Listening and Learning from our Students and Families

February 2, 2022

Head of School Allison Gaines Pell standing in front of the Wheeler main building in Providence and smiling at the camera.
Head of School Allison Gaines Pell

Dear Families,

As you might remember, I began this year with a talk for our students about Building Bridges, and last week, our Upper School students heard from alum James Reed ‘05, now of MIT’s Division of Student Life, about how to effectively have difficult conversations. It was followed by a period of dialogue between small groups of Upper School students, in which they were asked to consider a time they conversed with a classmate around a challenging topic or issue. Afterwards, they were invited to share their “community wishes” for our student body as it relates to managing conflict and conversation. Their responses were varied and vibrant and reflected so much of what we feel–no matter our age. In numerous ways, our students expressed a deep desire for all voices to be heard across all types of differences, to learn more about how to have difficult conversations where not everyone agrees, to continue to work on inclusion, openness, and belonging for everyone, and to have more opportunities to be together and bond. Clearly, they are yearning – as we all are – to draw one another closer. We appreciate their honesty and clarity of vision for the world they want to inhabit (and of course, create).

We conduct a similar version of listening, though with a different intention, with our annual Pulse Survey, which gives us a current, high-level view of parent and guardian experiences across Wheeler. 201 people, representing all of our Divisions, responded to this year’s survey. We were thrilled that we continued to see very high percentages of families who are likely to recommend Wheeler (or already have) to another family (93%) and that you are overwhelmingly satisfied (or very satisfied) with your child’s experience at school (78.5%). We heard repeatedly about the things you value most about Wheeler, including our rigorous and meaningful academic program, our expert and caring faculty and staff, and a curriculum that is full of classes, programs, enrichment activities, and other opportunities that match your child’s interests and ambitions at Wheeler and beyond. We were glad to learn more about how your priorities align with Wheeler’s priorities. It was also good to see how much you have appreciated the school’s continued response to the pandemic–though we hope we’re not asking you that same question next year!

We also gathered important takeaways about where we can do more, with responses mainly focusing on different aspects of three areas. We heard your significant wish for more opportunities for connection, including community-oriented events where parents and guardians can build and strengthen their relationships, as well as additional ways for students to reconnect after the isolation of the pandemic. Your general desire for more fun and joy is echoed by all of us, and it’s something we take seriously. We hope to be able to reclaim these types of community activities as we begin to live more with COVID as it reaches its endemic phase. We also heard your desire to better understand our approach to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. Given the national dialogue around these topics, we understand your curiosity and were excited to share more about our DEIB work at Wheeler over the past 30 years, and how it has evolved into our approach today, at January’s school-wide WSPA meeting (you can find the presentation deck in the Parent and Guardian Portal.) Even with our decades of programming in this area, the work is not easy and it is important to acknowledge that there is still important growth to do. It’s incumbent on all of us to continue – as your children so clearly articulate – to bring many voices into the dialogue for deepened understanding of each other.

Thank you first to our students for sharing their wishes with us, and to you for your insights as well, discerned from this year’s survey. These responses will help us consider both challenges and opportunities at Wheeler with greater insight and additional perspectives.

Allison Gaines Pell
Head of School

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