Sunday, February 17, 2013

Wildwood School - Los Angeles, CA

My second day on the road included a visit to Wildwood School, which sprang up in the early seventies as did many progressive schools when experiential and project based learning was taking the educational community by storm. This was a heady time in educational circles and I cut my teeth as a teacher in an open classroom setting way back then. Wildwood continues to evoke the spirit of hands-on, active learning and is located on a beautiful campus in Culver City.

Founded in 1971, Wildwood School in Los Angeles is a K-12 independent school set on two campuses, approximately 15 minutes apart by car. I visited the lower school and spent time with Katie Rios, Head of the Lower School, and Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching and Learning. I’ll interview Head of School Landis Green at the end of February. Landis and Steve also serve on the PEN 2013 Conference Steering Committee, along with Neal Wrightson and Bob Riddle. The LA progressive schools are very supportive of the PEN Conference, the theme of which is Play Hard, the Serious Work of Keeping Joy in Learning.  (I currently chair the Board of PEN).

Katie centers her definition of Progressive Education on schools helping children discover their passions, while acquiring the skills that will help them have a successful life. She weaves the focus on social justice around the ethos that when much is given to one, much is expected. As children discover more and more about family, classroom, community, and society, the school guides them to understand that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. At Wildwood, even in kindergarten, children see themselves having an important role in their community where they can make a difference. This notion is woven into the mission of the school.

Steve Barrett directs the Wildwood Outreach Center, which partners with educators from public and private schools to focus on progressive teaching practices and building learning communities that emphasize personalized education. Steve took me on a wonderful tour to visit Wildwood classrooms where great examples of progressive teaching practices were on display. Two examples: Fourth grade teacher Colleen McGee’s Identity Project was inspired by Kip Fulbeck’s  work on identity politics. Students demonstrated great courage exploring racial identity, and their posters were exhibited in the classroom. Fifth grade teacher Allan Yu implements a Cognitively Guided Math Program, which helps build number sense by having children engage in problem solving rather than on rote memorization and algorithms.

Katie, Steve and I had an interesting discussion about how important it is to help parents understand how progressive practices manifest in the older grades, and how important it is to reassure them that their children are being well prepared for academic challenges when immersed in a program that requires daily critical thinking and problem solving. This theme of parent education has arisen several times along my journey. We’ll see how other schools are addressing this important existential challenge.

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