Wingra is an independent progressive school for children ages five to fourteen located on a hillside across from the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, centrally-located in Madison. We’re on the Madison Metro bus line, which is our connection to the Overture Center, the downtown library, the State Capitol, the University of Wisconsin campus, and much more.
There’s a charm to our building, a history. Wingra School lives in the former Dudgeon School building, on Monroe Street. At its founding in 1972, Wingra School set out to re-imagine education for children in our changing world.
The grass-covered lower yard and upper outdoor performance stage and indigenous playscape are Madison City parks that provide children with green space, trees, ball diamonds, swing sets, climbing structures, and wide-open spaces. The hill in the lower yard is great for sledding in winter!
In 1970 and 1971, five women, all with considerable knowledge in the fields of education and child development, set out to create a learning environment for children that followed many of the same philosophies as the “open classroom” or British primary model. It was a time when many educators questioned the effectiveness and benefits to children of the traditional, highly adult-centered practices in American education.
The open, informal, or British primary model was heavily influenced by the work of educator John Dewey and developmental psychologist Jean Piaget and was characterized by the following:
• Multi-age or “family” groupings of children
• “Learning centers” to move through during an openly structured school day
• Recognition that children are active constructors of their own knowledge
• Teaching as facilitating, guiding, and setting the stage for children’s discovery
• Learning as a highly individualized process, strongly bound to social connections and community responsibilities
Wingra’s founders’ original intent was not to create a new school but to demonstrate to the Madison school district a more child-centered, mixed-age approach in the hopes that they would implement it within the public schools. They tirelessly lobbied the school board, convincing them along the way to send several teachers to England to explore the open classroom.
Ultimately, the district proposed a three-year experiment starting with five-year-olds and adding an age group each year. This arrangement did not satisfy Wingra’s founders, in part because the true benefit of the family groupings would not be enjoyed until the third year. After thanking the district for its support and consideration, the founders opened Wingra School in 1972 in the Dudgeon building with 45 students in two classrooms. The school’s first teachers were Sam Jackson, JoAnn Schoell, and Jackie Hass.
Wingra expanded as interest in the school grew and younger students matured. In the mid-seventies, a class for 9 to 11 year olds was added. In 1983, Wingra started a program for the middle school years, ages 11 to 14.
Serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade presented new challenges and opportunities. The informal model, traditionally used with younger students and in early childhood settings, was reinterpreted to meet the needs of early adolescents. The classrooms for older students have become a high-quality alternative to large middle school settings.
Over the decades, Wingra has established connections with organizations that serve independent schools, including the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), the Progressive Education Network (PEN), and the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools. Wingra is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS).
Board of Trustees
Wingra School is a nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Trustees composed of parents, staff members, and community volunteers. The board provides support for all aspects of the school through fundraising, policy development, maintenance of the organizational structure, and participation in financial and long-range planning.
The board is self-perpetuating; new members are chosen by current board members to bring in needed strengths and talents. Staff members are nominated by the staff. It is important that potential board members are committed to Wingra’s mission and ownership and are able to “think big” in terms of systems, not details.
- Sharon Besser
Mark Blitz (Secretary)
Matthew Dregne (Vice President)
Patricia Finn (President)
Alissa Lawton O’Farrell
Debbie Millon (ex officio)
David Hoffert (Treasurer)