New Guides and New Roles for the 2023-2024 School Year! 

The word is out on learner-centered education and we couldn’t be more excited about the number of educators who are passionate about our mission here at TVS. After reviewing over 150 guide applications, 40 phone interviews, and 15 in-person (and learner-led) interviews, we are thrilled to welcome five new Guides to complete our team and help us welcome new families to our community for the 2023-2024 school year! 

At the same time, some of our current team members will be taking on new roles. It is our hope and belief that these positions will strengthen our learning design, our community, and our ability to deliver on our mission.

New Team Members

Aaryn Drapiza- Lead Adventure Studio Guide

Aaryn is a lifelong learner and deeply passionate about inspiring others to follow and nurture their natural curiosities. She discovered her love of guiding learners while working with children of all ages as a swim teacher, teacher’s aide, camp gymnastics instructor, and nanny. After graduating with a degree in Humanities, a discipline that challenged her to think critically and never stop asking questions, Aaryn pursued a path in education so she could continue inspiring, equipping, and connecting young people on their journeys. Aaryn has worked as an Elementary Guide and Lead Middle School Guide and is excited to further her education experience at The Village School. She also has her Upper Elementary Diploma from the North American Montessori Center. In her free time, Aaryn enjoys listening to audiobooks, singing along to musicals, running, and exploring DC. 

Madelyn Brewer- Lead Discovery Studio Guide 

Whether it is discovering what makes something float or memorizing the lyrics to the latest Disney hit, Madelyn aims to guide learners with the same boundless enthusiasm and curiosity that they embody every day. Madelyn received her Bachelors in Philosophy from Connecticut College in New London, CT. However, it was her volunteer time and work outside of school that inspired her to pursue education. Since beginning her career, Madelyn has taught at a country day school, a project-based micro-school, and a parochial school. Madelyn is eager to join a school community where she can prioritize what she considers essential for young people to thrive–a multifaceted approach that nurtures curiosity, confidence, and independence. It was only natural that she found her way to The Village School!

Cara Borja-  Lead Discovery Studio Guide 

Cara has a strong passion for the fields of science and education. She received two undergraduate degrees in biology and psychology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a master’s degree in neuroscience from Brown University. During her studies, she actively pursued teaching opportunities and obtained professional teaching certification in middle school science. Her professional work experience includes being a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, working for non-profit communities in Washington, D.C., and being an educator in multiple areas in the DMV. 

She loves building connections with young people, enhancing their knowledge and curiosity about the world, and having the opportunity to make a positive influence on their lives. She is thrilled to be continuing her journey at The Village School!

Lauren Coyle- Lead Spark Studio Guide

The first “classroom” Lauren experienced was the grapefruit groves her family cultivated for generations, where she dug in the dirt and helped care for trees with her dad.  There, she learned that education is more than desks and tests; education is experience, learning with your hands, and cooperating with others to grow something new.  Lauren loves witnessing each child’s unique sense of wonder about the world and welcomes the chance to be curious with them as they learn.

Lauren has a B.A. in psychology from The College of William and Mary and a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from George Washington University.  Alongside coursework in child development, Lauren interned at two different schools in D.C.  She completed her residency at a community mental health center in Fairfax and then continued there as a full-time clinician, conducting individual and group therapy sessions for patients of all ages. After taking some time off to raise three toddlers, Lauren grew passionate about combining her background in psychology with early childhood education and five years ago returned to the workforce as a lead teacher at a Reggio-Emilia-inspired preschool. She is excited to join The Village School Guide team and aid in cultivating young learners’ natural ability to follow their interests and learn in community with others. 

Lauryn Elliot- Visiting Guide

Born and raised in Northern Virginia, Lauryn is a native of the area and has always strived to give back to her community in any way that she can. Lauryn is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and crossed at James Madison University where she earned her B.A. degree in Justice studies with a minor in Political Science and pre-Law. Lauryn is currently pursuing an M.S. in Political Science at Liberty University and has hopes to earn her doctorate degree. Lauryn has always had the enthusiasm, determination, and passion for being a guiding hand for the younger generations and has witnessed firsthand how different pedagogical approaches can improve a child’s education. Lauryn is excited to join a community of life-long learners at The Village School and support the mission of empowering young people to become architects of their own learning!

New Roles

Hannah Runyon- Program Designer and Camp Director

Hannah graduated from Colorado College with a degree in Geology and Environmental Issues. She is passionate about inspiring curiosity and critical thinking in connection with natural world and has worked with children of all ages as an environmental educator, mentor, camp counselor, nanny, and wilderness trip leader. Hannah grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York and attended non-traditional schools as a child. In her free time, she likes to run, make clothing on her sewing machine, bake, and make pottery. 

Hannah has spent the last two years at The Village School as an Apprentice Guide and Discovery Lead Guide. She is excited to be stepping into the role of Program Designer and Camp Director for the 2023-2024 school year, which will allow her to utilize her passions and talents for learner-centered curriculum design and outdoor education. Although Hannah will miss guiding learners each day in the studios, she is excited for the opportunity to design and lead camps at TVS throughout the school year- and as always, to continue learning!

Rebecca Blake- Assistant Guide and Extended Day Coordinator

Rebecca grew up in Northern Virginia exploring nature trails and historic sites in the area. She received a BBA in Computer Information Systems from James Madison University and worked for a technology company before moving into education. Creativity and play foster a love of learning she is passionate about sharing. She spent a year teaching a nature class, helping students explore the woods, cultivating youth leadership, and teaching technical outdoor skills in a mixed-aged learning environment. Rebecca believes learner-centered education is crucial for keeping learners engaged and responsible for their own education, acknowledging individuals’ unique interests and strengths. She loves to see a learner excited to learn more about a new topic or feel pride in understanding a tricky concept. She endeavors to empower learners to think creatively, use empathy, and solve tough problems. In her free time, Rebecca enjoys reading and hiking.

Rebecca has spent the last year at The Village School as a Visiting Guide and Assistant Guide. She is excited to continue on as an Assistant Guide with the goal of supporting our Wellness and Spark programs as well as taking on the additional role of coordinating and overseeing TVS’s Extended Day program for the 2023-2024 school year.  

Join us in celebrating our new guides and new roles to complete our team for the 2023-2024 school year!

The Wonders of Science

In the last session of the school year, Spark learners are embarking on a four-week journey filled with potions, a variety of substances, and lots of water. This week, learners began this experience with an introduction to science and the precautions to take when participating in experiments. Learners learned that it is extremely important to wear safety goggles and gloves, to walk slowly as they gather materials, and how to keep each other safe as experiments bubble and fizz to no end.

Learners demonstrated their safety knowledge daily before engaging with substances and solutions. When the result wasn’t their expected outcome, they continued to explore different solids and liquids. Oh, the excitement on their faces when one group of learners potions started to overflow and purple water engulfed the wooden table.

Research has shown that there is a definite relationship between science experiments and learners. Science and its many experiments provide learners with opportunities for learning about life, Earth, and the universe. Observations, making predictions, drawing conclusions, and solving problems gives learners a first-hand understanding of how science works! Building upon these skills will be long-life, unleash creativity, and shape their ability to be open to others ideas.

As we dive deeper into science these final weeks of school, learners will engage in fun, hands-on activities that will further their interest. Working as a team to make discoveries collaboratively and putting their lives as scientists into action. After all, science is wonderful!

“Tree-VS”: Adventure Studio’s Mural

Guest Contributors: Hazel Hales & Charlotte Myers, Adventure Studio Learners

Adventure Studio was challenged to design and create a mural for the Session 6 Quest, based on the murals in Washington, DC. Although we faced challenges and obstacles, our mural exceeded expectations and we are proud to share it with the TVS community!

To start the Mural process, we took a field trip to DC, where we went on a Mural Tour. Studying these murals inspired a list of things that every mural has 

  • vibrant colors
  • relatable to the location of the mural neighborhood/community
  • really big
  • represents something beyond – symbolic 

We used this rubric, as well as input from the community, to create our designs. We split into three groups, each coming up with an individual design, and then combined them into the final design. 

To start the painting process, we primed our masonite boards with two coats of primer (hoping to not get it on our clothes!), making it weather proof . And after two days of priming, we were ready to sketch!

Although mumbles of, “I have no artistic ability ” kept flying around, we were thankfully able to use a projector, projecting the image onto the boards and then trace the lines. This gave us a template to sketch it on the boards and would keep it proportionate. After finishing, we painted the entire thing with the first coat, and kept it up with the second and third coats, until week seven, when we finished and signed it. 

This mural represents the journey of the learners and trailblazers, when they come to the Village School. There are many symbolic representations in our mural, and each message applies to our school. 

The trees represent the growth of the learners as they move through the different studios, from Spark to Adventure. The caterpillar on the spark tree eventually turning into a butterfly on the Adventure tree serves the same purpose, representing growth. Next to the trees, there are symbols, a rose next to the spark tree represents a new beginning, the start of the hero’s journey. The apple represents discovery, since the apple that fell on Newton’s head led him to discovering gravity. The compass represents adventure, because of it being a necessary traveling tool, leading adventurers to their final goal, and destination. And the spirals on the sun and trees represent the journey, a cycle of accepting a call, embracing challenge, and learning important lessons.

Ms. Carrie, our Artist in Residence, was an essential part of this project. She provided us with materials and gave us guidance as we chose colors, size, placements, and how to fix mistakes, so shout out to her! 

Before this Quest, a lot of us thought that we couldn’t draw very well, and that we were bad at painting. But, we’ve all grown in our understanding of art, artistic abilities, and ability to work together, and we made something that we’re all proud of.

This video shows our process start to finish!

Measuring what Matters 

This week marks the one week each school year that our elementary and middle school learners spend time with a standardized test. They show up to school, sit in front of their computers and try to determine the best answer: A, B, C, or D. For these few hours our studios full of learners look a lot like classrooms full of students. 

Before we begin the testing experience, we spend time considering the purpose of the test and what it does and doesn’t measure. Like so many other mornings, we begin with a story and some questions: 

You are about to go on a solo trip on a sailboat around the world. It will take you 3-4 years to circle the globe. You will be alone on the sailboat with all your provisions. And because vast portions of the ocean are so remote, much of the time you will only have your wits to rely on.

Question 1: How will you prepare yourself for this epic journey?

  • Study and take a test
  • Go out and sail every day in vastly different conditions, taking longer and longer trips until you feel prepared

Question 2: Imagine this… You have a dream to become the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company. You have an amazing idea but little business experience. What do you do?

  • Study and take a test
  • Talk to other CEOs and experiment your idea by starting very small and growing

Question 3: Imagine this… You want to write and produce your own Broadway play- it’s going to be the next Hamilton! You know how to write and understand music but you have never written a play before. What should you do next?

  • Study and take a test
  • Write a play, get feedback, and try again

In most of these scenarios of epic adventures, our learners identified that the best way to prepare for the journey is to practice and develop their skills, not take a test. Life is an epic adventure and often, the real test is the journey each of us go on. And yet, in most schools, a standardized test is the only way that learning is measured and success is defined. 

The last question we pose to our learners is the most important and resulted in the most profound responses.

Question 4: And really importantly, what does this test not measure that will help you on your life adventure as you blaze your own trail?

Our learners’ responses included…

“It won’t measure how good of a friend I am.”

“Collaboration and how well I work with others and even how well I work with myself.”

“Basically every character trait that we think is important – like curiosity and compassion.”


“How funny I am.”

“How I’ve grown in public speaking.”

“All of the things we talk about in Health & Wellness.”

We closed our conversation confirming our learner’s ideas – that each of them are so much more than a score on a standardized test, and we reminded ourselves of some of our TVS core beliefs. 

We believe who you are is more important than what you know. We believe that a learner should only ever compare themselves to who they were yesterday – not to the person next to them or to some arbitrary standard. We believe that all young people have a calling that has the power to change the world. We believe that what really matters can’t possibly be measured on a test.

The Wellness of Being Self-Directed

As a community, we frequently discuss our self-directed learning model. The learners have a strong understanding of what it means to be self-directed. They demonstrate this through goal setting, establishing a process for success, evaluating their plan, and then reflecting on their results. These steps are an important foundation for what it means to be a Village School learner. 

Independence is another character trait that we instill in our learners. We trust them to make decisions and execute their ideas. We trust them to solve problems they encounter along the way. We trust them to have freedom of choice and take ownership over the responsibility that comes with that freedom. This session, we reflected on self-directed learning, the independence our environment values, and we asked ourselves, does our self-directed learning model also depend on how self-directed we are in our relationships?

Our discussions began with the analysis of the following quote:

“Relationships are critical to becoming self-directed as no one achieves self-direction in isolation. Others contribute to our understanding of and ability to self-direct our lives. Self-direction is enhanced in social contexts and we need social skills to be able to interact with those who can help us achieve self-direction through supportive relationships. Self-direction must also be seen in the context of group direction where it is important for students to be self-directed while working in harmony with group-directed activities.” – Karl L. Squier 

At first, the learners discussed how at The Village School, we are asked to be completely independent, we are required to learn on our own. As our discussion went on, the learners all shared how certain goals would not be obtained without the guidance or support of their fellow peers. We also related this to our families and how our growth happens with the encouragement of our parents, siblings, and grandparents. The learners all began to agree that no one person can operate alone in the world, we all need each other to achieve our hopes and dreams. There is no “self” without our community. Furthermore, being completely independent and alone leaves life without meaning. 

According to C. Robert Cloninger in his book, Feeling Good: The Science of Well-being, being a self-directed person requires a person to take responsibility for their actions, their behaviors, and choices, and to accept the responsibility that in our relationships, this means that we must be seen are reliable and trustworthy. Our studios have been building trust with each other by engaging in trust building activities, like airport and high risk, low risk. We have engaged in role play scenarios about other people and how they can rebuild trust once it is broken. We have also reflected on the relationships that we have and how they bring meaning to our lives. 

As our session begins to come to a close, we will reflect on the skills that make us self-directed and how we can be more self-directed in our relationships with each other. 

Apprenticeship Season: Adventure Awaits! 

This session middle schoolers are hard at work trying to secure an apprenticeship for the final session of the school year. This real-world experience, typically reserved for juniors in college, is something we are proud to offer learners as young as 11 here at TVS. The apprenticeship, like much of our learning design, is intentionally named. The term apprentice is from the old French word, “apprentiz” meaning “someone learning” typically from a mentor in a specific field of interest. The word apprentice also relies heavily on a relationship between a mentor and a mentee. Growing our learners’ “village” is a large part of the apprenticeship experience goal. 

The apprenticeship experience is a cornerstone of our school, as it draws on all three pillars of our learning design and puts into action our vision of empowering young people to discover their passions and share them with the world. 


We believe young people are capable of so much more than the world typically gives them credit for. Over a seven-week session learners will identify, research, and secure a meaningful apprenticeship working in a position where they can use and hone their greatest gifts, and explore an industry, company, and assignment that will advance them towards their calling in the world. Learners take personality quizzes that provide potential career fields to consider, determine what jobs they would never enjoy, as well as jobs they might consider the perfect match for their passions and skills. Learners are entirely responsible for this process, acting as the leaders in this work, while their parents and guides cheer them on as they go.


We believe that experience is the best teacher. Each step of the TVS apprenticeship is an experience that teaches learners about themselves and the world around them. The “process” here is just as important as the “product” (actually securing an apprenticeship). We consider it essential for learners to go through the process of reaching out to professionals, deal with getting “no’s” or no responses from potential apprenticeships, and to persevere and move forward. We know that our learners’ memories of time spent with a mentor in a field of their interest will last a lifetime. 


We believe that who you are is much more important than what you know. The experience of learning from a mentor beyond our school walls is a chance for learners to further develop the TVS character traits they work towards and reflect upon all year including: leadership, responsibility, gratitude, accountability, compassion, and trust. We also believe in what we call real-world feedback: feedback from the real world, rather than feedback from our own community. This kind of exchange is character building and important in terms of character development and growth. 

Our commitment to middle school apprenticeships is also an act of trust. We trust young people and we believe they can do and will do so much more than is generally expected of them. What will they learn from spending time with a professional podcaster, a Montessori educator, a costume designer, an entrepreneur, a chocolatier, a CFO, or a small business owner…. We can’t wait to see what each of them do and learn as they blaze their own trails this apprenticeship season. 3 – 2 – 1 Adventure Awaits! 

Life-Worthy Learning

“We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

John Dewey

I recently had the pleasure of talking with one of our fifth-grade learners at The Village School who is getting ready to make the transition to the middle school studio. As we chatted, he shared some of his thoughts about his growth and progress over the past few years. He said, “I wasn’t as focused last year and I let a lot of distractions slow me down. Because of that, I’ve had to work extra hard this year. I know middle school is going to be really challenging and I definitely learned what NOT to do if I want to meet my goals and stay on track. I can still have fun, but I have to do the work each day too.”

In a learning model like ours, young people are given the opportunity to be trusted with their own learning. It’s easy to do when you sit next to a learner, like the one above, who can provide such clear insights and lessons learned from this opportunity they are given. It can be a lot more difficult when you’ve yet to see them connect these dots.

Like anything, being able to “connect the dots” comes from practice. It takes repeated practice to learn how to thoughtfully reflect on your experiences. It’s also developmental. Younger learners are most suited to reflect on something that just happened, or that happened yesterday. Eventually, the time spans get longer- we can look back at the last week or the last month. Eventually, we can look back over a longer period of time- thinking about who we were and what we were capable of earlier in the school year, or last year, and compare and contrast that to who we are today.

Growth over time is the goal. But even more than that is our young people’s ability to measure and assess that themselves. There is no greater tool than practiced reflection to solidify this connection.

Through practice, they will get there. Once they do, their ability to reflect and learn from their experiences will blow you away. Take a look at last month’s end-of-session reflections from the learners in our elementary studio (ages 8-11).

In experiential learning, making space for reflection is paramount. It’s the antidote to mindlessness, in which we just keep plodding forward in “go mode” with no conscious awareness of what it is we’re actually experiencing. Reflection is how we learn life-worthy lessons- lessons that we tuck in our back pocket, ready to be used at moment’s notice, lessons that we wear in our stance, perhaps with a new aura of confidence or self-assurance, and hopefully, lessons that can be applied to whatever experiences await.

Session 6 Sneak Peek

Session 6 at The Village School will bring meaningful learning experiences to all of our studios. Learners will explore the world, discover plant science, express themselves through creative writing, design an original mural, and more! Read more about all of the experiences each studio has to look forward to over the next session.

Spark Studio

In Session 6, Spark learners will embark on an international quest. They will explore the cultures of countries on all seven continents. Learners will first design their own passport, complete with a stamp design representing a place they want to visit. They will then examine landforms on our planet and construct and paint their own imaginary island.  With the help of older learners from other studios, they will then pick a continent or country of interest and research the different cultures, foods, clothing, artifacts, landmarks,  music, and animals that make that place unique. 

Spark learners will also hear the history of how the continents came to be and how they evolved by listening to the  Five Great Lessons and participating in hands-on demonstrations. At the end of the session, learners will display their unique project creations within the studio.

Discovery Studio

During the Session 6 Community Garden Quest, Discovery learners will step into the shoes of gardeners. We will begin the session exploring plant science, including cellular biology, photosynthesis, decomposition, capillary action, germination, and pollination. Discovery learners will then apply what they have learned to their own garden space at Ms. Jenny’s. As gardeners, they will take on the responsibilities of planning, building, and raising a garden.

In this session’s Writer’s Workshop, Discovery Learners will write a story with the goal of  inspiring young people to read. They will create a great story by stepping into the shoes of a creative fiction author. Each week, they will write a draft of a new story or continue working on one they have started. At the end of the session, they will choose one story to revise, edit, and publish into a real book that will be added to the Spark Studio library!

Adventure Studio

It’s Apprenticeship Season in Adventure Studio! This session learners will research three possible apprenticeship opportunities, craft emails, elevator pitches, and talking points to help secure a placement. The Apprenticeship is one of the cornerstones of the TVS middle school experience – and one we are so proud to facilitate. Sending young people out into the world to learn about their strengths and passions is what we are all about. 

This session’s Adventure Quest will require creative expression, collaboration, and lots of paint, as learners design, create, and install an original mural to display in the TVS playground. Learners will research the history of mural making, one of the earliest types of artistic expression, local murals, and muralists. The project will kick-off with a walking tour of the many murals in Washington, D.C.’s U Street corridor. We can’t wait to invite you to the unveiling of the final creation sometime this spring.  

Health & Wellness

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how.’” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Self-directed learning is a focal point of discussion at The Village School. Most of our learners have a good understanding of what this means, what this looks like, what is going well, and how they want to improve. But, what does it mean to be self-directed in our relationships with others? During session 6, we will explore what it looks like to be self-directed in our friendships and in our families. 

We will also begin to explore our purpose. What social connections give our life meaning? What achievements have we accomplished? What do we hope to accomplish in the future? How do we express ourselves in a way that aligns with our purpose? What parts of our lives bring us excitement and joy? What gives our life meaning?

Designing Meaningful Learning Experiences

Meaningful learning experiences at The Village School have a research-based, intentional design. As guides, we work each session to create a storyline that fulfills the following criteria:

  • Authenticity: learners will find the storyline compelling, and make a personal connection 
  • Lifeworthy: learners will have multiple opportunities throughout to build on their strengths, and develop interdisciplinary skills, such as those outlined in our Portrait of a Graduate
  • Experiential: learners are connected to the world beyond the school campus, through field trips and guest speakers

And, like all good stories, the experience must have a clear beginning, middle, and end. 

This session, our middle school learners  were challenged to identify a topic they were passionate about, research the topic and develop a strong opinion, write a persuasive speech on the topic, and deliver the speech to an audience of their peers and families. 

The Beginning

The project launched with a field trip to downtown Washington, D.C. to stand in the very spot that MLK stood when delivering his most famous speech. Learners stood on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, listened to MLK’s dreams for our country and looked out across the national mall to the U.S. Capitol, where they would share their speeches in just six weeks. After listening to MLK’s speech, learners walked along the National Mall to the MLK memorial where they considered how King’s words have continued to inspire new generations. 

Experiences like this, where learners are an active participant in the world beyond our studios, is part of our storyline. Our goal is that young people see themselves as an important part of the world beyond our studios, and that young people experience the world instead of just reading about the world. 

The Middle

After an inspirational day in the nation’s capital, learners returned to the studio where they watched examples of other inspiring speeches given by kids their own age – like an 11 year old’s speech at the March for Our Lives, and a 15 year old’s speech at the United Nations. Learners considered what elements made these powerful speeches and then began the task of selecting their own topic. 

To choose a topic learners had to ask themselves questions that many middle schoolers are never asked to consider: What am I most passionate about? What changes do I wish I could see in my community, or the world? What is something that I deeply care about? What are my hopes for my future? What are my future hopes for my community and my world? How can my voice make a positive change in the world? 

Speech topics ranged from taking care of our planet, raising awareness about learning disabilities, education that treats young people as human, new views on overpopulation, the value of freetime for young people, and kids’ right to vote. 

Learners spent the next several weeks focusing on each aspect of their speech: the introduction, taglines, compelling evidence, elements of persuasion, and mic-dropping conclusions. This involved several rounds of feedback, and a practice run where each learner shared their entire speech. 

The End

After 5 ½ weeks of preparation, learners traveled back downtown to Washington, D.C., this time to the U.S. Capitol. Learners spent the morning on a tour of the capital, taking in the rotunda, statues, and the hallways of history before making their way to the Kennedy Caucus Room in the U.S. Senate to share their dreams for their communities in front of each other, their families, and other members of our school community. 

Here are a few excerpts from their final speeches:

“Now, what I take from this story is that teenagers need help. They are stressing about grades, college, maintaining a social identity and are feeling more persistent sadness and hopelessness than ever.  As a teen, I find myself asking why?  Why is this happening to my generation? What is causing this growth in teenage unhappiness?  As a teenager, I am here to offer my views on one, what exactly the problem is, two why this is a problem and how it came to be, and three, how we can solve the problem.” 

“It’s important to understand what learner-centered education is. It’s what it sounds like. Their learning is centered around them. It means that each individual learner is honored for who they are and what they need because each person is different and unique. I want more kids to experience this learning because this is education done right. It should be accessible to kids all over the country, and the world.”

I am tired of kids being treated unfairly whether it’s not being trusted or not being listened to. Kids may not have fully developed minds, maybe we don’t have as much experience in the real world, Sometimes what we say doesn’t even make sense, but we know right from wrong and that is why our society needs to listen and hear what the next generation has to say. Today I am here to tell you why kids should be treated like humans and to go even farther to say that we should be able to vote and even run for office.”


The morning after, learners spent time reflecting on the experience. When asked how they felt, they shared:

Proud because I wrote an excellent speech in just a few days.

Amazes me that I was able to do that, I don’t think that I could have done that a year ago

Proud that I was able to memorize a lot of it and I was able to look up at the audience.

Proud because I can tell how much my writing has improved since last time

Proud of my idea and how I included a personal story to connect. 

Validated that audience seemed to agree and connect with my speech

I noticed that my writer’s voice has really developed this year.

Cultivating a sense of agency among young people is a part of our TVS mission statement. We define agency in young people as a feeling of confidence and a strong belief that they have a voice in their life, their communities, and their world. These reflections are evidence to us that the learner agency is alive and well after this learning experience – and it’s our goal that this is the case after each of our learning experiences throughout each year.

Witnessing the kind of change that occurs in young people after an inspirational, meaningful, and relevant learning experience gives us hope and it’s what keeps us coming back each day. At a time when the future seems like it could not be more uncertain, we simply have to look to our learners to see that there is indeed, so much hope for the future. 

Creating the Space for Curiosity

“Be curious, not judgemental” -Walt Whitman

“I know what it is! I know what it is!” screams erupt at Madison Manor Park. 

“It’s a mermaid!” “It’s a shark!” “It’s a spoon!” Discovery bursts into laughter. 

The learners are excitedly engaging in an activity, working together to figure out what is inside a mystery bag. This activity is a fun way for us to foster the skills of curiosity. 

At The Village School, curiosity is an essential component of Learning to Be. But how do we define curiosity? How do we foster curiosity in our learners? Can we guide our learners to be curious? What does being curious look like? These are the questions I sought to answer before we began Session 5.  

OECD’s Framework for Social and Emotional Skills defines curiosity as “the interest in ideas and love of learning, understanding and intellectual exploration; an inquisitive mindset.” There are many ways that a Guide can support creating a space for curiosity in their studios. 

In each studio, we began our exploration by learning about what curiosity means. Linking our curiosity to health and wellness, we practiced asking questions about ourselves. The learners created maps or lists of questions about who they are, what they want to learn, and what their futures will look like. 

After the learners practiced being curious about themselves, we moved to the practice of being curious about others. What happens when your values and beliefs do not align with your family, friends, and even spouses? Do you remain curious about their beliefs or do you pass judgment? This is a difficult question to ask one’s self and it was difficult for the learners to practice. Using Project Zero’s thinking routine of “True for Who?”, we engaged in a conversation about a claim that was made, who made it, the different points of view, acted it out, and then analyzed our thinking to see if we gained a different perspective. We decided if our statements were judgemental or fostered curiosity in a conversation. 

We have also had fun with games and exercises that spark curiosity! The learners have taken every day objects and challenged themselves to think of 100 different possibilities for what the object could be. A favorite, especially in Spark studio, has been “what is inside the bag?” The learners are only allowed to ask open-ended questions. This was such a challenge for our Spark learners! And, an activity that they keep asking for. As our session progresses, we will challenge ourselves to have a growth mindset and explore why this is an important tool in remaining curious. The learners will also take away a special reminder that all traits and pieces of who they are, are valuable. Each learner is unique. Always remain curious about who you are, practice a growth mindset as you explore your curiosities, and embrace the pieces that make you, you.