The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Meet the WISRD: The Wildwood Institute for STEM Research and Development
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Already this year, about two-dozen upper school students are engaged in WISRD work. That’s what we call the Wildwood Institute for STEM Research and Development—a seriously inventive program that is significantly re-shaping The Wildwood Way. The program launches all interested 9th through 12th graders into science and design projects driven by student interest. That confidence in our learners—to pose good questions and search for the answers in a range of ways—is at the core of our philosophy, and now it is genuinely programmatic.


The “Institute” moniker is intentional and is one of the differentiators for this class. Only a handful of high schools in the US offer science through the Institute model. Like independent and university scientific institutes, Wildwood’s student researchers engage in inquiry in a range of areas, including cosmic radiation or holography, form and test hypotheses, and share their findings with the broader scientific community through presentations and publications.


The WISRD workspace

The WISRD workspace

This past week I spent some time visiting the WISRD labs and found students pursuing an array of interesting projects in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.


Interest-driven projects: real-world impact

Wildwood 12th grader Olivia C. discovered WISRD this past summer when she happened upon the Institute workspace in the mezzanine area at the middle and upper campus. “I saw a plastic prosthetic hand made up of a dozen parts that looked like they’d been made with a 3D printer”, she says. “I’m really interested in prosthetics—so this was intriguing.”

3D printed prosthetic hand

3D printed prosthetic hand


This was Olivia’s first encounter with WISRD (only now in its second year) and she never considered herself much of a science student. “But then I met Joe,” she says, “and started talking to him about 3D printing. Before I knew it, I’d signed up for the class as my elective. Now I’m printing and assembling these prosthetics myself.”


12th graders Elliot F. and Olivia C. at work

12th WISRD students Elliot F. and Olivia C.

Olivia’s desire to help children in need also motivates her. Her WISRD work this year contributes to Enabling The Future, a non-profit group that connects a worldwide network of volunteers to produce low-cost prosthetics with the children who need them, around the US and the world.


Wildwood 9th grader Josie B. was eagerly anticipating upper school so she dive into WISRD-based research. She is loving the experience.


quoteblock_2Josie’s WISRD work this year is adding to the knowledge of the world’s astronomers: She is collecting and analyzing data from Jupiter being captured by NASA’s Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT). Josie’s among a handful of high school students across the country who are part of the project, which involves operating NASA’s the 112-foot radio telescope from her computer. Her data and analysis will be added to NASA’s on-going research. “I’m not just studying the project,” Josie reflects. “I’m part of it.” Next, Josie will use GAVRT to study another research passion—black holes—and write about her findings as an assistant editor this year of WISRD’s semi-annual research journal.

9th graders Aiden S. and Josie B.

9th graders Aiden S. and Josie B.


“I’ve always been curious… about everything,” Josie says. “I knew that this class would be perfect for me.”


Fellow 9th grader, Aiden S.’s WISRD work this year investigates how robots can relate to humans on an emotional level. He’s working with a programmable, commercially available humanoid robot that the WISRD students have named Lucy. He’s already programmed it to make announcements for WISRD at All School Meeting (see video below), and has an even bigger idea: He wants to program Lucy to pick up on and respond to a person’s emotions—to share in someone’s excitement or cheer someone up who’s having a bad day.


Aiden’s also learned a life lesson that science often teaches: Things don’t always go according to planned. “I realized early on,” Aiden says, “that while Lucy has a camera, she can’t understand human facial expressions.” So, Aiden decided that he would have to program Lucy to understand voice commands. “In order for my program to work, you have to be honest—tell Lucy when you’re happy and when you’re sad; then she can try to cheer you up.”


Where’s the teacher?

Students take on their research, reporting, and thinking with guidance form Wildwood’s STEM Coordinator Joe Wise, assisted by science teacher Tim Sekula, math/science teacher Scott Johnson, and retired teacher/volunteer Bob Baker. The WISRD class meets three times a week.


Lead teacher Joe Wise talks with WISRD students

Lead teacher Joe Wise talks with WISRD students

Joe Wise, WISRD’s lead teacher, joined the Wildwood faculty last year as the upper school’s Applied STEM Coordinator. A physics aficionado, Joe brings decades of knowledge, teaching experience and connections within the academic and corporate scientific communities in the Los Angeles area and beyond. He’s also the driving force behind InnovateED.LA 2015, a free event at the middle & upper campus on October 17 for students and families across LA—with workshops, cool demonstrations, a makerspace, and hackathon.


Joe sees his role as facilitating students’ learning and work, rather just merely delivering content. He follows their interests to map out the workflow. “We’re working to build a new paradigm in education here,” Joe says about WISRD, “where students’ interests are truly driving the work they do.” Joe knows that his students will seek him out when they need to—with an idea they want to bounce off of him, to tap his extensive scientific and engineering knowledge, or in search of help with using a tool or piece of software.


“Joe’s great,” his students say. “He knows everything, is always willing to help, and gets us back on track when we need to.”


quoteblock_1The WISRD model is an approach to teaching and learning that is genuinely progressive, and a seamless addition to The Wildwood Way—connecting students with opportunities to guide their own rigorous, meaningful work under the supervision of inspiring teachers. And it’s a model that works in every discipline as we help students learn real-life lessons: Ask good questions, critique one’s own work and refine it—it can always be better, and will never be perfect. Keep thinking, keep working, keep improving.


WISRD is here to enhance the Wildwood Way.

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Something To Talk About
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


Human Bingo

Finding something in common through Human Bingo

On the first day of school this year on our elementary campus, over one hundred 4th and 5th graders gathered in the Commons to find peers with whom they have something in common. Human Bingo. Literally. The students walked around, each with a sheet paper in his or her hands, stopping to talk briefly with other students, writing on their paper and then moving on to talk with others. The task was to find connections—someone who is a middle child, who has brown eyes, who isn’t afraid of bees, and on and on.


It’s an icebreaker, that game of Human Bingo, but it’s also a pretty good indicator of our Wildwood way, starting on the very first day of each year. We want kids to connect, talk, relate, and understand.


quoteblock_1Back to school at Wildwood means a renewing of established connections and the beginning of more. That’s how we start the year at Wildwood, because we put relationships at the center of school and student life. Every day. It’s what we have always believed, and the research now clearly shows, that meaningful relationships create a solid foundation of a superior academic program.


At Wildwood, even our youngest students start the year making meaningful social connections with peers and caring adults.Welcome Whales


In the Pods, the first day of school requires our youngest students to become familiar with the ways of being a kindergartner. In true Wildwood fashion, teachers and fellow 1st graders provide the necessary guidance.


New FriendsIn the Sea Otter Pod, 1st graders help lead their peers’ learning as they and teacher Grace Chu help the new kindergarteners understand some class expectations.


“Let’s show our new friends how we sit tall in circle,” Grace says to the class. The 1st graders all straighten up and hold their heads up high; Grace calls out some of their names so the kindergartners can look to their peers as examples. “It’s important for us,” Grace continues, “to sit in a safe place and be mindful. Let’s teach our kindergarten friends the song we sing to help us be more mindful in circle.” On Grace’s cue, all of the 1st graders sing—proudly remembering the song from last year: “Tick tock… like a clock… till I find my center…”


While the activities and classroom experiences are different, our students at the middle and upper campus spend their first full day forging connections as well—within their Advisories and across each grade level Division.


Wildwood teachers at every grade level also model this connection-making. Prior to the school year, our teachers spend up to three weeks collaborating and planning these opening day experiences for students and, of course, the rest of the year’s learning as well.


Fostering a school culture that values connection and collaboration is essential to The Wildwood Way. We model it here, and it’s an approach that more educators are embracing— at public, charter and private schools across California, the nation, and the world. As the Director the Wildwood Outreach Center, I am able to share the approach that we know helps students grow and learn in meaningful ways.


An increasing body of research shows that personalizing students’ school experiences through relationships that build social-emotional wellbeing correlate with higher academic achievement (McClure et al., 2010; Durlak et al., 2011). For The Wildwood Outreach Center that means the weeks before school starts in August get busier and busier every year.


Palms ElementaryAt Palms Elementary School, a nearby LAUSD school, The Outreach Center organized a day-long collaborative training in systems thinking. 25 teachers took a day out of their summer vacations to learn from each other and from Barbara Moreno—a systems thinking expert who trains teachers at both Palms and Wildwood last year.


At New Los Angeles Charter School, a middle schoolNew LA in LA’s Mid-City neighborhood, I worked directly with new teachers to help them develop their skills as Advisors. I later worked with the full faculty at New Los Angeles to help them build on their existing collaborative teacher culture and to create a set of norms that they will use this year in their work as a faculty.


Finally, I spent three days in Sacramento working with district administrators in the San Juan Unified School District, helping them to develop their skills as Critical Friends Group (CFG) coaches. CFGs—long a practice within Wildwood’s collaborative culture—provides the adults in a school or a district with a set of protocols they can use to present work or dilemmas to a group of peers, with a view toward increasing student achievement.


I’m invited to share the Wildwood approach because more educators are beginning to understand the benefits for teachers and learners alike: Forging meaningful relationships is also good for educators, as recent research shows that quality of relationships predicts not only student achievement but also teachers’ job satisfaction (WestEd 2011).


quoteblock_2In order for students to engage in a culture of caring and collaboration, adults must experience them first. It is exciting to guide teachers as they learn to build an authentic culture of meaningful relationships with each other, so they can help students achieve the same. It works, starting here, because our teachers have experienced the power of relationships themselves.


Works Cited


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On the College Tour Circuit
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Wildwood junior, Zach F. takes us along on the College Visit Days for Juniors/East Coast College Trip.

Today we arrived in Washington, D.C. at about 3:30 p.m. and we met our tour guide Allen who brought us to our hotel in Arlington, Virginia which is right outside of D.C. Photo 1We decided to split up and walk around Arlington to find a place for dinner. After our group met back up, we went to D.C. for some monument sightseeing. Our group was captivated by the amazing Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and after, we took a stroll on the National Mall to check out the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the Vietnam and Korea memorials. We were all a little tired from the flight over, so we headed back to our hotel and got the sleep required for a full day of college visits tomorrow!

Today we woke up at 8:30 a.m., had breakfast and headed to our first college visit at Georgetown University! We were all immediately mesmerized by the beautiful colonial architecture and the campus feel of the school. In addition to the amazing campus community, Georgetown is surrounded by a very posh, colonial neighborhood right outside of metropolitan D.C. Photo 2We took a great tour around the campus making sure to check out the new student study hall and some classrooms in Heely Hall, the campus’ main building. Overall, our group loved Georgetown and was extremely excited to go check out George Washington University. We arrived at George Washington University after lunch and headed up to the welcome center for our information session. Right off the bat, GW and Georgetown had extremely different feels, as GW is more of a city- based campus and Georgetown is more secluded. On our tour, we checked out a typical freshman dorm, the amazing science and engineering center, while our tour guide talked to us about his amazing experience at GW. After our tour, we went back to the neighborhood of Georgetown for dinner and then we headed back to our hotel for our last night in D.C.

This morning we woke up early and drove for about an hour until we got to Baltimore, Maryland to visit our first college of the day, Johns Hopkins University. Johns Hopkins is famous for its life sciences program along with its advanced engineering and medical fields of study. The Johns Hopkins Homewood campus is nothing short of spectacular with bricks literally covering every building so that all of the buildings have a brick-laden home style feel. Photo 1We walked around and were nothing short of impressed by the academic integrity of the students. After Johns Hopkins, we took a 20 minute bus ride to Goucher College, a highly progressive liberal arts institution that produces critical thinkers and learners. If it sounds like Wildwood, that’s because it is, except Goucher has more bees. We were all blown away by the mix of new and old architecture and the approachability of the students. After our tour, we drove for about an hour and a half to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where we would stay for the next two days.

We were able to sleep in a little bit this morning before heading on the bus and driving to Pennsylvania’s picturesque Lehigh Valley. Our first stop was Lehigh University, a renowned research and liberal arts university (and my personal favorite!) quote block_1We were guided by Talia Cooper, a former Wildwood student and a current freshman at Lehigh. Lehigh is situated on a hill, and beautiful views of the valley are accessible from all of the beautiful historic buildings on campus. The consensus of our group was that this place is literally Hogwarts! After Lehigh, we drove for about 30 minutes to Lafayette College which happen to be Lehigh’s fiercest rival. Upon arrival, the admissions representative actually told us about a tradition where students can pay to sledgehammer a car that is painted with Lehigh’s colors; some may think that is intense, but that’s the Lehigh Valley rivalry for you. Lafayette College has an amazing curriculum, combining liberal arts and research in a very historic-feeling university setting. After our college tours, we went back to King of Prussia where we had time to shop in the King of Prussia mall, America’s largest mall, no joke!Photo 2

We left King of Prussia this morning (early, might I add!) and drove to the town of Swarthmore to take a look at Swarthmore College, a renowned liberal arts institution. Something that stood out to us about Swarthmore was the first semester pass/fail system, a system where instead of being graded in your first semester of freshman year, you either pass or fail a class in order to get a taste of which disciplines you like. Photo 4Pretty cool, right? Another cool thing about Swarthmore that was appealing is that it’s part of a tri-college consortium with Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College, meaning they can share books and take classes on each other’s campuses. After Swarthmore, we headed to Haverford but we didn’t have a lot of time to tour so we got an abbreviated version of what would have been a very detailed visit. Haverford has a varied campus in terms of architecture, as some buildings are old and others are very new. We left Haverford and drove to the University of Pennsylvania, our first Ivy League School, and an architectural marvel. As the first university in the United States, Penn truly lives up to it’s reputation of being one of the finest Universities in the country. Penn combines the best of both worlds, providing students with a dynamic education in both the liberal arts and programs such as engineering and business. After Penn, we hopped back on the bus and drove for about two hours to New York City, where we had the whole rest of the night to explore.

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Technology: A Tool, Not a Learning Outcome
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Check out our new Tec D.E.C. (Design, Explore, Create) at the elementary campus and you’ll see myriad examples of how our students encounter opportunities to plug in to The Wildwood Way using a range of cool tools, including 3D printers, online design software, and more.


3D Printing Enhances Visual Design Thinking

4th grader Oliver P. shows off his 3D printed car sculpture

4th grader Oliver P. shows off his 3D printed car sculpture

Earlier this year on a field trip to LACMA, our Wildwood 4th graders saw Chris Burden’s Metropolis II, a kinetic sculpture of a modern urban landscape. Burden’s piece is intricately detailed, right down to a freeway system, complete with miniature cars.


Taking their cue from the students’ enthusiasm for Burden’s sculpture, visual arts teachers Kusum Nairi and Kendra Elstad challenged the 4th graders to design and create their own car sculptures as a way of exploring and deepening their learning around sculpture and design.


Closeup of Oliver P.'s 3D printed car scultpure

Closeup of Oliver P.’s 3D printed car scultpure

Guiding students in experimenting with a variety of materials for sculpting—including paper mache, flexible wire, and even found objects—has been part of the approach Kusum and Kendra have used in past. But now, with Wildwood’s new Tec D.E.C. two doors down from the visual arts room, Kusum got inspired to take this year’s project in a new direction: “Why not see if the students could also use 3D printing to sculpt their ideas?”


On a recent visit the Tec D.E.C., I found technology teacher, Patti Baez, engaging a group of Kusum and Kendra’s students tackling projects on laptops. The 4th graders happily show off their work—both in 2D and 3D.

4th grader Donny O.'s 2D and 3D sketches

4th grader Donny O.’s 2D and 3D sketches


“We had to begin with a two-dimensional sketch of our car,” Donny O. tells me, “and then we went online to make this.” He shows me a printed image of his car—this one computer-generated, with depth and texture.


I learn from Patti and Kusum that Donny and the other students used a free online design tool called Tinker CAD for this second stage in the design process. Tinker CAD provides a simple palette of shapes and colors that users arrange to render objects in three dimensions on a virtual gridded platform.


“The design process with Tinker CAD is really similar to what students do with any other sculptural medium.” Kusum explains. “They can try out different shapes and rotate their pieces to get various perspectives.”


“The only difference,” Patti points out “is that the 3D printer produces the final product.”


Oliver P. eagerly shares the 3D printed version of his car. It’s small (students don’t want to use up too much of the plastic printer filament) but an accurate scale model of what he imagined and designed.


Mash-up: Minecraft + California pueblo history

Wildwood’s 3rd grade social studies curriculum considers the founding of the original Pueblo of Los Angeles by the Spanish in the 1870s. Melanie Benefiel’s students strive for historical accuracy, building a replica of the original pueblo according to the reglamento, a standardized city plan used throughout Spain’s New World colonies.


3rd grade students working on their LA Pueblo

3rd grade students working on their LA Pueblo

This year, Melanie decided to add a Tec D.E.C. twist. Her students use the school version of Minecraft (MinecraftEDU) as a virtual platform to build a model of the Pueblo. Each team of 3 to 5 students is responsible for one component of the reglamento—one group builds the plaza and houses, another the farming fields, etc. Each student’s laptop screen provides her or him with a unique first-person view of the entire Pueblo. Students can also see and communicate through text messaging to their peers as they navigate and build their virtual world together.


“Watching my own sons play Minecraft over the years,” Melanie says, “I’ve always thought how it could be an great learning tool. Applying it to our LA history studies seemed like a natural fit,” she continues. “Building this world together also requires the kids to use and build their Life Skills—especially responsibility, flexibility, and problem solving.”


On the day I stopped by, Melanie’s class was revisiting their Minecraft Pueblo after a few weeks. It seems that somehow, the virtual pigs that had been penned in the Pueblo’s agricultural area had somehow gotten out, had multiplied, and were now spread throughout the settlement.

A group of Melanie's 3rd graders revisit their Minecraft build

A group of Melanie’s 3rd graders revisit their Minecraft build


“Oh, great!” one of Melanie’s students says sarcastically, “how are we going to figure this out?” Life skill application: There’s a problem just waiting to be solved.


The Tec D.E.C. is already essentially Wildwood—blending what we know works, and our Life Skills approach with so much innovation. Students come here to incubate new skills in a flexible, technology rich learning environment connecting them with the tools to express their ideas and thinking, collaborate, and apply the academic knowledge that grows in our classrooms each day.

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Pass The Wildwood Advisory Program: Top International Schools Reaching For Our Secret Sauce
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IMG_0499By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

At the most prestigious international college prep schools in the world, academics are extremely important. Kids work hard and there are uniformly high expectations for performance and college matriculation. And, increasingly, these schools are borrowing from the Wildwood Way.

This month I spent some time at Singapore American School (SAS) and The American School in London (ASL). Both schools plan to launch high school Advisory programs next fall, based on the Wildwood approach. It was instructive to see how two very rigorous but culturally different institutions plan to integrate Advisory into students’ lives.sas_logo-web

Both schools came to us in search of an approach to education that fully supports their students’ social & emotional needs. Research is making it increasingly clear that educational outcomes are enhanced when students feel emotionally and socially secure.

quoteblock_1At SAS I had a chance to deepen the work begun on an initial trip back in October—working directly with over half of the high school faculty, helping them build skills that they’ll apply as Advisors next year. At ASL, the work was more focused on the administrators and teacher leaders who are currently building the program and will direct it next year in the high school. I worked briefly with middle school teachers at both schools, as well, providing a quick tune-up for their already existing programs.

SAS middle school teachers engage in the "Bridges or Barriers" protocol

SAS middle school teachers engage in the “Bridges or Barriers” protocol

At its core, Wildwood’s Advisory program provides every student with at least one adult who knows him or her well as both a student and a learner. Advisors mentor their students, monitor their academic progress, and maintain close connections with students’ families. Advisors celebrate their students’ successes and help them refocus and persevere when school gets challenging.

In small groups and intensive workshops, SAS and ASL teachers spent time learning with me what Wildwood faculty already know well. And its not always so obvious: in order to build deeper relationships with students through advisory, teachers themselves need to forge more meaningful connections with each other.

quoteblock_2Learning first how to more thoughtfully communicate and enjoy faculty peers’ company is an essential pre-requisite to forming meaningful bonds with students. By sharing stories with each other about mentors who’ve played a significant role in their lives, and sharing their hopes and fears as new Advisors to their students next year, SAS and ASL teachers have started their training in most Wildwood of ways. We talk about it.The_American_School_in_London_logo

Through The Wildwood Outreach Center, Wildwood School has helped hundreds of schools—public, private, charter, and international—to develop Advisory programs that best suit their students’ needs.

With trips this spring to schools in Singapore, Zurich and London, Wildwood’s global reputation grows. The depth and quality of our middle and upper school Advisors’ mentoring and guidance is becoming the worldwide standard.

ASL high school teachers discuss questions in a "Microlab" protocol

ASL teachers discuss questions in a “Microlab” protocol

And the reasons are clear: when students at any age feel known and supported by the adults in their schooling, their confidence and academic success benefit. The good grades in high school are a positive, but the greater feelings of satisfaction with life and careers after college are the most significant outcome of our approach.

The broad support that students receive from caring adults and other advisors matter.

We’ve known that here in Los Angeles at Wildwood, and now the world is coming to understand it too.

The Head's Perspective
The Head’s Perspective: Rethinking How Students Succeed
quoteblock_1Based on years of conversations with Wildwood parents, it’s clear to me that most of you, like me, are drawn to Wildwood because our work with students isn’t limited to the narrow content that most of us associate with our own school experiences. That broader, deeper focus includes, of course, the kinds of programs that my colleagues so deftly highlighted at this morning’s WWPO Spring Summit. Welcoming those gathered this morning, I referenced an article I’d read over the weekend, published in The Stanford Social Innovation Review.


 quoteblock_2Although much of the research in the article focuses on data collected in public schools, the message is true for children and young adults in any environment: students who embrace social and emotional competencies have a better chance at being the kinds of life-long learners that we all seek to be. The more integrated into the school program the development of those competencies is, the better for students. I hope you find the read as interesting (and affirming!) as I did.

~Landis Green

Head of School

Landis Green, Head of School
The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
The Wildwood Way: At Home and Abroad
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IMG_0378 - Version 2By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

The Wildwood Way finds fertile ground in all kinds of schools, public and private, here at home and around the globe.

Last week The Wildwood Outreach Center held an advisory workshop where we trained half of the faculty from LA’s Para Los Niños (PLN) Charter Middle School. They were impressed by the palpable relationships that Wildwood students and faculty have forged through our advisory program, and are working to develop a similar program that meets their students’ needs. We’re training the rest of PLN’s faculty in April.

Winter sun shines on the athletic field of Zurich International School

Winter sun shines on the athletic field of Zurich International School

This week I’m in Switzerland, bringing Wildwood’s advisory philosophy to the high school at Zurich International School (ZIS)—a 50 year-old independent school serving 1,500 students from 55 different countries.

ZIS learned about the Wildwood Way last year when school leaders purchased a copy of The Advisory Toolkit a how-to and curriculum guide published by The Outreach Center. ZIS already had an advisory program, which school leaders felt it needed a shot in the arm and—like a growing number of schools worldwide—they found inspiration in Wildwood’s program. ZIS’s two assistant high school principals reached out earlier this year, and we arranged for a week-long visit and professional development sessions with ZIS teachers. The goals: help build up the program and assist teachers in adding new facilitation tools to their advisory repertoires.

The Advisory Toolkit: Wildwood's published curriculum guide, known worldwide

The Advisory Toolkit: Wildwood’s published curriculum guide, used worldwide

Last week’s work with an LA public school, and this week’s trip to Switzerland demonstrate the real reach and resonance of the Wildwood Way: two very different schools, diverse populations, both finding myriad useful applications in our approach.

Over the past few weeks, The Outreach Center and Wildwood faculty have delivered workshops in 4 different Wildwood specialties for 60 teachers and administrators from 11 public and independent schools. Here’s a look at who’s been helping other schools learn The Wildwood Way:

Monique Marshall—Elementary students & social activism
Roxanne Bergmans—The Life Skills as a foundation for lifelong learning
Deb Christenson & Steve Barrett—Standards-based English assessments
Jill Valle & Steve Barrett—Advisory

ZIS students gather for a grade-level meeting during advisory

ZIS students gather for a grade-level meeting during advisory

After a few days back in LA next week, I’ll return for a week to the Singapore American School to continue work on their advisory program begun in the fall, followed by a stop in London to help prepare The American School in London for the rollout of their advisory program. Just before spring break, The Outreach Center heads to the annual California Charter Schools Association Conference to spread the Wildwood Way to the many public charter school educators across the state looking for programs that work for kids.

Our calendar tells the story: the Wildwood Way works, in a range of settings. Wildwood’s approach to supporting programs that nurture academic and social-emotional development is good for kids, everywhere.

Steve Barrett

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
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~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

“Children are remarkable for their intelligence and ardor, for their curiosity, their intolerance of shams, the clarity and ruthlessness of their vision.” – Aldous Huxley

As an educator for 23 years, I’ve visited, and taught in, many schools—quoteblock_1public and private, religious and secular. Among them all, Wildwood stands out as a place where students’ intelligence and vision are prized.

Reflecting on that unique aspect of our community, I’ve compiled below just a few examples of how The Wildwood Way respects and seeks students’ intelligence and abilities as an on-going part of our school culture.

Olivia D.'s Weekly Report

Olivia D.’s Weekly Report

Weekly reporters
Each week a different 2nd grader in Stefanie, Natalie, Jessica, and Farrah’s class informs all classroom families on what’s been happening in class. From their own perspectives and experiences these students provide details on what and how they’re learning, and post their insights on the class webpage. Click the photo on the right to see a recent example from weekly reporter, Olivia D.

The Wildwood MedalThe Wildwood Medal
Each year, Wildwood 5th graders read and discuss a half-dozen young adult fiction titles, and then nominate about six for the Medal shortlist. Students are supported by their librarians, Jennifer DuBois and Lorin Lappin, and several teachers. The medal is awarded to book that best meets the students’ selection criteria: Connection to the Life Skills, broad appeal, literary merit, and originality. Click HERE to learn more.

MS Performance PieceMiddle school theater production
Performing arts teacher, Charlotte Cummings, guides a group of student performers, providing theme of life and conflict along America’s southern border. The students create a unique performance piece—not from a published script but rather from their own imaginations, as students propose and produce their own dramatic interpretations and movement pieces.

Wildwood Institute for STEM Research and Development (WISRD)
In its inaugural year, Wildwood students are engaged in designing and executing their own scientific research in areas such as holography and cosmic ray detection. Upper School STEM Coordinator, Joe Wise, and other adult mentors are guiding the student work. Click HERE to learn more about the program, (Originally the Applied STEM Institute.)

Graduation speeches
Every member of Wildwood’s graduating 12th grade class is invited to make a graduation speech. Interested students write a speech, submit it for review by a panel of their teachers, and make any necessary edits. Over the years, these student speeches range from the serious—reflections on assuming responsibilities to their world—to the zany—a musical ode to The Habits of Mind and Heart performed on ukulele. Click HERE to view examples from a recent 12th grade graduation.

Steve Barrett

The Head's Perspective View All Blogs
Head’s Perspective: Dr. King, Current Events, and Multiculturalism
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Visitors from Central High School collaborating on a multicultural piece with our elementary students

Visitors from Central High School collaborating on a project with our elementary students

Last weekend, when we formally acknowledge the work and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I was grateful. Certainly, I’m grateful for the change that Dr. King, his family, friends, colleagues, and collaborators brought about through the work he led and influenced—fifty years ago and into the future. More specifically, I’m grateful to our students, my colleagues, and our families at Wildwood for so consistently continuing to move that work forward for a new generation.


Wildwood’s K-12 multicultural programming has long been celebrated, both at our school and, in fact, in the broader independent school world. I’ve been the proud head of school at conferences in Washington, Houston, Philadelphia, and Seattle to name just a few—watching or facilitating with others sessions on how best to create effective and inclusive multicultural communities.


quoteblock_12014 and—it appears—2015 have and will continue to provide us with evidence that the work of understanding and internalizing a multicultural skill set is increasingly important. That’s especially the case for our students. They will be well-served by being in the habit of seeing situations broadly and equitably. The Habits of Perspective, Common Good, Evidence, and Ethical Behavior come to mind, although all of the Habits and Life Skills come into play.


We’ve heard and read about the events and ramifications in places like Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York City. Sadly, in these weeks before we honor Dr. King, we broaden our concern to include the people of Paris and other cities. There’s work to be done as we prepare for an increasingly integrated, multicultural population in our city, our country, and our world.


Students at Wildwood have been engaged in this work for years, in age-appropriate ways. Our programming this school year has certainly been influenced by—and in situations with older students, especially—directly related to the conflicts that have been brought to light by recent events.


As Dr. King has been quoted:


The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.


quoteblock_2My colleagues and I will continue to thoughtfully engage students in measured study and dialogue around issues of multiculturalism in the coming months and years, always in intentionally objective and age-appropriate ways. The work of building our multicultural and, thereby inclusive, community is central to the ongoing work of teachers and administrators and is the focus of professional development programming throughout the school year.


Our Parent Multicultural Collaborative is yet another resource, providing parents with a vehicle for understanding the hows and whys of our multicultural work, and is an opportunity for constructive and illuminating dialogue.


The parent of a recent Wildwood graduate and current Duke University student emailed me just last week, writing of a conversation she’d just had with her son who began at Wildwood as a kindergartener:


…we were talking about what it was like to make new friends from all over our country and different parts of the world who had various views on political and social issues…He said something that I wanted to pass on to you…one thing that Wildwood taught him from the very beginning is the language to express differences. He went on to say that some kids really didn’t have the vocabulary to express themselves and have meaningful conversations about subjects that can incite strong feelings…I was truly touched by his awareness of that specific gift that his Wildwood education gave him. 


Students from the Human Rights Club

Students from the Human Rights Club

Although our current and future students benefit from our shared sense of purpose, anecdotes like this one provide evidence that our impact extends far beyond our campuses.


Our robust and ever-present conversation around diversity is woven into the Wildwood ethos. When we hear how our graduates are in fact deeply absorbing these values and skills, we are filled with pride and hope. What more could we want?


~Landis Green

Head of School

Landis Green, Head of School


The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Words With Friends
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Integral to the Wildwood Way is a thoughtful, intentional shared language. At the elementary campus, Life Skills provides a lexicon, which The Habits of Mind and Heart build on at our middle and upper campus. The words we use to communicate our ideas and inform instruction at Wildwood include patience, curiosity, and collaboration. Most importantly, the words are woven into every Wildwood student’s daily experience; they are not just big ideas posted on a banner.

quoteblock_1I’m particularly fond of an early episode of The Simpsons in which Homer’s boss, Mr. Burns, invents and bestows an award on Homer in hopes of discouraging him from suing the nuclear power plant where he works. Burns even produces a televised award ceremony to go along with it: The First Annual Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence.

The award is totally meaningless; the humor is in Homer falling for it.

But it’s a familiar exercise in empty language. We’ve all seen the inspirational banners touting “core values” like kindness, respect, integrity, etc. But schools still struggle with bullying, cheating, and the added fallout as students come to learn the hypocrisy of those hollow words.

At Wildwood, our shared language and clarity about the meaning of our words doesn’t make us immune to those real-world issues. But the Wildwood Way is fundamentally different.

From their very earliest days on campus, students at Wildwood begin learning and talking about Life Skills—those desired personal and intellectual skills Wildwood instills in its students every day. Ask a Wildwood elementary school student about The Life Skills and you’re bound to hear examples of how he or she navigates them every day—tackling a challenging math problem in 4th grade through the lens of perseverance or a channeling flexibility when a friend in the Pods wants to use the same toy during Explorations.

life skills_1

The Life Skills appear in every classroom and provide the vocabulary of myriad conversations throughout the day between students & teacher and students & students. They even play a role in how students are assessed, as I shared with a California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) committee on assessment recently.quoteblock_2

I explained that because the Life Skills and Habits of Mind and Heart are integral to how we measure student success at Wildwood. It’s different— on purpose. Talking about how we measure our students’ learning and personal growth is a talk about our language.

In Wildwood’s middle and upper school The Habits of Mind and Heart are even more integrated into school life and culture. They guide cognitive and behavioral practices Wildwood expects its older students to internalize. The Habit of Convention dictates students’ attention to detail and precision in their work while students’ actions in their community involvement work flow through the lens of The Habit of Service The Common Good.

habits of mind and heartEvery Wildwood middle and upper school student knows that the measure of one’s ultimate academic and personal success isn’t found on a report card set on a scale of A, B, or C. Rather, students and their learning are evaluated on narrative assessments which report the extent to which students meet expectations in each of the seven Habits—and recommendations for improvement if they are not.

Putting meaning behind the language we use is essential to The Wildwood Way. That’s what I told the CAIS committee.  Yes, it’s different, and, it works.

The day after presenting I received a follow-up email from one of the audience members, an assessment expert at a peer independent school in Orange County. She wrote: “I thought it was very impressive, particularly the way in which the critical skills and dispositions of a learner become a habit through a very intentional, school wide practice.  It is hard to get everyone using the same language and executing in a similar manner – impressive.”

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Steve Barrett