Friends of Wingra Newsletter

Spring 2009
Volume 1 Issue 4
Erica Colmenares, Editor

What do YOU Remember?

Kids’ Night Out, or KNO, is an enduring Wingra School tradition. Where did it come from? When did it begin? What are some favorite alumni memories of KNO? These are all questions we hope to answer in our Summer Friends of Wingra newsletter.

Jot down a memory or send in a photo of your KNO experience. We look forward to hearing from you. (Click here to contact Wingra School.)

Do We Have Your 
Current Snail Mail Address? 

We’ll be doing a print mailing this summer and don’t want to miss you. Let us know if you’ve moved, and if you know of a Wingra friend or family that may have dropped off our radar, let us know about them as well!

Click here to contact Wingra School.

Celebrating Community

Saturday’s Community Celebration was a yummy success, due to the dedicated work of the Community Celebration Committee as well as many parent volunteers who did everything from serving the wonderful cakes donated by Willy Street to organizing volleyball games to leading everyone in Morris dancing.

The auctions brought in over $1100, part of which will go toward the Capital Campaign. Participants also chipped in by filling barrels with food for the Second Harvest Foodbank. Just like our Wingra folks, to give both to the school and to the wide community. (FYI - the collection barrels will be at school until the end of this week.) Thanks for celebrating another year with us in our beautiful Monroe Street home.

Wingra Way Back Machine

A clear perk of pulling together the Friends of Wingra newsletter is getting to dive into the old print newsletters, which are full of wonderful student art and priceless memories from Wingra School’s history. This month, we ran across a letter written thirty years ago by Margaret Napier, one of the school’s founders, describing the birth of Wingra. It’s definitely worth re-publishing -- read on!

I have been putting off writing this farewell letter to the Wingra community for several days. When I sit down to think about what I’m going to say, memories from the eight years of my relationship with the school fill my head and my resolve disappears. I remember clearly when Wingra was just a dream in the minds of a handful of parents.

I remember the long meetings when we tried to muster the courage to actually launch the school. There were so many questions: Where would the money come from? Who would the teachers be? Would enough parents entrust their children to an untried school? I recall vividly our first conversations with Jackie Haas and JoAnn JoAnn Schoell, and the reassurance their experience and wisdom gave us as we started building bookcases that first summer. I can see clearly the first bright August morning when 47 beautiful children arrived at our classroom doors. Some of those first children "graduated" from Wingra a year ago [1978], and perhaps their passage marked the end of the first chapter in the School’s history. . . .

Wingra was an experiment. We didn’t know if what we envisioned for children would really work. When it seemed to be working, we wondered if teachers could continue to maintain that kind of creative environment without "burning out." There were also, of course, all the tedious and worrisome problems of budgets and building, of schedules and salary scales, of hard-to-work-with-kids and tired-out teachers. But Wingra’s a success. As I visit other schools, I feel great pride in what we have created in our school. Wingra has, in a sense, moved from experiment to institution.

And as this is a letter of leavetaking, I cannot refrain from adding a cautionary note. I hope that parents will not take the School’s excellence for granted. I hope that you will all bring to it your ideas and enthusiasms and energies. I hope, too, that the original vision will continue to sustain the school at a time when many schools are being pressured to revert to more traditional, supposedly safer methods of educating.

Margaret Napier, May 1979

Claire Weiss & Wingra School

Claire Weiss needs no introduction to the readers of this newsletter. She’s been team-teaching with Lisa Kass since the fall of 1999, after student-teaching with Lisa and Mindy Borstadt. She’s almost exclusively served Wingra’s 9-11 year old age set. We tracked her down on an early Friday morning, and asked her a few questions.

Q. What’s changed here at Wingra School?
A. The way students are grouped into classes is different. We didn’t used to have the Nest, Pond, Lake and Sky [our four current level groupings, for 5-7, 7-9, 9-11 and 11-14 year olds]. When I started, our room was referred to as the Junior Room, and the middle school room was the Senior Room. 

There is more collaboration between teachers and levels, now. There are more computers (we had one Mac and one Presario when I started), with the classroom computers and the Tech Lab. And we didn’t have internet access. We also didn’t have specific staff teaching "Specials." We  had a staff member, Lindy, who supported music and art in the classroom, but the program is bigger now.

Q. What’s the same?
A. The traditions continue. Friday Follies, Book Partners, All-School Choice, KNO . . . a Wingra alumni coming back would see a lot that they recognize. Graduates of Lisa’s and my classroom would see we still do "Journey to the Other Side," and sing "I think I’ve got a problem."

Q. What’s new about you and yours?
A. When I started teaching at Wingra School, my students were the same age as my children. When I went home, I was able to compare what I saw at Wingra with the stories my kids told me about their school day. Now, my kids are all grown, so there’s no comparison.

But other things haven’t changed. I still live in the country. I still love to read – right now I’m reading a biography of Aaron Burr that my son recommended.

Thanks, Claire, for sharing ten years with Wingra School. We’ll be back in 2019 for another recap.

 Wingra School Class of 2005 

We’re revisiting a mislaid tradition. Each spring, we’ll do our best to track down the students who graduated from Wingra School four years prior, and see what they are up to. Here’s what we found on some of our ’05 grads.

Nick Atkin (1996-1998 and 2001-2005, left) is graduating from Middleton High School, on honor roll. He’ll be going to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to study engineering in the fall. His younger sister, Elizabeth, is currently a Wingra student.

Elizabeth Baker (1996-2005) will be staying in Madison for a year to focus on her horseback riding. She will also be continuing her work at Three Gaits.

Rachel Becker (1996-2005, right) is graduating from LaFollette High School, and was in the top 4% of Dane County seniors. This summer, she’ll be a dive coach in the All-City league. Rachel will be attending the University of California-Berkeley in the fall, on a diving scholarship. She’s leaning toward studying engineering or medicine.

Clark Chism (1999-2005) is currently homeschooling, and will be attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall.

Austin Cotant (1996-2005, left) is graduating from West High School and was in the top 4% of Dane County seniors. He will attend Wesleyan in the fall to study physics and education.

Carly Dutch-Greene (2004-2005) is finishing up at Memorial High School, and will be attending the University of Colorado-Denver in the fall.

Rob Schumacher (1996-2005) is graduating from West. His dad reports having seen lots of Wingra students at Rob’s recent senior honors event.

Molly Segall (1996-2005) will graduate Monona Grove High School in the top 5% of her class. In high school, Molly was President of Key Club,  a member of the National Honor Society, and played varsity tennis. This fall, Molly plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  

Kyle Teal-Buttermore (2004-2005, left) is in Madison, but will be in Iowa over the summer and will spend the coming year in Wausau. He plans to move out to Los Angeles the following year to attend film school.

Karl Whitemarsh (1996-2005) is graduating from West with high honors. He recently achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts and his eagle project involved Wingra School. Karl will enter the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall to study Spanish and French. He will live in the International Learning Community, a dorm that has floors/corridors devoted to specific world languages.  He will be living in the Residencia de Estudiantes (the Spanish dorm). 

Olivia Wine (2002-2005, right) graduated from high school a semester early and  has been taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s in Proud Theater now, a Madison LGBTQ theater activism group, which writes, directs and acts in their own performances. Olivia’s going to be a freshman at Colorado State University-Fort Collins, in the Leadership program.

Rebecca Young (1996-1998 and 2001-2005, left) is a daily presence at Wingra School, helping both with the lunch program and in the art room. She’s very active in the theater community, with the Madison Theatre Guild, Young Shakespeare Players and American Players Theater. We’re lucky to have her continuing contributions to our lives.

We found Rassamee Kahrs (1997-2005) on facebook, but since we’re not "friends," we’d love the hidden details. We’re also on the look-out for more information on Nathan Simmons (2000-2005). 

All-School Spring Concert
For the second year in a row, Wingra students and All-School teachers have put on a fabulous show at the Overture Center’s Playhouse Theater.


Tim Lee and "What Is Progressive Education?"

This fall, our now-not-as-new Head of School, Paul Brahce, asked you, "What is progressive education?" One response he received was from Tim Lee, Wingra School’s director from 1998-2003  Here’s what Tim had to say.

I have been a principal of a public elementary school for the past six years and I still feel my time at Wingra shaping my life as an educator. One powerful aspect of Wingra’s program that I miss the most is thematic learning. The ability to create a context for what is learned that is real and powerful makes all the difference in whether something is integrated for the long-term or simply memorized to pass a test. At Wingra the themes were often chosen to represent student interests, making the context even more powerful from a learning perspective.

Moving from Wingra to NCLB-era public education has been difficult on several levels. Over the years I have encouraged the teachers I work with to teach in themes and inter-relate disciplines so that students can see connections. It’s always been a big challenge. We (in public schools) can be way too wrapped up in meeting data points. This creates a system which effectively promotes a desired uniformity (that we optimistically refer to as "achievement") which can be empty for many learners. Many quality public schools are finding ways around this but the system is still somewhat flawed because at its core, it is still based on outcomes and not process.

So "progressive" for me means being brutally honest about what’s good for kids...and then doing it. How do they learn? How can we help them figure out the world and thrive in it? The answer is not the same for all. The best quote I’ve ever heard about this business of educating I came across years ago when I was writing something for Wingra. I apologize that I’ve long since forgotten the author. It goes something like: "The best preparation for adulthood is surely to live fully as a child." Answer what it means to "live fully" and you have my understanding of progressive education. Wingra is the kind of place where a kid can live fully. Some schools lack any interest in being that place. Other schools struggle to be that kind of place, but I’ve never been to a school that can be that place as consistently as Wingra.

Tim Lee

Alumni 411

Lianna Cotant (1993-2002, left) just finished her junior year at St Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. It was particularly memorable because she spent the first five months of the school year participating in a Global semester program and got the chance to visit Geneva, Paris, Egypt, India, Thailand, Hong Kong, mainland China, and Korea. She’s spending this summer in Homer, Alaska where she will be teaching dance, catching salmon, gardening, and baking bread.

Nathan Craig (1982-1986, right) headlined at the Comedy Club this past weekend. You can find an interview of Nathan here: Comic Nathan Craig to test his talent on home turfFormer Wingra School director, Ann Wilson, alerted us to the article, and shared, "Nathan is a little older than my daughter, Sonja, but they were in classes together for a while, and I’m pretty sure that he’s the "kid" who used to cut the grass of founding teacher JoAnn Schoell for years, because he so appreciated her. Given her wild humor I’m not really surprised that he ended up first a teacher and then a comic writer and performer!"

Aaron Frank (1998-2001) just graduated from the New School in New York City with a Bachelors of Fine Arts with a discipline in theater. He will be working in NYC and auditioning for graduate school in January 2010. During his course at the New School he attended the British American Drama Academy in London for a year. Aaron’s sister, Sarah Frank, just finished her junior year at West.

Andrew Hurie (1987-1993) got in touch with our librarian and tech teacher, Angie Sparks. For the past three years, he’s taught second grade at La Causa Charter School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He shared, "During this time, I have often reflected on my own schooling experience and I fondly remember the many projects, field trips, and discussions that we explored in your class. As a teacher of young children, I marvel at the critical disposition that you helped foster in us. At times, the educational debates here in Milwaukee seem to stray so far from what would really improve our schools; even so, I have found solace in my conversations with veteran educators like you. I would love to return to Wingra, first to see you again, and also to observe from a teacher’s perspective all the engaging activities that you help to make happen." Andrew’s father, Hickory, visited last year when he brought in a beautiful library table that belonged to his Andrew’s grandmother. The table is now in the library to display new and special collections.

Lisa Ledford-Kerr (1973-1978) lives in Madison and juggles two careers (owning a flora-container garden business and producing videos) while being the mother of two kids and wife to Barnaby Kerr. She keeps in touch with Andrea Richardson, Nicole Maurice and Kirsten Emmerson.

Ben Seeger (2002-2004, right), performed in February with three other top-ranked high school musicians and the Madison Symphony Orchestra, in the annual Bolz Young Artists Competition. An article in the Wisconsin State Journal, A lot of practice makes top young musician, highlighted Ben’s accomplishments. He was also named a National Merit Scholar, was ranked in Dane County’s top 4% of the Class of ’09, and is a 2009 All-State Scholar.

Ethan Hirsch Witkovsky (1990-1998, left) is currently studying at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York city toward Rabbinical ordination. After spending his third summer as staff at Camp Ramah New England, he will be studying with the Rabbinical program in Jerusalem next year. He also spent this year working as the youth director at a synagogue in Pelham, New York. He still plays ultimate frisbee whenever and wherever he can.

Benny Hirsch Witkovsky (1995-2004, right) just completed his freshman year at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. He plans to do an independent major in Peace and Conflict studies. Benny will spend the summer as an intern for the Wisconsin state assembly. He continues to participate in theatre productions at Vassar and enjoys taking dance classes when he can fit them in.

Sam Zeitlin (1991-2000) lives in D.C. these days on a public service fellowship working for a tiny non-profit that does historical preservation work on properties involved in the Manhattan Project.  He’s also job-hunting for the fall, and gearing up for the horrid LSATs.  Sam reports that he lives off cheese and cured ham (and bread, obviously).

A Match Made at Wingra

Wingra teachers Quinne Haugen and Josh Rankin are tying the knot and shared this message about their future plans.

Hello Wingra Friends and Family!

As many you know we are getting married in June. We each came to Wingra at different times looking for different things and what we found was an exceptional school, an amazing learning community and of course each other. As we fell in love with teaching at Wingra and the other people that make this place so special, unbeknown to us at the time we began falling in love with one another. It didn’t take us too long to realize what a special place this is, and what special people belong to it. According to some of the Sky students "we just knew you two would get together."

So, with this big change in our lives, we have decided to embrace more change. We recently went to an international teaching fair and found (or were found by) an amazing school in Shanghai, China. After many discussions, tears and deliberations we have decided to accept teaching positions there for two years! We are overjoyed, excited, nervous and saddened all at the same time. We know that this will be a life-changing experience which we are ready to embrace.

But we also know that it’s not everyday that you stumble upon a school like Wingra that is "busting at the seams" with great kids, supportive parents and a staff that is absolutely dynamic. We know that we are taking a piece of Wingra everywhere that we go and we also know that we would love to come back to this community in some capacity in the future. Madison is our home and Wingra is a learning community that we will always be a part of.

Thanks to all of you, for everything you have done to help us be better teachers, colleagues and friends. We will miss you all tremendously but get ready to have some pen pals in China!

Josh and Quinne

Did You Know . . .

. . . Alfie Kohn, a great thinker in the progressive education movement, wrote a Letter to the Editor that was published in a recent New York Times? The topic was advanced placement courses. To find out where Kohn falls on the subject of A.P. courses, click this link: 

Teaching A.P. Courses

Wingra Wildlife

Jeff Steele, Wingra extended-day teacher (and Spanish teacher, and P.E. teacher . . . ) spotted this red-tail hawk on the back playground.




It’s a Date!

Friends and Family Celebration - Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Alumni Night - Thursday, February 18, 2010
Wingra Community Celebration - Saturday, May 22, 2010

Let us know if you are able to attend any of these upcoming events. We’d love to see you!

You can also find us on facebook. While you’re there, become a fan, and check out the new school video!



2010 Wingra School