I first learned of the Willow School through a presentation hosted by OASIS (Organizing Action on Sustainability In Schools) at the Princeton Public Library, and recently asked if I could stop by when I was up that way.
With kids from pre-school through the 8th grade, their mission statement speaks of "the wonder of the natural world", respect, independent thinking, creativity, responsibility, and integrity--words that take on meaning in the landscape as well as the classroom. The first thing my tour guide, science teacher Michael Chodroff, pointed out was that their driveways have minimal curbing, so that runoff can be absorbed by the landscaping rather than piped straight into the local stream.
The building is as most of us are--a mix of old and new and everywhere we've been.
The next building to rise will be a "living building", defined as a building that generates more energy than it uses. The founder, Mark Biedron, took a moment from his work on the design to tell me that the school aims to develop a sense of place. When they first obtained the property from Pfizer, they studied its geology, hydrology and history back to the glaciers and beyond. Some themes emerged, e.g. the land is between two watersheds, and on the edge of the last glaciers' extent, that are used in the classroom to help kids understand the meaning of where they are.
The Willow School, then, finds use and advantage in many things that are elsewhere shunned--sunlight, runoff, wastewater, old building materials. Even suboptimal weather doesn't discourage the kids from outdoor play, as they use nature's discards to fashion lean-to's.
In a world not always welcoming of dreams, here one has been realized, and is lived every day. May its students carry this most sensible of dreams far and wide.