Field Notes from the Middle School Study Trips

“It was a life-changing, one-of-a-kind experience for my child.” I have heard this from dozens of WES parents in the past few days as our Dragons have slowly started to return from the Middle School study trips.  

These trips–much more expansive than any field trips during my own academic career–are the pinnacle of our program. After years of building their critical-thinking, executive functioning, and language skills, our students travel to Utah, Italy, France, and Spain–without their parents–to put a broader and richer perspective on everything they have learned during their time with us. They begin to truly understand that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and that in every instance of putting yourself out there, you are learning about the ignorance that you never even knew you had.  Our students reflect deeply on how they view the world around them, as well as their place in it. 

Grade 6 just returned from exploring geology and geography in Southwest Utah and roughly half of Grade 8 just got back from testing their language skills and experiencing the culture of Spain. While we are still awaiting the return of the teams from France and Italy, I am already hearing about the great learning that is taking place. 

Here are just a few of their reflections:

  • Grade 7 saw the international power of play during a pick-up game of soccer with the locals in Rome. 
  • Grade 6 students learned what it meant to trust one another as they engaged in a blindfolded hike to admire the view at Bryce Canyon. 
  • Grade 6 also reflected on respect and compassion when they wore masks to visit Native communities that had previously suffered greatly from COVID outbreaks. 
  • Our Grade 8 Spanish students dressed in their finest to attend the Corral De La Moreria, a famous flamenco show that draws Hollywood celebrities and other notables. They displayed excellent maturity as audience members. 
  • Our Grade 8 Spanish students also wandered the El Rastro, a famous marketplace with over 1,000 vendors selling everything from antiques to clothing to souvenirs. We trusted them to wander independently, be responsible about the group meeting time, and to make safe decisions. 
  • Our Grade 8 French students explored students’ familial connections. One student’s great grandfather was among the 200,000 people deported from Vichy, France, to the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. They visited the Memorial des Martyrs de la Deportation, which honors those lives. They also toured the grounds of the Lu Val de Richer estate, which belongs to the family of another student. 
  • Our Grade 8 French students also proved they can flourish in a multitude of environments, as they navigated the faster-paced urban culture of Paris to the calm, quiet, and relaxing feel of the rural countrysides in Northern France. 

I can’t wait to hear even more as the rest of our students return home!

Danny Vogelman
Head of School

Volvo Car USA selects WES STEM teacher and student as winners of ‘EV as ABC’ Twitter contest

Volvo Car USA has selected Katherine Owens and her fourth-grade student, Avery Irwin, from Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, Maryland as winners of its national ‘EV as ABC’ public service campaign. 

The Volvo ‘EV as ABC’ interactive Twitter campaign featured short videos of school kids explaining the ABCs of electric vehicles to consumers – one for each letter of the alphabet — to raise awareness about the technology. It launched in February 2022. 

Participants were encouraged to nominate a teacher in a U.S. school creating a brighter, more sustainable future for the next generation by sharing why they deserve to win a trip to Volvo headquarters in Gothenburg, Sweden, where they would learn more about Volvo’s electrification ambitions and sustainability initiatives.  

Irwin, 9, and her mother, Anna, nominated Owens due to her passion for, and dedication to, educating the next generation on the importance of sustainability and other STEM-related subjects that drove the nomination. Their submission was selected because it was the most original, creative and persuasive story that adhered best to the contest theme. 

For winning, Volvo is planning to send the Irwins to Gothenburg this summer. Owens received a $10,000 prize that will be applied to bolstering green initiatives within the school’s community. 

“It’s evident Katherine and Avery are true changemakers leading the charge in their local community towards creating a brighter, more eco-friendly future. We’re proud to join them on their sustainable journey,” said Leigh Moynihan, Vice President, Marketing, Volvo Car USA. 

“I look forward to harnessing my students’ passion and creativity to advance sustainability in our community and beyond,” said Katherine Owens, STEM, Innovation and Entrepreneurship Teacher at WES. “The award opens doors for students to act on ideas that would not be possible without Volvo’s generous grant. I am deeply grateful.” 

“Avery loves STEM class because Mrs. Owens meets students where they are and challenges them to think big about how they can make the world a better place,” said Anna Irwin, Avery’s mother. “We’re beyond thrilled that Mrs. Owens is being honored. We share her passion for sustainability, and Avery is eager to bring back what she learns about Volvo’s electric car initiatives to share with her classmates.”  

“At WES, we seek to build creative thinkers who aren’t afraid to tackle tough problems,” said Danny Vogelman, Head of School at WES. “This award shines a spotlight on some of the most critical challenges facing this generation and reminds our community of the need to act now.” 

For the contest, Volvo Cars utilized Twitter’s Randomized Instant Notification technology, which sends a randomized response to people when they ‘like’ a certain Tweet. When participants ‘liked’ Volvo’s call-to-action Tweet, they received a Randomized Instant Notification featuring one of 26 videos where young kids explained how EVs operate and the benefits of owning one. People then ‘liked’ that Tweet to receive another video until they went through all 26 videos corresponding to each letter of the alphabet. Select letters contained an Easter egg which led participants to the contest page. 

Exciting Summer Improvements

As we get ready to head into the summer months, the excitement at WES has not dropped one bit! Our Summer@WES campers will ensure our hallways are filled with laughter, our teachers will be learning exciting new strategies through professional development, and our facilities will continue to undergo enhancements. 

We have a number of exciting campus improvement projects occurring over the summer. For the past two years, funded largely by the generosity of our community through Raise The Paddle at the Auction Gala, we have been updating our furniture throughout the building. The Nursery, Pre-K, and Kindergarten classrooms will be transformed with all new furniture, including solid wood tables and chairs, new dramatic play equipment, and new sensory tables. The furniture is designed to optimize space and create a beautiful, playful, and functional environment for our youngest Dragons. Updated desks and chairs will also be installed in our elementary world language classrooms.

Next, we will be replacing the windows in the classrooms for Grades 1-5. The new windows will not only beautify those spaces, they will also help us reduce our energy footprint, moderate classroom temperatures more efficiently, and lessen noise distractions from outside. 

And let’s not forget about the new playground by the Turf Field, which we all raised our paddles for this year at the Auction Gala! This is a multi-year project, but this summer, the space will be cleared, a beautiful new fence will be built, and we will begin installing new pieces of playground equipment. 

We can’t wait for our Dragons to see the new looks when they return to campus in the fall!

Danny Vogelman
Head of School

The Culminating Performance: A Midsummer’s Night Dream

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d Cupid painted blind.” 

A few years ago, I heard my oldest son, Ethan, speak those famous lines as Lysander during his eighth grade performance of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” at WES. Tonight, a different group of students will perform the Bard’s multi-layered examination of love and its peculiarities. 

Shakespeare is considered one of the greats due to his keen insight into universal truths about the human condition, biting sense of wit, and mastery of word play. He’s credited with the invention or introduction of more than 1,700 words that are still used in English today. He’s also the author of many quips and expressions still in common use, such as the Lysander line quoted above. 

For these reasons, he’s a core component of many, many English literature classes. Many of his stylings and phrasings are difficult for a contemporary teenager to understand. But there’s no better way to study Shakespeare than to perform his work. This is why “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” a collaboration between the Middle School English and Performing Arts departments, is the culmination of our students’ performing arts experience at WES.

Our students learn in a fun and engaging way as they immerse themselves in the language. Our Middle School students also build sets, run lighting, design costumes, and serve as backstage crew, building their time management and executive functioning skills, as they bring this production to life.  

Whereas the Grade 6 Musical is a mainstage performance to which the whole community is invited, this performance is presented black box style with limited seating available only to Grade 8 parents and siblings. However, you can still join the fun at 6:30 p.m. via Livestream on YouTube. 

As the Bard himself would say, “parting is such sweet sorrow.” However, I look forward to seeing many of you tonight!