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In the Upper School, students discover that there’s almost nothing they cannot do. Teachers believe in them, classmates cheer them on, learning and ambition know no bounds.

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GA strives to engage girls from a broad range of backgrounds and one third of students identify as people of color.

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 “From a young age, we want GA girls to understand that they can look at any question many different ways. We want them to feel comfortable testing their own ideas and hypotheses as a way of learning.”

SpotlightSTEAM at GA

GA was an early member of Maker Nation, opening the Engineering & Design lab in 2013. Naturally, we were full-STEAM ahead and today “making” is an integral part of our curriculum in all divisions. 

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Pick of the Litter: Alejandro Durán & Pollution Art
Greenwich Academy

What do a Norwegian toilet cleaning solution, a Haitian margarine, and a South Korean shampoo all have in common? Their empty containers washed up on Sian Ka’an beach in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, and were picked up by Brooklyn-based artist Alejandro Durán. 

Durán first visited the beach, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 10 years ago and was stunned to see the beach littered with piles of trash. Expecting a tropical paradise, he wondered if he had ended up at the area dump by mistake. His reaction was to collect the trash. And then meticulously sort and arrange the trash for statement-making photographs described by Luchsinger Gallery Director Kristen Erickson as “both alluring and alarming.” Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape, Durán’s Luchsinger Gallery exhibit, showcases a series of his photographs as well as an installation piece. 

For the past 10 years, Durán has continued to visit Sian Ka’an beach—gathering trash and creating art that juxtaposes natural beauty with the manmade elements threatening to destroy it. Ironically, the majority of the pieces in his “collection” are containers for cleaning and beauty products. Speaking at an Upper School assembly, Durán told the girls that he’s collected trash from 58 countries and territories around the world which he sorts by color or type (he has amassed 2,000 blue flipflops). And with few recycling options in the Sian Ka’an area, he has ended up keeping his plastic finds and reusing them for other pieces of art. “Right now, my reds are part of an exhibit in D.C.,” he told the girls. 

Durán also met with the Middle School Conservation Club during his visit to GA. Over a period of several weeks, the girls saved used plastic bottles and caps. The day before the artist’s visit, club members sorted the caps by color and installed them at the base of a tree in the MS courtyard, creating a rainbow tree skirt of sorts. Under Durán’s supervision, the girls took the green bottles they had collected and hung them from the tree’s bare branches, a nod to the leaves that cover the tree in the spring and summer. They used the large volume of clear plastic bottles collected to spell out the word THINK in the grass next to the tree. 

Creating artwork that screams plastic is bad is “too didactic for me,” Durán told the girls, “My pieces are meant to create a tension between beauty and horror. It’s like poetry—you need to figure it out yourself.” 

Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape is on view and open to the public through December 17.

Symposium at 10: Celebrating Suffrage, Still Fighting
Greenwich Academy

For a half day each fall, the GA Symposium offers the Upper School community the opportunity to examine a topic of national or global impact at a deeper level and from multiple perspectives. It’s fitting that in its 10th anniversary year, it focused on the centennial of American women securing their right to vote. 

Decades in the making, the United States house and senate passed the proposed constitutional amendment in May and June of 1919 respectively. The 19th Amendment was ratified and adopted in August 2020. The centennial of the enfranchisement of American women is being celebrated across the country while also providing an opportunity to highlight the need for continued focus on issues of gender equity.

GA was fortunate to host distinguished author and former Boston Globe reporter Tina Cassidy as the Symposium’s keynote speaker. She discussed her book Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait: Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson, and the Fight for the Right to Vote, which chronicles the the extended battle for women’s suffrage. Highlighting parallels to nonviolent acts of protest and civil disobedience employed by today’s activists, Cassidy described the women’s rights movement that effectively began in 1848 with the Seneca Falls Convention and continues today in many forms, including renewed efforts to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment first introduced by Alice Paul in 1923. 

Following Cassidy’s presentation, Honors History Seminar students shared their study titled “International Movement Toward Equal Suffrage.” They examined the timing of the American suffrage movement in a global context and provided insights to the social and political forces that sparked and sustained the movement both at home and abroad. The girls closed their presentation with a slide that clearly illustrated the enduring gap between men and women—from unequal access to primary education to the wage gap to the dearth of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies. The statistics viewed in aggregate were startling and motivating for the Upper Schoolers.

The symposium concluded with a panel discussion featuring New York Assistant Attorney General Elena Gonzalez ’99, Olympic Gold Medalist in ice hockey player Meghan Duggan, and Greenwich Media Strategies Founder and CEO Hagar Chemali ’99. The panelists shared advice and anecdotes with the girls that were insightful, inspiring, and practical. Gonzalez spoke of finding her voice, and the supportive community of GA teachers and classmates that helped her develop the confidence to stand up for herself—and also for those who may not be in a position to do so. Chemali, who worked for 12 years in communications positions in government entities in Washington D.C., before starting her own firm, talked about the power of women lifting each other up and the importance of finding and leveraging mentor relationships. Duggan, who has three NCAA championships and three Olympic medals, also led the successful strike by the 2016-17 U.S. Women’s National Team versus their national governing body, USA Hockey, for pay and professional equity with the men’s team. Duggan and her teammates recognized that the discrepancies in the level of engagement and investment between the women’s program and the men’s, and even the boys’ program, needed to be addressed. For 16 months they tried resolving these issues in closed-door negotiations with no results. While it was a painful decision to boycott the 2017 world championships, it was an action that yielded results. Duggan’s story elicited a spontaneous round of applause from the GA audience. 

The Symposium laid out how much progress has been made towards gender equity, and how much more there is to do. It was also a reminder of how an all-girls GA education serves to develop the confident changemakers of tomorrow. 

US Lit Fest: Wall-to-Wall Words
Greenwich Academy

When the Daedalus editorial team learned the Upper School was scheduled to have two author visits in one week, it got them thinking—GA provides its students so many opportunities to pursue their interests in literature and writing, why not find a way to celebrate that as a community?

The girls quickly got to work planning a week of events and activities they titled Windows and Words around the two author visits. On Monday, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jennifer Egan spoke to a joint GA/WCK audience in connection with her book Manhattan Beach, and on Thursday, alumna Courtney Maum ’97 would be discussing her third novel, Costalegre, and also running two workshops.

So, Monday morning last week, students entered the Upper School to find blackout poems created by Daedalus editors, writers, and artists taped to the windows at the bottom of the stairs at the main entrance. A blackout poem is created by using a marker to redact words on a page until what remains is a standalone poem. In this case, the students made blackout poems using pages photocopied from Manhattan Beach and Costalegre

A highlight of the week—as well as its namesake—was a collaborative community writing project, Windows and Words. Each of the three senior editors of Daedalus took markers to the windowed walls of the Upper School and wrote a single line or sentence at the top of the pane. At Monday’s morning meeting, students and teachers were invited to add lines at their convenience with the goal of creating three collaborative poems or stories by the end of the week. 

“Writing on the windows seemed like a unique way to encourage participation,” said editor Laura Kapp ’20, “It was so much fun to pause next to the windows and take a look at the evolution of the story on the way to class as well as come up with our own sentences. I had people approaching me excitedly all week long, including peers I don’t know as well, to tell me about the latest development on the windows. It was great to see how the project engaged the whole community.” 

Upper School English teachers also got in on the action. Each day, teachers took turns sharing favorite poems or literary excerpts with the entire Upper School via email. The week concluded with a Friday afternoon “coffee house” open mic event. Set up in front of the library fireplace, Upper School students were invited to share their writing with their peers. 

“My favorite part about the week was hearing more literary snippets than usual in hallways,” said Daedalus editor Megan Meyerson ’20, “students saying how much they loved or were surprised by their English teacher's favorite passage, discussions about the visiting authors, or one girl encouraging another to share a piece of writing at Friday’s coffee house. I also love how spontaneous the week became. Even more fun, maybe, than the formal events was seeing the unplanned stories materialize on windows all over the school and feeling the communal celebration of words in equally silly and profound ways.” 

Author: Books Are Ticketless Travel
Joan Slattery

Greenwich Academy’s Group V/VI Newbery Book Club welcomed a special guest last week: Dr. Padma Venkatraman, author of The Bridge Home, one of the novels on the club’s reading list. The book club reads the best new books of 2019, voting for its own favorite before the actual Newbery committee makes its January announcement of the 2020 Newbery Medal winner: the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. 

Dr. Ventrakaman’s publisher, Penguin’s Nancy Paulsen Books, included Greenwich Academy on a book tour devoted in part to visiting “mock Newbery” clubs like GA’s. The author opened her talk by asking the book club to guess what she studied in college and graduate school. The students called out “creative writing” and “literature” before Dr. Venkatraman revealed her area of expertise: oceanography. After years as the chief scientist on research sea vessels (her work included exploring coral reefs, traveling to rain forests, and tagging crocodiles), she felt the draw of storytelling. “Facts weren’t enough. I realized I wanted to change how people feel,” Dr. Venkatraman says. “Books are like ticketless travel,” she adds, noting that they have the power to transport and transform, to show us compassion and empathy.

The Bridge Home comes from a personal place. Set in Chennai, India, where Dr. Venkatraman was born, the novel recounts the story of four children who find themselves homeless on the teeming city streets. “When I returned to Chennai as an adult, I saw a child standing on a huge pile of garbage, with no shoes, digging through it with her bare hands.” She drew on this image, as well as some of the experiences of her own childhood friends, as she wrote the story of four young people who manage to find shelter and family in each other. The Bridge Home, which The New York Times called “gorgeous storytelling,” has been named a 2019 Global Read Aloud Selection.

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