communications initiatives and strategy for the business side of the school. She is an award-winning writer, accomplished editor, and effective project manager with a bachelor’s degree in communication and minor in English. She also has a master’s certificate in organizational and professional communications.
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Graland Country Day School

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.