Founded in 1972, Wingra School sits on a hill near scenic Lake Wingra, across from the Arboretum of the University of Wisconsin, in Madison. A K-8 school with 120 students, the name "Wingra" means "duck" in the language of the Ho-Chunk nation who inhabited the area. The charming school building was purchased from the Madison Unified School District in the early 2000's, and spacious classrooms and hallways are a signature part of the identity of the school.
I visited on a cold but sunny winter day with snow covering the ground and watched kids sled and play in the snow at recess. For this California kid, it was an entirely unique experience as I watched how long it took teachers to supervise the "transition" to outside. Kids sit in the hallways donning their ski gear and boots (imagine, you Californians, how long it takes kindergarteners to pull this off). The landscape and the setting play a major role in the culture of the school. The multi-age class names are descriptive of duck habitats, and are metaphors for the students' developmental stages: Nest (5-7 year-olds), Pond (7 - 9 year-olds), Lake (9-11 year-olds) and Sky (11-14 year-olds).
I also had a delightful conversation with Mary Campbell, Wingra's Education Director, who taught at the school between 1990 - 1997, then returned in 2006 after raising her children. Mary cut her progressive educator's teeth studying the British Infant System and now works closely with teachers to co-create the school's educational programs. She is proud of the climate of collaboration at Wingra, and describes it as a place where teachers are highly valued and receive respect from the entire community. I am observing a common attribute of progressive schools - seeing teachers as respected professionals who constitute the heart and soul of a school. Indeed, in this era of normative standards, when much has been taken from teachers, it is refreshing to be around other educators who believe strongly in this principle.
Paul (and the Wingra staff) is another proponent of the multi-age classroom grouping. At Wingra, students spend two (and possibly three) years with one teacher and Paul describe the continuum of growth over the two years as profound. Teachers develop a deep understanding of their students while the "youngers" become "olders," and bring wisdom and leadership to their classmates. As the relationships build, a culture of traditions form at the school to support the learning and create a secure environment for the students.
|Olders share with youngers|
|The warrior teachers of Wingra|
Wingra, one of the few progressive schools in an ostensibly progressive city, swims upstream in the current mainstream of schools in their region. Give these courageous educators credit, and feel good for their lucky students - these guys are doing it right - in beautiful (but very cold) Madison, Wisconsin.