The Willow School has always had a garden as part of its 34-acre campus. But last year, it became a communal learning center that enhanced the experiential learning that goes on here.
“During a year where we couldn’t have many of our typical community gatherings, the garden became a space where parents, teachers and students came together,” says Head of School Francisco Ayala. “Led by our parent-run Garden Club, parents, students and teachers planted together, practicing key Willow virtues like respect and responsibility. What students planted was often inspired by their curriculum, like the pollinator flower bed students created and tended to in science class. Watering their plots and enjoying the early harvests became some of the most joyful moments of our spring semester.
“It really inspired everyone involved, including many of our teachers who will be integrating the garden even more deeply into their curriculum this upcoming school year. During a challenging year, it was amazing to feel the Willow community spirit in the garden.”
Teaching the Joy of Learning
At Willow, “the joy of learning” is the focus from preschool through grade 8.
Formed in 2000, founders Pearl Johnson and Mark Biedron aimed to design a place where students learn how to develop ethical relationships and apply systems thinking to complex issues. It’s a school where students learn at their own pace, with hands-on lessons tailored to their learning styles. And it’s an environment where children are encouraged to bring their passions into student-led projects.
The campus has three LEED-certified buildings and plenty of outdoor classroom space, which was expanded last year.
“Teachers really saw the value of having kids learn outdoors as much as possible,” Ayala says. “That is something we’ll carry forward.”
Hands-On Lessons that Connect
The lessons are working.
The Willow School saw its student body grow from 130 to 160 students over the past two years. Some of the school’s growth was due to remaining open during COVID thanks to a litany of safety protocols, but Ayala credits more of it to the school’s mission.
“Parents value experiential, hands-on learning,” Ayala says. “We’re really seeing that the core components of our program—virtues, systems thinking, project-based learning and more— connect with different families. Parents see the positive impact that our approach has on their kids.”
1150 Pottersville Rd., Gladstone