Academic Innovations

Willow has pioneered unique academic programs that support our philosophy and commitment to student-centered learning and achievement.

Systems Thinking

Universities and Fortune 500 companies use Systems Thinking, yet this discipline, which helps students understand and navigate a complex world, isn’t widely taught or used in schools. Willow students are engaged with Systems Thinking in elementary and middle school through interdisciplinary studies and projects. This way of thinking prepares them to be good problem solvers and effective citizens who know how to create positive change in the world.Here’s how Willow students practice Systems Thinking in our classrooms: 

Student-led Genius Hour

Innovative companies like Google practice Genius Hour, and so do Willow’s third, fourth, and fifth graders. Genius Hour gives students dedicated time to explore a passion or interest and develop a project that demonstrates their understanding and mastery of the topic. Willow students have used their Genius Hour to investigate the story behind #KindnessRocks and develop their own fundraiser for a local food ban and investigate how a roller coaster works. They have also researched the lives of entrepreneurs, partnered with a local bakery to learn how to make their favorite baked goods, and explored the construct of the Rube Goldberg machine. Click to learn more about the lifelong benefits of Genius Hour. 

Recess 2X a Day

If you want your child to work as productively as possible in school, then recess twice a day makes perfect sense. Rain or shine, Willow students go outside to play, explore, and learn to get along with one another.

Lower School students enjoy recess after morning snack break and after lunch. They use our 34 acre wooded campus to invent games, build elaborate structures from natural materials, and build essential social skills like collaboration and compromise. Middle School students have a morning break and one scheduled recess. Three days a week, students have Academic Focus, a 40-minute free period they can devote to studying, homework, group projects, or meeting with teachers.

3 World Languages

We believe that meaningful exposure to multiple world languages is vital to forming global citizens who can communicate across cultures. French and Spanish are taught in Grades K- 2. In Grade 3, students choose to continue with French or Spanish until Grade 8. The progression of study includes fluency (speaking and understanding), proficiency (reading and writing), and cultural appreciation. Latin, the root of so many world languages, is required in Grades 6-8 in addition to French or Spanish. Grade 7 and 8 students have earned numerous awards in the National Latin Exam, a competition involving more than 150,000 Latin students throughout the U.S. and 20 foreign countries.

Handcrafts & Architecture

Willow students are engaged with some of the oldest art forms on earth, vital to their intellectual and physical development. Handcrafts are taught from Kindergarten to Grade 4. Weaving and knitting, for instance, mirror traditional methods of storytelling, which supports literacy and language arts. The tactile nature of the Handcrafts program also develops fine motor skills, such as manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.  

Architecture begins in Grade 5. Students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills through the process of design. Handcrafts & Architecture, in conjunction with core academic subjects, foster creativity, self-discovery, and higher order thinking skills. 

Grade 8 Internships

Each spring, Grade 8 students intern with a business, non-profit, government institution, or other organization for one week. In recent years, internships have included law firms, animal shelters, county colleges, boutiques, corporations, doctors’ offices, and media companies.

The unique program provides a venue for students to put knowledge and skills to practical use, explore a potential career, and to demonstrate a tangible connection between their internship and Willow Virtues. Following the internship, students make a formal presentation of the experience to the Willow community at Morning Gathering.

More to Explore on Academic Innovations

Teaching Systems Thinking During Distance Learning

Teaching Systems Thinking During Distance Learning

Even as Willow students learn from a distance, they continue to practice Systems Thinking. What is systems thinking? "Systems thinking is essentially a philosophy," says longtime Willow educator, art teacher, and systems thinking expert Carol Fontaine. "It's a way of...

Thursdays with Willow: Join us for Weekly Webinars!

Thursdays with Willow: Join us for Weekly Webinars!

Join us for weekly webinars where we will explore important topics that will help you navigate distance learning at home and learn more about Willow at the same time! Virtues at School & at Home May 14 at 4 p.m. Virtues are integrated throughout Willow’s...

Request our ebook on Systems Thinking. We will email it to you immediately.

Director of Admissions Lisa VanderVeen is here to help! Contact her at (908) 470-9500, ext. 1100 or via email.

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