Willow teachers offer engaging and challenging academics

I have been involved in education either as a teacher, school founder, or school director since 1990. In all of the schools in which I have worked, and the dozens of others that I have visited, there is one common theme: great schools have great teachers. And great teachers have engaging, challenging classrooms. This is the foundation of our academic program at Willow.
We have just finished the hiring process at Willow. And we truly have the Dream (Bigger) Team. I will be highlighting our teachers in a future blog post, but first I want to talk about our academic program and what our scholars will do at school.


Our Schedule

You will notice several things about our schedule that differ from most traditional schools. First, we have longer periods of time for our classes (most are 70 minutes long). This allows teachers and scholars the time to deeply explore topics and work on projects without so many interruptions. Second, you will see that we start a little later and end a little later than most schools. Third, with the extra minutes in each day and the slightly longer school year, our scholars get approximately two additional weeks of academic time in school. Finally, you will see “mindfulness” breaks in the day. This allows scholars time to relax and refocus for the rest of the day.

Sample Student Schedule

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday Schedule

8 am — Breakfast

8:30 am — Crew

9:05 am — Spanish (Monday Learning Lab)

10:15 am — Mindfullness Break

10:35 am — Humanities (Tuesday Learning Lab)

11:50 am — Recharge: Lunch and Mindfullness Break

12:40 pm — Science (Thursday Learning Lab)

1:55 pm — Math (Friday Learning Lab)

3:10 pm —  Explorations: "Mandatory Fun"

3:55 pm — End of School Day


Wednesday Schedule

8 am — Breakfast

8:30 am — Crew

9:35 am — Mentor Check-In and Learning Lab

10:55 am — Health and Fitness

12:15 am — Recharge: Lunch and Mindfullness Break

1:05 pm —  Explorations: "Mandatory Fun"

2:05 pm — End of School Day


The building opens to scholars at 7:45 am. Breakfast, which is optional, is served at 8:00. At 8:30, scholars begin their day with Crew.



The day begins with Crew: this half hour class (and one hour on Wednesdays) includes circle time, check-in, mentor time, and exploration of social justice issues. Also, students will choose community service projects to work on. Some that are already being planned are volunteering at the Humane Society, food, and book drives, building gardens, and visiting senior centers.


Learning Lab

Our scholars have a 70-minute Learning Lab once every day. The lab is staffed by a different content teacher each day so that scholars with the support and guidance they need.
During Learning Lab, scholars grab their Chromebook and log into the Summit Learning Platform where they can view their goals, their projects, and their classes. Each of their classes is broken down into focus areas that represent the content standards they must learn and master throughout the year. Clicking on a focus area takes that student to a playlist, organized by objective and leading to a content assessment. During Learning Lab, scholars work through their playlists at their own pace and take assessments for each focus area when they feel they’re ready.
Content knowledge is the set of facts and information that is fundamental to understanding the world around us. It includes topics like ratios, the structure of DNA, the powers of Congress, the daily life of ancient Romans, or different styles of writing.

Willow scholars have access to a wide variety of resources to help them learn relevant content. These resources, which are curated by Willow teachers, are organized into online playlists that introduce each topic and link to videos, slideshows, websites, readings, and opportunities for practice. Scholars choose the best resources to help them learn both at school and at home.
Learning Lab is also a time for scholars to work towards their own individual goals by following the self-directed learning cycle of setting goals, planning their process, learning new information, showing their learning and reflecting on the process.

It should be noted that while much of the work scholars do in Learning Lab is on the computer; this is not an online class. Scholars are also working individually with their teachers, as well as in small groups with their peers. Learning Lab is engaging and relevant to each scholar.


Humanities (Social Studies and English/Language Arts)

This class is 70 minutes long. Instead of reading boring textbooks about history and writing, our scholars become historians and writers! Here are some of the projects scholars can look forward to this year:

  • Stories and storyboards: how do stories teach people about life? How do we write our own stories?
  • Exploring poetry: Outsiders on trial: scholars will read a novel “The Outsiders” or the short story “The Gun,” learn about the legal system, and conduct a mock trial. Real lawyers and judges will be experts to help guide our scholars through this process.
  • Create a society: scholars participate in a simulation around forming a society. Then, they learn about how different ancient societies were organized and how their organization impacted the people living in them. Next, scholars choose a problem at school or community that they care about and create an organization, group, club, etc. that will address this issue.
  • History: Mythbusters: scholars will look at episodes in American history and learn to distinguish fact from fiction. The final project will be a video or podcast similar to the show Mythbusters.

This class is 70 minutes long. Our scholars will become scientists, learn to apply the scientific method, and use observation and experimentation to understand the world around them. Here are some projects scholars can look forward to this year:

  • Explain a science mystery: are outer space aliens real? Does Bigfoot exist? Our scholars will explore a mystery using the scientific method and in the process learn how to distinguish fact from fiction. 
  • (Don’t) Feel the heat: Everyone uses different things in their life to keep things hot or cold: ovens, coolers, refrigerators, and freezers.  All of these things were invented by engineers who used the ideas of science and engineering to design, build, and test their ideas.  In this project, our scholars will do the same thing!
  • Seed science: For this project, our scholars use the tools of scientific research to explore their own question about how living organisms grow and develop. They design plans to collect data and use the data as evidence to support their conclusions. This project will integrate work in the school garden as scholars learn to grow and harvest food to be used in the school kitchen.



This class is 70 minutes long. Scholars learn math concepts and how to apply these to real-life situations. Here are some projects our scholars can look forward to this year:

  • Plan a garden: our scholars will explore measurements of the area of two-dimensional shapes and surface area and volume of three-dimensional shapes. Scholars will compose and decompose unfamiliar or complex shapes into familiar ones to aid their calculations, as well as representing three-dimensional shapes as unfolded two-dimensional figures to find the surface area. Using what they learn, scholars will help design and plan for the school’s garden beds.
  • My mosaic: scholars create a mosaic out of all of the scholars’ names to be installed on the wall. For this project, scholars will develop a model of their personal mosaic, calculate its cost as well as adhere to design constraints, and use statistics to analyze its various characteristics. Lastly, scholars will write a persuasive argument featuring statistics that speak to the uniqueness of their mosaic.



This class is 70 minutes long. Our scholars will learn Spanish through real-world situations while interacting with the rich Latino/Hispanic culture in Walla Walla. When scholars graduate from Willow, they will be ready for advanced Spanish at the high school level. This class is for both heritage and non-native Spanish speakers. 

Here are some projects our scholars can look forward to this year:

  • Día de Los Muertos celebration: our scholars will cook their favorite recipe and create a video blog, interview Hispanic leaders in our community for our website, and participate in the very popular Día de Los Muertos celebration in Walla Walla.
  • Día de Los Niños: our scholars will prepare and oversee activities for children at this yearly Walla Walla event.
  • Community walks: our scholars will use their Spanish in real-life situations, from asking for directions, to ordering food in Spanish, to attending a theater performance in Spanish.


Mandatory Fun (also known as Explorations)

This class is 45 minutes long. Scholars get to explore their interest in the arts, music, digital media, and more. Also, scholars will learn about living healthy, active lives through our Health and Fitness program.

Mandatory Fun activities include:

  • Music creation and production. This class is held at Crewspace in the Walla Walla Public Library. Our scholars will learn to use production tools such as Garageband to create their own music. Scholars will also learn the science behind sound and the programming necessary to make awesome music.
  • Filmmaking: our scholars will learn the elements of storytelling and apply this skill to documentary and fiction films. Scholars will submit films to local, national, and international film festivals. Executive Director Dan Calzaretta will teach this course. His previous filmmaking students have won numerous awards for their films.
  • Physical fitness: local experts will teach our scholars yoga, karate, bowling, and other fun and healthy lifestyle activities.
  • Art: local artists will help scholars discover their own inner artist. Scholars will have the opportunity to display their work at local wineries and coffee shops.
  • Digital arts: students will learn to use technology to tell a story or convey a message through websites design, video blog creation, and the use of digital photography and video tools.

Willow Public School is an engaging, interesting, vibrant, and joyous place to be. Our scholars are put at the very center of the educational experience which is designed to help them lead successful and self-fulling lives and to lead courageously, think boldly, and dream bigger. Why wouldn’t a kid and family want to be part of such an amazing experience?