Our Wildwood, Volume 50

Our Wildwood, Volume 50, Winter 2024



p20 Around the World with REAP

p14 Reflections on Progressive Education

p30 Highlights from Fall 2023

Mission Statement

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) Mission Statement Wildwood School is a dynamic community of culturally and racially diverse families and educators. Wildwood honors individual differences and creates conditions where all can feel safe, accepted, and empowered. Our healthy exchange of perspectives and experiences cultivates compassionate, effective change makers.

Wildwood School cultivates reflective scholars, bold innovators and compassionate leaders equipped with the skills, ethics and inspiration to transform their world.

Taking flight! Owen K. ’31 demonstrates how coding can be used to operate drones. Using block-based coding, 5th grade students experimented with programming physical drones and worked collaboratively to safely guide the drones through a series of challenges. Photo by Elementary School Technology Teacher Doug Meyer


DEAR FRIENDS A Letter from Landis

learning. It was that early work that set me down my own path, eventually leading to Wildwood. I’ve offered up my own reflection on page 14. Wildwood is the ideal environment for futurists. Threaded throughout this issue are countless examples of how my colleagues and our students orient themselves around new ideas, born of research and reflection and in service to the creation of something new. Just one example, on page 20, is our Research Exploration and Advancement Program (REAP). REAP has enabled colleagues to traverse the globe, deepening their own knowledge of their fields and bringing their learning back to Wildwood. I hope you read their stories with the same sense of inspiration and excitement as I do. Later this spring, when we welcome the Class of 2004 back for their 20th reunion, I’m eager to hear their reflections. What of Wildwood have they taken with them into the world? How has Wildwood impacted their lives, personally and professionally? What can we learn from them, and how are they contributing to the lives of others?

Those just getting to know Wildwood School—as job applicants or applying families—often ask others of us to describe the place. I’ve heard colleagues talk about community, innovation, kindness, joy, purpose, and the list goes on. My go-to is usually more than one word. I often recount how, more than any school I know, Wildwood sends graduates off into the world assuming that the educators in their lives—their teachers here, and later, their professors at college—want them to be successful. Our students know that we’re in their court. Reading through this edition of Our Wildwood , another word that often comes up is on my mind. It’s reflection. In the following pages you’ll read of colleagues of mine who literally envisioned and built the programs that Wildwood students enjoy. Our early middle and upper school students and families often referred to themselves as “pioneers,” people who signed on to the compelling idea in the late 90s and early 2000s of what a K-12 Wildwood School could be. Fast forward almost a quarter of a century, and our first graduating class is about to celebrate their 20th reunion. One of them, upper school humanities teacher Corey Fetzer ‘04, has joined those who created our program and those of us who’ve continued to steward it. I’ve loved getting to know Corey and her classmates, people who—even in adolescence—were the type of individuals who were drawn to being part of something bigger than themselves, a school entirely different than what had existed before. A school in which students would be at the center of their learning. As a graduate student and a young teacher (pictured at right), my scholarship focused on understanding the impact of new ways of thinking about teaching and

In the meantime, I’ll simply enjoy the reflections in this issue of Our Wildwood .


Landis Green Head of School





p14 A Reflection on Progressive Education

p20 REAPing the Benefits of Generosity

Head of School Landis Green shares his journey with progressive education, and how it benefits students now and in the future.

Wildwood’s Research Exploration and Advancement Program (REAP) has opened a world of opportunity for Wildwood educators, allowing them to dive deep into their areas of scholarship and interests.


departments GIVING VOICE ......................................................... p4 Wildwood faculty Herach Danlyan, Billy DuMone, Stephanie Fybel, Hagai Izraeli

WOLVES MAKING WAVES ..................... p12 Students and faculty making us proud

STUDENT PERSPECTIVE ..................... p28 Answering the Essential Question by Chloe C. ‘25 and Deb Christensen, Upper School Humanities/Modern U.S. History

GOOD TO KNOW ................................................... p6 Useful information about and for us

BOOK SHELF .......................................................... p10 Recommendations from readers

OH SNAP! ................................................................. p30 Photos from notable Wildwood events

IN MEMORIAM ....................................................... p11 Remembering former Wildwood trustee Ken Brecher (P. ‘12)

ALUMNI ALUMNI NOTES ............................................................... p34 Tell us what you’re up to



GIVING VOICE A conversation between community members

Herach Danlyan, Mathematics Billy DuMone, Athletics Stephanie Fybel, Performing Arts Hagai Izraeli, Music

Twenty years after Wildwood’s first graduating class of 2004, these four middle and upper school educators reflect on their own 20 years of service to the school that they helped shape.

OWW: Take me back to 2004—the early days of middle and upper. What was that like?

BILLY: Because we were such a young school, there were so many things that needed to be created. It was exciting to be a part of that experience. Now, a lot of those systems and frameworks have been put into place, and it’s exciting, in a different way, to see that too, knowing that we played a part in making them. STEPHANIE: As a progressive school, we’re always looking to innovate, but back then, it was really about building from the ground up. I’m just speaking specifically about coming into the theater—there was no stage, no lights, no sound system—it was up to us to figure out what we needed to build successful programs. I’m sure you all feel the same way, too. HERACH: Agreed. There were frameworks in place, such as the Mastery Consortium of Schools, but it was up to us to take those points and then actually fill them in. HAGAI: The school was smaller then, and the community’s involvement with the daily life of the school was very much reflective of that. Community is still very much a part of Wildwood, but with changes in technology, along with the growth of the school, it shows up today in different ways. Back then, I was a new teacher, fresh off the road, with pink shoes and orange hair. In a way, the school and I have grown up together.

From left to right: Middle School Performing Arts Teacher Stephanie Fybel, Middle and Upper School Music Teacher Hagai Izraeli, Athletics Director Billy DuMone, and Upper School Mathematics Teacher Herach Danlyan



OWW: Looking back, do you have a favorite memory?

BILLY: We’re in a different era of the school now, but the heart really hasn’t changed that much. Kind teachers, kind students, kind colleagues—that’s been a through-line from the get-go. I also had different hair then too… OWW: The average tenure for a job these days is approximately 3.8 years. You all just celebrated your 20th anniversaries. What’s kept you a part of Wildwood for all these years? STEPHANIE: For me, there’s the community aspect—over the years, there are parents, students, and colleagues who have become my best friends. I’ll also say, though, that it’s because every day is different. That might be frustrating for some people, but for me, every day presents a new challenge. Every day is a different student connection. So even though we’ve been here so long, I feel like there’s always a newness because of the challenges and opportunities that arise. HAGAI: I see it as an honor and a privilege to work with future generations. I get to give the kids my love of music, my passion for music, and empower them to do the same. It’s a real gift to be entrusted with this responsibility by our families, and I don’t take it for granted. HERACH: There’s an open-mindedness here, and willingness to change perspective. Not simply, “this is how we’ve always done it.” We reflect, and we tweak. BILLY: I think it’s important to have a healthy mix of both old and new in any place. We can share our experience with newcomers, and in return, they bring fresh energies and new perspectives. Talking with new people always reminds me of why I like being here. It feels good to be a little bit of the “old guard.”

STEPHANIE: Years ago I was directing “The Sound of Music,” and I wanted to provide some historical context for students. I connected with the USC Shoah Foundation, and we were able to bring in a Holocaust survivor to speak. We were all so moved, and afterwards, there was a huge line of students waiting to thank and hug her. I will always remember that. There’s also the time I went into labor with my son on opening night of a show—that was a life-changing moment, for sure! HAGAI: I have my favorite moments as a Wildwood parent—seeing my daughter go through milestones like Gateways, Exhibition, and graduation, and then also my favorite moments as a teacher—seeing our students hold their own on stage with world-class musicians during the Concert for Hope, for example. The Original Composition Concert each year is also a highlight, witnessing students actualize both their talents and everything they’ve learned up to that point. HERACH: It’s hard to pinpoint one, but they’re all student-related, whether it was a barbeque face-off with one of my advisees, celebrating after playoffs, or competing with them in the Wildwood Alumni Cup soccer match. When we see each other, we still talk about these moments. BILLY: There’s a connection to alumni that is, I think, special to this place. You build the relationship by going through the experience together, and then when you see each other—whenever that is—you just have this feeling of being connected. We have alumni that coach for us now, and more that come out to games. That, for me, is one of my favorite things.



GOOD TO KNOW Useful information about and for us

Meet Our Newest Board Members

Michille Al-Faisal

FAMILY: Michille and her husband, Joel, have two children at Wildwood and a younger child in preschool. BUSINESS AND BACKGROUND: Michille is a co-owner of several family-owned corporations specializing in hospitality and commercial real estate development based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Additionally, she has a strong background in real estate and investment management, having successfully managed a portfolio of properties and investments across the globe. Michille’s desire to give back to her community led her to volunteer with nonprofit organizations with a focus on helping women and children. Currently, she is actively working to help fundraise and increase

visibility with both The Sarara Foundation, a community-led conservation initiative in Northern Kenya, and Thorn, a California-based organization that works globally to protect children from online sex trafficking and exploitation. Michille was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and was raised in the United Kingdom, Washington D.C., and France before settling in Los Angeles 25 years ago.

Scott Aversano

FAMILY: Scott and his wife, Alexa Faigen, have a son currently enrolled at Wildwood.

BUSINESS AND BACKGROUND: Scott is Executive Vice President at Twentieth Century Studios. During his twenty-five year career in the entertainment industry, he has been an independent film and television producer, a writer, run a major motion picture studio, and produced fifteen movies. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Scott attended The Lawrenceville School, graduated from Brown University with an honors BA in English Literature, and has an MA in English Literature from University of Michigan where he taught English from 1991-1996.

Tiffany Lovett

FAMILY: Tiffany has two children, including a son currently enrolled at Wildwood.

BUSINESS AND BACKGROUND: Tiffany is the President of the Isabel Foundation and past Program Officer. Prior to that, she was an elementary school teacher for 12 years. She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. After a short stint in Public Relations, she earned her teaching certification and a Master of Education from the University of California, Los Angeles. She earned a Master of Arts in Educational Administration from California State University, Northridge in 2003. Tiffany sits on several boards, including the Isabel Foundation, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Charles Stewart Harding Foundation, and Adventure Unlimited. In addition, she is an active church member, serving on many committees. She has two children. Her interests include traveling, scuba diving, skiing, kayaking, and reading.


Used throughout Wildwood programming, the Courageous Conversation Compass ® is a personal navigational tool for helping guide challenging conversations about race. Earlier this fall, our collective compasses pointed toward Austin, Texas, where several Wildwood educators attended the Courageous Conversations About Race (CCAR) Summit as part of our commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB). The Summit, renowned for its focus on fostering dialogue around race and social justice in education, offered a wealth of tools to better engage students around difficult topics such as race, develop critical thinking skills, and build empathy. “The conference provided many learning opportunities, but the most powerful messages were actually reminders about our capacity to upend racism through our own actions and words,” said Claudia Gonzalez, Director of Enterprise Software Systems, who attended as part of the Wildwood cohort. “I feel better prepared to ‘call out’ and ‘call in’, creating space for conversations that will expand and benefit our racial awareness.” Similarly, Elementary Librarian Sandi Crozier added, “The Summit reinforced my constantly growing awareness of the challenges that we face as we address race as well as an appreciation for the learning opportunities presented to us as we engage in racial dialogue.” Deep (Dialogue) in the Heart of Texas

Used throughout Wildwood programming, the Courageous Conversation Compass ® is a personal navigational tool for helping guide challenging conversations about race.

Meet Me in the Middle Tracee Logan (upper school counselor), Billy Pugliese (Assistant Director of Upper School for Academic Services, Teaching, and Learning), Melissa Rosado (Administrative Assistant to Head of School Office) and Cherie Hines (Admission Associate and Program Coordinator) braved the bitter temperatures of St. Louis, Mo., to attend the 2023 NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) earlier this fall.



GOOD TO KNOW Useful information about and for us

Wildwood Recognized as Founding Member of SoCal POCIS

Cuban Journalist Liz Fernández Visits Wildwood

How does your perspective of a story change based on your location? Your nationality? Your government? What effect do sources have on our understanding? These are the questions posed by Cuban journalist Liz Fernández, who visited Wildwood’s middle and upper campus this fall. Liz is the host of “Belly of the Beast”, a collective of Cuban and U.S.-based journalists that seek to tell stories about Cuba from a grassroots, independent perspective. “Despite Cuba’s outsized “” LIZ’S MESSAGE PROMPTS STUDENTS TO ADOPT A GLOBAL MINDSET WHEN impact on U.S. and world affairs, media coverage of the island is severely lacking,” Liz said. “The purpose of ‘Belly of the Beast’ is to help close this gap and bring greater awareness and understanding of the complex realities of Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations through documentary journalism and films.” In other words, offering a different source for perspective. It’s a lesson humanities teacher Alex Cussen hopes his eighth grade students consider as they dive into their Into the Wild projects, an eighth grade capstone project that tasks students with creating an awareness campaign or invention to address issues in society—all while using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a framework. “Liz’s message prompts students to adopt a global mindset when considering their understanding of issues and stories, and think about the multiple factors at play,” Alex said. CONSIDERING THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF ISSUES AND STORIES, AND THINK ABOUT THE MULTIPLE FACTORS AT PLAY. —ALEX CUSSEN

This fall, Wildwood School was honored by Southern California People of Color in Independent Schools (SoCal POCIS) as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations, noting our 25-year membership in the organization. The milestone was made all the more sweet by a new induction to their Board of Trustees—Nicholas Smith,

Wildwood’s Director of Educational Technology.


Wildwood is partnering with Punahou School of Honolulu in a joint initiative to promote Social Emotional Learning (SEL) via athletics. “Social Emotional Learning is at the heart of Wildwood athletics,” said Billy DuMone, Wildwood athletics director. “Our focus is on helping student-athletes realize that success is achieved through hard work, collaboration, and being their best selves–lessons they can carry on into collegiate-level athletics and other areas of life beyond Wildwood.” The basis for this initiative is P/ATH (pathsports.org), a nonprofit organization founded by Cassidy Lichtman, a former member of the USA Volleyball Women’s National Team. P/ATH provides schools with powerful, age appropriate video lessons on relevant student athlete topics such as developing leadership, sportsmanship, and confidence, that feature professional, Olympic, and collegiate athletes. Together, Wildwood and Punahou are working towards raising funds, to be matched by the E.E. Ford Foundation, to incorporate P/ATH-produced curriculum and materials further into their respective athletics programs. “We believe that healing the divisions in our society in the long run depends on teaching young people new skills around empathy and empowerment,” Cassidy said. “The same skills that will make you a stronger athlete will also lead to greater personal success, higher self-esteem, and a more equitable society.” While other schools considered for the consortium have larger athletics programs, Wildwood’s reputation as a leader in using athletics as a means of teaching life skills is what drew interest from P/ATH, Billy said. “It’s both exciting and an honor to be a part of this initiative with Punahou and P/ATH,” Billy said, “and I’m eager to see how it can elevate our student athletes and help build the skills they need to succeed in athletics, and in life.” Paving a Better Path for Student Athletes

For more information on how to get involved, contact Gabrielle Dalmasy, Director of Major Gifts and Strategic Partnerships, at gdalmasy@wildwood.org.



BOOK SHELF by Michelle Simon (P. ‘31), Head Librarian Middle and Upper School

YOU MAY HAVE HEARD SOMEONE IN YOUR LIFE CLAIM THAT GEN Z IS NOT A GENERATION OF READERS. This is simply not true! How Gen Z reads and what they read, however, does differ from past generations. The use of BookTok, a subcommunity on TikTok for discussing and sharing book recommendations, is extremely popular among Gen Z. In fact, Publisher’s Association conducted a survey in which 68 percent of Gen Z readers reported that BookTok inspired them to pick up titles they otherwise would not have. Respondents also said they developed a passion for reading by following BookTok and #BookTok on other media platforms. Publishing data shows that Young Adult, Romance, and Fantasy are among top genres for Gen Z, and it is also reported that they are more likely to choose books based on diversity and representation than past generational groups. While Gen Z has never known a world without e-readers and phones, they still prefer print. Be assured that reading novels is alive and well.

A ROVER’S STORY by Jasmine Warga

A PSALM FOR THE WILD-BUILT by Becky Chambers Reviewed by Megan DiNoia, 7th Grade Humanities Teacher

Reviewed by Talia T. ‘30

A Rover’s Story is a great book about a Mars rover named Resilience. Resilience (Res for short) experiences the world unlike any other rover. Resilience feels human emotions. Meanwhile, a twelve-year old girl named Sophia (her friends call her Sophie) has to write a letter to Res for a school project. She decides to keep writing to Res, even though she thought it was silly at first. Res encounters many friends on his mission to Mars, including Journey, his twin rover who keeps telling him that human emotions won’t help him make rational decisions, and Fly, a drone who won’t stop asking questions. When Res gets to Mars, Res and Sophie each

Sentient robots, climate crisis, and an abandoned countryside might trigger visions of a desolate, apocalyptic landscape in a violent dystopian future, but Chambers’s A Psalm for the Wild-Built is anything but that. Instead, this novella reads like a cozy, fireside chat between two old friends. The story follows agender monk Sibling Dex through eco-utopian towns into the abandoned wilderness, where human settlement is banned. As Dex journeys into the wild in search of their life’s purpose, what they actually find is Mosscap, a robot that has never before interacted with a human. Long

before Dex’s generation, robots had migrated into the wild and have continued on for generations, transforming from human-made machines into a species of “Wild Built.” An unlikely friendship develops as Mosscap accompanies Dex on their journey to find themself. A Psalm for the Wild-Built is equal parts science fiction and

discover something that could change their lives forever. Will they both be able to make it out of hard times? Will they be able to save what matters most to them? This beautiful story is one that most of us can relate to. This book made me want to put it down and cry, but it also made me want to jump up and down in joy and happiness. Join Res and Sophie on their long emotional whirlwind as they experience what it means to be fully alive. Sixth grade students were treated to a special visit by A Rover’s Story author Jasmine Warga earlier this school year. Jasmine shared the process she uses for writing, which students can put into practice throughout the year.

philosophical meditation on what it means to be human. We catch glimpses of our possible futures in the novella’s solarpunk world—which decenters overconsumption and prioritizes sustainability, empathy, and equity—and in its characters, even in a wild-built robot who wisely teaches its human friend that “it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that or earn it. You are allowed to just live. That is all most animals do.”


IN MEMORIAM A Special Tribute

Ken Brecher

It’s no coincidence that former Wildwood trustee and parent of alumnus Ken Brecher found his calling as the longtime leader of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles. If his own life were a book, it would be quite the page-turner. Certainly, there would be a chapter on his academic successes at Cornell, and subsequently, as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. Following that, a chapter devoted to his anthropological work in South America, where he spent two years studying and living alongside the indigenous people of the Brazilian rainforest. And of course, a series of chapters covering his tenure as executive director of Sundance Institute—one of many organizations that looked to Ken to diversify and enhance their cultural offerings. Ken passed away on Dec. 11, 2023, of complications from cancer. He is survived by his wife, Rebecca Rickman, and son Piers, who graduated from Wildwood School in 2012. Ken’s love of our school and enthusiastic vision for its future is inextricably intertwined with Wildwood’s own story, having supported and enabled many of the milestones that make Wildwood what it is today. Ken joined Wildwood’s Board of Trustees in 2002, just two years after the establishment of Wildwood’s middle and upper school programs. It was during his tenure that the school acquired its first property, which Wildwood still owns, and the school’s newly formed K-12 identity was both shaped and strengthened. Ken retired from the board in 2013, and continued to serve as a key advisor and ardent supporter of Wildwood for the following decade. Head of School Landis Green reflected, “Ken was on the search committee that brought me to Wildwood School. Meeting him and other members of the committee in August 2006, I couldn’t then know how much of an impact he’d have on my life. I know I’m in good company expressing that sentiment.” Ken believed in the transformative power of the arts and humanities, leaving a legacy that can be felt not just at Wildwood, but globally. His loss is a great one. He will be sorely missed.




WOLVES MAKING WAVES Students, alumni, and faculty making us proud Our Latest Wave-Makers

Zach Robinson ‘08 Congratulations to Zach Robinson ‘08, who took home the Emmy in Outstanding Musical Composition for a Limited or Anthology Series, Movie or Special! Zach won for his work co-composing Weird: The Al Yankovic Story . He and his collaborator were also nominated for a Grammy for their work on the film. How did Zach spend the day before the awards ceremony? By returning to Wildwood and immersing himself in middle school music practice! We’re proud to see our alumni not only shine in the spotlight, but also maintain a deep connection with the school, mentoring the next generation of Wildwood talents.

Billy Pugliese ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF UPPER SCHOOL FOR ACADEMIC SERVICES, TEACHING, AND LEARNING Billy Pugliese is the first athlete to be inducted in the Wagner College Hall of Fame for water polo. A Division 1 NCAA All-American, Billy went to the NCAA tournament twice in her four years on the team at Wagner, where she set a tournament record for goals scored in a tournament game. Billy finished her Wagner career as the all-time leader in goals (373), assists (113), and steals (179).


Faculty member Joe Wise was essential in the creation of the Wildwood Institute for STEM Research and Development (WISRD), which he led from its founding in 2014 until his retirement in 2022. With a lifelong passion for engaging students in science, it’s no surprise that he’s back at it again. This fall, Joe traveled to Bhutan, helping build out the STEM program for the Druk Institute for Management and Technology. With equipment on loan from Wildwood, Joe introduced students to new technology and research possibilities as part of the country’s new openness and interest in developing its STEM capabilities.

Do you know of a Wolf Making Waves? Let us know! Share your news with news@wildwood.org to be included in the next Wolves Making Waves!


Piers Brecher ‘12

A Championship Season for Varsity Volleyball After a dominating regular season, our upper school girls varsity volleyball team earned the title of Coastal League Champions, easily qualifying for the CIF playoffs, and putting the team among the ranks of California’s best. After an unprecedented, undefeated season (15-0), the girls advanced to the final round and concluded the CIF Tournament as runners up after a hard-fought match against the California Academy of Math and Science. Based on their tremendous play throughout the season, seniors Olivia D. ‘24, Milla C. ‘24, and Lucinda R. ‘24 all earned spots on the All CIF Team. “While this team is full of hard-working athletes who have put in the effort to reap the rewards, what is even more impressive is the heart and care they have for one another and the positive team culture they’ve created,” said Athletics Director Billy DuMone. “It’s a special group and they deserve what they have earned.”

Piers was recently invited to Washington from Ukraine, where he is serving as a training and operations officer with the HALO Trust, to speak on behalf of the organization at an event for American military veterans working in humanitarian Ordnance and Demining Caucus–a bipartisan group of House members who lead the way in supporting U.S. government initiatives to remove land mines and other unexploded munitions around the globe. mine removal. It was hosted by the Congressional Unexploded

Theo U.-N. ‘25 After clocking in at a blistering time of 15:49 at the cross-country state finals, our swift Wolf Theo U.N. ’25 made Wildwood history by advancing to nationals with a ranking of #6 in California!

Kerrington D. ‘26

This fall, Kerrington D. ‘26 took home the top prize in the William Foundation’s Let’s Play LA logo competition. Her logo will be used throughout the organization’s website and social media channels.




FEATURE by Landis Green, Head of School

A Reflection on Progressive Education

Ground-breaking. Underestimated. Constantly evolving. Introduced more than 100 years ago, progressive education continues to benefit students, now and in the future.



FEATURE A Reflection on Progressive Education

Having decided after graduating from college that I wanted to teach, I went back to school. Taking a series of undergraduate level courses, I patched together the coursework equivalent of a second undergraduate degree. Talking with one of my professors about the work I planned to do, he was dismissive of the idea of pursuing a master’s in education instead of a master’s in literature. He believed, as many have and some still do, that content was king. I will admit that I can still clearly remember the exhilarating feeling I had listening to him talk about Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head ; but I don’t remember him asking any of us what we thought. His classes were about him. As has so often been the case in formal education, the content of that professor’s courses was delivered through the lens of his understanding and experience as a straight, white male. It was interesting and I enjoyed him as a professor, but even then I realized that he was teaching me how and what he thought; he wasn’t interested in how or what my classmates or I had to contribute. By then I’d already decided on the master’s of education at the University of Pennsylvania, and my experience in those classes only affirmed my decision to focus on pedagogy. I wanted to understand how to teach kids to engage with material on their own terms, bringing their own set of experiences and perspectives to bear, and learning how to think about their own thinking. To be meta. During my time at Penn, I distinctly remember the feeling of being surrounded by ideas. We weren’t using the student-as-worker-teacher-as-coach language to which I’d be introduced at Wildwood 15 years later, but that orientation was clearly one of the tenets of my program. As an aspiring English teacher, we read of “whole language” learning, how—in classic Deweyan fashion—to guide children to learn by doing, integrating writing, speaking, reading, and listening. It was all so

“I wanted to understand how to teach kids to engage with material on their own terms, bringing their own set of experiences and perspectives to bear, and learning how to think about their own thinking. To be meta.”


Elementary Science Teacher Sam Palm-Shindell and 3rd grade students explore how bird beaks have adapted based on their habitats.

stimulating and hopeful. I remember being exposed to a range of ideas and concepts, and being expected to explore, discuss, debate, defend, and conclude which constructs would best inform my own teaching. One professor, Dr. Susan Lytle, explored with us the pros and cons of Ebonics as a way to engage and connect with our predominantly African-American students in West Philadelphia; another guided us to search for texts with which our students could connect, pulling from them weekly spelling and vocabulary lists. It all felt so novel to me, having spent 13 years in a desk in a row, memorizing, regurgitating, and moving on. A year or so later, as a young teacher, I met with direct pushback to those ideas. Teaching in a socio economically and racially diverse rural school outside of Philadelphia, I’d decided to use an Amy Tan short story I thought my 8th graders would enjoy; I eschewed the mindless, dull, outdated stories present in the set of textbooks I’d been given at the start of the year. I remember clearly the day that my principal asked me to meet with him at the end of a school day. A parent had called into question whether or not I was following the school’s curriculum, since I was teaching a short story outside of the approved textbook and written by a woman of color. My wonderful principal talked through it all with me. He affirmed his support in my practices, yet it was also clear that he was running interference for me; and I knew that it wasn’t going to be the school for me longer term. Graduate school had introduced me to a range of modalities, and—at heart—an orientation to how I think about the work we do with kids, and there was no going back. What Does Progressive Mean? There’s no one definition of progressive education. In the context of Wildwood School, I’ve come to describe it as our commitment to an evolving pedagogy based on research and experience. There are timeless methods for engaging students as learners, which we continue to use, simply because they work. At some point, however, they were all new. They were someone’s version of trial and error, a teacher reflecting on what was and wasn’t working and then trying something else. Brain science has significantly impacted that trial-and-error, informing what gets tried in the first place.

Arriving at Wildwood the better part of two decades ago, I quickly recognized in our elementary language arts programming elements of the “whole language” approach that I was exposed to in graduate school. Students learn to read, write, listen, and speak in integrated ways. Math, science, history—all of it—function in similar ways, providing context so that students will rarely be tempted to pause and ask, “Why do I need to know this..?” Elementary felt then—and feels even more so now—like the perfect blend of constructivist principles with what we have now come to know as mastery based learning. Structures at the middle and upper program, introduced just a few years before I arrived, were informed by the Ten Common Principles promoted by the Coalition of Essential Schools. The Coalition, which served its purpose of inspiring schools around the world to think about what students would need in the 21st century, was founded in the mid-1980s. The Coalition’s work was based largely on the work of Ted Sizer, the founder. Sizer wrote, “Very few high schools ever give their students a clear long-term academic goal and an equally clear signal that it’s the student’s responsibility to get there.” Sizer consulted on the idea that eventually became Wildwood School, and his influence is embedded in all that we do.



FEATURE A Reflection on Progressive Education

Sizer wrote, “Very few high schools ever give their students a clear long-term academic goal and an equally clear signal that it’s the student’s responsibility to get there.” Sizer consulted on the idea that eventually became Wildwood School, and his influence is embedded in all that we do.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and I see daily evidence that the principles—based on the work of Dennis Littky, Deborah Meier, Ted Sizer, and brought to life by founding director of Wildwood’s middle and upper school, George Wood—are still central to our work with students. Other language and systems have been introduced along the way, but the K-12 Wildwood School envisioned in the late 1990s continues to focus on student-as-worker/ teacher-as-coach, all with an eye toward the ultimate goal of the reform that Sizer called for decades ago: teaching children to use their minds well. Increasingly, I see independent schools around the country referring to their “progressive” chops. Desks

Upper School Humanities Teacher Annie Barnes leads current 8th grade students through a sample Advisory lesson during the annual Step Into Upper program.


aren’t always in rows. Discussion is fostered, with students asked to think broadly and critically about what they already know. The word progressive means different things to different people, but I am increasingly inspired by the knowledge that Wildwood School’s influence is often present when I hear the word used. My predecessor Hope Boyd regularly noted that our job is to, “prepare our students for their future, not our past.” She was ahead of her time 20 years ago, and we still are. What do Hope’s words mean for the drill and-kill that is still far too common in both independent and public schools around the country? What are the skills that students need to navigate a world in which endless content knowledge is literally available in the palm of their hand? How best to craft a question that will leverage the best that artificial intelligence has to offer in service to the project at hand? These are the types of questions that can only be answered by people who have been trained to know how to use their minds well—to analyze, synthesize, empathize, and live lives of purposeful contribution. They are the types of questions that Wildwood School graduates will be able to answer. The Future of Progressive Education Welcoming new parents in the fall, I had some tongue in-cheek fun reading from a speech I’d asked ChatGPT to create. My prompt called for a two-minute welcome, emphasizing the progressive nature of our program. The response, which I shared with parents, wasn’t necessarily wrong or bad. On the whole though, it read as canned and soulless. To Hope’s point about preparing kids for their future, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a perfect example. It is part of their future. I know of very few schools that are as well positioned—culturally, pedagogically, structurally—to meet this moment in time. Wildwood, with decades of experience using progressive models to prepare students for college and life, is one. Our school’s relentless commitment to reflection, innovation, improvement, and collaboration within and beyond will keep it that way. I’m grateful to have been involved in the evolution of American education in the last three decades, and I am inspired to think of Wildwood’s role in that evolution in the next 30 years. W


A philosopher, social reformer, and educator, John Dewey (1859-1952) was one of the most influential educational scholars of the 20th century. His work “Philosophy of Education’’ formed the backbone of what has become known as progressive education, and stood in stark contrast to the era’s norm of having students sit quietly and memorize lessons. Dewey’s concept of education put a premium on meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. Dewey argued that education and learning are social and interactive processes, and thus, school itself is a social institution through which social reform can and should take place. In addition, he believed that students thrive in an environment where they are allowed to experience and interact with the curriculum, and all students should have the opportunity to take part in their own learning. More than 70 years after his death, his theories are still being implemented in schools worldwide as educators and legislators recognize the importance of building community, strengthening relationships, and developing higher level thinking skills for real-life application.









REAPing the Benefits of Generosity

Established in 2017 as part of the Landis Green Innovation Fund, Wildwood’s Research Exploration and Advancement Program (REAP) has opened a world of opportunity for Wildwood educators, allowing them to spend a summer diving deep into their areas of scholarship and interests—all with the goal of bringing their findings back to Wildwood’s classrooms. Thousands of miles and half-a dozen countries later, here are a few of their stories…



FEATURE REAPing the Benefits of Generosity


Democratizing Teaching and Learning

Harold discussed how schools are a place to support a democracy. After all, if one sees all students as citizens, they are learning to honor and navigate differences from an early age. Over the next couple days, Harold and his wife Eva ventured with me on walks across the bridge from Kalmar on the island Olmar. As I spoke about the purpose of my trip, Harold generously listened and pushed me to name the current programs at Wildwood that were supporting our U.N. Global Citizenship work—along with trying to name what might not be. What became clear on these walks, where 500 year old windmills stood within a handful of brand new Swedish wind turbines, was what Harold told me: democracies are meant to respect other points of view—something Wildwood students try on daily as they step into the perspectives of others. “The challenge of the teacher is to give tools for students to help build a micro-democracy for their students,” Harold said. “This space encourages negotiations—including accepting conflicts and preserving the ability to change one’s mind.” Harold went on to point out that framing these conversations about widening and changing one’s mind included protagonists both human and non-human. The idea of giving value to conflicts and disagreements seemed fresh and new, yet I remember the middle school debate unit that asks students to build arguments for both sides of a First and Fourth Amendment issue. We went back to the streams of democracy at Wildwood, mentioning how public speaking and debate have existed for thousands of years. Harold’s words made me rethink the existing Wildwood protocols, from fishbowls to Harkness

I read somewhere that summer can be the time to gain experiences so that one can take winter to reflect on those trips. Well, I’m pausing over winter to think back on a sunny summer 2019. You said 2019, Alex? Yes, that would be pre-COVID pandemic and before the murder of George Floyd. That would be about 5 years ago. Got it. Research played a huge role in planning my trip. At that time, our 8th grade Into the Wild program needed a reboot. We wanted to give the program more meaning, while asking students to think more outwardly toward the world around them. In putting together my REAP proposal, I knew I needed resources to address pivotal needs: How to implement design thinking into our project? What international schools and organizations fostered democratic values through project-based learning? What roles do schools play in a democratic society? I put together a list of schools, museums, organizations, and people that I thought would help me answer these questions, which led me to both Sweden and Denmark as part of my research. My trip to rural Sweden started with a visit to the centuries-old town of Kalmar, where I visited a preschool with Reggio Emilia educator Harold Gotson. As we looked at books preschoolers had made on local birds and trees,

What became clear on these walks, where 500 year old windmills stood within a handful of brand new Swedish wind turbines, was what Harold told me: democracies are meant to respect other points of view—something Wildwood students try on daily as they step into the perspectives of others.




discussions, and to think about my own role as a teacher and how I can foster these approaches to learning. This shifting mindset was only reinforced during my time in Copenhagen, where an administrator showed me an example of how they implement democratic practices into classrooms in Denmark. There, in a debate room, black wooden blocks could be moved by students to form desks or chairs, and the shape of the debate space was drawn on the floor with a circle. The circle served as a space to listen to both sides—and encouraged students to change their minds as they heard arguments. These ideas—that a teacher can see themselves as a leader of a class, or micro-society, who engages with students about how to set up the chairs or tables, what protocol to use (for example, fishbowl or Harkness), or how to vote in smaller stakes situations, were all useful pointers that I’ve taken back with me to Wildwood.

Middle School Humanities Teacher Alex Cussen explores the Swedish countryside with educator Harold Gotson.




FEATURE REAPing the Benefits of Generosity

Upper School Science Teacher Christine Wheaton examines a mist-netting bat while in Belize.


In July 2022, I attended the Belize Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Educator Training Course through Ecology Project International. This weeklong program was designed for formal and informal educators and focused on environmental science. Ecology Project International is the same resource my graduate school (Miami University’s Project Dragonfly Advanced Inquiry Program) used for summer courses, which is why I was familiar with it. I was interested in the program to help develop curriculum for the new upper school environmental science course. During the program in Belize, the first stop was Toucan Ridge Ecology and Education Society (T.R.E.E.S.), which is along the Hummingbird Highway and southwest of Belize’s capital city of Belmopan. At T.R.E.E.S, we got to help out with ongoing research projects. One of my favorite hands-on activities was mist-netting bats; we collected bats in the evening and recorded their weight

I have continued to use what I learned through the REAP program to engage my students and get them to think deeply about the world around them.

and limb length, determined their species, and then released them. Since I got rabies shots before I went, I was able to help untangle them from the mist-nets. Another highlight of my time at T.R.E.E.S was going on a plant hike with Irma, a Belizean woman who worked there and was passionate about local uses for various plants. I’ve always been intrigued by ethnobotany and have incorporated that into my environmental science class. The second half of the trip, we stayed near Gale’s Point, which gave us access to work with Kevin, a man who leads turtle conservation programming and also took us out to look for manatees, and Luz, a marine

biologist who helped facilitate our snorkeling trip to the barrier reef and taught us about mangroves. We also learned about the West African cultural legacy in Gale’s Point and were able to participate with activities in the village. Throughout my time in the program, I was able to work with the instructors and my cohort to create lessons and discuss ways to engage our students. That’s served me well throughout my environmental science and biology classes as I have continued to use what I learned through the REAP program to engage my students and get them to think deeply about the world around them.




2023 REAP RECIPIENT PAULA GABRIEL Finding My Rhythm in Cuba and Brazil

Capoeira dancers offer a demonstration in Bahía, Brazil.

and to meet his students, and to invite us to events that are usually reserved only for local participants. For example, we were invited to a religious Tambor ceremony in which the sacred Bata drums were played. The Regla de Ocha-Ifá religion in Cuba comes from the survivals of the African Yoruba religion and Indigenous and Spanish Catholic influences. The Bata drums are the musical focal point of the ceremony and we were invited to the initiation ceremony for a priest, an event that is usually closed to the public. In Havana, every day, I took classes with masters and elders in the tradition of several complex forms of Rumba including the Rumba Cumbia and Rumba Columbia. We studied Bata drumming, Orisha songs, classic danson, and salsa. We were treated in subsequent days to other unique opportunities, including a performance and private lessons with members of the Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro during which I participated as a student,

My travels to Cuba and Brazil in the summer of 2023, made possible by the creation of the REAP grant, gave me the opportunity to grow in ways both expected and unexpected. I experienced an immersion into the music and culture of Cuba and Brazil and I was fortunate to be connected to and study directly from master musicians from several traditions of Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian music. Along the way, I was bolstered by my belief in our objectives as a school: To promote intercultural understanding and connection as a means of developing global and cultural literacy and to foster diversity, inclusion, and belonging while representing Wildwood School and our Global Citizenship values.

Our Afro-Cuban Roots: Havana I had the unique opportunity to study with some of the great masters in Havana, and in the Bahía region on the east coast of Brazil. My teacher and musical guide in Havana was Ernesto Gatell, a renowned and beloved singer of the classic style of the Rumbero, a storyteller, improviser, and communicator of culture. Ernesto seemed to know everyone in Havana and many artists came to pay their respects, to visit

Everything we do in music at Wildwood is undergirded by our appreciation for and commitment to celebrating all of the influences that have combined to form what we know as contemporary, creative music.



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