Woodland Star International School: The Educational Powerhouse Training Innovators and Disruptors
Woodland Star International School
Woodland Star International School

Kenya’s education system was ranked as the best on the African continent by the World Economic Forum in 2017. Kenya was named the best African country for educational performance by the World Bank in 2018. (1st out of 43 mainland countries). In 2019, a Kenyan was crowned the world’s best teacher and received a coveted $1 million prize. Undoubtedly, something very powerful is going on in Kenyan Schools.

Nairobi has been developing its reputation of becoming the global hotspot for education innovation. At the heart of this educational powerhouse lies a school like no other, created to meet ‘the need’ within the greater Nairobi community for an alternate and more holistic approach to education. It is the one and only – Woodland Star International School!

Birthed from a forgotten tool shed in 2011, Woodland Star is nestled within a unique 100-acre eco-campus and provides a rare educational opportunity for learners aged 2- 16 (with high school soon to come). Located in the midst of an indigenous forest, Woodland Star is a small, progressive school that focuses on the unique strengths and challenges of each child and is home to learners from across the neurodiversity spectrum.

Woodland Star embodies an inclusive and holistic educational approach to the development of children, ensuring that each learner is met where they are at in their own educational journey. Its small class sizes foster friendships that are genuine and deep, and the physical classroom spaces with fireplaces, climbing walls, swinging benches and outdoor learning spaces make Woodland Star feel more like a home than a school.

The Guiding Light

Woodland Star’s values of Passion, Connectedness, Innovation, Respect and Environmental Conservation are what define the school culture and are the principles that guide the Woodland Star Team.

The school’s vision is not radically different from what most schools aspire to, namely, to develop lifelong learners who will live meaningful lives in a complex and changing world. However, the approach and intent towards attaining its vision do look somewhat different. Through the pathways of individualized instruction, social-emotional learning and thematic instruction, the school’s long-term transformational learning goals – and thus its vision and mission – are tracked and realized, that is for each learner to:

Be Self-Directed

Belong in Community

Become Globally Mindful

Alongside its academic learning objectives, the school places a high value on measuring growth in our three aforementioned transformational learning goals. “Our formal learning outcomes therefore transcend mere academic objectives, and include the areas of self-awareness, self-management, growth mindset, social awareness, communication, collaboration, global awareness, systems thinking and environmental conservation,” commented the Founder of Woodland Star International School – Mrs. Amy McKelvey.

The Indomitable Chief

Woodland Star was founded by Mrs. Amy McKelvey, a remarkably and uniquely talented educator. Having taught for many years in different schools in the United States and in Nairobi, Kenya, Amy saw that there was a void in the education most children receive. She watched as the passions of some of her former students slowly disappeared through the years, wilting under the weight of conformity, a missing sense of belonging, and a lack of people who cared to listen to them. Amy knew that it was time for change, so she decided to start a school where learners would have a safe haven to see, to think, and to become.

Many years later, Amy continues to take Woodland Star, its students and its teachers to new heights, using her background in ‘Gifted Education’ to bring learning to life through innovative and engaging teaching strategies, story-based learning, creative and performing arts and an endless passion to give each child the education they deserve.

The Wholesome Experience

Student life at Woodland Star is amazing and unlike any other school, and by its nature is extremely engaging! Before settling into class, learners enjoy a forest-walk each morning, providing an opportunity to connect with their peers and teachers. Home to a beautifully diverse and inclusive community, Woodland Star values everyone’s backgrounds and gifts, which are showcased and celebrated through various means such as whole school/community theatre productions, community ‘Village Teas’, a termly ‘Celebration of Learning’ and community environmental and social justice endeavours. There are a host of extracurricular activities available at Woodland Star, from football to dancing, from taekwondo to science-club, from drama to rollerblading or playing the ukulele.

“Woodland Star has not received any formal accolades or awards, nor are these of greatest importance to us,” remarked the unwavering Mrs. Amy McKelvey. “Our most notable achievements lie in the stories of our learners and their families, many of which have experienced genuine transformations at Woodland Star: the lonely have found friends, the unheard have been given a voice, the excluded are celebrated, and those written off are given a chance. The struggling students are not left behind, those bored are pushed to their potential. Everyone is known and everyone belongs,” she added.

The school is currently working towards formal accreditation.

Bolstering Futures

At Woodland Star International School, employing a theme-based approach in multi-age classes allows for meaningful integration across learning disciplines, authentic application to real-world problems and rich, curricular activities and field trips that are hands-on, project-based, interactive, and engaging. Learning is never static or ‘one-size-fits-all’, and the faculty seek to integrate learners’ strengths, passions, interests, and talents into the learning process. In this way, learners are able to identify and utilize their individual traits, skills, understanding, and experiences to aid both their own and others’ learning, thereby preparing them for their unique participation in and contribution to the world.

Being an inclusive school, the classes include learners with significant learning needs and learners that are ‘gifted’ (and everything in between!). This neurodiversity provides an unparalleled culture of learning and being that elevates preparedness for a diverse, complex, and changing world.

Enduring the Pandemic Tribulations

Like all schools in Kenya, Woodland Star has complied with the Covid safety measures (and more) as required by government directives, including social distancing, face masks, health checks, hand-hygiene, etc. The school’s comparative advantages in this respect have been that it has small class sizes, a big, green, spacious campus, lots of formal, outside learning spaces and a wonderfully supportive and compliant school community, all of which have aided towards very minimal disruption to learning, despite Covid.

When required to shift online, the school’s team thought very critically and reflectively about what would work best for their learners, and about how to retain their philosophy and approach to learning. As such, the school continued to provide a high level of differentiation and personalized learning, ensuring that learning continued to be collaborative, fun and engaging. The school stayed away from full, live school days online or whole-group live teaching, rather focussing its efforts on individual student needs and providing one-on-one or small group instruction.

Scaling the Future

When asked about what the future holds for Woodland Star, Mrs. Amy McKelvey said, “We are far from perfect and keep learning each day. We will never be a large school given our education philosophy but hope to continue to grow and improve in such a way that every learner that comes to Woodland Star is provided with an education that is ‘just right’ for them.”

“As we grow in our own understanding and experience, we would love our campus to develop into a ‘learning hub’ from which we can share valuable practices and expertise with local (and international) schools, and to provide training in educational pedagogy, environmental education, inclusive education, etc.,” concluded the steadfast founder of Woodland Star.

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