by Melika Panneri, Director of Educational Technology and Innovation
What is your role at Wilson and how long have you been with the school?
This is my sixteenth year at The Wilson School. During that time I've had two primary roles; I was a JK teacher for seven years, and for the last nine years I've been Director of Educational Technology and Innovation. This role has seen a drastic transformation from when I first started. Technology is now a vital component in every aspect of a student's day, and it's integrated into all subjects (not just math and science).
At Wilson, we really do it differently than others. I'm not solely an IT person, I'm also a teacher. In addition to teaching kids the nuances and importance of technology, I help other teachers with their planning and curriculum. We have all of our teachers working together, making sure Wilson stays innovative. It's important to us that we use technology in meaningful and impactful ways, not just because we can.
How do students use technology at Wilson daily?
There are many schools in the area that have terrific technological equipment and resources like us, but what sets Wilson apart is how we use it. Some schools have the best stuff and just use it for word processing. We're able to use technology differently and confidently simply because I can collaborate with all colleagues. A teacher can branch out and explore because I'm able to help and teach them. Teachers are focused on students using technology to create and explore, not just consume. The students are almost always using it to make and do. Our 5th graders just finished their "I Am" videos. All year long their studies revolve around the theme of identity. They bring it all together with these videos by learning about themselves and sharing it with the Wilson community. It's immensely impressive, and the kids love doing it.
The 6th graders participate in a project based on the show Shark Tank. Students work together in starting a new business, creating a new product, and pitching it to the "sharks." They make websites, flyers, pitch materials, etc. They identify problems and try to solve them. Most of them got a simulated investment offer and it was a lot of fun for everyone involved.
This year we held a poetry showcase for our 2nd graders. The students write to a real audience, and that's really unique for a 7 year old. We invite families and all the other students to the showcase, and they enjoy watching the kids work at each station as they share their poetry. We even have the poems scrolling on the Immersion Wall. The students choose their favorite piece and then make a piece of art that symbolizes it in art class. Making it even more interactive, visitors to the showcase scan the art with an iPad, and a video comes up with the student explaining what the art piece symbolizes. Since our students start to compose music in 2nd grade, they write a song for this event, and their music is played in the background of their poetry reading.
When our JK students study animals and habitats they connect with a park ranger in The Channel Islands for a live dive. That means we go under the ocean with a scuba diving ranger live! The students get to see what he is seeing, ask questions, and get live responses. It is a very immersive experience with our Immersion Wall.
What ways have you seen students be creative?
I think a great example is the Flex Time in our upper school. Many teachers are available from all content areas and specialties. It's a different topic each year; this year the focus was on creating giant playground games. The students were broken up into teams and had to plan their own budgets, go to The Home Depot, problem solve, measure, build; they had to do everything. The entire experience was amazing. The students had to learn to listen to everyone and rely on the team. Sometimes a student was a leader, other times a follower. They had to solve a real problem, like running out of money and not being able to buy the right part. It was incredible to see the teams develop their communication, work as a whole, and present their final projects. Now we have playground games for other students to enjoy for years to come, and these students can take pride in leaving their mark on Wilson.
We also have our art program where we often use the teach artistic behavior method. TAB is a method of teaching art by offering choices to students. In standard art classes, you probably did the same project as everyone else. At Wilson, students make choices based on their interests and ideas about what to create and what materials to use. The other day there were some students working on building a hockey goal, some were sewing, others were building a house for a cat, and a few were at the computer making cartoon animations with me. It promotes original ideas and provides the opportunity for students to grapple with problems and make decisions like an artist.
Can you think of a graduate who has gone on and done things with creativity or technology?
Wilson students go on to do great things in really interesting fields. A graduate who comes to mind is Robert Kidwell, who now is in college and has been involved with creative problem-solving while interning and working at G.E. Robert was approached by several workers on the shop floor of a factory, who voiced concerns about aches and pains associated with welding in awkward positions. With their help, he designed a set of interactive training stations which were named "Ergo (ergonomics) Event Stations". The result was a multi-million dollar safety instructional course that both reduced injury reports by 25% in the first quarter after implementing them, and also allowed Robert to present and sell them to a large group of companies at a trade conference. Robert certainly is creative and innovative.
What are your goals and plans for future?
We have some exciting plans and goals for the upcoming year, such as increasing digital citizenship throughout the curriculum. We teach creative coding starting in 2nd grade that ties in with social studies, math, and other units. In 4th grade, students learn the historical background and then turn it into a journey of an Egyptologist. We do things other schools just aren't doing yet, and we take a lot of pride in that.
Even in PE, the older kids make sportsmanship videos that are fun and creative. Not only do they show other kids how to be an athlete, but they learn the importance of fair play and being a good role model. At Wilson, each class connects with the next, and above all, we strive to carry out our motto, Make Your Mark a Good One.
Our biggest difference maker is the fact my role exists. It's not always second nature for teachers to try out some of the initiatives we have here, so having this role and resources gives our teachers the confidence and support to try new ideas. They're not random efforts; it's all a part of our plan. Our mission is to prepare students for the ever-changing world, and technology plays a large role in that. We know students need to be able to collaborate and communicate using technology. For us, it's second nature. Our administration supports this initiative in everything we do.
Other schools receive training on using technology but don't often get it on teaching with technology in the classroom, or they just have an IT person who works on hardware and software. Our Head of School made a conscious decision to have a teacher in this position. We're not afraid to fail and try again, and we teach our students that same mentality.
an interview with Kelly Eidson and Megan Philip
Why is community important to you?
K: When I’m thinking about community, I’m thinking about something that makes us feel whole. As individuals, we want to be a needed, valued part of the whole. We want to feel the community is depending on us, and vice versa. Being connected is important.
M: That’s an essential part of being a human, that sense of belonging. Both knowing people and being known by them is an important part of life and growth.
How have you seen students embrace the concept?
K: The 5th and 6th grades just finished a massive set of projects where they worked on creating games for children of the school to play at recess. Instead of playing soccer during recess, they wanted to develop games younger students could play as they grew up at Wilson. This is where they completely took the whole project on, giving back to the school community in the process. They understood they wouldn’t be able to play these games once they’d graduated, yet still wanted to do if for the younger students. They had to form their own plans, take trips to The Home Depot to build them, troubleshoot when things weren’t working, and everything else that comes with starting a project from scratch. The teachers were guiding and supervising, but the kids had to come up with plans, measure, experiment, and adjust if it didn’t work. That project just showed them what life is about; a group of people solving a problem for others. They learned to execute their ideas to develop solutions and had fun doing it.
M: Wilson really is a home away from home. When I came to pick my daughter from school one day as we were approaching the regular winter break, we were talking about how fun winter vacation would be. Instead of getting excited about time off from school, she said, "Mom, school is fun! Who needs a vacation from that?” That was a special moment where I realized how strong and engaging the community at Wilson truly is. The Wilson school isn’t a place students feel they have to be, but rather it’s a place at which they truly want to be.
As she got older, the community she experienced at Wilson shaped what she wanted out of a secondary school, and now it has predominantly influenced her hopes for college. She wanted the familiar sense of being known and knowing her peers and teachers. That was a key thing she recognized even as an 11 year old, and she’s embraced that in her current discussions of college choices. I hear about her conversations with her high school teachers and the importance community holds in her view of the world. She knows nothing different than a strong community, and now that I’ve seen her grow as a person and a student, I know that impact has had a lasting effect on her and will continue.
How is Wilson a part of the community?
K: The Wilson School has a service focus called the Wilson Outreach Workshop, or more commonly known as WOW, and it's a community service arm of Wilson. This group creates opportunities for Wilson students and parents to be involved in giving back in our community. For instance, WOW collects coats in the fall for Warner's Warmup and shoes for the Shoeman Water Project. We collect and donate to various St. Louis charities, and have also collected and donated Halloween costumes and Birthday Boxes for children in need in honor of Miss Wilson’s (our founder's) birthday. Last year during the flooding, the kids organized a drive to collect money for flood victims all on their own.
This year we have 6th graders in the International Institute where they learned about and became interested in helping refugees. They’ve started serving people new to this country, trying to understand their needs. Our kids took a field trip and brought books from their own library and read them to these kids. Based on the need they saw there, they’re holding a bedding drive. That’s a complete idea from the kids based on their interaction and observations. While it’s extraordinary in general, it’s pretty typical of our kids at Wilson.
M: Wilson teaches students to see who they are not only as an individual but as a person in the world at large. How they’re able to fit in, interact, be productive, contribute, and solve problems. Wilson starts helping them do that at a very young age.
What’s your favorite part of being a family at Wilson?
K: For me, it comes down to the teachers. Every set of teachers we’ve had since we started has so quickly and accurately honed in on my kids strengths and opportunities. Not just in academics, either. My older daughter is quiet, and it’s wonderful to hear the ways the teachers are encouraging her, pushing her, showing her how to use the tools she has, and so much more. The’ve pulled her out of her shell and she’s blossomed at Wilson. I can’t believe this little 2nd grader is now an incredible 6th grader who has grown so much in just a few short years.
It’s so helpful to have two teachers at all times. They’re able to steer them in the right direction, provide guidance and advice they might not even know they need. These teachers are awesome and have made my kids love going to school.
M: I completely echo all of that. It’s honestly really hard for me to pick one thing. When thinking about all my memories, I loved being engaged with so many other passionate people helping the community. I was the PA president when the catastrophic fire happened in March of 2012. There was so much work to be done to get things back to normal for our students and staff. We held school in three interim locations to keep things going, then moved to one "permanent" interim location after that, all in a period of just a month. It was wonderful to see the level of support we received from the parent community through all of it. The families really helped the students and faculty transition through what was a very challenging situation- the communication and collaboration were fantastic. It wasn’t even just current families; we also had many alum parents reach out and provide a great deal of help during the entire situation.
As difficult a time as that was, it was truly a positive experience to see the community come together and rise to the occasion, pitch in, and do it all cheerfully. I feel proud to have been a part of that amazing experience.
K: I was in a committee meeting recently with parents who’d never heard of the fire, and I found it remarkable to see how the school is so much more than just the building. It’s the people, the community. No matter where the school was, it was still The Wilson School.
Read Part 1 Here
an interview with Kelly Eidson and Megan Philip
What’s your role at Wilson?
Kelly: I have been the president of the Wilson Parents' Association for two years now, and as a family, we’ve been with Wilson for four years. We started at Wilson when my oldest child started third grade.
Megan: This is my 10th year being a part of The Wilson School. I’m currently a board trustee. Previously, I was the Wilson Parents' Association president for two years, and have been on the board for six years. I’m currently completing my second term on the board. We came to Wilson when my daughter started Senior Kindergarten.
What is something you feel Wilson does for families?
K: Really, one of the greatest things Wilson does for families is preparing students for transitioning to secondary school. The administration takes this process very seriously, and starts talking about it with students in 5th grade. In 5th and 6th grades, the leadership gives you and your student feedback and insight for preparing for the transition. They work to ensure Wilson students put together the best application they can. Teachers even do mock interviews to help students sharpen their presentation and communication skills for those settings. The faculty know each individual child so well at this point in their life as a student that their tutelage and preparation is less of a dart throw and more of a deliberate roadmap to the success of each student. Wilson leaders and teachers give tremendous feedback and advice for making strong decisions for the future of these students.
M: I wholeheartedly agree with everything Kelly said, both in my own experience and what I’ve seen in other families. Wilson offers families the ability to partner with the school in ways other schools can’t or don’t. That’s because of our commitment to community. It’s not just something we say; it really is such a priority for Wilson faculty and teachers to know the kids and their parents, and it’s evident in conversations, feedback, and support. Wilson families are supported as they’re raising their children, and not only during the school day, but throughout their life as a Wilson student.
I think our size at Wilson is a real advantage when it comes to students growing and reaching their potential. The entire family is known by our faculty, staff, and other families. That can be difficult at other schools, but at Wilson because of our size and commitment to community, families are an integral part of our larger Wilson family. It’s a great way to be involved in your kids' education, have fun, and build strong relationships along the way. Wilson is very unique in that regard.
What does community mean at The Wilson School?
K: When I was growing up, I went to giant public schools where every grade was its own entity, separate from the others. At Wilson, where we have a smaller class size, students are very connected to other grade levels throughout the school. The buddy program is something special here. This program connects pre-kindergarten students to 4th grade students in a mentorship-style relationship. Think about that. A three or four year old might be shy or timid, but their older buddy is their mentor, taking care of them and nurturing them through the school year. For the next few years, they build relationships and get to know each other and rely on each other. The older buddy gets to be proud of their younger buddy, and we see the younger students get excited about seeing their older buddy throughout the school day and different events. They do special projects together, community service projects, birthdays parties, and more. The buddy program has absolutely been so important to my own kids at Wilson. It’s one of their favorite things here!
M: The relationships going both ways were so special to my daughter. My daughter's older buddy even came back to see her graduate from 6th grade. She and her younger buddy still have a strong relationship to this day.
Regarding community at Wilson, we are welcoming to all different types of families, whether you’re new to town, new to independent schools, or have been in the area your entire life. Wilson provides unique opportunities for parents and adults to get involved, no matter their skill or amount of availability. This goes back to our size and emphasis on relationships. There’s a legitimate chance to be involved in the life of the school in meaningful ways you might not get at other schools. It really makes everyone feel a sense of belonging to the Wilson community.
K: If you're comfortable with leadership, there are roles for that. If you’re more of a behind the scenes person, there are roles for that, and everything in between. During the school day, you’ll see parents everywhere. They serve on committees, help planning, etc. It sends a great message to the kids: my mom and dad are part of the school, too. It’s not different from home life or compartmentalized. If you have a special cultural background, skill set, or ability, Wilson is excited about embracing that. The Wilson community is so warm, so welcoming.
Last Fall, Wilson students were invited to enjoy an authentic experience through the Art Aficionado program of the Saint Louis Art Fair (SLAF). Presented by PNC Bank’s Arts Alive, the program gave our students a fully-funded opportunity to choose artwork for permanent display at Wilson School. Students approached this responsibility with a lot of thought: they identified where art could be prominently displayed in the school; they researched artists who would be at the fair; they visited the booths; they spoke with artists to understand their inspiration; and they decided what pieces to purchase. The artwork has been wonderfully situated in our library for a few months.
Wilson’s aficionados not only selected art for our school, they also left a lasting impact on the community by choosing artwork to tour with SLAF’s traveling Public Art Collection. That collection has been on tour throughout the fall and winter and now is at Wilson School. Having a turn to host the Public Art Collection gave our students the opportunity to step into the curator role. They poured through the full collection to select what they felt to be the right pieces and the correct amount artwork to show. Then the students helped to arrange the overall display. This fantastic exhibit will be here through May 11th, and we invite Wilson families and friends to stop in to enjoy it.
by Anne Mayes, Third Grade Teacher
“Say, who are the people in your neighborhood; the people that you meet each day?” Far more than a familiar refrain in the Sesame Street theme song, this broad question sparked an in-depth survey to explore some things you may be wondering about the educators at The Wilson School. After all, “it takes a village” to raise children, and they belong to and are shaped by their community. Due to its profound role in a child’s development, it makes sense to take a thorough look at the people who contribute to the Wilson community and influence your children’s daily experiences.
Educators at Wilson are committed to creating a vibrant and dependable atmosphere, both within and beyond the school. Most of the educators are from the region; these individuals know St. Louis well and are personally invested in its success. More significantly, educators at Wilson are devoted to the achievement of the school and its members. While there are a few newcomers, many of the faculty have taught here for more than a decade. Quite a few have taught at Wilson more than 20, even 30, years! Wilson teachers cannot deny their love for the school, and the consistency of their presence strengthens it immeasurably.
Not only are the teachers in each classroom confident and competent in their current roles, many of them have worked in other educational capacities as well, and these experiences allow them to see situations from a variety of perspectives. Several teachers have taught an array of grade levels, including at the secondary level and beyond. Additional experiences such as substitute teaching, camp counseling, tutoring, working as a gifted enrichment specialist or as a parent educator, have challenged the teachers to develop “big picture” views that are dynamic and realistic. In yet another way the educators expand their views of the Wilson experience, several currently have or have previously had children at Wilson, and this helps them relate to the experiences of their students and families.
The educators at Wilson are inspired, and they seek to inspire others accordingly. Several grew up with mothers who taught and motivated them to pursue careers in teaching. Other sources of inspiration included being passionate about learning, wanting to see that “aha” moment, and a genuine love for children. Wilson educators were fortunate to have great teachers and mentors who left lasting impressions. Their favorite teachers, collectively, were those who took an interest in, encouraged, and supported them. These individuals served to guide them to become lifelong students and self-advocates. They were caring, gentle, and positive; firm and fair; lively, full of humor, and authentic. They modeled excellent work ethics and habits and are credited for helping the educators at Wilson tap into their own potential and creativity, feel confident, and develop their inner voices. Uniqueness was celebrated and championed, and the Wilson educators teach each day with these role models and lessons in mind.
To promote the success of the community as a whole, there are myriad ways Wilson teachers share their talents, develop their passions, and perfect their crafts. They have experience instructing watersports, including kayaking, rowing, and canoeing. They coach and play sports such as water polo, soccer, volleyball, softball, bowling, and even ultimate frisbee. They are leaders of school activities such as Girls on the Run, Let Me Run, and Destination Imagination. They’ve founded professional learning communities; volunteered time with voting leagues; led math clubs and judged debate teams. They are active members in churches, handbell choirs, and local bands. The list herein just scrapes the surface of what educators do during their active time, and it is important to consider how they spend their “free time” as well.
When it comes to downtime, the Wilson crew has many similar interests. They love to be outdoors and feel most alive when they connect with nature, whether through hiking, running, backpacking, or camping. They tend gardens, cook, and spend time with family. They like to be productive and pursue learning even during their spare time. This energy for learning extends to raising chickens, visiting museums and galleries, attending music festivals, reading, and competing in trivia events. Traveling is a common goal or interest, and many educators relate this to their goal to learn about the culture of another area or group of people. They truly seek to experience life through another’s perspective and constantly investigate ways to expand their own mindsets and attitudes.
As a whole, the survey results ultimately prove that this group of educators is active and devoted, both within and outside the classroom. Despite their impressive backgrounds and achievements, they are reluctant to boast about their accomplishments. They are much more comfortable focusing on their goals and continual efforts to reach them. While they are bashful in describing their own strengths, their friends agree that they are interesting, loyal, funny, and delightfully unique.
Fred M. Roger’s 1967 song “Did You Know?” expresses this:
“You can ask a lot of questions about the world… And your place in it.
You can ask about people's feelings; You can learn the sky's the limit.
Did you know when you wonder you’re learning?
Did you know when you marvel you’re learning
About all kinds of… wonderful things?”
In closing, Wilson educators articulate they are grateful to have a job that they love and to be part of The Wilson School community. Asking a few questions and wondering about their personal journeys made it possible to discover some of the impressive things they have done and continue to do each day, and these are the experiences that contribute to how they make a significant difference in the lives of the Wilson students.
Wilson in the News