Students Thrive with Freedom to Focus

Students Thrive with Freedom to Focus

When we teach students how to learn, and self-discovery leads to self-actualization, the process is more meaningful and life-changing. By giving them the tools and encouragement they need to confidently explore the world, Wellington students are empowered to create their own way forward.

First comes empathy. Prekindergarteners have been focused on the idea of kindness, allowing for in-depth discussions that foster important social emotional growth. With the help of teachers Pete Kaser ’96 P ’27 ’29 and Alyson Vigneron P ’33, students created a Kindness Rock Garden to inspire others in the community to spread kindness in the world. After collecting the rocks and painting them, the class worked together to brainstorm ideas that would inspire others to give joy and then wrote the uplifting messages on the rocks. Kaser, Vigneron, and the students hope other members of our school community will add to the garden or place rocks around campus, spreading kindness throughout Wellington.

Understanding what makes all of us unique individuals is another important component of lower school learning. Science teacher Nami Stager P ’30 ’32 recently led 3rd graders on various investigations into inherited and learned traits. They fingerprinted themselves to identify distinguishing characteristics and used mirrors to find skin, hair, and eye color. The labs led to discussions about dominant and recessive traits and how a child’s DNA matches the genetic code of their parents. Students also made Venn diagrams on learned and  inherited traits.

“We used our features such as handedness, shape of our facial features, dimples etc. to discuss our uniqueness,” Stager explains, “and how the world is full of beauty because of our unique identities and features.”

While developing deeper understandings of what makes us unique, lower school students of all ages are given opportunities to explore topics of their choosing. Kindergarteners are currently working on passion projects, in which they select a subject of interest and conduct independent research to be presented to the public in the future. Student Oscar Zikursh ’33 was so excited by the work he had been doing, he reached out to Head of School Dr. Jeff Terwin to further discuss his ideas. When the two met, it was an inspiring moment of validation for Zikursh, who afterwards called it “the best day ever.” 

Terwin is equally enthusiastic about helping students like Zikursh on their personal journeys of discovery. “Everything we can do to make sure they know their ideas matter, and that their stories have a place to be told is probably one of the most powerful things we can do as educators,” he shares.

All of the experiences and skills students acquire in lower and middle school culminate in collegiate level yearlong independent research projects in upper school. The course “Sustainability: Advertising the Environment” sparked an interest in environment science and advocacy for Cindy Fu ’21. Over the spring and summer, she took ecology classes and conducted research with a professor which led her to become fascinated with eutrophication, an excessive richness of nutrients in a lake or other body of water, frequently due to runoff from the land, which causes a dense growth of plant life and death of animal life from lack of oxygen. Fu is currently working with Terwin and Dr. Brandon Sullivan, upper school academic dean, to potentially conduct a survey of the pond at Goodale Park and perhaps make recommendations for how it can be kept cleaner.

For Isaac Brown ’21, an interest in coding that began in middle school with Scratch, an online drag-and-drop coding environment, led him to learn multiple other programming languages. Preferring the strict structure of programming, Brown also enjoys the freedom to create anything he can imagine with code, from video games to intelligent robots.

“The point of most computer science projects, even in the professional world, is to make someone's life easier,” Brown explains, “so when I am looking for a project to work on, I just ask myself what problems I have with things I use on a daily basis.”

His independent science research work involves writing code to pull information from Veracross that will automatically calculate his GPA and also design a notification app for messages he receives from teachers. Next up, he would like to write code that will automatically generate graduation checklists, something that teachers currently have to do by hand for each student.

The work Brown has done while still a senior in high school will continue to benefit him long after graduation. “I really enjoy computer science projects that produce immediate tangible results."