What to Expect when You’re Expecting to return to the way things were


Illustration by Maria Nobrega

This has not been the start of the year that many had hoped or planned for. While distance learning had initially been a provisional solution, it quickly transitioned into a new reality. We are reminded that these are “unprecedented times,” and Graded has had to continuously adapt to these uncertainties. Thus, with the multiple postponements of the schools reopening date, and confusion over what to expect when that day arrives, The Talon set out to interview Superintendent Richard Boerner to get a glimpse at Graded’s plan for the future. 


When asked about how the Leadership Team responded to the chaos surrounding the need to move to distance learning and the lingering possibility of continuing in this mode indefinitely, Mr. Boerner made the challenges clear. He compared the situation we are into a complex math equation, finding a balance between delivering quality education, creating a functional schedule that works for both teachers and students, and balancing blended learning. He clarified that in a blended learning model classes will be taught virtually and in person simultaneously, taking into account the 90+ students are currently outside of Sao Paulo. The Superintendent went on to say that the Leadership Team is ready to revise their plans at any moment, explaining that Graded’s initial reopening as based on 50% capacity, but with decisions made by the government– and out of Graded’s control– they had to adapt to the new 35% capacity decree. 


What exactly is 35% occupancy, you may be wondering. Mr. Boerner noted that the number applies to how many students will be allowed on campus at any given time, how students are divided is to reach this percentage is the complicated part. After much deliberation, the school chose to prioritize in-person learning for younger students, noting that, “they have the least success in distance learning”. Also, Mr. Boerner noted that due to the rigor of the IB program, Juniors and Seniors would return to campus more often than other students. The rest of the student body would be divided into smaller convos (short for “convocation or a group of eagles) in order to minimize the potential for contamination.


When asked to comment on students behavior, primarily HIgh Schoolers who choose to socialize in settings with many people, Mr. Boerner sited that, while the school has no authority to control how students behave off-campus, prior to the reopening students will take part in intensive conversations about their expectations and the consequences of their actions. “We don’t blame students for wanting to be with each other,” he affirmed, “but as a community, we have to make a decision about whether to prioritize in-person learning or going to large gatherings.” He explained that the Leadership Team is taking a risk by having grades 11 and 12 convos consist of the entire grade, but that they hope that students will consider their actions before returning to campus. He concluded by declaring that he was hopeful that when school returned, students would take responsibility and follow the more restrictive quarantine restrictions, similar to those in March, ensuring everyone’s safety and that campus can remain open.


Following up on the impacts of politics and education, Mr. Boerner expressed that the state and municipal governments’ inability to come to a consensus has made it impossible to rely on decisions including the date to return to in-person learning. Although he is optimistic about the October 7th reopening date, he detailed how he must be realistic. He followed this statement by explaining that new data released by the City of Sao Paulo found that during the winter vacation roughly 16% of the 6000 public school students in SP were tested and found to have (or have had) COVID-19, and that out of that 16% more than half were asymptomatic, meaning that when schools return cases are predicted to rise. At the same time that this news demonstrates that Graded will not risk putting anyone in harm’s way, it may not provide much clarity about the future. However, Mr. Boerner assured The Talon that the Graded community would be notified about any alteration made to the reopening schedule in the coming weeks. 


If asked to describe what sound students associate with Graded, many would say that of construction. Before we left the plan had been to build the new cafeteria. When questioned about the status of the Centennial Campaign, Mr. Boerner affirmed that safety measures taken by the Graded community extend to construction workers. He followed up by revealing that the campus projects have been put on hold since March, and their return date will be decided by the Board of Directors in October based on safety and economic factors. On that note, Mr. Boerner mentioned that there are people currently at the Graded Campus – the maintenance staff is working on new installations and alterations which are being added, such as outdoor tents, for when students are allowed to return. He added that everyone who comes to Graded must first go through extensive training, wear masks all the time, and symptomatic individuals will be required to submit to COVID testing before returning to campus in order to monitor the spread of cases. This data, along with data the school will ask families to share (regarding whether they have had or have COVID-19) will eventually be shared with the community, and continuously updated in order to keep people informed. 


Mr. Boerner focused on the importance of communication within the Graded community. He believes that the transparency Graded has provided to all 800 families, is the reason why the majority of the feedback received has been positive and supportive. With that in mind, he also mentioned that Graded will continue to send out distance learning surveys in order to continue improving the learning experience for the entire student body. 


Graded is also working to improve the educational experience for those less fortunate. The Graded Beyond Boundaries initiative, created by Graded faculty members, has been hard at work training public school teachers how to teach at a distance. They have also been working to find other ways to provide internet access to neighborhoods where it is lacking.


Many Graded traditions have been put on hold. One of them was the Class of 2020’s graduation ceremony. Mr. Boerner made it clear that Graded will keep its promise to the students to hold an event that will provide closure, but that this will most likely only take place at the end of next semester. In regards to other events, like Senior Sunrise, the PGC retreat, and Wacky Week, Mr. Boerner made it clear that when campus reopens those traditions will return, though likely they will look slightly different. 


Finally, when asked about what he is looking forward to the most when classes return, Mr. Boerner said, “..just being together. Although we may not be able to embrace, or high five, in the meantime, I will take any kid smiling at me under their mask, even if it’s awkward.”