Fancy Sparkly Day burst the May morning open like a butterfly breaking out from its chrysalis. Sunlight glinted off of sequins and glitter as Lower School students paraded along a small, decorated section of 42nd Street sidewalk in front of the School. Children and adults alike walked the “runway” in their finery, clapped, cheered, and beamed beside the Ellicott Street parklet.
But what on earth is Fancy Sparkly Day? Let’s rewind—past chrysalis to caterpillar—back before the bow ties and brightly colored dresses to see where it all started and what it all meant.
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Students arrived in Todd Carter’s 3rd grade classroom on a typical morning in April. Music played softly. It could have been a Tuesday, the third most ho-hum day of the week. Todd greeted each. That Tuesday-ish morning, Mary Katherine arrived wearing a sparkly shirt. The kind of shirt that practically checks one’s name off on the attendance sheet by itself. Todd complimented her shininess and told her that it reminded him of a sparkly fish sculpture he’d made from discarded aluminum cans.
“I liked that, so I kept wearing that shirt on other days,” Mary Katherine said.
Some weeks later, she and classmate Samyuktha had a “wild idea,” they explained, for a day that would “be super fun,” encourage “people who are sometimes too shy to express themselves,” and “connect the whole school in something kind of unusual.”
For many teachers at GDS, seeing that spark is irresistible. Todd fanned the flames. He encouraged their planning, guided them toward collaborators, and helped them dream big.
“I knew my students would be delighted if this could spread beyond our classroom,” Todd said. “With 3rd graders, sometimes more is more. Part of the reason we set up in the park was to catch unsuspecting passersby in the splendor of Fancy Sparkly Day.”
He explained that one of the hallmarks of 3rd grade students is that they are great at coming up with their own ideas but not so great at organizing structures that will allow for follow-through.
“I tell students ‘No’ a lot, and I think that’s valuable, too,” he said. “It helps them understand what it takes to work within given parameters and bring something to fruition. There’s a balance between running with a good idea and getting through a robust curriculum. Part of my job is to help students look for opportunities for success.”
As excitement built, students made flyers, a promo video, decorations for the runway, and thank you cards to give out to people who participated in the event. They acknowledged each other’s good work along the way with handwritten “Sparkly Notes.”
Cinematographer Tessa and Ruby, the promotional video’s director and editor, wanted to be sure all Lower School students knew what to expect and what to wear.
The morning of the event, Todd’s class set up the decorations, including a flashy “Happy Fancy Sparkly Day” sign, and cheered as class after class arrived to join them, eventually lining both sides of about 60 meters worth of sidewalk. A few neighbors and High School students rode through as the event coincided with Bike to Work and School Day. A dozen High School students stopped by with their math teacher on a break from class. The whole Lower School showed up. Staff and students twirled, strutted, or in some cases, walked discreetly, down the runway.
“So many people dressed up fancy and sparkly,” Mary Katherine said. “It’s been really like a dream come true. It’s not only about the dressing up but the thrill of planning it.”
Samyuktha, wearing a golden matha patti, agreed that the day was a success. Her main hope was for “people to be happy.” She loved that students enjoyed the runway, that “most people followed the rules,” and that her family allowed her to wear a little make-up for the special day.
“We learned to communicate with partners along the way,” Ruby added, thinking about how the wrong version of the promo was emailed out. “We needed to practice the virtue of communication.”
In a world of Chat GPT and rapidly changing job markets, I think creativity and flexibility are paramount,” Todd said. “Art is largely impractical, but it has enormous potential for connecting people, building communities, and driving innovation. I am also dead serious about the importance of absurdity. What interests me are opportunities to create magic where none existed before. This is not always fun and play—it can be hard work. Fancy Sparkly Day took several weeks to plan.”
“Todd won me over in the end,” said 3rd grade colleague Foun Tang, who took a memorable, dancing-duo turn down the runway with 2nd grade teacher Celina Kline. “The spirit just lifted me when I needed energy. It was delightful to see the other classes participate. [Head of School] Russell came. High Schoolers came. Thanks to Mary Katherine’s and Samyuktha’s vision and Todd’s support, we all had some sparkle brought into our day. Even for curmudgeons like me, the glitter got me.”