Woodland Star School – Inclusive and Holistic Education

Location – 17811 Arnold Dr, Sonoma, CA 95476, United States

Website – http://www.woodlandstarschool.org/

Contact – +1 707-996-3849

1. Please mention about the school and its mission/vision and various infrastructural facilities.

Woodland Star School is a school like no other in Kenya, created to meet the need within the greater Nairobi community for an alternate and more holistic approach to education. Birthed from a forgotten tool shed in 2011, Woodland Star is nestled within a unique 100-acre eco-campus and provides a rare educational opportunity for learners aged 2-16. Located in the midst of an indigenous forest and botanical garden, Woodland Star is a small, progressive school that focuses on the unique strengths and challenges of each child, and is home to learners from across the neurodiversity spectrum.Woodland Star embodies an inclusive and holistic educational approach to the development of children, ensuring that each learner is met where they are at in their own educational journey. Our small class sizes foster friendships that are genuine and deep, and our physical classroom spaces with fireplaces, climbing walls, swinging benches and outdoor learning spaces make Woodland Star feel more like a home than a school.

2. Kindly mention about the prominent personality of the school and his/her role in the development of the school.

Woodland Star was founded by Mrs. Amy McKelvey, a remarkably and uniquely talented educator who has been in Kenya for almost three decades. Having taught for many years in different schools in the United States and in Nairobi, Amy saw that there was a void in the education most children receive. She watched as the passions of some of her former students slowly disappeared through the years, wilting under the weight of conformity, a missing sense of belonging, and a lack of people who cared to listen to them. Amy knew that it was time for change, so she decided to start a school where learners would have a safe-haven to see, to think, and to become. Many years later, Amy continues to take Woodland Star, its students and its teachers to new heights, using her background in ‘Gifted Education’ to bring learning to life through innovative and engaging teaching strategies, story-based learning, creative and performing arts and an endless passion to give each child the education they deserve.

3. Kindly describe about the various courses offered by the school and their salient features.

We offer similar academic courses to most other international schools, such as Literacy, Mathematics, STEM (Science), Art, Music, Physical Education, Languages, etc. We embed the pathways of individualized instruction, social-emotional learning and thematic instruction within each of these learning areas,  in order to ensure a deep and authentic understanding of academic content.

Our formal learning outcomes however transcend mere academic objectives, and include tracking the growth in areas such self-awareness, self-management, growth mindset, social awareness, communication, collaboration, global awareness, systems thinking and environmental conservation. These comprise our overarching long-term transformational learning goals at Woodland Star, namely for each learner to: Be Self-Directed, Belong in Community, Become Globally Mindful

4. Please mention what steps are you taking beyond the traditional curriculum to ensure overall development of the students?

Employing a theme-based approach in multi-age classes allows for meaningful integration across learning disciplines, authentic application to real-world problems and rich, curricular activities and field trips that are hands-on, project-based, interactive and engaging. Learning is never static or “one-size-fits-all”, and we seek to integrate learners’ strengths, passions, interest and talents into the learning process. In this way, learners are able to identify and utilize their individual traits, skills, understanding and experiences to aid both their own and others’ learning, thereby preparing them for their unique participation in and contribution to the world. 

Being an inclusive school, our classes include learners with significant learning needs and learners that are ‘gifted’ (and everthing in between!). This neurodiversity provides an unparalleled culture of learning and being that elevates preparedness for a diverse, complex and changing world.

5. What steps does the school take to motivate and develop the students’ interest towards education?

Our teaching and learning is highly differentiated, with work being scaffolded to meet the needs of the various learners within the classroom. As teachers plan units according to our unique termly themes, learners are given the opportunity to give input into the framework within which the upcoming work will be embedded, thus giving learners ownership of and choice within their own learning journey. As a result, learning is rich and meaningful, and fosters a genuine love of learning.

6. How are you providing financial assistance to the students in need?

Woodland Star offers near full scholarships to a limited number of learners from within its surounding community. Woodland Star also considers tuition fee reductions of varying degrees on an ongoing basis to families that require temporary financial assistance.

7. What are the career opportunities available to the students after completion of their courses?

Our WSS Alumni have continued on a myriad of career paths. We believe that each learner has a unique set of gifts, talents and strengths, and that as such each person is able to contribute to their society in a meaningful way. As our learners develop important life skills and ways of thinking and being within this complex world, there are limitless career opportunities for them to pursue.

8. How the school tackled Covid-19, share your experience.

Like all international schools in Kenya we have complied with the Covid safety measures (and more) as required by government directives, including social distancing, face masks, health checks, hand-hygiene, etc. Our comparative advantages in this respect have been that we have small class sizes, a big, green, spacious campus, lots of formal, outside learning spaces and a wonderfully supportive and compliant school community, all of which have aided towards very minimal disruption to learning, despite Covid.

When required to shift online, we thought very critically and reflectively about what would work best for our learners, and about how to retain our philosophy and approach to learning. As such, we continued to provide a high level of differentiation and personalized learning, ensuring that learning continued to be collaborative, fun and engaging. We stayed away from full, live school days online or whole-group live teaching, rather focussing our efforts on individual student needs and providing one-on-one or small group instruction.

9. Please enlighten us about the school’s major awards/achievements, its accomplished/renowned alumni, remarkable collaborations, and major accreditations.

Woodland Star has not received any formal accolades or awards, nor are these of greatest importance to us. Our most notable achievements lie in the stories of our learners and their families, many of which have experienced genuine transformations at Woodland Star: the lonely have found friends, the unheard have been given a voice, the excluded are celebrated, and those written off are given a chance. The struggling are not left behind, those bored are pushed to their potential … everyone is known and everyone belongs.

We are working towards formal accreditation.

We have over the years established a growing list of remarkable partners, including EduAfrica, The Anne Frank Project (SUNY), Stenden University, and Brackenhurst Botanic Garden & Forest, and through this rich network of partners, our learners even had the opportunity to sing one of our own eco-songs (“We must plant trees”) on our school campus to the First Lady of Kenya!

10. Kindly elaborate on the future plans of the school in the same.

We are far from perfect, and keep learning each day. We will never be a large school given our education philosophy but hope to continue to grow and improve in such a way that every learner that comes to Woodland Star is provided with an education that is ‘just right’ for them. As we grow in our own understanding and experience, we would love our campus to develop into a ‘learning hub’ from which we can share valuable practices and expertise with local (and international) schools and provide training in educational pedagogy, environmental education, inclusive education, etc.

We are currently also looking into the formation of a Woodland Star High School, which we expect to take shape and come to fruition in the not too distant future!

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