Creating Connections

Just because you don’t have a contract to teach at Grace Church School doesn’t mean that can’t have real impact on what goes on in the classroom. The bright minds, creative artists, and passionate achievers within our extended community are among the priceless resources available to students. You want to learn about how the United Nations actually works? We have someone for that. Interested in building a homemade solar panel? We have someone for that. Curious to know more about women in politics, the War on Terror, or the intersection of God and baseball? It turns out we have someone who can help you with all of that – and much more.

Starting with God and baseball, in April John Sexton, GCS Alumni Parent, conducted a ninth grade Philosophy and Religion class also attended by 10th graders. You know John as president of NYU, and you may know him as former dean of the NYU School of Law.  But did you know he taught religion for 14 years at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, was a diehard Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and is the author of “Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game.” Students read the first chapter (or “First Inning”) of the book Sacred Space and Sacred Time” in preparation for a discussion.
In his inimitable style, President Sexton led a rousing conversation that had students answering questions about Jackie Robinson, laughing at hilarious stories, and receiving a famous John Sexton hug. The talk meandered through stories of John’s childhood, trips to Asia with his adult children, and the significance of signs and symbols in both religion and baseball. After the lecture, a student was overheard saying, “For a while I didn’t know where he was going, but at the end it all made sense!” The significance and value of spending an hour with the leader of a world class university was not lost on the students.

The fundamental goals of the curriculum, instilling specific knowledge and academic skills, are best accompanied by developing confidence and a sense of one’s self and the world.  Our alumni, current and former parents have much to offer in helping students to connect ideas to the world beyond the classroom. 
Business leaders, practicing artists, and those with their boots on the ground, sometimes quite literally, use their stories and experience to give vivid context to complicated topics.

Alumni Parent Donna Zaccaro Ullman came back to GCS to screen the inspiring documentary she directed and produced about her mother, “Geraldine Ferraro: Paving the Way.” In April, students in grades 8 and 10 viewed the film then explored its themes and historical relevance in a Q and A with Donna, revealing an awakening sense for the complexity of the issues women in politics face.
Earlier Donna  packed Tuttle Hall with   an exclusive pre-release screening for parents and alumni parents spurring a thoughtful post-film dialog of the pivotal role Ferraro’s Vice Presidential run played in American politics.

Sometimes benefits from individuals in the community happen one-to-one.
When Grade 8 student Mahlon Sorensen began working on a website examining the War on Terror for his computer class, his teacher, Dr. Ali, suggested that he  contact Patrick McElhone ’95, a former Marine Corps infantry officer who did three tours in Iraq. Patrick was happy to help. He candidly answered Mahlon’s pointed questions about what a veteran thinks of the War on Terror. Mahlon said of the interview, “It was so helpful to talk to someone who was actually there. If you just read the news you  get a very one-sided view of what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, but talking to someone who was there makes me see that it’s a really complicated situation that doesn’t have one easy answer.”
Volunteers coming back are not limited to adults. Timothy Doner ’10 has been an active participant in Model United Nations since middle school, has made several trips to GCS to coach the Middle School Model UN club in preparation for the annual competition. In May, eight alums, currently high school juniors, sat on a panel for GCS sophomores in the new third floor auditorium to shed light on becoming our first upperclassmen  

Countless other community volunteers worked individually with students throughout the year, providing support and resources to grade 10 students working on their Independent Study projects (“March Madness” - see News Around School). The Alumni Office put Gwyn Wells ’92 in touch with Sharon Tso. Gwyn manages Google’s YouTube channels,  and gave advice and tips to Sharon for her project, “The Viral Video Venture.” Two other students benefited from the experience of an alum, Lucia Quinn and Hannah Kroninger  met with songwriter Claude Kelly ’95 (see Alumni profile). Claude listened and gave feedback to both girls as they worked on their projects “You Don’t Know” and “Song Medley” respectively.
A few volunteers rolled up their sleeves and got deeply involved in evaluating the materials and plans students had drawn up. Nathan Shankman got advice from an alumnus on the best materials to use for his homemade solar panel (hint: use silicon not copper-indium-gallium-selenide).

Through offering their time, expertise and wisdom, the community members  who come back to Grace to augment the curriculum not only  add memorable value to the students’ experience but also continue to demonstrate the spirit of involvement and caring that is a hallmark of the GCS community. Best of all, making the most of the resources in our midst is the best way to help students grow into tomorrow’s innovators, designers, artists, and thoughtful citizens.