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Students and a teacher sitting smiling as they work on yarn projects.

Emma Willard School delivers personalized learning in many ways. Class sizes are small, allowing for the kind of individual attention that is challenging in other settings. Students are empowered to engage and advocate for themselves, making the most of their educational experience. The school also offers many special programs which tap into the unique skills and talents of both teachers and students.

Experiential learning is the latest manifestation of personalized learning at Emma Willard School. Now found across curriculums and also in unique programs, experiential learning allows for specialized activities and deep understanding. Teachers design lessons making use of experiential learning theory which multiplies the impact of new knowledge and events. As described previously, Jestermester is a brand new program that leverages experiential learning and will involve all of our students and faculty. Now in its second year, the Experiential Learning Department houses several of the educational crown jewels of Emma Willard School which epitomize personalized learning.

The Experiential Learning Department was created to bring together programs which previously operated in different venues, even though their work overlapped in significant ways. Community Engagement and Social Impact, Practicum, and Signature all employ the philosophy of experiential learning, involve students on an individual project-based level, and often connect students with people and resources off campus. Most importantly, the directors of these programs often collaborate on special events and used similar teaching styles when interacting with students.

Students and a teacher sitting smiling as they work on yarn projects.


Community Engagement and Social Impact offers special opportunities to connect with the school community and beyond. Often related to current local and global issues, students are allowed to explore issues of equity and justice with peers and partners in regional organizations. Students are always encouraged to help others in a way that benefits all members of the relationship. These offerings are created and shepherded by Gemma Halfi, the Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Practicum provides a wide array of activities for all levels of interest. Some examples include career exploration, athletics, dance, volunteering, tutoring, peer language, and alum interactions. Practicum allows students to include extracurricular activities into their Emma Willard experience, and is managed by Bridget McGivern, the Director of Practicum.

Students and a teacher in a grassy forested area smiling at the camera and crouching near trash they cleaned up from nature.

Gemma Halfi with students on a CEO activity.

Signature is Emma Willard School’s optional capstone program for eleventh and twelfth graders. Students join Signature with their own plan and work with a manager to develop their ideas for a full year and deliver a formal presentation to the community during the Spring Showcase. Signature allows students to deeply explore an interest that is sometimes sparked in other programs, like Community Engagement and Social Impact, and Practicum. Signature is run by Jon Calos, the Chair of Experiential Learning.

Additionally, the Experiential Learning Department offers two courses, STEAM 9 and STEAM 10. Named after their cross-disciplinary projects, these classes combine science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics in creative ways. STEAM 9 is for ninth graders and runs during the spring semester. STEAM 10 is for tenth graders and lasts an entire school year. Both courses culminate with poster presentations that are exhibited on the walls of the science building.

The paths to individualized schooling are many and extensive at Emma Willard School.Students arrive at the school eager to explore their interests and to add them to the community. All classes create space for students to investigate how they connect with their education, some providing stand-alone projects dedicated to experiential learning. Students looking for more can join activities of varying degrees of investment, from wide-open experiences in Community Engagement and Social Impact, and Practicum, to the focused and extensive nature of Signature.

This piece was written by Experiential Learning Department Chair and Science Instructor Jon Calos.


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