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Post Series: The WSD Difference

One of the things that makes Weilenmann School of Discovery unique in public education is the integration of specialty courses into the core curriculum. For Lower School, this means that Art, Music, PE, Outdoor and Science are not occasional experiences, but are woven into the K – 5 student’s daily schedule. Moreover, these classes are taught by specialty teachers trained in their respective fields. For Middle School, Art, Music, Latin, and Adventure PE are taught not as elective courses, but as part of a student’s core requirements. A student who attends WSD from grade K through 8 takes nine years of Art, Music, PE, and Science, at least five years of Outdoor, and three years of Latin.

WSD’s enriched curriculum is in part a reflection of its philosophy to educate the whole child. One component of this includes early and frequent exposure to the arts, sciences, nature, and physical play. “We are all artists, athletes, musicians, explorers, and scientists in one way or another,” explains Executive Director, Cindy Phillips. “WSD believes that a child’s education should awaken the talents, creativity and passion that are inherent in each of us.” To open minds and hearts, yes—and to do much more. The benefits of arts-integrated learning alone has shown distinct correlations to higher academic performance and improved student understanding, retention, behavior, attendance, and self-esteem. Add to that the integration of science, foreign language, and physical / outdoor education and you will also see less anxiety and depression, improved social skills, and better attention, concentration, critical thinking and confidence.

It is the goal of all WSD specialist teachers not only to convey an understanding and love of their subjects, but to help students become specialists themselves. Students engaged in specialist courses are considered experts in training, who are then given opportunities to lend their expertise and leadership to small groups, ensembles, or projects. In fact, valuable collaboration and critical thinking skills are developed in precisely this way.

An added benefit of specialty courses is the increased opportunity for cross-curricular and project-based learning. Collaboration between specialist teachers and classroom teachers in other core subjects such as math, history and writing, has become the norm at WSD. The advantages to students are unmistakable in empowering and preparing them to embrace complexity and change. What’s more, students’ motivation for learning and their level of engagement increases, as they find meaningful ways to use knowledge learned in one context and apply it to the world around them. (Collins, Brown, & Newman, “Cognitive Apprenticeship,” October 18, 2009).

Specialty programs provide additional avenues for student expression. For all the research into the brain, behavior, and student performance, perhaps this benefit alone makes it all worthwhile. The individuality, creativity, innovation and passion exhibited by students engaged in specialty classes are as much the teacher’s reward as the student’s, and are moments we celebrate every day at Weilenmann School of Discovery.

Specialists are Pretty Special

Specialist teachers are not only accomplished in their fields, they are passionate about the subjects they teach:

“I take great care in implementing WSD’s vision for art education,” asserts Shannon Kitchens, LS Art Specialist, “because it’s that vision that inspired me to become a part of WSD six years ago. In the classroom, I try to bring out the artist in each student, and to teach beyond basic skills to a new way of seeing and appreciating the world.”

“We do so much in orchestra,” notes Ramona Pace. “We are exploring connections between music and art, placing music in context with history, culture, and science, and learning music in new keys. Our students are absolutely amazing — I love teaching every day!”

“I love to be active. Not a day goes by that I’m not running a trail somewhere,” says PE / Adventure PE Specialist Amy Newman. “My philosophy is ‘Strong bodies, strong minds.’ At WSD I get to share my love of being active with my students. Seeing them understand and embrace a healthy lifestyle from 1st grade up is the most rewarding thing!”

“The hands-on and discovery-based learning we do in 1st and 2nd grade science makes our class a favorite part of my students’ day,” observes LS Science Specialist Laura England. “It’s a thrill to see how much they love science and how eager they are to engage!”

Nathan Florence, MS Artist in Residence, has been at WSD since its first year.

“I have always loved to draw and paint, but I am passionate about art in all its forms. It’s important to me that my students feel that same passion as they find and hone their own artistic voices.”

Alethea Ganetis, General Music Specialist, maintains,

“My music classes impact students’ lives through singing, movement, and finding that ‘underneath the surface’ kind of love for what they are hearing. I try to promote the sheer joy of music, and engage every student at every level. Music is my greatest passion in life, and I hope that rubs off on my students.”

No one has more passion for Latin than Cindy Phillips.

“In my classes, Latin is not a ‘dead’ language. Latin is a living language — lingua aeterna — that students speak, write, read, and translate every day. I see how the study of Latin is restructuring students’ minds, allowing them to see all language with entirely new eyes as they manipulate words and meanings in amazingly creative ways.”

“When I moved cross-country to the West,” remembers Maggie Newcomb, LS Science Specialist, “I researched various schools and thought, if I could pick any of them, Weilenmann School of Discovery would be my first choice. And here I am! Here I can combine my passion for science teaching with my love of nature, and work with students in both indoor and outdoor settings.”

Passionate teachers, engaged students, and a dynamic program are goals WSD has committed to from the start. Specialist courses are a major part of that program, which is carefully designed to foster “academic excellence, intellectual inquiry, artistic expression, creativity and discovery,” and a lifelong love of learning in all students. In short, specialist courses are at the heart of what makes up the “WSD Difference.”