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Most of what happens in schools is tied to an academic year, from late summer through late spring. That said, the launch of the new calendar year is always positively marked by two events. During our first week back from winter break, we annually host a gathering of alumni, many of whom are still home from college, and some of whom form a panel to take questions from juniors and seniors. Later in the month we begin to host students applying to the Pods. While the children work (and play!) with teachers and other applicants in classrooms, we provide a different panel—of current upper schoolers, a parent, some administrative colleagues, and me—for their parents.
There’s something about the symmetry of applying kindergarteners and returning graduates that always feels right to me in January. It’s fun to get to know those who are enthusiastically considering Wildwood for their own families, and it’s downright rewarding to talk with graduates, hearing the updates on their college and work lives.
This year’s panel included Aethena Brooks ’14, who graduated from the University of Virginia and is working for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C. Terryn Adams ’12 was also there, having earned a neuroscience degree from Barnard and a master’s in medical sciences from Morehouse. She’s preparing her medical school applications. Harry Valner ’16, a current junior at USC, is part of their Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy. Anna Ramsey ’15 is in her senior year at Tulane, while Bella Levy ’13, who graduated from the University of Chicago last fall, is currently enrolled in a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at Columbia University. Abe Bradley ’18, whose love of math and music was fostered during his 13 years at Wildwood and continues to be in college, is a first-year student at Wesleyan University.
There were, of course, dozens of other graduates at the gathering. Jake Reiner ’09 was one. Knowing that we’ll be hosting clinical psychologist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair
here at school (she’ll be working with 5th and 8th grade students as well as presenting a parent education event on Jan. 29), I was reminded of Jake participating in a similar parent program when he was a junior at Wildwood. During a fishbowl conversation in which a smaller circle of students and parents were participating in a discussion about how to navigate technology, while others of us sat in concentric circles outside the primary discussion, listening, the father of a then-middle school boy asked an earnest question that was, basically: How do I keep my middle school son away from questionable online content? I remember Jake, in the most empathetic and non-condescending way, beginning with, “This must be really hard for you as a parent…” Having engaged and acknowledged the challenge, he went on to talk about how important it is for parents to talk to their kids about the values they hope they’ve instilled in them. Jake also noted how unlikely it was that the dad would meet with success if his goal was to shield his child from questionable online content, and that it would be best to have what might be hard conversations to guide his son toward making sound decisions.
I have similar fond memories from various events over the years, and it’s those moments that make me proud of our students and proud to be a part of this community.
The coming months will include many more affirming, celebratory, and educative events, no doubt, but those I reference have set a decidedly hopeful tone for 2019. Happy New Year to you and yours.
From my earliest days working at a similarly mission-driven school 25 years ago, I’ve been asked—relatively regularly, although the question can take different forms—just how we’re preparing children for the “real world.” There’s some sense that providing children with an environment where respect, kindness, curiosity, reflection, and support for one another is somehow doing them a disservice. It’s as though a six- or sixteen-year-old should be toughened up, should have to suffer while making their way to adulthood.
It’s best not to get me started on that, as I couldn’t disagree more.
…I see a cohort of graduates, enlightened change-makers, impacting “their world” in incalculable ways. I consider the poise and empathy of Wildwood students steeped in the Habit of Collaboration and open to perspectives that allow them to see what others cannot; I see passions and curiosity fed, nourished, and refined by the Habit of Evidence; and through the Habit of Connection; I see students reaching a clear view of systemic challenges and innovative solutions to address them. With guidance, mentorship, and a dose of convention, it is easy to imagine a formidable force for good: An army of effective, change-making leaders with the skills to produce results. Given the dedication of the School and its board to this idea, I am convinced of the Institute’s success and the attention it will garner which, in turn, I believe, will lead to the Outreach Center partnering with countless other schools and seeding this model around the globe, amplifying its impact.
As contentious as these times are, the real world is filled with good people helping others. That’s just true. The empathy and collaboration referenced above were at the center of students’, parents’, and my colleagues’ responses to the recent fires. Members of the school community quickly pivoted to focus on helping those who’d been most directly affected.
Yes, there is hatred and violence and discord. But there is also good. A lot of it. And I want our children and young adults to be prepared to enter into the fray as powerful forces for good, as proponents and practitioners of the best of human nature, not the worst.
In the darkest moments after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, I found hope—as we often can, even in those gut-wrenching moments when all might seem lost. Mark Hetfield, the leader of HIAS, was quoted as having responded to a question about why a Jewish group would provide support to Muslims with, “We decided to help, not because they are Jewish, but because we are Jewish.”
I gained three things from Mark Hetfield’s statement: First, comfort in the reminder that there is deep and abiding goodness all around us. Second, proof that Wildwood School graduates are entering into a world in which they’ll be in good company and where there is much good work for them to do. And third, knowledge of another organization whose mission I’m now proud to support through my own philanthropy.
Rarely a day goes by when I’m not called on to write or speak about the specifics of our academic program at Wildwood and how it prepares students to leave us armed with habits and skills that will serve them well over the course of lives that will be profoundly affected by new technologies, artificial intelligence, and national, global, and cross-cultural integration and conflict. I’m proud of that work and couldn’t believe more in the mission and pedagogy of Wildwood School.
But as we break for Thanksgiving, my thoughts are on the more foundational part of our mission, where our school culture lives. None of us can take for granted this other intentional work that we do, preparing the young people in our care for the real world that will welcome their kindness, understanding, and patience, their unique ability to incorporate the perspectives of others, be better for it, and serve and contribute.
Launched in the middle part of the last century as a way to allow a select few to complete college early by taking introductory college-level courses in high school, AP exploded in the second half of the century. With millions of high school students taking AP courses, it’s no longer a program for a select few. The AP’s focus on memorization and multiple choice testing is no longer aligned with what students are increasingly expected to do when they arrive on college campuses, where synthesis, analysis, collaboration, and problem-solving are the norm.
Colleges and universities increasingly call on undergraduates and graduate students to collaborate and compete with
their fellow students as they learn, rather than competing against
them. That’s the kind of preparation today’s students need for life and work, and they aren’t the skills that are mastered by relentless memorization of content broadly covered.
To be clear: I’ve seen brilliant educators—including my oldest high school friend, now a public-school superintendent on Philadelphia’s Main Line—cover the content required for an AP exam, yet manage to inspire and engage students in deep and lasting ways. Too often, however, I’ve seen the opposite. The AP curriculum is very often a central factor in reinforcing in kids the woefully outdated notion that their high school education is little more than a long slog through a hyper-competitive factory model.
Schools like Wildwood, which never subscribed to the rote methods that marked too many students’ educations in the last 50 plus years, are now in the enviable position of being able to focus on the natural evolution of their mission-centered programming rather than delving into a change process that is itself disruptive and slow-moving. Because of Wildwood’s student-as-worker/teacher-as-coach orientation, we’ve been able to create, sustain, and continuously improve signature programming that allows students to go deep and make it their own.
Although Wildwood School students have taken a range of AP exams over the years and have generally done well, Wildwood School has never offered AP courses. (Students aren’t required to register for an AP course in order to sit for an exam.) From the start, we’ve chosen instead to allow knowledgeable and talented upper school teachers to create honors and other coursework that focuses on developing in students a deep understanding of the material. The content of our upper school courses isn’t disparate from AP courses; it’s simply not dictated by the AP test.
Take our annual Hamlet Night, for example. Juniors delve deeply into the literary, historical, and humanistic themes of one of Shakespeare’s most revered works. Wildwood’s tradition includes the memorization of the iconic “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, but every student, either solo or in collaboration with others, creates a project that is uniquely theirs—one that displays their mastery in understanding the work and that requires creativity, synthesis, analysis, and connection.
Beyond the benefits of not having outside limitations placed on required courses, the absence of AP also frees students to follow passions or find passions. Without the pressure to opt into a traditional AP course, Wildwood students, and others in similar schools, prove their intellectual and academic prowess by going deeper in the pursuit of understanding the topics that interest them most.
The absence of this type of conventional, limited, lock-step curriculum in Wildwood’s upper school leads naturally to positive, student-centered impact on the K-8 program that precedes upper school. In both scaffolded and organic ways, younger students begin to develop the skills and habits of mind necessary to benefit from the depth of learning they’ll enjoy in upper school.
Systems Thinking, a management tool with broad application, has expanded at Wildwood’s elementary program, including a robust public-private partnership
now years in development. Systems thinking thrives in a school that focuses on students relying on intuition and interest, trusting their instincts to follow a lead as they learn. STEMinar, a cross-disciplinary math and science program developed for 6th graders, requires students to employ similar skills. Students are presented with engineering problems, which require them to iterate prototypes as they problem-solve.
Programs like Systems Thinking and STEMinar are made all the more possible—even necessary—in a school where the oldest, pre-college students are expected to meet learning standards by going beyond mastery of content and skills. In ways appropriate to their stage of development, our youngest to our oldest students are required to make connections between and across disciplines.
None of that is to say that the scaffolding of content and skill isn’t critical. It is. Especially as students move into upper grades, though, schools often miss myriad opportunities for students to master content and skills by doing authentic work that connects to their interests and across disciplines.
It may be a revolution for others, but it’s simply the heart of Wildwood. And it all comes back to the question we should be continually asking ourselves, as parents and as educators: what do we want for our children?
This broader focus is nothing short of our mission
Wildwood School cultivates reflective scholars, bold innovators and compassionate leaders equipped with the skills, ethics and inspiration to transform their world.
Just a few years ago I was sitting in the admissions office at a highly selective technical institute, asking the question I always ask when I get time alone with a college admissions representative: What do they know of current undergraduates that would inform our work here at Wildwood? What do they see that might help us improve our practice or guide our strategic planning?
In that particular conversation, I was surprised by the response. Noting that this university’s first years (freshmen) were among the most academically successful, driven, and competitive in the world, the admissions rep shared that pressure from alumni employers and graduate schools had led them to introduce what amounted to remedial programming so their students would realize that, having gained admission, it was now time to stop acting as though they were in competition with one another. That university’s big challenge wasn’t supporting students in mastering content and skills, but in guiding students to collaborate, reflect, listen to the ideas and solutions of peers, and to create something together, instead of working against one another in a zero-sum game.
Thinking about the students I’d known, both at Wildwood and at the other schools at which I’d worked, who hadn’t been offered admission to this particular school, I realized that none of them would’ve needed that remediation. I also knew that the reputation of that particular school meant the students who apply are largely a self-selected group who’d be able to do the work.
Obviously, many students aspire to be among the five, ten, or fifteen percent of students who are offered admission to a highly selective college or university, and their aspirations are reasonable. Go for it, I think. Most of those who end up applying have the grades and testing that would make them admissible. They’d be able to do the work and to contribute. That said, it’s understandably challenging for students to appreciate that being in the company of the 85, 90, or 95 percent of those who aren’t
offered admission puts them in very good company, as well.
I’ve continued to wonder what we, at the high school level, can do to help colleges and universities see students for the fullness of who they are, not just as test-takers, but as people—individuals who will work tirelessly and with incredible focus to solve a problem, students who will know that someone down the hall needs a chicken-soup run, leaders who will collaborate and create a technology that will have a lasting, positive impact on the world. Eventually, as university graduates with broad-based skills who can garner the kind of financial success that allows for the philanthropy on which all schools depend. Far too often, those students are simply missed because colleges rely too heavily on statistics developed for an oversimplified, industrial-era, Carnegie Unit-based school model.
There’s a better way, and we here at Wildwood are part of a growing new consortium of more than 130 independent schools around the country who are leading the way. Wildwood School is one of 18 Founding Members of the Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC). Urban and rural, large and small, boarding and day, coed and single gender, traditional and progressive—the consortium’s members have one thing in common: the knowledge that the system currently in place isn’t structured to be in service to the young people in our care. And so, together with schools as varied as Andover, Exeter, Dalton, Milton, and Punahou, Wildwood is working to change it.
In the 1990s, Wildwood School’s Board, faculty, and parent volunteers hatched an idea, one that would lead to researching best practices in education and launching a K-12 Wildwood School built on its decades of success as a K-6 school. The idea was that Los Angeles was ready for an independent school based not on what might have worked a century before, but on the skills, habits, and content students would require for the century to come—the one in which they’d lead the majority of their lives.
Wildwood’s leaders were prescient then, and I believe just as that generation of Wildwood School leaders helped to create the conditions for change we’re now seeing in schools across the country, the group of us leading the way with the Mastery Transcript Consortium are paving the way for what will be a sea change in the college admissions process.
I believe in the work we’re doing, which I hope will have a positive impact on Wildwood School students. Beyond that, all the schools that are invested in MTC’s vision and success recognize that this, right here, is some of the most important work that independent schools can do. As smaller, locally managed and discretely governed institutions, we have the tools to be more agile than our larger, public school counterparts, and we can partner with our college admission peers to begin the conversation, structure the solutions, and provide a model that can be replicated in ways that will ultimately benefit every student in every school, public or independent. From the MTC website:
“The initial formation of the MTC hopes to use the collective influence, access and flexibility of established independent schools to change the college preparation model for all high schools…not just private schools. However, we are starting with just independent schools to minimize complication and get a proof of concept built to enable all schools.”
Welcoming parents new to Wildwood School this fall, I’ve described MTC and my enthusiasm for the work. I’ve also noted that I think we will all be hearing more about it in the years to come, even beyond the schools involved now. Associate Head of School Lori Strauss and Director of Upper Jenn Spellman are Wildwood School’s site coordinators, taking the lead in our involvement as the process unfolds. Together with Amy Abrams and Becca Larson, our college counseling team, they’ll be sure that all we’ve learned at Wildwood will benefit the work of MTC and that our current and future students will, in turn, benefit from the best of what our peer schools from around the country share.
Meeting a Holocaust survivor is humbling. I’m sure it’s different for each of us, depending on our own perspective and history, but hearing the stories of survivors—like Paula Lebovics, who spoke at middle and upper last week—inevitably leaves us feeling horrified, sad, and grateful to be in the presence of someone who’s experienced the unthinkable and is willing to share her story.
Holocaust survivor Paula Lebovics, from the USC Shoah Foundation, speaks to an assembly of middle and upper school students.
Although I have been in the presence of other survivors talking with students, the reason for Ms. Lebovics’ visit to Wildwood was a departure. More often than not, other survivors have shared their stories in the context of a unit of study, usually in history or literature. This time my performing arts colleagues—specifically Stephanie Darby, with the support and help of elementary parent Jodi Schwartz and the USC Shoah Foundation—arranged for Ms. Lebovics to speak to all middle and upper school students the week before our spring production of The Sound of Music.
Our Town. Grease. The Sound of Music. The list goes on, but there are certain plays and musicals that get lots of traction in middle and upper schools. There are valid reasons, ranging from they’re just good fun (Grease) to they connect with young people on a level that speaks to the stuff of life with which they’re wrestling (Our Town). The Sound of Music, our spring production, is a bit of both.
Still, my middle and upper school performing arts colleagues doubled down to interrupt what could potentially be a relatively thin focus on an irrepressibly unconventional and happy nun, and Alpen flowers, to make certain that our students go deeper. Depth over breadth, one of the 10 common principles on which our middle and upper school program was designed, dictates that we go beyond simply covering a broad range of content to insist that students understand it more deeply. Our goal is that students should work with the content, to understand it and be able to place it in the context of everything else they’re learning.
Think about it. 400 plus students will witness and celebrate their classmates’ work and talent having gained a greater understanding of the broader context—and the horror—that paralleled the Von Trapp family’s story in pre-WWII Austria. Sixteen Going on Seventeen
takes on a new dimension when teenagers hear the story that Paula Lebovics and her family lived at the same point in history.
Taking questions from our students, Ms. Lebovics was gracious, earnest, clear, and forgiving. She shared with students her incredulity when faced with the common question of whether or not she hates. How could she hate, she said, when she doesn’t know a person? What good does hate do? Look where it led us, she observed.
I’m happy that my students, colleagues, parents, and I will get to enjoy a wonderful show that promises to be beautifully sung, acted, directed, and produced. I’m particularly grateful to my performing arts colleagues, Jodi Schwartz, Dr. Street, and Ms. Lebovics for making sure that we experience the production in the context of history.
Well over a year ago, my colleagues and I began a process to reconsider how we approach language instruction at Wildwood. Having reviewed scholarly research, best practices in other school environments, and having structured conversations with teachers, administrative leaders, parents, and students, I’m enthusiastic about the introduction of our K-12 Global Citizenship and World Languages program.
Interestingly, as I reviewed notes in order to provide context for the new program, I kept getting led back to 2014. Over the course of that calendar year:
2) We received our every-seven-year accreditation from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).
3) We executed a comprehensive Parent Survey, which enjoyed 76% parent participation and will—as planned—be administered again in spring 2017.
Many programmatic boats, small and large, launched that year—or at least prepared to launch. They include our shift toward a Global Citizenship and World Languages model through which we will place even more of a premium on international awareness, proficiency in foreign language, appreciation of cultural diversity, and skill development like creativity and innovation—components that clearly connect to our mission and complement our culture, tying to existing Wildwood programs like our multicultural work, project-based learning, and our orientation toward transdisciplinary study.
In fact, four out of the five major platforms of our current Strategic Plan included tactics that led directly to our current programmatic thinking. Things like:
The best of transdisciplinary curriculum and project-based learning will help students understand how their work connects to the real world.
The curriculum will expose students K-12 to the issues of social justice, human nature, and the search for truth.
Through the curriculum, students will develop versatility and resiliency as they cultivate relationships in school, their communities, and the world.
Threaded throughout all the processes and documents were questions about the efficacy of our Spanish-only language program, especially at elementary where K-5 students have traditionally had two 30-minute blocks of instruction a week. The desire for student choice was a recurring theme for older students. We also noted a shared desire for all students to deeply and fully understand their position as powerful agents of change as global citizens.
At my request and over the course of last summer and fall, Lori Strauss, Melissa Linehan (our recently retired assistant director of elementary), and Collette Bowers Zinn researched best practices in world language instruction. My colleagues’ research and review led naturally to a proposal for an integrated, transdisciplinary K-12 Global Citizenship and World Languages program.
After presenting our findings with K-12 academic leaders late last fall, we shared the draft of a proposal with our K-12 Spanish colleagues in January 2016. Receiving a supportive response from that group, we began to host a series of focus groups for other K-12 faculty leaders, middle and upper school students, and K-12 parents. The process continued through the winter and spring, culminating in a decision to proceed.
The plan, discussed and formally approved by Head’s Leadership Team (HLT) last month, includes the following:
Spanish, although not the only language to which students will be introduced, will continue to be an area of particular focus in elementary, middle, and upper.
Elementary students will be exposed to a range of cultures and languages, in age-appropriate ways specific to the curricula and integrated at each grade level.
Division One (6th
grade) students will rotate through a trimester each of Spanish, Mandarin, and one of the fastest growing languages, coding.
Division Two (7th
grades) students will be asked to rank the three according to their interest, and will focus their study on just one for the remainder of their time in middle school.
Upper school students will be required to take three years of either Spanish or Mandarin, or two years of each.
Should the University of California system decide in the future to accept coding as a language credit for applicants, we will reconsider our exclusion of coding as an upper school requirement option. In the meantime, technology-related coursework in the upper school will continue to fall under the banner of elective coursework.
There is much work to be done, of course, and we’ve begun to put the basic elements of a transition plan in place. For this next stage, Melinda Tsapatsaris and Collette Bowers Zinn will take the lead in working with faculty leaders and others to coordinate the K-12 curricular integration work. They’ve arranged for a representative from the Council of International Schools, an international leader in intercultural education, to work with K-12 faculty in early February.
Few individual programmatic initiatives connect to as many or as broad a range of the Board’s approved Strategic Plan
goals as the shift toward Global Citizenship and World Languages. Thank you to my colleagues involved in the research and recommendations, to those who are already stepping up to take the lead on execution, and to the colleagues, students, and parents who so enthusiastically participated in our focus groups.
Wildwood School’s mission
and ethos calls for innovation, change, and growth. This current programmatic shift is yet another example of our mission in action.
“The Board” conjures different things for different people. Vision. Work. Power. Responsibility. Philanthropy. These collections of people who care about and for an organization work tirelessly to further its goals—for profit, for social good, for children. Wildwood School’s Board of Trustees is focused on the latter, of course. One could argue—and I would—that our Board is focused on the last
two, in fact, considering Wildwood School’s mission:
Wildwood School cultivates reflective scholars, bold innovators and compassionate leaders equipped with the skills, ethics and inspiration to transform their world.
Our school’s Board serves the future—or, perhaps better put, holds the school in trust for the future—in deliberate, celebratory, earnest, and generous ways. Most Trustees in independent schools love the schools they serve. Our Trustees take it to a whole new level, which is why I was so pleased when our WWPO leadership invited Assistant Head of School Melinda Tsapatsaris and me to put together a panel of current Trustees to “demystify” our Board. I was so grateful to our representative group for investing yet another morning at Wildwood, and I want to capture it for those who couldn’t be present.
Landis and Board members Marc Frankel, Board Chair Lisa Flashner, Ashley Kramer, Lyle Poncher, and Andrew Solmssen at the WWPO Spring Summit.
The WWPO Spring Summit on March 9 included a group of five Board members and myself answering questions posed by one of our own, Dr. Marc Frankel, a consultant to independent schools and universities around the world. Our students—current and future—are lucky to have Marc’s expertise serving their school, as evidenced by his nimble facilitation of the panel and the depth and breadth of perspective he shared with those present.
Marc began the discussion by reflecting on the difference between public and independent school boards, noting that independent school boards focus on the fiduciary, strategic, and generative nature of governance. They don’t involve themselves in the day-to-day, like approving book lists and such. Like ours, the best independent school boards structure their work and align their focus to ensure that the school is healthy and thriving in the future.
Together with 25 year Trustee Lyle Poncher (parent of Amy, ’97, and Zach, ’11), Marc outlined the Board’s responsibility to identify strategic priorities, appoint the head of school, lead fundraising efforts, and structure the school’s annual budget and multi-year financial planning so that everything is in place for a healthy, stable, and—in Wildwood’s case, especially—dynamic school that is continually focused on innovation, best practice, and above all excellence. As Lyle noted, “We are not involved in curriculum. Although the head and his colleagues might consult with us, our job isn’t to decide if we should be teaching Portuguese.”
Andrew Solmssen (Jack and Ridley, ’24) took the question about how Trustees are selected and what is expected of them. Prospective and new Trustees go through a thorough vetting process, and a multi-stage orientation that begins in the spring before their service begins and carries through their first year and beyond. Without going into too much detail, Andrew noted that most Trustees are identified from the ranks of current and past parents who display a particularly pronounced commitment to the school, a clear desire to see it flourish, and a recognition that their service is future-focused. Board members are expected to make Wildwood School a top philanthropic priority. Although there is no requirement for giving, Andrew explained that roughly two-thirds of our Trustees make annual gifts at the highest leadership levels.
Although not a representative body, our Board include members who have children in elementary, middle, and upper school. A critical mass of Trustees are parents of alumni. Some have children who graduated a decade ago, yet remain committed—in their service and in their philanthropy—to ensuring that Wildwood School stays true to its mission and values with regard to educating children and serving families. The Board’s Committee on Trustees works collaboratively to identify potential future Trustees who bring specific skills, professional expertise, and a willingness to work on behalf of the school.
Continuing to explore the nature of the Board’s makeup, Ashley Kramer (Katie, ’19, and Ella, ’22) spoke about the importance of gender, race, age, and—very important to the functioning of a Board—skills and professional affiliations. On our Board are hedge fund managers, physicians, entertainment industry professionals, consultants, COOs, educators, technology leaders, lawyers, and others.
Much of the work of the Board is done in committee. Standing committees of the Board include: Finance, Advancement, Investment, Audit, Committee on Trustees, and the Executive Committee of the Board. In any given year, a task force or two is operating to explore topics over a more limited time frame. Task forces range from diversity to marketing, and HR related topics to flexible tuition policies. Task forces and some Board committees include non-Trustees, and all have administrative representation.
As Lyle Poncher described it, Wildwood School’s Board has evolved over the course of the two-plus decades he’s been involved. Operating more like a parent co-op early on, he described the early Board as “well meaning, but inefficient,” and noted that there wasn’t a clear separation between the work of the Board and the work of the head and the professional staff.
In describing a typical Board meeting, I explained that each Board meeting—five “regular” meetings and one full-day retreat, annually—generally includes one meaty strategic or generative discussion. It could involve anything from the Board helping my colleagues and me consider the ramifications of a significant program shift we’re considering (our Board guided my colleagues’ and my thinking with regard to the specifics of the Institute Model introduced in upper school last year), or a strategic discussion related to the logistics of funding programmatic enhancements (our Board invested considerable time discussing the competing priorities of funding financial aid, faculty salaries, and building endowment a few years ago). Board Chair Lisa Flashner (Jake, ’17, and Zac, ’20) and other Board leaders work diligently to ensure that Board meetings are focused on the 5, 10, and 15 year future, making the best use of the energies and vision of the creative, smart, committed group of people who serve the school.
WWPO, of course, is another key way that parents serve the school and its students, and many current and past Trustees have been involved in the work of WWPO before, and even during, their Board service. WWPO’s Board Liaison—Diana Stephenson (Molly, ’20 and Jenny, ‘23) is in her first year of service—attends all regular sessions of the Board, but has no vote. Although several of my most senior administrative colleagues are usually present for Board meetings, Diana and I are the two people present for all Board meetings who are specifically charged with keeping in mind how Board decisions might affect the here-and-now with students, parents, and faculty and staff.
Talking about some areas of current Board focus, Andrew Solmssen noted that the Board’s strategic plan, approved almost two years ago, serves as the primary road map for all Board and administrative work at any given time. Our current plan includes a focus on developing the long-term three-campus facilities plan, approved by the Board in January 2015; fostering a diverse community; and ensuring that the school benefits from the healthy funding that ensures positive progress with regard to important initiatives around topics like faculty salaries, flexible tuition, and program development.
Lisa Flashner closed the morning elaborating on Andrew’s reference to the Board’s fifteen year three-campus plan. As Lisa announced at the spring 2015 State of School, the Board had, earlier that year, put a stake in the ground by committing to the school’s property acquisition at 11800 Olympic Boulevard as one of two Wildwood campuses to be developed in the neighborhood. Our current middle and upper school site, 11811 Olympic Boulevard, will continue to function as our middle and upper school campus for the interim, but it—or a different site—will provide a companion property for 11800, while the current elementary campus continues to serve the program needs there.
With good questions, good will, and not just a few laughs, the morning’s program came to a close after about an hour and a half. Strolling out with some of those who were present, I was happy to see that the work of the Board had, indeed, been “demystified” and that I’d been joined by others in my appreciation for all that our Board does. The five Trustees who were present represented the greater body of 20 exceptionally well.
By Michelle Simon, Middle and Upper School Head Librarian
There is nothing like an engaging author visit to invigorate a school community and ignite the desire for story and storytelling. The library speaker series at the Wildwood middle and upper school welcomed both Jason Reynolds and Ellen Oh this fall. Excitement still lingers after our most recent visit from young-adult author Jason Reynolds. When he stepped on stage he said he wasn’t going to talk about his books, because students could read them, instead, he shared his own story and life experience. He was quick-paced, funny, mesmerizing, and authentic as he spoke about his life growing up in the 80s and 90s—a time of innocence and fun, but also of drugs and violence in America. As a kid, he wasn’t exposed to books that resonated with him and he deliberately chose to not read books. It wasn’t until age 17, after reading Black Boy
by Richard Wright, that he related to a protagonist and developed a love of words and story. He soon became a best-selling author writing what he knows. He is now a Newbery Award honoree, a Printz Award honoree, a National Book Award honoree, a Kirkus Prize winner, a two-time Walter Dean Myers Award winner, an NAACP Image Award winner, and the recipient of multiple Coretta Scott King honors.
Visiting authors are powerful for kids. Since Jason’s visit, his novels have been continuously off the library shelves. Simply hearing from authors about their processes and motivations can be what a previously reluctant reader needs to entice them and lead them to the right book. Eighth grader Toby M. said, “He made me want to read Miles Morales: Spider-Man after he talked about how he was thinking differently about the story of Spider-Man and how he could make the character more relatable.” Seventh grader Conner R. said, “I liked the way he spoke to us so honestly and not like students, but as friends.”
In October, Ellen Oh, young adult author, co-founder, president, and CEO of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books presented to all middle school students about the writing process and had writing workshops with 8th graders. During her middle school presentation she too discussed the struggle to find books that reflected her experience as Korean-American and the need for diversity in the publishing industry. A group of voracious upper school readers and students from the Wildwood Institute for Social Good and Community Leadership met with Ellen for a working lunch. The students asked about how to move from passion to organized action, and what makes the process successful. Alexus P., 9th grader, commented, “Being able to connect with someone so well-rounded and versatile opened my eyes to new perspectives on shaping my community. I’m really fortunate to be in a community that allows for so many interesting opportunities.”
We look forward to welcoming visiting authors throughout the school year and invite you to read more about them in our Newsroom. We are grateful to our Annual Giving donors for making the author series possible.
Wildwood teachers (left to right)
Maria Pizano, Grace Lazzarini, and Carolyn Peralta plan their workshop.
By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach
One of the best ways to deepen learning is by teaching—both knowledge and skills—to someone else. Researchers call this practice the protégé effect, and it’s the philosophy behind many of the ways student learning happens at Wildwood.
Our teachers also tap the benefits of the protégé effect through the Wildwood Outreach Center and the opportunities it affords teachers to plan and facilitate workshops that strengthen their instructional agility—benefiting the broader community and, ultimately, Wildwood students.
I recently asked four Wildwood elementary teachers to take on this challenge: Identify something you do well in the classroom and envision how you could share the knowledge and skills needed for that work with other teachers.
The answers evolved into two new workshops the Outreach Center will launch this year. In this quick trip behind the scenes, here’s a glimpse of how Wildwood teachers think and create.
Workshop: Design Thinking for Systems Learners November 14, 2018, and February 25, 2019 @ Wildwood’s Elementary Campus
Teachers: Carolyn Peralta (Grade 3), Grace Lazzarini (K-1), and Maria Pizano (K-5 Instructional Technology Coach)
Tools: These three teachers joined forces to envision a new workshop that will fuse two leading-edge practices at Wildwood—design thinking and systems thinking.
First, some definitions: Systems thinking is a pedagogical approach that builds students’ learning upon their understanding of the human-made and natural systems all around them. Design thinking provides students with tools to define and find solutions to all kinds of dilemmas—academic, societal, or global. By combining these two approaches, students can be ideally equipped with skills and strategies that boost their academic and social-emotional learning.
Goal: find the best ways to teach these approaches to other teachers—in both public and private schools to inspire social action work.
Takeaway: “Design thinking requires students to have empathy for others,” Carolyn shares, “which they can use to become agents of change in their communities.” For Grace, her Kindergarteners and 1st graders are interested in looking at systems that have hard-to-solve problems, like hunger and homelessness. “Design thinking lets kids brainstorm lots of solutions,” Grace says. “Even if their ideas seem far-fetched to us adults, they encourage the problem-solving skills that will help them be critically thinking grown-ups.” Maria wants to emphasize the value that design thinking can provide to all kinds of students. “There’s no barrier to entry into these kinds of conversations,” she says. Kids don’t need any specialized knowledge, just an open mind and willingness to share their ideas.
Workshop: The Global-Ready Student April 25, 2019 @ Wildwood’s Elementary Campus
Teacher: Alli Boas (Grade 2)
Second Grade Teacher Alli Boas facilitates her own systems thinking workshop on a recent visit to Hope Academy in rural Uganda.
In her Wildwood classroom, Alli highlights the settings in some of the books she reads to her students. Rain School is set in the north-central African nation of Chad, and Waiting for the Biblioburro, is set in Colombia in South America.
Alli has spent several summers teaching in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she’s learned an enormous amount from colleagues at rural schools. Alli also applies her extensive travel experiences and systems thinking acumen to create curricula to guide student learning through a global lens.
Travel has taught Alli that fostering true global citizenship is about more than just reading books set in different countries. “Taking someone else’s perspective is both challenging and essential for kids,” Alli says. “Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes helps kids avoid patterns of stereotypical thinking.” She says students who appreciate a wider range of perspectives also tend to have a deeper understanding of their own cultural realities.
Alli shares how her workshop will “help teachers grapple with how to connect with and teach about cultures that they are not part of,” which is a dilemma that she has had to personally address.
A teacher at Hope Academy in Uganda shares his insights on systems thinking with Alli Boas.
(Click thumbnail to view video)
Alli plans to use the United Nations 17 Global Sustainability Goals
for 2030 as an anchor for her workshop, introducing them to participants as a framework for deeper student learning. An early adopter of systems thinking strategies at Wildwood, Alli has been eager to combine these two approaches to launch her new workshop. “Outreach is where my mind has been with all of our global citizenship and systems work.” Alli says.
As Wildwood positions itself for leadership in these innovative areas, our teachers will be ready—deepening their students’ experiences as they sharpen their own skills by helping educators worldwide grow their learning.
On Friday, April 6, 8th grade student Brandon J. flew to Maryland to speak at a patient-focused drug development panel with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), advocating for treatments for Epidermolysis Bullosa, a rare genetic disorder that Brandon was born with. The drawback to previous research has been a lack of understanding by the FDA about what treatments are needed to ease the painful symptoms and improve quality of life rather than solely approving (or not approving) a drug based only on clinical data.
EB is a painful and debilitating disorder that causes the skin to tear and blister at a slight touch and requires daily bandaging of wounds, similar to a burn patient. But it also affects internal organs. By presenting in person and sharing their personal struggles with EB, Brandon and the other patients and family members were able to put names to a face and help the FDA understand more fully the daily physical and mental challenges they face and help push for quicker approval of treatments.
Brandon has been an outspoken advocate for EB for many years, speaking in front of his classroom when he was younger, speaking on stage at fundraisers and writing essays about living with EB.
When asked why he wanted to speak to the FDA, Brandon said “because I want help for EB and I want it sooner rather than later. I felt a sense of accomplishment after because I felt like all of us speaking with one voice made a difference.”
My husband and I watched with pride as Brandon demonstrated several life skills and Habits of Mind and Heart such as courage, perseverance, initiative, and Service to the Common Good.
Educators are always welcome to visit and learn from us at Wildwood School.
And folks take me up on that every week. Already in 2018, among our guests, I’ve had the opportunity to host:
A team of charter school leaders from the Accelerated Schools
in South L.A. looking to inspire a significant deepening of student-teacher relationships by jump-starting their middle and high school Advisory programs
Public and independent school teachers and administrators (pictured above) from a dozen schools across the country who gathered at both Wildwood campuses for the National Institutes of PEN
(Progressive Education Network) annual workshop
A virtual visit with educators from the Kamehameha Schools
of Hawaii, the largest private school in the U.S., interested in Wildwood’s focus on social-emotional learning
Our visitors have much in common and, of course, their own school-specific goals. Mostly, I hear requests for insights on how Wildwood matches its high academic expectations for students with an environment of care—kids caring about one another, teachers caring about students, and a culture of relationships.
Most heard comment: “Wow, your students are so mature and reflective.” I think that may be because at Wildwood our students are being taught how to be, not just how to achieve.
No amount of classroom learning could prepare the Human Rights Senior Seminar class for their simulated experience at the Forced From Home
exhibit sponsored by Doctors Without Borders. After riding the Metro Expo line from Wildwood to the Santa Monica Pier, the students followed Dr. Ahmed Abdalrazag through an hour-long tour that simulated the journey that 65 million people to date have taken to find safety far from their homes.
Dr. Abdalrazag began the tour by telling students about five countries around the world where thousands of people are fleeing for their lives and the lives of their children. Then the students were given several minutes to choose what they would take if they had to leave home immediately. Over the course of the interactive experience, students were told to leave behind one item at a time—medications, food, clothing, money, passports—until they had nothing left. Then they wrote reflections about how it felt, and offered responses like: “It was really an eye-opener to be put through the exercise of quickly selecting items we could take; it simulated the distress one feels when fleeing for safety,” and, “When the few things we could take had to be left behind, it showed me how little-to-nothing the refugees, internally displaced, or asylum seekers have.”
Fifteen Wildwood students on a boat that will be loaded with up to 60 people, most of whom had never seen the ocean and could not swim.
In addition to walking for days, most people must cross large bodies of water wearing unreliable, costly life vests and travel in overcrowded boats meant for simpler passage. Dr. Abdalrazag asked our group—small in comparison to the groups of refugees who often flee this way—to crowd into one such boat. As students guessed how many people should and could fit inside, he held up life vests and challenged students to guess how much refugees were forced to pay to acquire one. Students grappled with the understanding that smugglers put up to 60 people in one small boat and that they profited from the deaths of refugees. “I can’t believe refugees were sold fake lifejackets stuffed with cardboard and straw,” remarked one student.
They visited the different kinds of tents found in camps—some for housing, some for medical services. Even in the most spacious tent shared by several families, they were shocked to learn how many years people live in dirty, sandy refugee conditions with so many people and such limited resources.
After spending about 40 minutes in the exhibition, the students were offered a water break. Once they had eagerly quenched their thirst, they saw (and one got to hold) the container of water that represented a day’s supply. One student wryly commented, “That was strategic. We just drank a whole family’s days’ worth of water.”
Curiously quiet Wildwood students absorb information about Doctors Without Borders’ work, and the lives of people forced from their homes.
Although Dr. Abdalrazag asked a range of questions, and the students knew many of the answers, they were curiously quiet, unlike their normal, inquiring classroom behavior. When asked about why she thought no one was speaking up, one of the students responded, “It’s a lot to process.” And of course, she was right. I had been exposed to human rights work for years and knew what to expect; yet for these students, being confronted with the magnitude of this crisis was a shock.
After the visit, students were asked to reflect on something they will never forget about the experience. Some wrote about the profound impact of hearing first-hand experiences of the doctors: “I was shocked by what he went through,” noted one student. It turned out that the doctors who were leading the “tours” had all been refugees or asylum seekers. Other students reflected on the severity of this global crisis, which was made more real by seeing and touching the artifacts, one remarking, “The visuals were specifically astounding and will never leave my mind—like the wristbands to measure malnutrition on children.”
As reticent as the students had been to speak up during the tour, I was gratified to see that when they were given an opportunity to do something individually, they readily wrote personal notes to be shared with refugees and the camp workers. What happens next is up to them, up to us. Experiences like the one we had in the Forced From Home exhibit help to concretize the more abstract concepts we encounter in our learning and discussions, and, I hope, leave a lasting impression in our students that inspire them to become advocates, activists, and champions in a global community. One student summed it up this way: “I’m not going to forget the number 65 million.”
When students move from elementary to middle school, they go from being the oldest, and most respected kids on campus to the youngest, and often smallest, residents on a campus that not only looks but also feels unfamiliar. Their academic and social lives can change considerably between 5th and 6th grade. They shift from the familiarity and safety of a single homeroom and teacher to the complexity of multiple classes and teachers—all while they navigate the physical, cognitive, and emotional changes of tweendom.
Thankfully, Wildwood and its teachers—on both campuses—work to ensure that students’ academic and social-emotional experiences from elementary school transition to middle school as smoothly as possible.
6th graders, Noe S. and Jacob L.
Self-Efficacy for the Successful 6th Grader
For close to 20 years, Becca Hedgepath and Sandi Crozier have shepherded nearly an entire generation of Wildwood students between 5th and 6th grades. Becca teaches humanities to 6th graders, and Sandi is her language arts counterpart in 5th. Sandi and Becca base their work with students on aligned best educational practices and the sound judgment that experienced teachers bring to their craft.
“Before they finish elementary school our students know that, in 6th grade, Becca will hold them to high standards,” Sandi says. “Our job throughout 5th grade is to broaden their skills and build their confidence to meet our
standards and Becca’s, and all of their middle school teachers’ expectations.”
Sandi and her 5th
grade colleagues, Mallory Konell, Monique Marshall, and Linda Gordon, foster what educational researchers call transition self-efficacy—the self-confidence to meet the increased expectations of middle school. When elementary teachers emphasize the goals of middle school success, students are more likely to succeed.*
“The kids come to us from the elementary campus very well prepared,” Becca notes, “with their creative and
analytic writing skills, a love of reading, and ability to discuss character and theme at a very high level.” Equally important, she says, “the 5th grade teachers have helped kids get comfortable with asking for help when they need it.” Students have been encouraged to develop a strong sense of curiosity and inquiry.
6th grade teacher, Becca Hedgepath
When Teachers Talk…
Every summer, Becca and Sandi spend time together to talk about the past school year and look ahead to the next.
“We talk about our most recent 5th graders—their strengths as individuals and as a class, along with their stretches,” says Sandi. “Every group of kids is unique, and I tell Becca what approaches our team has used that work best with these
kids so she can plan best for the coming year.”
Becca also uses these summer discussions to help Sandi assess her language arts curriculum and practice with a view towards smoothing the move to middle school as much as possible.
5th grade teacher, Sandi Crozier
“As we strengthened our standards at the middle school,” Becca says, “I noticed that my 6th graders needed an earlier start in their skill development. I’ve asked Sandi to help out, and she makes it happen.”
As a result, today’s 5th graders focus more intentionally on reading annotation, note-taking, and familiarity with the parts of speech—all in order to foster their success in 6th grade.
Sixth grader Jacob L. says he felt well-prepared for middle school humanities class. “Sandi talked a lot about what Mrs. H. [as Becca is known to kids] would expect of us,” he says. “And even though I have lots more homework this year, I got a feel for it last year when our 5th grade teachers assigned more as the year went on.”
7th grader, Josie B.
Students also noticed that their middle school days flowed in a familiar way. “Having different teachers in 5th grade helped,” says 7th grader Josie B. All Wildwood 5th grade students move between three teachers for language arts, math, and social studies. “It made it a lot easier to move around to seven classes in middle school,” Josie says.
Advisory is also a consistent and essential part of the transition. Wildwood’s middle school Advisory program is designed to recreate the feel of an elementary school homeroom in a developmentally appropriate way. It provides a safe, familiar space for kids to get support.
Josie liked the 6th grade Advisory check-in experience. “We had the opportunity during our morning share times to talk about what was going well and what we were struggling with,” she relates. “It always made me feel better knowing that other kids were experiencing what I was.” Sixth grader Noe S. had a similar experience. “Advisory helps me start the day off in a good mood,” she says.
Scaffolding for Success
Wildwood intentionally structures student and parent experiences between elementary and middle school to provide insight and alleviate anxiety in the transition from 5th to 6th grade.
In 5th grade, the Habits of Mind and Heart are introduced alongside the Life Skills, to familiarize future middle schoolers with the concepts that will drive their learning at Wildwood’s middle and upper schools. To strengthen student self-advocacy, Wildwood’s 5th graders have a dedicated “collaboration time” every Friday, when all three of their core teachers are available for help and enrichment. This mirrors a similar structure that students experience in middle and upper schools.
Parents, too, have the opportunity to get a glimpse and prepare themselves for the differences their children will experience in middle school.
Wildwood’s annual fall Step Into Middle School event gives elementary school parents an opportunity to meet the 6th grade teachers and middle school administrators, see examples of curriculum and student work, and tour the middle and upper campus.
For students and families entirely new to Wildwood, individual attention by staff, a host family, and peer support help make the transition successful. It’s informal, but intentional.
6th grader, Giacomo C.
Becca has taught many 6th graders who are new to Wildwood and enjoys watching their surprise at discovering the Wildwood way. “What strikes them the most,” she says, “is how they feel seen and heard by the adults here; that it’s almost impossible to fall through the cracks.”
To Josie B., the Wildwood way is about community. The middle and upper campus “looks and feels different,” she says, “but there’s that same sense of community here as there is at elementary.”
Sixth grader Giacomo C. knew he was seen and heard by his new community on his first day at Wildwood this year. Coming from a Los Angeles public school, he was fearful of not knowing anyone and feeling lost. “People were really friendly to me and by the end of my first day,” Giacomo says, “I knew so many new people. I think I’m going to like it here.”
* Madjar, Nir, and Ronny Chohat. “Will I succeed in middle school? A longitudinal analysis of self-efficacy in school transitions in relation to goal structures and engagement.” Educational Psychology 37, no. 6 (2017). Accessed November 14, 2017. ERIC.