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Woodlawn School Encourages Student Creativity and Reflection

By S. Mathur

Active and student-centered learning goes back to John Dewey and his idea of learning by doing. This is exactly what makes Woodlawn School such an exciting place for kids.

Angela McKenzie, Assistant Head of the School, explains that "Students gain a deeper understanding of subject matter by using it in real-world contexts through project-based learning." At every grade level, from K-12, students are called upon to pose questions, problem-solve, and reflect.

This is driven by a completely different educational philosophy from textbook-driven instruction. Project-based learning puts into practice the school's guiding principles of encouraging critical thinking, curiosity, and diligence. Students are free to develop their creativity, leadership, and individuality.

McKenzie says that in practical terms, "Engaging classroom discussions, in-depth research projects, presentations and performances create a student-driven and student-centered atmosphere. Because project work involves field work, you'll find Woodlawn students out and about in the community, interviewing experts and gaining first-hand experiences all year long."

Another guiding principle is environmental sustainability. It is incorporated into the curriculum and the school culture. Student projects often address the stewardship of the land and natural resources. Service learning projects in K-12 connect the children to the real world, and year-long projects involve both advocacy and the study of specific local or global causes such as library service, animal advocacy, and social change.

"Students plant, weed, harvest, add compost and have fun learning science concepts in the gardens," says McKenzie. And in the end students can take home the organic vegetables they have grown, for their families to enjoy.

International travel and service learning projects also teach the children independent thinking and the value of multiple perspectives, compassion, tolerance, and respect. Middle and high school students have the opportunity to travel abroad and learn about a different culture, art, architecture, history, language, food, and traditions. Service learning projects connect the children to the real world, and are open to all grade levels. Year-long projects involve both advocacy and the study of specific local or global causes.

The school is situated on a pastoral, 61-acre wooded campus, which inspires school traditions. Each class belongs to a Family Tree - the Oak, Maple, or Poplar family. Students belong to their families throughout their time at the school, and participate in school activities as members of their families. Each tree has a symbolic value: oak stands for courage and strength, maple for wisdom and balance, and poplar for endurance and opportunity.

Woodlawn Day is the school's oldest tradition and honors Dr. George Stinson, who originally owned the historic campus. Every fall, on this day, students celebrate with 19th century games on the field, gardening, tours of Stinson Hall, and square dancing lessons. It sounds exactly like the kind of school you wish you had gone to, or to which you'd like to send your kids.

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