Exploring Education at WIS
Before school ended in June, our Primary School students and faculty were issued a challenge from the Primary School librarians: to expand their reading horizons by participating in the Reading Without Walls program over the summer. The program called for participants to read:
A book about a character who doesn’t look or live like them.
A book about a topic they don’t know much about.
A book in a format that they don’t normally read for fun (picture book; graphic novel; chapter book; book in verse; audio book).
An initiative started by the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, Reading Without Walls “promotes diversity and opens readers’ eyes to new ideas and experiences. In this divided time in our nation’s history, Reading Without Walls is an inclusive way to spread appreciation and understanding for others—and to learn new and exciting things.”
Another part of the challenge was for participants to post photos of themselves reading on the WIS Padlet, which helped create more community around the program. Students (and teachers!) really immersed themselves in the challenge—almost 100 photos were posted to the Padlet over the course of the summer! The variety of books being read was also impressive; one student read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice; another read a book written in Italian in 1919. Students read in books Spanish, French, and English, by authors from all over the world. Many of these photos have been posted on the bulletin board outside the library.
As a reward for their participation, any student who posted to the Padlet and/or completed the summer reading packet by the end of first week of school was in for a special treat: a free book! Over 50 students gathered in the Primary School library near the end of the day last week for their celebration. Primary School Librarian Sue Anderson and her team had multiple baskets of books for these eager readers. They were also given a certificate, in addition to stickers and bookmarks to use with their new books.
One of the best parts of this program? Students had no idea they would be rewarded for participating—they did it because they genuinely enjoy reading!
On Wednesday, August 30, the Grade 8 students participated in a new Middle School program called Leadership Empowerment Training (LET). The goal of this program is to help these students build positive leadership skills that will allow them to serve as catalysts for change in their personal lives, in their peer groups, and in the WIS community. The LET program has three specific areas of focus: understanding leadership, exploring group dynamics, and team-building and collaborative problem-solving. To kick-start this new initiative, the entire grade spent the day off campus at Adventure Links in Virginia.
Once the group arrived at Adventure Links, they were broken into groups by advisory; each group was assigned a different Adventure Links instructor. While there were WIS teachers and staff who served as chaperones for the trip, they were asked to take a step back and really let the students take the lead on the various activities in which they would participate.
Each group started out with a few ice-breaker activities, then moved on to some tougher challenges. For example, several groups had to navigate a low ropes course. The students were tasked with getting everyone across a series of low, interconnected ropes without falling off. They needed to work as a group and really help each other, since it was nearly impossible for one student to stay on the ropes without any support. If one team member fell off, that person had to go back to the beginning. It was rough going at first, but eventually the group developed a solid plan and they quickly navigated the course. After this activity, one group shared the following reflections:
“You had to risk your spot on the wire to help someone else.”
“We developed a kind of routine, between all of us, and we linked arms, and that really helped us.”
“We started having a feeling of how to balance on the wire correctly, so instead of wobbling back and forth constantly, it allowed us to stay still, and we wouldn’t cause other people to fall.”
“We tried different things, and found what worked for our particular group, and just kept going with that idea until it worked.”
“We were focused. We listened to each other well.”
“We were boosting morale—good cheerleading. We were persistent.”
And when asked to identify the skills they had to use in order to be successful, they replied: “Cooperation. Connection. Trust. Reliability. Strategy. Endurance. Balance.”
While most of the activities were group-oriented, each student also had the opportunity to try Adventure Links’ 300-foot zip line. To get to the zip line platform, students had to climb a ladder and walk across a thin rope that was about 30 feet off the ground. Both the walk to the platform and the zip line itself were challenging, especially for anyone who is afraid of heights. Many students were understandably anxious about this activity, but became less so when they heard the encouraging cheers and support from their classmates on the ground. It was powerful to see some students overcome their fear to successfully complete this activity, and to also see the joy and excitement on their faces after doing so.
The next day, students spent time participating in follow-up activities and action planning for the year. Initially, Upper School students came to each group to facilitate a discussion about leadership and empowerment with the Grade 8 students. They addressed the following questions:
What went well in your group at Adventure Links yesterday?
Were there some behaviors, attitudes, or statements that were not helpful at Adventure Links? What wasn’t helpful?
Based on your Adventure Links experience, what positive experiences would you like to see continued here at WIS?
What changes or improvements from teachers do you need to see happen in order for you to feel empowered and appreciated?
Afterwards, Mr. Althaus, Mr. Beck, and Ms. Wilson Odhiambo debriefed with the groups. Some common responses to the question about positive leadership being continued at WIS were:
”We’d like to see more teamwork and communication, like talking more in class, doing more group work together instead of individual projects. We need to be more open-minded and empathetic. We should give everybody a fresh start, not rely on past judgements or stereotypes.”
”We need more positivity, and to use more encouraging words.”
”We should have more hands-on experiences—it can help support a more positive group dynamic. Yesterday, we really had to listen to each other, and once we were able to get through the activity, the relief and satisfaction was really good.”
After a brief discussion about the positive qualities that good leaders possess, the students were instructed to write a letter to themselves, which would be returned to them at the end of the year. In the letter, the students were asked to reflect on times when they may have acted negatively while at WIS, and to create a plan to turn those actions around and become a more positive leader and role model.
There will also be follow-up discussions and activities in advisories throughout the year. LET is a wonderful new opportunity to build vertical community, and develop the leadership strengths of our students “in the Middle.” The hope is that this training will inspire our Grade 8 class to lead by example and to positively impact our school not only this year, but for many years to come.
Two WIS Grade 4 students—Derin and Ilaria—recently had the opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia to be recognized as two of the winners in an international poetry contest about peace. They joined other winners to participate in the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘I Have a Dream” World Peace Rose Garden.
The International World Peace Rose Gardens Project began in 1988 with the goal of promoting world peace by creating rose gardens in public spaces around the world. There are World Peace Rose Gardens in California, Italy, China, Mexico and Georgia.
As an extension of the organization’s efforts, children are invited to engage in several programs, including an annual Inspirational Messages of Peace Contest. Students around the world are asked to submit short poems celebrating peace; winning messages are memorialized on plaques and placed in the rose garden to be appreciated by visitors for a year.
Washington International School was invited to participate in 2017. Our Grade 4 students submitted entries, along with over 12,000 other children from California, Atlanta, India, China, Mexico and Palestine.
Eight WIS students (Zora, Charlie, Anton, Jennifer, Derin, Georgia, Aaricia and Ilaria) were selected as finalists, and received t-shirts and certificates for their efforts. In early April, the contest organizers chose two WIS winners from among the eight finalists.
Derin was thrilled to be a winner, especially because he considers Martin Luther King, Jr. a tremendous inspiration. “I like what Martin Luther King stood for in terms of peace. I didn’t dream I would win, but I am proud to have written a poem in his honor.”
Likewise, Ilaria was pleasantly surprised to be selected. “I used nature as my inspiration. Humans don’t realize how important nature is and I wanted to remind people that we should consider the beauty in nature an example for what we can achieve.”
In mid-May, Derin, Ilaria and their families went to Atlanta for a jam-packed couple of days. They attended a reception with some of the other student winners from the United States and China, and toured Martin Luther King, Jr.’s house.
The Awards Ceremony took place in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where students recited their poems, and enjoyed inspirational messages from Martin Luther King III and others. The celebration concluded with the official unveiling of the poetry plaques at the MLK Rose Garden.
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