LEAP Days at Wellington

LEAP Days at Wellington

Cristen Geary P ’35 & Lissa Wade, Co-Heads of Middle School

Brandon Sullivan, Upper School STEM and Research Collaborator


Every year, Wellington hosts parents and caregivers in the fall to meet teachers and spend an evening in their children’s shoes. In the spring, it’s our privilege to welcome grandparents and special friends for a delightful morning of classes, conversations, and student showcases. We love seeing the smiles and pride on our guests’ faces.

At these events, we frequently hear two sentiments:

1) I wish my school experience resembled the atmosphere, community, and learning at Wellington. 

2) I wish my school better prepared me for college and career by teaching _______. 

Very few – if any – have finished this second sentence with phrases like “the third in command for the British at the Battle of Trenton,” or “the electron configuration for a rare ion of ytterbium.” Instead, they wish their education balanced the prescription of content with the mastery of skills. This has always been Wellington’s strength.

A walk through the early childhood hallway is a kaleidoscope of skill learning. Pete Kaser ’96 P ’27 ’29 does not teach his students about pterodactyls solely through books and worksheets. He empowers his class to research, design, and build life-size replicas of their skeletons. Nami Stager P ’30 ’32 cares for lower school students in the classroom, but it is her students that care for the zoo of animals that co-occupy her habitat. Here, students collaborate with one another to nurture and study diverse animals: hissing cockroaches, banana slugs, trout, and box turtles to name a few. As students rise through grade levels at Wellington, countless examples can be shared of students developing future-focused skills.

Future-focused skills are often learned through professional experiences. But from our conversations, these are the lessons our community wishes were taught earlier to head start our alumni in the world beyond Reed and Fishinger:

I wish my school taught me how to manage my time. I wish I learned how to build networks and communicate effectively. I wish I had the opportunity to practice problem solving and critical thinking. I wish I spent more time researching questions to which there are no answers. I wish I learned how to be a team player and leader. I wish I knew how to advocate for myself and peers. I wish I was taught how to express my creativity. I wish…

Wellington knows that as the needs of the world evolve, schools must reach beyond traditional learning and develop educational strategies that satisfy these wishes.  Education should promote autonomy, critical thinking, research, and creativity. To further invest in our talented students and meet these needs, Wellington launched LEAP Days this autumn – days for Learning, Exploration, And Projects. LEAP Days run on Wednesdays of five-day weeks in the middle and upper schools. They combine coursework and Advisory with opportunities for differentiation through support and challenge.


LEAP Days begin with Academic Extensions that provide opportunities to hone skills that connect with core classes. Students explore etymology to strengthen literacy skills, stretch their math capabilities through competitions, practice research and citation skills, and learn to write proper emails. In addition, teachers facilitate conversations around challenging oneself, academic integrity, and goal setting. 

Following Academic Extensions, students engage in lessons that build social-emotional skills in Advisory. Growth Mindset activities, restorative communication circles, Courageous Conversations, and lessons on “big problem vs. little problem” help students cultivate self-awareness, resilience, and empathy. Students are guided to practice reflective thinking as they review feedback from their teachers and identify growth areas. Executive function and character skills are emphasized, both explicitly and implicitly. Advisory lessons are proactively and responsively designed by the grade-level team to meet the needs of each class.

During the middle school years, we encourage students to find their people and tackle novel experiences. Student Clubs are offered on LEAP Days for students to pursue these goals. Students spend this time with peers across grade levels who share common interests. They love this time together and frequently lament it is the fastest period of the week. Our clubs include Anime, Bullet Journaling, Calligraphy, Chess, Geography Bee, Literary Magazine, Fantasy Football Statistics, Puzzles and Logic, and many more.

Students end their LEAP Days with two, highly anticipated Dive classes. Teachers design Dives around interest areas that excite students, with the ultimate goal of driving student engagement. Dive options include City Planning, Robotic Coding, Stock Market, Poetry, Math Counts, Constitutional Law, Watercolor and Mixed Media, Sporty STEM, Amazing Authors and Illustrators, Psychology, and Experimental Abstract Drawing. In its short history, our Dive program has led to deeper learning and inspired students to pursue their passions well beyond their middle school years.  LEAP Days are game-changers for our middle school students.


A number of professors have supported our move to complement our content with future-focused skills. Recently, one asserted that “GPAs and test scores are ghastly predictive of student success.” When asked what is predictive, he replied that students involved in research and project-based learning were best prepared. He, and his colleagues, wished high schools placed greater emphasis on creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. He believes that students that master these skills are more autonomous, resilient, and successful. When LEAP Days were described to the professor, his eyes lit up with enthusiasm.

The mornings of upper school LEAP Days are designed for students to learn and practice future-focused skills. Ninth graders assemble in The Successful Student – a course that navigates the challenges of high school, improves executive functioning, and helps students identify their strengths and weaknesses. Our sophomores enroll in Global Engagement where they learn to be a traveler as opposed to a tourist in preparation for their future WISE trips. Thanks to the flexible schedule on LEAP Days, the entire sophomore and junior classes were able to attend a seminar from Community Refugee and Immigration Services (CRIS)’s executive director, Angie Plummer P ’20 ’22. 

The junior class is engaged with Wonderlab – a research and creative works incubator for student projects. Here, students research, design, and execute an extensive, independent project. Wonderlab encourages our students to experiment, take risks, fail and reflect, and explore areas of curiosity and/or passion. During the first month, students were charged to learn a new skill or create something using only YouTube as a reference. Students tackled origami (Jessica Li ’23), whittling (Kyler Sanders ’23), digital design (Zach Sagone ’23), CPR (Abdullah Amir ’23), and home renovation (Abigail Noritz ’23) to name a few. This low-stakes assignment was a fun challenge to get the students more comfortable with independent projects outside their comfort zones. These skills are further developed by Erin Cornett ’96 P ’32 ’34, who is walking juniors through James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

Seniors have dedicated time to work on their college applications and essays with the support of our College Counseling team. Seniors have heard from guest speakers on topics related to the college transition, college affordability, residential life, student services, and honors programs. They reviewed sample applications with guidance from college admissions officers, learned about test-optional admissions, and connected with Wellington alumni about their post-secondary experiences.

After 1st period, students gather in class meetings and Advisory. Recent student and parent surveys revealed that community should be a priority coming through COVID-19. During this block, students connect with each other through team building, competitions, field trips, and volunteering at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Student Council uses LEAP Days to meet and plan events that bring our community closer together. One way they have accomplished this is by elevating our student-led clubs, which now have the ability to meet for extended periods on LEAP Days. The Chess Club recently hosted a tournament with over twenty students and the Apiary Club has visited local middle schools to share their knowledge. Our oldest students have used these days to visit our youngest students through the Senior Buddy Program, in which every senior is paired with a lower school homeroom. Seniors can visit their buddies’ classroom for lessons, fist-bumps, and parties.

For upper school students, the final component of LEAP Days is differentiated instruction. Students that need extra support find those resources via office hours, workshops, and study blocks. Students that seek challenge build those opportunities in the art studio, at the laboratory bench, behind the computer monitor, and on the stage. Many students are enrolled in impressive independent studies that range from hands-on molecular cloning and genetic engineering (Caliope Mlicki ’24), to advanced studies in ceramics (Alexandra Pepper ’23). Other students have joined classes that meet on LEAP Days like Yearbook and Robotics. Last year the school had five students develop the yearbook, but now there are twenty students collaborating on this multifaceted project. 

LEAP Days are incredible opportunities for students to not only challenge themselves, but to distinguish themselves.


Just three decades ago, troves of content were inaccessible – buried in libraries, concealed behind paywalls, and stowed in the minds of professors. Education relied on rote memorization to facilitate the flow of information between expert and student. That content is ubiquitous in today’s world with most pockets carrying a dictionary, thesaurus, calculator, and the most comprehensive encyclopedia ever assembled. As a result, education can – and should – be different.

LEAP Days are just one way in which Wellington does education differently. LEAP Day lessons combine fundamental content with the teaching of future-focused skills. These skills allow one to maximize resources and relationships, so students can thrive – not in yesterday’s world, but in the current and future one.

At the end of LEAP Days, students have engaged different classmates from their usual schedule, recharged their emotional batteries with invaluable life lessons in Advisory, and connected with teachers and peers who share common interests. After this mid-point in our week, students resume their routine, energized and refreshed by these unique and enduring experiences. These opportunities to learn, explore, connect, and grow are designed to help students find their purpose and realize their potential for tomorrow’s world.