The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Transition by Design
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


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.


…Kids Notice


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.


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Making Technology Purposeful and Balanced in the Home
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By Wildwood Technology Team


A twenty-first century parent has more to manage than just monitoring their child’s television show content and making sure they are home for dinner before the sun sets. While the benefits of technology use for learning are practically endless, personal devices and internet access have brought a set of new challenges for the modern family.


Technology in the home should present balance and purpose. Just as expectations are set in other areas of home life such as bedtime or curfew, parents are encouraged to create such norms around technology use that are modified based on age and maturity level.


As technology plays an increasingly important role in the learning and development of our students, there are many resources parents can utilize that will help their students develop “tech smarts.”

At the elementary school “Tech Smarts” Parent Coffee in October, more than 50 elementary school parents joined the Wildwood tech team to share pressing questions about appropriate use of technology in the home. Questions like, “How much screen time is ok?” and “How can we monitor our kids’ online activity?” and “How can we keep our kids
cyber safe?” were on everyone’s minds. We offered resources, tools, and approaches to address these concerns, recognizing that there is no one size fits all model. We have shared some of these resources and tools below that you may find helpful. (Click here for a printable resource list.)


We all need to become “tech smart.” The Wildwood tech team is here to help.

We are hosting a similar “Tech Smarts” session for middle and upper school parents in the spring. Please stay tuned for dates!








“Tech Smarts”—Resources for Parents



The Head's Perspective View All Blogs
The Head’s Perspective: Mastery Transcript Consortium
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Click here to listen to this blog.


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.


~Landis Green

Head of School

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Back to School of Thoughtful Learning
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

Teachers at Surabaya Intercultural School engaged in an Outreach Center-led discussion protocol

Parents of Wildwood students have thoughtfully chosen our approach for their children. They know the Wildwood way intentionally matches academic rigor with attention to students’ full social-emotional development. That approach is integral to our progressive philosophy—getting kids to college and helping them thrive there, and in their lives beyond.

As schools across the globe continue to choose Wildwood as a model, I find the understanding of our approach is not only spreading, but also soaking deeper into the DNA of many schools.


In August I brought the Wildwood way to Indonesia. Surabaya Intercultural School (SIS)—a Pre-K to grade 12 independent school—is in Indonesia’s second largest city. SIS serves a highly multicultural student body, including native Indonesians, Indonesians of Chinese descent, and white Westerners.


Matthew Gaetano, SIS’s head of school, told me he reached out to Wildwood because within a single week last spring, he heard about the Wildwood approach from two different international school colleagues in Southeast Asia. Both Singapore American School and the United Nations International School in Hanoi, Vietnam, have worked with the Wildwood Outreach Center to establish and strengthen their upper school Advisory programs. Before arriving in Indonesia, Matthew and I planned three days of work together to help the school strengthen its nascent Advisory program.


The Rotunda of Surabaya Intercultural School

To establish some context for the school’s culture and people, I spent the first day observing classes and having conversations—with SIS students, teachers, and parents, in order to hear what they like about their school and their hopes for a revitalized Advisory program. The next two days I worked directly with Advisors and program leaders—helping them to practice the essentials of running Advisory sessions, engaging in purposeful work with their colleagues, and planning for long-term programmatic success.


SIS’s commitment to building a thriving Advisory program mirrors Indonesian culture, where personal connection is greatly valued. I got to experience that over the weekend I spent in Indonesia. After touring the city of Malang, up along the hilly spine of the island of Java, I was invited by Rudi, who works for SIS as a driver, to join him and his family for a meal at their home. With Rudi as interpreter, we shared personal stories and learned about each other’s countries and cultures. His family’s hospitality reminds me that—just like in Advisory—meaningful learning comes through our interactions with others in the context of genuine interest and care.

My tour guide, Rudi, with his wife and mother at their home in Malang, Indonesia


Reflecting on the connections made in conversation, I had a renewed appreciation that our unique Advisory model and the core mission of the Wildwood Outreach Center is realized in daily classroom interactions in Los Angeles, and in so many more settings and situations beyond.


With a renewed sense of connection and possibility, we are fortunate to know that what works for our children is considered a beacon of best practices in learning.


Wildwood Community
From Service to Community: 8th Graders Bond with Veterans
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By Megen O’Keefe, Division Two Humanities Teacher


“There are so many stories,” says 8th Grader Vivian O., perfectly capturing the essence of the day. The connection between Wildwood’s Division Two students and New Directions for Veterans during the day of service was undeniable.


On Friday, April 28, 130 middle school students boarded buses for a quick ten-minute ride to the New Directions headquarters on the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration campus.
Although only a ten-minute drive apart, the differences in space, age, and life experiences were felt by both the veterans and the students. Once the games and the gardening began, the interactions and collaborations occurred naturally. Students and the veterans faced off on opposite sides of the chess boards, played lively games of knock-out basketball and volleyball, strummed ukuleles and sang together, enjoyed horseshoes and ladder golf, created vibrant chalk drawings, and planted several gardens around the VA campus.


Many 8th graders volunteered to assume leadership of each of these stations to ensure that the day ran smoothly, while their classmates seemed to love spending time outside enjoying the sunshine and open space. While playing and working alongside the veterans, students like Vivian began to hear stories of so many who, after serving this country, came home feeling disconnected, struggling emotionally and financially, causing them to lose their support system and homes.


Wildwood’s middle and upper school hosted a panel of veterans from New Directions in October of this year to kick off a toiletry and gift card drive, so students heard some of these stories already, but it was Friday’s “Picnic Day” where they were able to forge more personal and deep interactions. Seventh grader, Yuji W.’s highlight of the day was when he taught a veteran to play chess. Eric N., an 8th grader, and Eddie, a veteran, went head-to-head on the volleyball court.


New Directions for Veterans works with and for homeless veterans to help them rebuild their lives. It was created in 1992 after two homeless Vietnam veterans who credit the VA for saving their lives saw the VA’s funding cut. New Directions has been successful in helping 3,000 veterans get off the street and start rebuilding their lives in Los Angeles. The West Los Angeles headquarters provides temporary housing to 150 veterans. After attending classes and therapy sessions, these veterans will get all the support they need to find jobs and permanent housing.


The day ended with an outdoor BBQ, volleyball game and last minute touches to the garden projects happening around the campus. As we boarded the buses a bit more sunburnt than when we arrived, we also left with shared experiences that a day like this generates.

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Our Reputation Precedes Us
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


Wildwood School directly serves about 750 students each year. However, Wildwood’s influence extends far beyond our walls through the Wildwood Outreach Center—shaping teaching, learning, and school reform here in California, across the United States, and around the world.


Wildwood’s reputation as an institution at the leading edge of what works in schools creates a high demand for the Outreach Center’s consulting and facilitation services. Over a recent two-month span—from mid-February to mid-April—I traveled nearly 35,000 miles, traversing our state and crossing oceans to share the Wildwood way with the world.


Here’s a set of snapshots capturing some of the places Wildwood has planted seeds so far in 2017.




Work plan

Advisory program development



Both schools have a common aim to improve student well-being and academic achievement: Develop Advisory programs to provide a more personalized experience for every student, making sure that each is known, mentored, and appropriately cared for by adults.

Homestead High School (photo from Wikimapia)


UNIS Hanoi is an independent school in Vietnam that educates a multinational student body whose parents are United Nations employees, local and international business leaders, and expatriates. Homestead is a diverse public high school in Silicon Valley located less than one mile from Apple Headquarters, and alma mater of Apple Founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.


Teachers at UNIS Hanoi share their experiences as advisors

Both schools know that Wildwood’s Grade 6-12 Advisory program has become the world standard and that research shows the relationships forged within strong Advisory programs lead to higher academic outcomes for students, and greater job satisfaction for teachers.



One of Homestead’s teacher leaders, Zenas Lee, saw on the Wildwood website the menu of workshops that the Outreach Center offers here in Los Angeles and wanted us to bring the workshop to them. At UNIS Hanoi, one of the high school counselors, Brenda Manfredi, found out about Wildwood’s Advisory program through a former colleague at another international school.




Work plan

Create a whole-school culture of care and connection in grades K-12





VIS Elementary students share their thoughts during a focus group meeting

Vienna International School (VIS) is a K-12 school with all 1,400 students in the same building. Their aim is to forge a whole-school culture where all students and teachers take greater responsibility for the needs, feelings, and learning of others—from the youngest students to the oldest. They worked with the Outreach Center to envision what such a school culture might look like, and a plan of how to work with students, teachers, and parents to accomplish it.


VIS is hoping to develop what educators who visit both of Wildwood’s campuses routinely comment on: The kindness, care, and reflection that characterize student and adult relationships at our school. This is intentional. As our students use the Life Skills and Habits of Mind and Heart, they develop proficiency with a common language and ethos that fosters our school culture.


VIS teachers in a small group discussion


Wildwood’s path to Vienna ran through Thailand. I met VIS’s Current Deputy Secondary Principal, Laura Stewart, last year while guiding Advisory program development work at International School of Bangkok where she was an administrator. When she moved to Austria and began working with her lower school colleagues on shifting school culture, she got in touch with the Outreach Center and asked me to help facilitate their work.



Work plan

Placing relationships at the center of learning and school-wide strategic planning



The Hawai’i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) tapped the Outreach Center to lead learning sessions for both independent, public, and charter school teachers and leaders throughout the state.


Facilitation is at the heart of teaching practice at Wildwood. Our teachers develop their skills as coaches and guides of student learning, rather than just deliverers of content knowledge. This underlies the process by which the Outreach Center works with its clients.

Workshop participants engage in a discussion about the power of relationships


I led a one-hour session highlighting what we at Wildwood know well—that the quality of relationships between students and teachers are essential to student well-being and academic success. I also facilitated the final strategic planning session for all 350 of the conference’s participants—assisting them in reflecting on and applying what they’d learned throughout the conference to plan their schools’ futures.



The Head of the HAIS, Robert Landau, and I first met when he was the Deputy Superintendent of Singapore American School (SAS). SAS faculty and administrators visited Wildwood several times over the past six years gleaning our best practices as part of their own school improvement process. When Robert left Singapore to for his current post in Hawai’i, Wildwood was on his mind—as a great resource for schools (both public and private) across the state.


The foundational idea for the Outreach Center was that Wildwood’s philosophy and practice would always be at the leading edge—and needed to be available to others, to improve educational outcomes for students at schools everywhere. From the start, that idea had traction and today, 17 years on, the Wildwood way has garnered a reputation that resonates around the world more than ever.


The Head's Perspective View All Blogs
The Head’s Perspective: The Sound of Music, WWII, and Depth Over Breadth

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.


It’s not unusual for depth over breadth to be the norm in a core content area, where a group of students might read, discuss, and gain a deeper understanding of 10 books instead of cursorily “covering”—and just being tested on—15 over the course of a year. Inviting Dr. Kori Street, the Senior Director of Programs and Administration at USC Shoah Foundation, to give a talk in the week before our students see a matinee of The Sound of Music is unusual.


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.


That’s depth versus breadth in all its glory.


~Landis Green

Head of School

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
The Wildwood Way To University Partnership
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By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


This week four veteran Wildwood teachers embarked on an important adventure as the inaugural mentors to four graduate teaching candidates from the USC Rossier School of Education.


A year of conversations about this exceptional collaboration led to this initiative that brings together carefully selected teachers-in-training with classroom experts skilled in what matters about the Wildwood approach.


Here’s what’s truly unique: This is a three-way partnership between Wildwood, USC, and Palms Elementary, our partner public school in Systems Thinking learning.  Now each of the teaching candidates will be able to spend their time both at Wildwood and Palms for the rest of the school year to gain insights and experiences they may find in many ways both different and similar.

USC Teaching Candidate Stephanie Kwon and Grade 5 Teacher Monique Marshall

Child-centered learning is the core of the Wildwood Way, and worth sharing in every way we can with a range of partners. Our connection with Palms is in its third year, with many meaningful teacher-to-teacher learning relationships across the two campuses.


Grade 3 Teacher Roxanne Bergmans and Caroline Craig

USC Rossier School of Education leadership was persistent in making this new teacher training program a reality because of our Wildwood approach; plus, our genuine connection to public schools in Los Angeles made it an obvious match.

Carra Rooke and Sea Otter Pod Teacher Grace Lazzarini


The Wildwood Outreach Center facilitates this kind of work because we believe—and the data shows—that Wildwood school culture is unique. Our philosophy is not just words on a page. Our teachers actively model in dynamic classrooms what it means to encourage respectful, thoughtful, reflective learning that engenders personal growth, and academic outcomes.


Lauren Pfeffer and Grade 2 Teacher Alli Newell

Please join us in welcoming Caroline Craig, Stephanie Kwong, Lauren Pfeffer, and Carra Rooke—our cohort of USC grad students to the Wildwood community.



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The Head’s Perspective: Focus on Diversity at Wildwood
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Assistant head of school Melinda Tsapatsaris and I participated in a book discussion this fall, a conversation about J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Both Melinda and I were raised in working class communities, she outside of Columbus, Ohio and me outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. We’ve often acknowledged this shared cultural identity over the course of the decade we’ve worked with one another. At base, our multicultural programming at Wildwood School seeks to affirm the myriad cultural identities, like socioeconomic status, that we each bring to the communities of which we are a part. Understanding our own identities, both in isolation and in relation to the identities of those around us, is an important tool for students—or any of us.


I believe that bringing varied perspectives to bear is especially important in independent school communities, colleges, and universities, where the traditional standard had been to affirm the cultural identities of the majority while providing newcomers with the opportunity to assimilate. Much has been written about the importance of individuals developing a more broadly constructed civic identity in order to be, in the words of Dr. L. Lee Knefelkamp, a professor at Columbia University, “…fully engaged, fully human citizens of their communities.” According to Dr. Knefelkamp, the integration, critical thinking, and capacity for empathy required of the development of a civic identity “…challenges us to identify with others who may be significantly different from ourselves while acting consistently in the face of unexpected circumstances. By developing an active, integrated civic identity, individuals begin to find wholeness and psychological balance within themselves and with others in the world.” Doesn’t that describe the individuals we hope to send out into the world beyond school?


Wildwood’s particular take on this work, developed over time and with the involvement of a dynamic group of K-12 faculty; Rasheda Carroll, our Director of Multicultural Affairs; and other administrative leaders, is admired in independent and public schools around the country. Through our Outreach Center and my colleagues’ and my articles and presentations at national and regional conferences, thousands of independent and public school educators have been engaged in the work and inspired by our practice.


Our Board’s annual retreat, held in October, included a half-day workshop with noted diversity practitioner Alison Park, who’s worked with both our K-12 faculty, Multicultural Leadership Team, and is a guest faculty member at our annual Multicultural Leadership Institute. The Board’s current strategic plan reaffirms our commitment to multiculturalism, inclusion, and diversity and has led to several efforts playing out this school year, one of which will include all members of the community.


In a process that parallels the work of the Board’s Diversity Task Force, Wildwood School has established an AIM Steering Committee to lead us through the considerable work of participating in the National Association of Independent School’s Assessment of Inclusivity and Multiculturalism, a rigorous tool that includes both qualitative and quantitative data. I’d like to thank my colleagues, Board, and parent and alumni volunteers who are serving on the task force and on the steering committee. Taken from the NAIS website, the goals of AIM include:

• Determining progress in meeting diversity and multiculturalism goals;
• Assessing current diversity and multicultural initiatives;
• Encouraging participation of all school affiliation and affinity groups in assessing the school’s current level of inclusivity;
• Providing affirmation of a school’s progress in diversity, multiculturalism, and inclusiveness;
• Providing for meaningful dialogue on building and sustaining a diverse and inclusive school community;
• Providing benchmarking opportunities; and
• Allowing for a community-building process/experience.


Orchestrated by Rasheda Carroll, the AIM process is underway. A series of fifteen “discovery groups” have begun and will continue through the winter months, providing content for our self-assessment. Concurrently, members of the school community—employees, parents, and students in middle and upper school—will be asked to take the AIM Climate Survey from January 13 through February 5 .

AIM Steering Committee members will, over the course of the spring, disseminate the information and data collected and, reconciling it with benchmarked data from peer schools that are similarly committed to diversity and inclusion, will begin to craft observations and recommendations that will be provided to the Board’s Diversity Task Force. That group will, in turn, lead the work of the Board in identifying strategic priorities and goals for the future.


Thank you to both parents and students, in advance, for participating in this important process by completing the survey. In the same way that we regularly ask students to be brave as they reflect on their academic and personal growth, I’d ask that Wildwood parents taking the survey see, as I do, that honest reflection and constructive feedback is an expression of faith and commitment to our school, our community, and our shared future.


Although we’ve enjoyed much success at Wildwood School, we are anything but complacent. The goals that my colleagues, our Board, parents, and I have had for the work have been clear over the course of the last decade, yet the “why” has evolved and grown stronger: a preparation for college is lessened—is compromised—by the absence of honest reflection about who we are, how we learn, and what we have to contribute. Now more than ever, the skills and perspectives that students gain from the richness of our program is necessary and valued on college campuses and beyond.


I’d like to thank those involved in this critically important work by serving on the Board’s Diversity Task Force and on the AIM Steering Committee.


Diversity Task Force: Melanie Benefiel, Joel Brand (Task Force Chair) Rasheda Carroll (Administrative Liaison), Lisa Eisenpresser, Lisa Flashner (Board Chair), Peter Frankfurt, Nina Jacobson, Emma Katznelson, Phil McFarland, Cynthia Patton, Katie Rios, Don Smith, Art Streiber, Paige Tolmach, Melinda Tsapatsaris, Collette Bowers Zinn, and me.


AIM Steering Committee: Kyndall Brown, Rasheda Carroll (Coordinator), Sandi Crozier, Lisa Eisenpresser, Desiree Gaitan, Ben Salk ’09, Don Smith, Paige Tolmach, Kira Arne Verica, and Collette Bowers Zinn.


For yet another opportunity to engage in Wildwood School’s Multicultural programming, please join us for an evening session with this year’s Multicultural Symposium keynote speaker, Reverend J. Edwin Bacon, Jr. An advocate for peace and justice for all, Reverend Bacon retired after 30 years as the Rector of All Saints Church in Pasadena.


~Landis Green

Head of School

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
Advisory Is Essential­—Every Day
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7th-8th Grade AdvisoryBy Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach


Every student in Wildwood’s middle school begins each day with advisory.


Advisory is a time and place intentionally positioned to provide a bridge between the school day and students’ lives outside of school. That sounds simple, even obvious, and Wildwood’s middle and upper schools were founded with this practice in place.  Now, an increasing number of schools organize their students’ day around advisory, because it is meaningful for academic and social reasons.


What Happens Here


Students gather in groups of about 15, led by a teacher who serves as the students’ mentor and advocate. These adults provide an essential link between home and school. In this informal setting, students have the space to develop supportive relationships with adults they trust, and with a small group of peers. Advisory becomes a comfortable space where kids can try out new ideas and explore their identities. In the process, they cultivate a sense of self—academically, emotionally, and socially.


“I think it’s great to have a community of people that you can fall back on,” reflects 6th grader Jamie B. on her experience so far this year. “Your advisory is a group of people that you can trust.”


With this healthy combination of connection and learning students experience a curriculum that’s an essential part of the Wildwood Way. Our advisory program is guided by the most current academic and brain research, which correlates social/emotional support with academic outcomes. With years of data now solidly in place, our once pioneering Wildwood approach is now in high demand by schools worldwide seeking knowledge and training through the Wildwood Outreach Center.


A Week in Middle School Advisory


Monday: Begin with Community

Each Monday morning, the entire Wildwood student body and faculty, grades 6-12, comes together for All School Meeting. Twice a month, middle schoolers stay for a middle school-only meeting bringing together all 180 6th-8th graders.


Hosting responsibilities rotate among each advisory. Here announcements are made, and the host advisory engages their peers in fun challenges and contests, like sculpting a Pokémon character in 2 minutes with clay and straws.


Then, middle schoolers who have been “caught in the act” of positive, community-minded behavior and nominated for recognition by teachers will hear their names called out by Middle School Associate Director, Collette Bowers-Zinn.


Next, Division Two students (grades 7-8) head off to their advisories to engage in a Roses and Thorns conversation. Their rooms are set up with chairs in a circle, and each student—along with their advisor—share one “rose” from their weekend (something that went well, and that they want to share) and one “thorn” (something that didn’t go well or is weighing on their mind). It’s an effective way of helping students leave behind the weekend, and look ahead to the week.


On a visit to Megen O’Keefe’s Advisory, students share a range of roses; from sweet— “We went to my grandma’s house for her birthday,” shares Justin D. to silly—“I had a kazoo solo in my band,” shares Nolan G. Meanwhile, his advisory mate, Grace M., combines her rose and thorn: “I baked a cake—but it was a fail. So I made another one—it was way better!”


D1 Big Room

6th grade students listen to announcements during Big Room

Meanwhile, Division One students (grade 6) have their own activity. All gather in Mrs. H and Louise’s Humanities classroom for their weekly Big Room gathering. Here the Division One teachers help students frame the school week ahead—noting any key work deadlines or upcoming events.


Big Room ends with the naming of the student of the week. This recognition goes to someone whose demonstration of the Habits of Heart stand out, and it’s also a way to have some fun. A key responsibility of student of the week is picking and popping a balloon from a bunch reveals a ‘fun Friday’ activity for the whole Division. This week: Friday is “dress up as a twin” day.


Tuesday: Focus on Personal Growth

Mindfulness characterizes Tuesdays in Division One—including focused breathing intended to promote relaxation and academic preparedness. In Division Two, Tuesdays are often devoted to Council discussions—offering a space and place for students to talk about academic anxieties, social fears, or even gratitude. The Council protocol, developed by the Ojai-based educational non-profit, Council in Schools uses a talking piece (it can be a shell, a stuffed animal, or any other object) that students hand to each other as they follow the four intentions of Council: 1) Speak and 2) Listen from the heart, 3) Speak spontaneously, and 4) Be brief.


Wednesday: Work and Wildcard

Mid-week brings collaboration time to Division One Advisory: All 6th grade students and teachers are free to work together—students on individual work and group projects, while teachers are available to help and also meet one-on-one with students.


In Division Two, Wednesday is Wildcard Day. This time can be to engage in Community Involvement work, Wildwood’s multicultural curriculum (see below), or spend the advisory session preparing for upcoming student-led conferences. Community Involvement activities include a division-wide drive to help homeless veterans in LA, through an organization called New Directions for Veterans, along with environmental stewardship activities in the spring, including beach cleanups.


Thursday: Multiculturalism

Each middle school Division focuses on a multicultural theme. Division One this year is exploring the concept of School Dimensions—the range of ways students identify as part of different groups at school (e.g. by athletic interest, friend group, etc.). Throughout the year, 6th graders engage in lessons that look at the ways in which these identities affect themselves and others.


Division Two students are examining the origins and impact of conflict— which can emerge when engaging in dialogue across difference. This year’s curriculum is designed to help students understand different styles of conflict and leadership, as well as allowing them time to investigate their own inclinations.

Division Two advisor Alex Cussen facilitates a lesson

Division Two advisor Alex Cussen facilitates a lesson


One Thursday per month, all middle school students can opt into activities beyond their assigned advisory. One option: Students can join an affinity group (active groups include students of color and allies to members of the LGBTQ community). Students take their affinity groups seriously. As part of the allies affinity group, 7th grader Angela R. suggests an anonymous advice column for students who identify as LGBTQ as well as their fellow students who seek to support them. “We can make it part of The Howl [Wildwood’s online middle school student journal],” she says.


Students’ other option is to sign up for and attend a discussion around a specific contemporary multicultural issue. One recent Thursday students chose between six topics: Veteran homelessness in LA, the plight of Syrian refugees, an examination of white privilege, the voting rights of prisoners, the interplay between sports and politics, and a discussion on female gender roles.


These opportunities allow students to choose an area of study as well as to join a group that fits their identities and interest.


Friday: A Time to Bond

The end of the week brings opportunities for students and their advisors to simply enjoy one another’s company. The curriculum intentionally encourages fun. Division Two advisories might play a favorite game, celebrate a birthday, or compete in an inter-advisory Olympics. Division One students enjoy the fun Friday activity chosen at the beginning of the week. The goal is to spend fun time together with a purpose—to cement social bonds and build new ones.


Division One students enjoy a game together

Division One students enjoy a game together

On a recent visit, Division One students enjoy playing their favorite board and card games within their Advisory groups. Uno, The Game of Life, and charades offer students the opportunity to interact in ways that help build community. “It’s fun to see how other kids play the game,” 6th grader Skyler S. says during a hand of Apples to Apples. “It helps you understand their sense of humor and how they think.”


The Wildwood approach happens very intentionally in advisory, every day.


We are clear that relationships—between students, and between advisor and advisee are at the heart of all of these middle school advisory activities.