Private School in Nature 1st - 12th Grade

A New Paradigm In Education

In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.

— R. Buckminster Fuller

Thank you for checking out what is happening at Wilderness Skills Institute. We believe that we have done just that – created a new model, a new paradigm of education.

It is a model that removed the classroom and desks and uses a proven delivery system; Learning How to Learn, Free Choice Learning, Project Based Learning, Experiential Learning, and Certifications and Licensing, are all major components of the Wilderness Skills Institute pedagogy. It is a model that has thrown out how schools typically measure success – our students work to mastery in all that they pursue. We have removed the lecture and replaced it with students developing their own goals and objectives with mentors and coaches guiding them on that journey. Students describe it as not looking or feeling like school but hanging out with a really cool large family doing cool stuff being helped by aunts and uncles.

Free Choice Makes Students Passionate About Learning

The students in our day school learn the same subjects they would in traditional schools; math, science, English, etc. The difference is our students learn these subjects as tools to study what they’re passionate about, in a manner that is aligned with how they truly learn. Many students go beyond grade level in these subjects because they now see relevance. There are no lectures, but mentoring. No text books but field guides. No endless hours of busywork. There are no classrooms but workshops, meadows, and creeks. No standardized tests but performing real work. No grades but doing all work to mastery and displaying this work in their portfolio.

Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, i.e., “learning from experience” or “learn by doing.”

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.

— Aristotle

With our classroom being the redwood forest our students learn earth and biological sciences by living it, experiencing it, observing it, and documenting their observations. By design 3 hours of each day is dedicated to experiential learning, rain or shine, for usually 160 of the 170 days of the academic year. All of our curricular trips are also experiential.

Wilderness Skills Institute’s School has dramatically changed how youth are prepared for success, it is a new paradigm in education with a new way of developing and delivering content, and a new way of measuring success. We are a total immersion talent development school where the core of the school is about guiding the students to dive deep into what they are passionate about. We use mentoring and coaching practices that are proven. The students are outside 6 hours per day in nature 5 days of the week. We treat the student as an individual developing a program that best suits that student’s passions, talents, interests, skills, strengths and weaknesses.

Learning How to Learn

Our mentors guide each student in setting goals for their education, documenting mastery, and establishing core routines that are proven to make learning fast, effectual, and fun. They learn the life long skill of teaching themselves to learn any kind of material. They develop a mindset of growth and a lifestyle of making their best better.

Students Go Deep Into Their Studies

Because WSI uses Free Choice Learning, Project Based Learning, Experiential Learning, and Certifications and Licensing as tools to motivate their students, not grades, students go very deep into their studies. Please read more about the areas of study that our students may choose.

A New Paradigm in Measuring Success

Gone are grades ranking and transcripts replaced with working to mastery, building a tangible body of work, presented as both a written and online portfolio, and presented quarterly at oral reviews with staff and parents. As part of their graduation requirements the student presents this body of work to their advisory team. The student designs their team made up of WSI staff, community leaders, someone from their chosen field, and if transitioning to a university the department chair from the university they are preparing for enrollment at.

Individuals who structure their careers around autonomy, mastery, and purpose will have a powerful body of work.

— Pamela Slim

Features of WSI Day School

To prepare the students for success, as adults we must…

Pedagogy of WSI’s School for Independent Creative Development

We start by teaching students the transferable skills of how to learn and how to develop talents. To develop our pedagogy we took elements from the best proven methods from around the world. You will see practices used in a dojo, Sudbury, Waldorf, Montessori, Olympic Training Center, Buddhist retreat, Hopi village, Cal Poly animal lab, a Silicon Valley think tank, a grad school seminar, a construction site, a big family, or an old English apprenticeship guild. From our experiences in education, coaching, and industry we have developed methods of mentoring students to develop their skills and talents that works.

Much of Our Day is Spent Outdoors in Nature

In the 35 hours the school is open each week we spend 30 plus hours outside. The default is we are outside. Our classroom is the creeks, meadows, forests, beaches, and estuaries. Each week we will spend one to two hours at the library doing research.

Rain or Shine The Default is Being Outside

A basic skill that all our students learn first, through experience, mentoring, and modeling, is how to stay warm and dry in all weather. They learn that the choices they make will determine if they stay warm and dry in all conditions and staying dry is a matter of survival. They learn to discipline themselves to stay dry, and that it is nonnegotiable. Not only do they learn to layer and modulate those layers before they get wet or cold but how to quickly make shelter with what they carry every day in their day-pack. With the exception of extreme weather conditions, come rain or shine we are outside, because the most basic survival skill is having the skills and being prepared for most weather conditions. If your livelihood comes from working outside be it ranching, forestry, or more you must have the grit and skills to work in all kinds of weather.

In heavy wind and rain we do meet indoors to protect the safety of everyone when conditions warrant.

At campfire at the end of the year the students are asked to describe their most awesome experiences for the year. Without exception being in the forest in the rain is always mentioned, and the more extreme the weather event the more awesome the experience and the more they learned.

We Must Provide Students A Rich, Challenging, and Full Education

As well as the richness of the wilderness we go where we learn from not only people that walk the talk but live it every day. Over the course of the year Wilderness Skills Institute participates in many special events to benefit not only our students but the greater community. These events are not organized by Wilderness Skills Institute, but many we have a strong relationship with their organizers, and offer our students experiences that they would otherwise not get. We have selected these events because they offer our youth a broad rich learning environment, they are nature based, they are populated by those that live what they demonstrate, they offer our students a venue to share their skills with others, and we also select these events because they are family friendly. These events are open to our students and campers that have reached minimum requirements. Some are appropriate for families. Read more.

Students Demonstrate What They Have Learned

In lieu of grades on a transcript our students will journal and maintain a Portfolio of work using photos of progress, photos of finished products or skills, as well as samples of finished products and their development. Their portfolio will be used to represent his/her accomplishments for postsecondary admission or their employment process. This shows what was truly learned, what skills mastered, and the quality of work performed. This portfolio demonstrates what they truly learned and accomplished, not just what they have taken and how they ranked.

As part of our graduation procedure each student presents their portfolio to the public and a digital copy is archived on WSI servers.

Each Student Has an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Every student has the benefit of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) which includes Learning Objectives, Learning Methods, and Learning Outcomes. Every 6 weeks the student will review with the program director their Learning Objectives then the student and director will present the review to their parents for their input. Students will not be graded or ranked in any way. This review is only to assure that the students’ needs are being met and a cumulative list of accomplishments is maintained which could be used for planning future goals, or for college or career placement. The student will not be discussed with the parent unless the student is present.

Common Core, State Content Standards, and Standardized Testing

Wilderness Skills Institute will not teach to the state standards or give the STAR tests for all the reasons given throughout this document. However, a check off sheet of the state standards is part of the (IEP) and is used to identify those standards met in the student’s portfolio. If the educational goals of a student requires a minimal score on the SAT that students IEP will include test prep and review of material on the SAT. Many colleges and Universities do not require the SAT for a list please see:

Graduation then Entering Into the World

For those who seek a diploma, the school offers a graduation procedure open to students who are enrolled in at least their 3rd year at WSI, will be at least 16 years of age at the end the school year, and they and their advisors believe that they have both the breadth of experience and skills, and demonstrated a level of skill necessary to complete a senior project or thesis and enter their next phase of their life, can start the graduation process.

The student may choose to continue their education in colleges and universities. They may choose to enter directly into the world of education, business, trades, arts, crafts, technical vocations, or start your own business. Wilderness Skills Institute will provide assistance in preparing for these goals.

Senior Project

The senior project is a capstone experience required for all Wilderness Skills Institute School of Independent Creative Development students receiving a high school diploma. It integrates theory and application from across the student’s educational experiences. With the guidance and approval from 2 WSI staff (one must be a senior instructor) and one advisor from outside of Wilderness Skills Institute from your area of study (college department chair, business owner, master tradesmen, etc). The senior project consists of a public portfolio display and one or more of the following:

Where the senior project does not consist primarily of a written document, advisors, may, where they deem appropriate, require some written documentation (length to be determined by the advisory team) to accompany the senior project. The precise nature or form of a senior project is to be determined by the student and the advisory team. The senior project is normally related to the student’s field of study, future employment, and/or scholastic goals, and is carried out under direct supervision of a Wilderness Skills Institute senior instructor. The senior project may be a collaboration with other graduating seniors, underclassman or an independent effort. Expected Outcomes (at the discretion of the senior mentors) Students will have the ability to:


Archiving Senior Projects

Applying to Wilderness Skills Institute’s School for Independent Creative Development

Wilderness Skills Institute has a policy of open admissions, accepting all applicants who have the capacity for full participation in the school’s program as self-directed, autonomous, and a collaborative member of the school’s community. Applicants must be at least 6 years old and 17 or less. The school does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, gender expression, or national or ethnic origin. An admissions interview gives applicants and their families an opportunity to learn more about the school and WSI get to know the student. Once enrolled each student will be on a 3 week probation. Enrollment may take place at any time during the school year, as long as there are openings available, and is for a full 180 days of instruction from the date of entry.

Initial consultation: We meet with parents (both highly recommended) along with the child. There is a one time nonrefundable fee of $75.00. Once you have read the information here feel free to give Toni a call to schedule your consultation.

Our environment of freedom and support has been sought out by people from a wide area. In order to attend, students commute daily, sometimes from great distances. The diversity of their backgrounds is a microcosm of the larger community; what they share is a commitment to their own educational goals.

Some of our preteen and teen students have clear goals “I want to prepare to be successful in the school of veterinarian science.” Or “I want to become a forester.” With these students we will meet with the department chair of the college or university and develop an individual plan to assure articulation into the university and have the solid skills and experiences to be successful once there. We will also have the student do an internship or apprenticeship early so that they truly understand what it is like to work in that profession.

Others have goals that do not require a college degree like “I want to be a stunt-man.”; “I want to be a carpenter.”; “I want to take over the family business.” We connect the student to those that are in the field they are pursuing and have them help us with developing an educational plan to meet that end.

Many students do not have clear goals. “I enjoy science and math.”; “I really want to explore the forest”; or “I like to design and build things.” “I love to draw.” In these situations the students dive deep into the subject(s). They may satisfy that thirst and move on to other subjects or make it a lifetime journey.

In all cases that which they are passionate about is the vehicle to learn the basic skills of math, science, reading, writing, literature, history, philosophy, etc..

With the younger kids their school work is just to explore and play and develop their brain, learn social and problem solving skills, and just develop a mindset of loving school as they are exposed to the older students pursuing their passions. There is an ever growing body of evidence that children that spend their days doing undirected free play and exploration in nature with others are significantly more successful as young adults in pursuing their goals.

Call Toni today: (831) 431.6454

WSI School is for Young People That Are…

Ages 11 - 18, however, because WSI School requires 3 years of enrollment to graduate we can offer this to new students only between the ages of 11 – 15. The fall 2015 enrollment period is limited to 18 boys and 18 girls. WSI does not accept every student but if your preteen or teen agrees to the following then WSI may be for them.

WSI School is not for Young People That…

As stated above, WSI is not a school for every student. If your teen or preteen cannot honestly answer the statements in the section above we simply are not the school for your student. Additionally we are not a school for students that have special needs to such a degree to prevent them from meeting their educational goals, for those with behavioral issues, for those that do not want to work to learn or for the needs of their team, or for those that believe that they can’t learn.

Do you believe this is how your child should learn?

If this resonates with you, that your child would thrive in this environment, please contact us to discuss enrollment opportunities for your child.

"We don’t rise to the level of our expectations…we fall to the level of our training."
—Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, 650 BC