How Aerie Happens at Wheeler

September 15, 2020

Wheeler’s enrichment program is as expansive as your ideas

How do Aerie courses and tutorials and independent study projects get started at Wheeler? Well, there are probably as many paths as there are projects, and that’s a lot.  Typically there are upwards of 60 offerings in the Upper School and another dozen or two in Middle and Lower. Ideas come from parents, advisors, and most frequently the kids themselves — a casual conversation with a teacher, a formal written proposal, a late-night email, a quick question on the way out of a Community Meeting or in line at the salad bar.

Screengrab of a robotic tiger.

Robotic Tiger in the DIB Lab

This past year a Hamilton Lower School parent mentioned during September orientation her daughter’s ambition of designing a robotic tiger, which led to a successful DIB Lab project. Questions during Dance Company rehearsals have sparked classes in tap, African, and Latin dance. A request from two Seventh Grade students interested in anime morphed into a lunchtime class in Japanese that swelled to a class of seven. A student who two years ago requested a writing project will be starting her second novel this fall as an independent study course. Another youngster loved her Fourth Grade unit on the brain so much that she asked to learn more about neuroscience. A rising senior who studied botany last year will be taking a college course in plant evolution this fall.

Sometimes kids are motivated by family heritage — That’s how Polish and Turkish got started in Lower School, meeting during lunch or recess. That’s why I’m looking for Telegu and Khmer teachers for Ninth Graders this fall.

Sometimes the proposals come from Aerie instructors, and there are 90 of those. A language teacher proposes an offering in paleontology, a French instructor can teach linear algebra, an origami expert can juggle and is fluent with Python.

Often courses are natural next steps, when a student completes the school’s curriculum in math or Chinese, or when a chorus or band member asks to study music theory or composition. A student who completes an economics course requests a class in entrepreneurship. Those interests in turn can segue into projects requiring video editing or radio programming skills.

Serendipity plays a role as well. A former Wheeler parent who is a medical school dean sends promising pre-meds our way. So does the head of a university public service organization. Parents and alums chime in with resources and ideas. Know any aviation or architecture instructors? Send them over…

It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that educating a community of creative individuals has evolved into creating a system of individualized education, that highways well-traveled will have sideroads and detours and intersections. Sparks are planted, fanned into flames, and turn into wildfires. That’s how learning happens here.

Mark Harris, Aerie Director

Visit our Aerie Program enrichment page

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