A Re-Introduction to the WILLDS Program

Dr. Jessie Barrie, Head of School
Bosque School has always been committed to “whole child education.” We recognize that for our students to fully thrive, we must expand our focus beyond academic skill development and provide opportunities that help them grow as self-aware individuals and conscious community members who are equipped with life skills to maximize their potential. Throughout Bosque School’s history, examples of this commitment have been displayed through integrated service learning, meaningful leadership opportunities (MRC, VOICES, service learning groups, student government, Judicial Committee, etc.), the school’s no-cut athletics policy, and extensive social-emotional learning, often delivered through advisory. And yet, our students have hungered for more. 

Prior to starting my role, I sat down with the class of 2019 seniors to seek their advice. I asked them to share their perspective on what they felt they had gotten too much of and not enough of in their Bosque School education and what changes they would recommend to better support students in the future. Over the past three years, I have continued this annual tradition. The most common theme among the students was a desire for a more intentional and consistent curriculum in mental and physical health; equity, community, and culture (ECC) related curriculum; and life skills. 

Based on this feedback, paired with similar responses from staffulty and administrators, it became apparent that there was a significant opportunity to comprehensively consider the many elements of Bosque School’s whole child education initiatives and how they might work more intentionally together. We sent a team of educators to a handful of schools across the country to study other comprehensive models of whole child education, and from that, the genesis of the WILLDS program was born. 

The vision of WILLDS is to develop a comprehensive, holistic, and scaffolded curriculum connected to the topics of wellness, identity, leadership, life skills, diversity, and service; the mission of WILLDS is to “integrate theory and practice to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and vision necessary to promote critical thinking and self-awareness, inspire discernment, build community, and engage as influential community members who cultivate a more inclusive and equitable world.” Throughout their seven years at Bosque School, students will build their skills and deepen their understanding of these crucial topics, with the intention that they learn to apply these skills with greater nuance and understanding as they develop competence and confidence with the content. Additionally, the WILLDS curriculum allows us to proactively provide students with skills and understanding that could help reduce the reactive crises that may arise without that education. 

We very enthusiastically began planning for a formal launch of the WILLDS program in 2019–20—then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Our initial aspirations for WILLDS were impacted by the crisis of re-thinking school and the challenges of designing and delivering curriculum in remote and hybrid teaching modalities. Throughout 2020–21, we used our “Wellness Wednesdays'' as an incubator to develop and pilot WILLDS content, but as this content was largely delivered remotely, the program struggled to gain significant traction. This year, we have been able to ramp up programming but have been impacted by a variety of factors, notably a lack of dedicated time in the schedule and a lack of full-time WILLDS teachers. As we began planning for next year, the Academic Leadership Team reflected on the challenges of the past 2.5 years related to WILLDS. It was abundantly clear that for WILLDS to truly manifest its mission and vision, it requires commitment of two key resources: 
  1. Time: Next year, all students will have dedicated WILLDS time in their schedule. In middle school, WILLDS classes will occur once every rotation in addition to content being shared through grade-level meetings, advisory activities, and integrated into core classes. In upper school, each grade will have a dedicated WILLDS block. This time will allow focused teaching, relationship building with the WILLDS teachers, and consistency needed to support students’ progress through the curriculum.
  2. Teaching Expertise: Just as math teachers are masters of their craft, so too are WILLDS educators. We have recruited experienced and passionate educators who will have dedicated time to deliver the elements of the WILLDS curriculum. These teachers will work to develop the curricular arc of each of the WILLDS content areas and build relationships with students over the years. 

What might a student’s journey look like as they travel through seven years of WILLDS curriculum? Let’s explore some content that a student might interact with in each of the elements of the acronym: 
  1. Wellness: 
    • What is the difference between stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidality, and how do I support myself and friends through mental health challenges?
    • What are my personal coping strategies for managing stress? 
    • Understanding the neuroscience of the adolescent brain
    • Understanding puberty, anatomy, and sexual health (including topics of consent, pleasure, sexually transmitted infections, and birth control) 
    • Understanding and identifying healthy vs. toxic relationships 
    • Understanding substance use and abuse (the science, neuroscience, impacts, and how to navigate values-based decision making)
    • Understanding the stages of grief and how to navigate them
  2. Identity: 
    • What unique elements of my culture, history, family, circumstance, and lived experience shape the way I view and interact with the world?  
    • What are the unique intersectionalities of my identity?
    • How does my identity interact with other identities?
    • What power and privileges do I hold? How can I make sure I am sharing power with others?
    • What do I value? How do I use my values to help inform me in moments of crisis or confusion? 
    • What kind of friend am I? What kinds of friendships are important to me? 
  3. Leadership: 
    • What are the characteristics of an effective leader? 
    • What are the skills of leadership (self-awareness, communication, conflict resolution, group management, decision making, etc.)?
    • How do I develop and practice leadership skills and effectively receive feedback on those skills (both from others and self-reflection?) 
    • What are my strengths and growth edges? 
    • What are my opportunities as a leader in my social group, grade, school, and in the larger community?
  4. Life Skills: 
    • What are executive function skills (time management, organization, using an agenda, etc.), and why are they important to me and my success? 
    • What is a GPA, and why does it matter? 
    • How do I develop financial literacy (understanding debt, credit cards, investing, filing taxes, creating and managing a budget, etc.)?
    • How do I write an effective cover letter, resume, and engage with a job interview?
    • What do I need to understand about digital citizenship, digital footprints, and the neuroscience (and big business) of social media? 
    • How do I cook some basic meals; How do I change a tire?
    • College Seminar (how to navigate college admissions, how to narrow down my list, how to write a compelling college application essay, how to understand student debt, understanding and exploring gap years, etc.).  
  5. Diversity: 
    • How are we strengthened by engaging with cultural competence and humility with those who hold different lived experiences and perspectives than our own? 
    • How do we understand our own positionality, privilege, and power? 
    • What are systems of oppression? How did history lead to these? What opportunities do we have to disrupt them? 
    • What are microaggressions? What do they look like in practice, and what are their impacts? What is the difference between intent and impact, and how can we repair harm? 
    • How do we engage in constructive discourse and truly listen to opposing perspectives? 
  6. Service: 
    • How do we engage with our community and develop partnerships that help strengthen the collective? 
    • How do we listen to the needs of others and work collaboratively to support them?
    • How can I deepen my learning through interaction with others? 
    • What is advocacy, and how does one advocate? 
    • What is philanthropy? What do I value and want to contribute my time, treasure, or talent to? 
    • What is a non-profit, and what role do they plan in our society? 
    • How do I develop and apply reflection skills to community engagement opportunities?

These are some of the types of questions that students will engage with through their WILLDS classes and additional WILLDS opportunities that will continue to occur through Morning Meeting presentations, advisory conversations, clubs and affinity spaces, and special programming. The majority of these topics come directly from the feedback and requests of our students and our student support team and staffulty. Students will not necessarily engage with all elements of the WILLDS curriculum each year, but rather experience a curated series of WILLDS content blocks that will focus on the unique developmental needs of each grade. The WILLDS program and curriculum will be constantly evolving to be flexible and responsive to these needs (and new ones that will arise). The WILLDS blocks may also occasionally allow dedicated time for grade-based community building, feedback sharing with administrators, and class-based topics. In upper school, an element of wellness may include some discretionary blocks or study halls for students to get caught up on work. 

The different content areas of WILLDS will be taught by a variety of WILLDS affiliated teachers that will include our school counselors, learning specialist, equity educator, alongside advisors, teachers, and community experts and partners (past partners have included the Agora Crisis Center, the Children’s Grief Center, the NM Transgender Resource Center, Head Start, and the Center for Responsible Sex Education). 

So as we look with excitement toward next year, we are eager to provide the structure and support to allow WILLDS to truly manifest into the original mission and vision and truly provide the dynamic curriculum that our students are hungry for. 

Parents and guardians, if you are interested in discussing the WILLDS program and having a chance to ask questions or offer feedback, the final BPA meeting of the year on Tuesday, May 3 at 5:30 pm, will have a special focus on the WILLDS program. Register here

Don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions or feedback.

All the best,

Jessie Barrie, PhD
Head of School