A word about kindness and compassion

September 2, 2020

“A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” is an African proverb that reminds us that crisis and struggle can instigate growth and strengthen partnerships, where lessons are not learned just through triumph but also in failure.

Months have passed with us being separated physically from our classrooms and offices, and from our friends and family. We have faced challenges we didn’t know we were capable of facing and made sacrifices not just for ourselves and our families, but also for our neighbors and for people in our communities we will never meet.

We looked through our screens into each other’s lives not just to celebrate the best of times, but also to support each other at the worst of times. In that shared suffering, we learned a valuable lesson about our propensity for kindness and compassion.

As we look forward to returning to our campuses we will take with us the lessons we learned and the relationships we built. I hope that we hold onto the knowledge that we were and will continue to be stronger as a community. That through our partnerships and belief in each other we not only survived those initial months but we found success. That we will return better than when we left.

Through our shared struggles we have grown together and together we will take time to rejoice. And when the time comes to return to our physical spaces, to meet again face to face, let’s not forget those lessons we learned, and continue to live through kindness and compassion.


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

Cody Alton
Director of Student Support Services

Learning to grow stronger, together and beyond

April 7, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging us all to learn new ways of doing things at an incredible rate. Together with new home office practices, parents are having to learn to support their children as teachers find ways to teach them via Distance Learning. Many of us have had to improve our cooking skills (whether we like it or not), to pay attention to every single action we take at home (“you used it, you clean it”), but most of all, we are learning how to be mindful of each other.

Brazil does not have a strong winter season, so we are not used to staying indoors at all. Especially here in Rio, everything is about the sun, the beach, the forest, the parks… and together with all that, comes the “service culture”. We are pampered, all the time, by hard working smiling people that make their living out of giving us what we wish for, when and where we need it. Since quarantine started, there has been no refreshing coconut water after a run, no “mate gelado with biscoito globo”, and no guys on the streets to help us find a good spot to park our car.

For many of us, it is annoying not to be able to keep our leisure routine, not to work out, or see our friends or get a nice tan. But for many in the service and informal sectors, it means not having food to give to their families or to buy soap to wash their hands and keep them safe from getting sick.

It is critical at times like that communities look to those less fortunate and do what they can to help. So, in order to provide much-needed support, we launched a campaign in our EARJ Community.

In the past 10 days, we have raised over R$30,000, which will allow us to assist around 150 families in Rocinha by donating food, milk, cleaning products, diapers, etc. We have partnered with Instituto Reação that also plays a strong role in Rocinha, and together with them, we have purchased “digital food baskets”, meaning that a family gets a card to purchase items in their local market, helping the local business as well.

We are so thankful and proud of the amazing spirit our community has shown, the spirit we have always cherished throughout 83 years of EARJ history.

Now we believe we can go beyond by increasing not only our support to Rocinha, but also by helping other communities in need. It is time to show our support to more amazing people who’d rather be leaving their homes to go to work every day, but just cannot.

So – if you can – please donate any amount to the account mentioned below. Let us recognize the incredible resilience and solidarity of those in our society who do not enjoy the privileges that many of us enjoy.

Cris Conforto
Director of Advancement

Can You Hear Me? Are You Listening?

November 19, 2019

Schools are complex communities composed of many differing opinions and perspectives. Each individual or group view shapes the way a decision or direction is perceived. To foster a school environment that is inclusive, transparent, and open, it is important to provide opportunities for stakeholders to be involved in the decision-making process. Involvement varies among the different parties, and is impacted by the relationship that individuals have with a change, position or improvement.

Too often, adults gather around the table discussing and debating school changes and making decisions without consulting those who are impacted the most. The group that can sometimes be omitted from the process is an important group: students!  Our students are in a position to offer ideas and opinions generated through their daily school experiences.

Student input can significantly improve a district and/or school’s quality of decision making;  students offer a perspective that is otherwise lost from that process. We each know some teens whose insight and wisdom make them capable of thoughtful, perceptive, well-measured decision making. Our efforts to educate would benefit from including the voices of these students. (Phillips, 2015)

When we discuss including students’ ideas, we are acknowledging that important issues and decisions  have repercussions on their daily school lives. Student voice is about providing the opportunity for meaningful feedback on meaningful topics that students truly care about. Do we know what is important to our students? What we think is a minor decision that will have very little impact, could be viewed very differently by students. Do we take the time to talk to students? Do we listen?  If we did, would we be surprised by what they would say?



It is important that we think about, or attempt to define, what “meaningful” is to our students. Recently, I made a decision that changed one of our procedures. It seemed very simple and not a significant change from our current practice. Within the first hours of its implementation, I received an email from a student questioning the change. The student expressed concern that there was a policy change that students were not aware of and that there had been no consultation with the students.

Later that day, I met with the student and explained the reasoning behind the decision. The student understood the rationale for the change,  but the concern was not about the change in procedure; it was the fact that the students weren’t included and didn’t have prior knowledge about the decision. The student just wanted to be part of the process, not necessarily part of the outcome or direction. Just knowing that the change was being made would have made a big difference for that student.

We have structures that incorporate students in the decisioning making process in Lower, Middle, and High School.  In all divisions, Student Councils offer an avenue to gather student feedback for school improvement. The idea is that this group of student leaders would represent their divisions and grade levels. We also use formal and informal student surveys as a mechanism to generate ideas and suggestions from individual students.

The way we respond to, respect, and value students’ ideas is what is important.  Inviting students to be part of the conversation before a change is implemented or a decision is made, illustrates to students that their voicematters. When students bring valid issues forward and decisions are altered or modified, it teaches us about prioritizing the inclusion of student participation in the process, not just for feedback after the fact.

Student feedback after actions are determined is still valuable, but it changes the way the students feel and the message we are sending does not communicate partnership.  Implementing a new policy or procedure together, changes students’ thoughts from “they” made this decision and “we” needed to argue and fight for change, to, our input was acknowledged and considered. Both are examples of providing an opportunity for student participation, but one definitely feels better, for both the adults and students involved.

Listening to students identifying school problems and possible solutions reminds teachers and administrators that students possess unique knowledge and perspectives about their schools that adults don’t necessarily have. (Sindelar, 2019)

Involving students as an integral part of the school improvement process requires intentionality through the development of structures and processes where student input becomes the norm. If students are part of the regular process for school improvement, they will begin to understand the processes, start to identify problems, and initiate ways in which we can improve.

This is a cultural shift, a different way of thinking, and an approach that fosters an open and transparent environment where communication flows in both directions. We need to get away from making decisions “for” students to making decisions “with” students. We need to build in structures that provide opportunities for students to be included when we are tackling issues.

Create intentional spaces and avenues for gathering ongoing student feedback. Building a culture that empowers students to provide feedback and engage as co-creators of school culture doesn’t happen overnight. But creating consistent spaces for feedback helps strengthen the role of students as partners. (Bartlebaugh, 2017)

How do we build a culture that incorporates students’ ideas in the strategic direction of the school? We should begin by asking them! It’s amazing what we can learn from students.


Bartlebaugh, Hannah.  “Using Student Feedback to Improve School Culture”. Getting Smart. 8, January, 2017.

Sindelar, Justin. What Student Voice Is — And Isn’t. “Student Voice”., 25, April,

Phillips, Mark. “Increasing Student Voice in Local Schools and Districts”.  Edutopia. 23, April, 2015.

Image credit:

Jamie Robb
Gávea Upper School Principal