The glory of the body in motion is something 17-year-old Willa has been passionate about for as long as she can remember. For her school’s project week, she wanted her choreographic style to be the star of the show. Although being able to do so was exciting, the thought of creating a piece she could rewatch and relive invigorated her more. This is where the interests of her classmate, Bodhi, flowed perfectly with what she sought to achieve.
One choreographer, one videographer — together, they studied every plié, élevé, and glissade at a nearby orchard. “He learned some of the dance because he had to move with me,” Willa explains. “Each time we came back out, we changed something and learned something new about the process,” Bodhi adds. The result? A short film that will illuminate their portfolios, captivate audiences, and last a lifetime.
Meanwhile, 16-year-old Daniel was eager to channel his inner Gaultier and McQueen with a fashion show. Of course, the process requires work — designs need to be brought to life, write-ups need to be drafted, quality photographs need to be paired with superb lighting, and footage needs to be edited masterfully. Preparing for a live show isn’t any easier. Thankfully, 17-year old Bill loves photography and 18-year old Sandy is just as enthusiastic about fashion design.
In the process of creating a visually appealing experience, they’re learning more than they could within the confines of a classroom. “It kind of brings our skills to a pragmatic field,” explains Sandy.
The opportunity Sandy speaks of is a rarity for teenagers in their secondary years. However, it shouldn’t be. The positive effects of a personalised education date back to 1984 when educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s research found that students who received “personalised instruction” outperformed 98% of those who did not.
In 2017, two of the biggest names in technology and education philanthropy — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative — jointly funded a US$12 million initiative to support new methods of tailoring classroom instruction to individual students.
Their efforts have caught the attention of schools around the world. Bringing it to fruition, however — by the advance of curricula according to the strengths, skills and interests of young learners — is no easy feat.
At The Putney School, it’s just another day on campus. The stories of Willa, Bodhi, Daniel, Sandy, and Bill are testament to this.
At this coeducational boarding and day school for grades nine to 12 — located in the Green Mountain State of Vermont — 225 unique students are supported by a faculty skilled in producing confident, active and independent learners. To do this, they nurture the necessary tools, self-awareness, and advocacy competencies that empower students — seen purely as individuals — to follow their passions.
First and foremost, they must attain the skills, knowledge, and understanding essential to a Putney education and necessary for graduation. This core curriculum has three components: Subject-Centred Objectives, Throughlines, and Essential Experiences.
Students learn a range of subjects — including mathematics, English, and science — as well as hone seven overarching skills and habits of mind. These include social justice perspectives; argumentation; collaboration; designing and building; inquiry and research; literacy and communication; as well as self-knowledge and self-regulation. They also experience living in a different culture, maintain reasonable physical activity, camp outdoors for a minimum of five days, participate in efforts aimed at making the school community more environmentally sustainable and create and experience a wide variety of art.
Project Week is a special time every student looks forward to. Taking place during the end of each academic semester , this is when young creatives get to deep dive into their passions and interests. It’s in addition to comprehensive, signature programmes that take place throughout the year such as its arts programme, where students pursue in-depth studies and serious practice in the performing arts; music; as well as visual and literary arts.
Whether it is choreography, videography, photography, design, architecture, biology, geometry, culture, or sports, each Putney student is always learning. Step by step, they are evolving into leaders in their respective fields, contributing their knowledge, skills and talent to make the world a better place.
This is a fact backed by its matriculations. Imagine starting the next phase of your academic chapter in an esteemed institution such as the Berklee College of Music, Boston University, Columbia University, Cornell University, New York University, Parsons School of Design, or Yale University. With a Putney education, there’s no need to imagine. This was a reality for several students in the last three years.
Wherever they go, they arrive ready. After all, when they aren’t gaining hands-on knowledge in the classroom, they’re deepening their practice of collaboration, management, and adapting their performance to meet dynamic expectations; in other words, practising being young adults. A regular day at The Putney School comprises real-life work whether it be in the farm, in the kitchen, on the Board of trustees, or through roles in the school council. It’s a school run by a new generation of leaders who are each bound to take their respective fields by storm when the time comes.
“It’s an opportunity to really delve into your deepest interests and to experiment with something new,” Willa confirms. “It may not be your main passion just yet, but it will definitely be something that is important to you.”