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Crew, Curiosity, and Service: Sharing the Spirit of EL Education With the Next Generation

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    EL Education

At EL Education schools, staff and students live by the motto "We are crew, not passengers." Crew is like family, fostering lifelong learning. Some have taken that motto to another level, like teacher Willa Bograd, who is now teaching at a school where she was once an EL Education student. Join Willa and fellow alumni Edward Brown for a conversation about comedy and camaraderie coming full circle.

How did you discover teaching as a profession? 

I graduated from Colorado State University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in theater, and spent two years as the the teaching assistant for the improvisation and comedy class, where I realized how much I enjoyed teaching. I decided to become a teacher after I spent a summer running a children’s theater camp through CSU in Todos Santos, Mexico. We helped kids ages 5-12 create an original, bilingual theatre piece and it was so rewarding. Teaching and theatre have so many elements in common: every day is different and requires improvisation and the best interactive lessons involve role play -- and sometimes even music! It’s a great way to combine my passions.

Tell us about why you returned to the Odyssey School? What’s your relationship like with your teacher-turned-colleague, Ali Morgan?

What brought me back to Odyssey was a chance to work with and be mentored by someone who had been a big part of my life, and hopefully become that important teacher for some of my own students. Working with Ali Morgan has been a dream. Every child has a teacher who helped changed their life, and she was that person for me. She was my superhero teacher, showing me the important role an educator could play in a kid’s life.  She gives me tips, large and small, when it comes to my lesson plans or the best way to approach a certain student. I’ve had other great colleagues here as well, like Emily Bremer, who mentored me when we co-taught a kindergarten class my first year at Odyssey. I am very happy to have taught here for two years now.

How did your time at an EL Education school influence your learning as a child?

As a fourth grader at Odyssey, Ali Morgan introduced an expedition on urban planning where we were asked to design a city down to every last detail. We had to combine math, social studies, and creative writing skills to make our plan. EL Education emphasizes cross-platforming, or intersectional studies -- and this project truly highlighted that approach. No aspect of the city went unplanned, from City Hall to resource allocation and from schools to movie theaters. We designed the city realistically and learned how professional city planners operate. It made me think about whether I could become a city planner. I enjoyed the exercise and the project opened my eyes to a whole new professional field -- even if I became a teacher instead of a city planner!

Why is it important to you that students continue to learn in EL Education schools?

The EL Education approach offers students a solid foundation for habits of learning and work that they carry with them for the rest of their lives. The emphasis on personal responsibility, revision, and self-discipline aren’t just lessons that apply in the classroom, they follow you into all areas of your life. As a former EL Education student and current educator, I realize it’s not just about what you teach, but how you teach content, and why you teach content. The process of teaching and learning matters so much.   

The idea that students be compelled to contribute to a better world is also so important. At my school, we encourage students to advocate for their own interests and be curious about the world around them. Right now in my crew, we’re raising baby chicks. They’re adorable, but they’re so much more than that. They are teaching the students about the natural world, compassion, and duty, while shining a light on how precious life is and how it functions. EL Education’s model gives us the chance to venture out into our local communities and learn how we can make an impact. I want my students to become better citizens who take responsibility for their own development and work towards change as part of a crew.

Edward Brown is an alumnus of Springfield Renaissance School in Springfield, MA and Brown University. He is partnering with EL Education to profile alumni of the network’s schools.