Exploring Education at WIS
This Unit of Inquiry falls under the IB PYP transdisciplinary theme How We Organize Ourselves, so the students in each of the four sections then had to figure out how to organize each of their books and artifacts in a way that made sense. Primary School Librarian, Sue Anderson, explained, “when you go into a museum, it’s organized; it has an order to it. So the students figured out that this was the way they wanted to organize the artifacts, and each section decided on the different categories.” For example, section 2A organized The Day the Crayons Came Home under the “Celebrations” category, while 2C placed the same book under the “Everyday Things” category. Likewise, 2B placed Where the Wild Things Are under “Magical Stories,” and 2C placed it under “Transportation.”
After organizing the titles, the students then set about explaining their artifacts in either French or Spanish. They used the electronic portfolio platform SeeSaw to record these explanations, and also to take pictures of their artifacts. Sue then helped them print out QR codes to put next to their artifacts in the museum. Any visitor with a QR reader can scan the code and be linked to the student’s SeeSaw account, where they will see the picture and hear the explanation. For example, one student brought in a black witch’s hat to represent The Wizard of Oz. Scanning the QR code links the viewer to a page with a picture of the hat and a recording in Spanish, explaining why the hat relates to The Wizard of Oz.
This culminating project touched on many subjects: photography (how to properly center an object in a photo, how to pick a good background, etc.); languages (French or Spanish to record descriptions); problem solving (how to organize different titles); technology (using iPads and SeeSaw); and, of course, reading (knowing how to summarize a story and make connections), making this project truly transdisciplinary.
On many a Saturday at Washington International School’s Tregaron Campus, something interesting happens around 8:00 AM: cars begin rolling into the parking lots near the Dacha and the AAA building. The cars are not filled with students coming for testing or driver’s education; instead, parents of WIS students, WIS alumni, and occasionally a WIS teacher occupy the vehicles.
On the surface, the group gathers to play either soccer or basketball. Some players wish to relive their glory years of sports while others might want to get back into shape and/or drop a few pounds. Whatever the motive for participating, an additional benefit is creating a stronger community.
These “parent” Saturdays were the brainchild of the WIS Parent Association, known as WISPA. About three years ago, the idea surfaced as a way to better build community for adults. It began in late October with WIS Parent Basketball and the goal of getting parents in the gym for 90 minutes to play for fun. In the early days, it was difficult to find enough parents to play a full court game with five players per side. In fact, there were times we invited students to join just so we could get a game going. Still, it was fun.
WIS Parent Soccer began in April of that school year. Since WIS is known as a soccer school, we felt sure there would be an interest in playing once a week. The turnout was much better, as anticipated, but there were still many weeks when we couldn’t play the full pitch. It didn’t matter to the group. What did matter was that new friendships were being formed between parents who would not otherwise have met.
When year two rolled around, the crowds for both sports started to get bigger. In fact, there was never a week of basketball when we couldn’t play five on five and actually have a few substitutes on the sidelines. Friendships were forming and people were spending time talking before and after the games. From 9:00-10:30 AM each Saturday, the gym came to life.
Soccer followed a similar growth trajectory; rare were the mornings where the pitch wasn’t covered with WIS parents. In fact, there was so much interest that soccer not only ran from April until June, but the group requested to play throughout the summer as well.
Then something even more fascinating started to occur. Alumni heard about the soccer matches and they started to show up throughout the summer. The crowds swelled to over 30 per evening. There were just as many alumni as parents. Young and old, they came and played for nearly two hours on the hottest of DC summer nights. The camaraderie was incredible. We would stay around talking until it was dark.
This year is the third year of what is now WIS Parent/Alumni Soccer and Basketball. The basketball crowds have grown to over 20 per week. The playing time had to be extended by 30 minutes to accommodate the increased interest. The soccer group has played throughout the winter for the first time ever, as a number of committed parents refused to let the matches stop due to the cold weather. Even last week, with wind chills in the low teens, the group came together to play.
Parents have told me that they now feel connected to the school in ways they never had before. They walk around during WIS events saying hello to friends they would never have made if not for sports. Some have said that sports are the reason they are again in shape and feel great about themselves. Some have even given up smoking!
From a few parents getting together for basketball three years ago to the growing crowds each and every week, fun and community have filled the air. Parents, alumni, and even teachers are connecting with one another through sports on the Tregaron campus — on any given Saturday.
Maybe you’re next? Come out and join us. We will be there.
Thank you to guest blogger Rick Del Sontro, co-president of WISPA.
Keeping in mind the WIS Mission Statement of developing responsible and effective world citizens, and one of the Core Values of encouraging “individual self-discovery and self-expression that values honesty and civility among all members of the community,” this year the Upper School has created and implemented an Honor Council, made up of students and faculty, to hear cases related to infractions of the honor code.
Upper School Principal David Markus explained that he “floated this idea two and a half years ago to the faculty, and went through a process of talking with them and the subject coordinators, connecting them with other schools that had an Honor Council. And we realized that in order for this to really move forward, we have to get a student/faculty committee, with more students than faculty.” As a result, thirteen students and five faculty members formed a committee to create the Honor Council that exists today.
The committee decided that the number of students who serve on the Council should outnumber the faculty so that it stayed student-run, but also recognized that having a faculty member present would offer a helpful perspective. Currently, the WIS Honor Council is composed of two students each from Grades 9 and 10, and three students each from Grades 11 and 12. Each hearing will have five members of the Honor Council present (four students and one faculty member), as well as Dean of Students Sarah Polland.
One of the committee members, senior Jake S., who now serves on the Council, explained that they opted to have multiple people from each grade level and several faculty serve on the Council. This way “each hearing has had a different set of people on the panel [hearing the case], which is nice so people don’t get drained from doing it too much, everybody gets a chance to do it, and there are fresh perspectives” for each case. This ratio of four students to one faculty member, along with having different students hear each case, is relatively novel when compared to other school Honor Councils that the committee researched. According to David Markus, “these kids gave maybe 15-20 hours of time, which they don’t have, in multiple meetings, over four to five months, to create this whole structure. And it’s like no other structure, because they wanted it to be WIS-appropriate.”
When asked why they wanted to be involved in the creation of an Honor Council at WIS, sophomore Zaman K. and senior Jake S. both had similar reasons. Zaman explained, “First, I saw this as an opportunity to take an active part in making a positive change at the school. Also, I was interested in the ethical aspect of it; there’s the issue of being objective, the issue of how you judge people, how these decisions are made, and what the possible repercussions are, which I found very interesting.” Jake said, “I wanted to take on a leadership role. I thought, as a new student, the biggest or most realistic way to make an impact would be to start something. I thought starting an ‘institution at the institution’ would be really interesting and make a longer-lasting impact on the school.”
Both young men also agreed on the importance of involving students in the Honor Council. Zaman noted, “I think students tend to have a better understanding of what other students are going through; they have more empathy, and therefore, when it comes to making these sort of decisions, they can better judge the appropriate response, whether to be strict or lenient. It’s a more open way of doing things.”
Jake and Zaman have each sat through one hearing and, again, had similar feedback. Jake explained that the post-hearing discussion “is a really interesting conversation, but it’s also very difficult, because everybody has their own opinion. Organizing and deciding on the same [decision] took a while, but I think at the end, everyone felt that their voice was heard, and that our final recommendation is based on a very holistic judgment of what should happen.” Zaman added, “every person on [the panel] gives a different type of feedback, which means that when the decision is actually made, it’s really well-rounded and a mix of everyone’s judgements.”
In order to respect the privacy of the students who have gone before the Honor Council, no specific cases are referenced in this article, but Sarah Polland, who takes notes at each hearing, has been quite impressed with how each case has been handled so far: “It’s been really amazing seeing the students take ownership of it, and the maturity and responsibility that they’ve taken in these situations. It’s gone really well. They add a level of reflection and perspective that I don’t think, as an adult, you might remember when you were a student… So far, each decision been unanimous, because of the smart questions that they’re asking, the reflections that the students are sharing when they’re deliberating, and the senior member of the student body who actually facilitates the meeting.”
When it comes time to decide on a consequence for a student, the Honor Council does not just consider the violation itself, but also what the student has learned as a result. Jake explains, “We try to maintain consistency, but we also know that no case is the same, and a lot of what our recommendation to Mr. Markus depends on is how we feel the student has learned from the experience, or if the student made the mistake knowingly or unknowingly.” Zaman adds, “It is much more fine-tuned to the individual; instead of being a set measure for each type of infraction, it’s got to do with the specific circumstances. So, in the end, it’s not the Honor Council that has the final decision. We tell Mr. Markus what we think should be done, and he’s the one who ends up deciding whether it’s appropriate or not.”
The end goals in establishing an Honor Council are to change the culture associated with academic dishonesty, and to decrease instances of academic dishonesty in the future.
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