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The Head’s Perspective: Mastery Transcript Consortium
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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

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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.

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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.

 

UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF HANOI (VIETNAM) 

HOMESTEAD HIGH SCHOOL, CUPERTINO, CALIF. 

Work plan

Advisory program development

 

Goals

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.

 

Connection

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.

 

VIENNA (AUSTRIA) INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL 

 

Work plan

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

 

 

 

Goals

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

Connection

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.

 

LEADING SCHOOLS OF THE FUTURE CONFERENCE—HONOLULU

Work plan

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

 

Goals

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.

 

Connection

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.

 

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The Head’s Perspective: The Sound of Music, WWII, and Depth Over Breadth
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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

 
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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.

The Head's Perspective View All Blogs
Global Citizenship and World Languages: Our Mission in Action
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Well over a year ago, my colleagues and I began a process to reconsider how we approach language instruction at Wildwood. Having reviewed scholarly research, best practices in other school environments, and having structured conversations with teachers, administrative leaders, parents, and students, I’m enthusiastic about the introduction of our K-12 Global Citizenship and World Languages program.

 

Interestingly, as I reviewed notes in order to provide context for the new program, I kept getting led back to 2014. Over the course of that calendar year:

 

1) Our board approved the current strategic plan.

2) We received our every-seven-year accreditation from the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS).

3) We executed a comprehensive Parent Survey, which enjoyed 76% parent participation and will—as planned—be administered again in spring 2017.

 

quoteblock_1Many programmatic boats, small and large, launched that year—or at least prepared to launch. They include our shift toward a Global Citizenship and World Languages model through which we will place even more of a premium on international awareness, proficiency in foreign language, appreciation of cultural diversity, and skill development like creativity and innovation—components that clearly connect to our mission and complement our culture, tying to existing Wildwood programs like our multicultural work, project-based learning, and our orientation toward transdisciplinary study.

 

In fact, four out of the five major platforms of our current Strategic Plan included tactics that led directly to our current programmatic thinking. Things like:

 

  • The best of transdisciplinary curriculum and project-based learning will help students understand how their work connects to the real world.
  • The curriculum will expose students K-12 to the issues of social justice, human nature, and the search for truth.
  • Through the curriculum, students will develop versatility and resiliency as they cultivate relationships in school, their communities, and the world.

 

Threaded throughout all the processes and documents were questions about the efficacy of our Spanish-only language program, especially at elementary where K-5 students have traditionally had two 30-minute blocks of instruction a week. The desire for student choice was a recurring theme for older students. We also noted a shared desire for all students to deeply and fully understand their position as powerful agents of change as global citizens.

 

At my request and over the course of last summer and fall, Lori Strauss, Melissa Linehan (our recently retired assistant director of elementary), and Collette Bowers Zinn researched best practices in world language instruction. My colleagues’ research and review led naturally to a proposal for an integrated, transdisciplinary K-12 Global Citizenship and World Languages program.

 

After presenting our findings with K-12 academic leaders late last fall, we shared the draft of a proposal with our K-12 Spanish colleagues in January 2016. Receiving a supportive response from that group, we began to host a series of focus groups for other K-12 faculty leaders, middle and upper school students, and K-12 parents. The process continued through the winter and spring, culminating in a decision to proceed.

 

The plan, discussed and formally approved by Head’s Leadership Team (HLT) last month, includes the following:

 

  • Spanish, although not the only language to which students will be introduced, will continue to be an area of particular focus in elementary, middle, and upper.
  • Elementary students will be exposed to a range of cultures and languages, in age-appropriate ways specific to the curricula and integrated at each grade level.
  • Division One (6th grade) students will rotate through a trimester each of Spanish, Mandarin, and one of the fastest growing languages, coding.
  • Division Two (7th and 8th grades) students will be asked to rank the three according to their interest, and will focus their study on just one for the remainder of their time in middle school.
  • Upper school students will be required to take three years of either Spanish or Mandarin, or two years of each.
  • Should the University of California system decide in the future to accept coding as a language credit for applicants, we will reconsider our exclusion of coding as an upper school requirement option. In the meantime, technology-related coursework in the upper school will continue to fall under the banner of elective coursework.

 

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There is much work to be done, of course, and we’ve begun to put the basic elements of a transition plan in place. For this next stage, Melinda Tsapatsaris and Collette Bowers Zinn will take the lead in working with faculty leaders and others to coordinate the K-12 curricular integration work. They’ve arranged for a representative from the Council of International Schools, an international leader in intercultural education, to work with K-12 faculty in early February.

 

Few individual programmatic initiatives connect to as many or as broad a range of the Board’s approved Strategic Plan goals as the shift toward Global Citizenship and World Languages. Thank you to my colleagues involved in the research and recommendations, to those who are already stepping up to take the lead on execution, and to the colleagues, students, and parents who so enthusiastically participated in our focus groups.

 

Wildwood School’s mission and ethos calls for innovation, change, and growth. This current programmatic shift is yet another example of our mission in action.

 

~Landis Green

Head of School

 

 

 

The Wildwood Way View All Blogs
This is Your Brain on Math
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photo from Stanford Medicine News

Photo Credit: Stanford Medicine News

By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach

 

Wildwood Division One math teacher, Drew Brody, is helping 6th graders change their minds—literally—about their mathematical abilities.

 

Strong or weak, confident or reluctant—students have various descriptions of themselves as math learners.

 

quoteblock_1Mr. B., as he’s known to students, understands how those self-perceptions work on many levels, and wants kids to leave class each day with this takeaway: Everyone can develop the skills and abilities to be successful math students.

 

On a recent visit to class, I hear students discuss the value of making mistakes. Reviewing the previous night’s homework, 6th grader Bronte B. reflects to her class, “Getting stuck on a problem is the best thing you can do for your brain; when you think about what you’re doing wrong and learn from it, your brain actually grows.”

 

quoteblock_2Bronte is right; she’s adeptly employing the Habit of Evidence, as Drew has helped all students verse themselves in the latest research on learning and the brain—with a view toward using it to help them develop a positive math mindset.

 

In this case, Bronte cites the work of Stanford University Professor, Jo Boaler. Struggling and thinking hard when doing math, Boaler has found, causes synapses in our brain to fire, helping to build and support new neural pathways.

 

This applied brain research is unlocking the way that we’re understanding how we learn and develop what Stanford Professor Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset—which, when deployed, can actually change the brain’s structure to increase academic achievement.

 

In Wildwood’s 6th grade math classes, Drew translates this and other research into practice.

(l to r) Leily K., Ruby B., Chloe B., and Bronte B. collaborate on a math demo

(l to r) Leily K., Ruby B., Chloe B., and Bronte B. collaborate on a math demo

 

He emphasizes depth of learning over quantity of problems and speed of mathematical calculation.  (Hint: Some of the world’s greatest mathematical thinkers were very slow processors.) In fact, the first unit of study this year in Division One math is titled, “How the Brain Learns Mathematics.” It’s based partly on Boaler’s free online Stanford MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), How to Learn Math, and is a required source for Wildwood 6th graders. <Click HERE to check out Boaler’s online Stanford course for yourself.>

 

Even a visit to class on a day that students take a demo (i.e., quiz) reveals the connection between research and classroom practice.

 

When students enter the room on a recent Monday, Drew revealed a pop demo in four parts.  Prior to completing the first part, Drew challenged students to “remember what Dr. Treisman said about the secret to success at UC Berkeley.” While Drew’s students clearly understand the context—I need them to fill me in. The translation: students can complete Part I of the demo collaborating with their table mates. And Dr. Uri Treisman, I find out, is a mathematics professor and Executive Director at the prestigious Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas who has conducted seminal research on practices that lead to student success with math.

 

The research relevant to these 6th graders is work Dr. Treisman began while at UC Berkeley, revealing the benefit of student collaboration in an environment of high expectations to individual students’ success in mathematics. These conditions contribute to students developing a trait that Dr. Treisman called “productive persistence,” encouraging the re-wiring of new neural pathways reflective of a growth mindset.

 

I listen in to the power of this practice as a table group of students confer before completing Part I. Samantha B. cautions her tablemates, “First, let’s make sure that we re-check our answers together before we turn this in.” Eliana B. concurs: “Let’s make sure that we have everything in order.”

 

Drew Brody helps students clarify their understanding by asking questions

As they turn in Part I, Drew provides his students a small reward: a mini-sized square of chocolate. It’s intended, only partly tongue and cheek, to help them on Parts II & III, which they’ll complete independently. “Remember,” Drew announces, “research shows the anti-oxidants in chocolate can help your brain with those calculations.”

 

Drew’s students are exposed to an approach to learning that many progressive math educators have practiced intuitively for years, now supported by a growing body of university research.

 

Wildwood welcomes this approach because it’s aligned with the way students’ brains work—and it’s effectively challenging traditional views on mathematics educational practice, now evolving in the face of evidence.