I had the pleasure of visiting Woodland Star International School from the 7th to the 14th of March 2022. This was in connection with a quality assurance evaluation that was conducted by the School from October 2021 until the end of March 2022.
Woodland Star is an amazing school that nestles in scenic and spacious grounds, surrounded by lovely forests. The various classrooms are spread out, leaving ample room for the children to play and to be outdoors. Individual classrooms are a delight and much thought has obviously been given to the needs of the children. Loft areas, patios and spaces for group work abound, making the classrooms very welcoming for all concerned.
The organisational skills of all staff concerned are very apparent and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. The School Board is very well managed and supportive and is to be congratulated for its input over the years and for approving the going-ahead of the Woodland Star High School in the near future. The School Management Team, ably led by the Principal, Mr Timo Lehmann, operates well and the School certainly runs smoothly. The teaching members of staff are to be congratulated on the way they support each other and how they put the needs of the children to the fore.
The atmosphere at Woodland Star is positive and welcoming. I look forward to hearing about future successes at the School and wish all concerned a bright and sustained future.
I first joined WoodlandStar at the age of 4 years old. The school was quite small back then, but throughout these years it has become hardly comparable to how it was.
I made a lot of friends who always supported me in my struggles, and teachers who encouraged me to reach higher than my true potential because they believed in me. During my time at Woodland, I never encountered bullying.
Woodland Star has really helped me grow in many different ways, like building my confidence and motivating me to do good in the world.
Woodland Star is a very environmentally friendly school, one of the many reasons I enjoyed my time there. I also remember being involved in many outdoor activities such as forest walks and bird watching that now I feel like I am one with nature.
I had a spectacular time growing up with such an amazing school called Woodland Star, experiencing many diversities and learning from them. They helped shape me into the person I am today through the process of nurturing me through my childhood, Woodland Star was like a second family to me.
Now that I’ve moved on to a new (high) school, I’ve started realizing just how much work Woodland Star has put into preparing me for the obstacles that are waiting in the world.
My experience at Woodland was incredible and completely indescribable, I just wish I could re-live the whole moment of being a student at Woodland Star School again.
The school Aedan was so blessed to be a part of for 4 of our 5 years in Kenya, is nothing short of incredible! So thankful for how Woodland Star International School provided such a freeing, affirming, creative and inclusive learning experience for him during those formative years (Grade 4-8).
All this and more in such a visually stunning, natural environment. Aedan longs for the days when he could attend class barefoot, climb trees and have lessons beside a cozy fireplace or under a canopy of trees.
Not a day goes by where we don’t miss Woodland Star International School and the wonderful people who make it so special!
Woodland Star School joined a metamorphosis journey that can only be described as a miracle! Without knowing the beneficiary of the transformation, WSS kindly opened its doors to our family and saw us through the storm. This is the story of the journey:
One Morning in November 2018, my family began a journey that helped us appreciate how precious and delicate life is. This was a time of rekindling and hanging on to faith and hope, no matter how severe the situation seemed. It is this faith that saw us through the greatest challenge we have faced in over 18 years, since the demise of our beloved mother. Somehow as though a supernatural force was preparing us for the journey, one of my siblings and I had on the same night seen the darkest and lightest moments ahead in two separate dreams.
We were amazed at the level of detail we both remembered and though the dreams faded away with time, we became alert and more prayerful. The events leading to the news we received that November cascaded in a manner that made us see God’s hand in our situation. We intensified our prayers amid concerns that this critical situation would further strain our father’s health.
The next five days were marred with confusion on our part as we tried everything to take control of the situation that occurred in a foreign land. But as we began to see some light at the end of the tunnel, we eased our struggle and trusted in the people that God had led us to. 5 days later my sibling’s dream of a dark moment without sorrow finally made sense. We were out of the woods and with some level of stability, my family spent the next couple of weeks coming to terms with the gravity of the situation at hand.
The cause could not be explained in the backdrop of a very humble and risk‐free lifestyle. The month of December was daunted with a difficult task that needed commitment and dedication to maintain the stability of the situation on home ground. This was however not sustainable as it caused severe disruption to normal livelihood. A decision needed to be made on a long‐term solution, and this united the entire family in a way that had not been possible in 15 years.
Travelling from different corners of the globe, we were all home for Christmas at the same time as we all volunteered to be part of the envisioned change. This is where I and my three children had the fortune of getting to know the wonderful team at WSS. The situation demanded that we travel back to Kenya for a short period in the middle of the second term, which posed a challenge to the children’s schooling. WSS gladly jumped on the wagon and joined us on this amazing journey.
From the moment my children walked into WSS, they felt really appreciated and cared for. They woke up every morning eager to explore the daily wonders in their new environment: from petting the guinea pigs, to discovering their confidence above ground, developing hard foot soles that cushioned the pricking twigs, putting baking recipes into practice, picking out their favourite books in the library, enjoying cave time, applying logic across all subjects through an interconnected theme-based learning approach, appreciating new concepts explored on wild Wednesday, enhancing their presentation skills during the parent‐student conference, and even learning new words that I have yet to discover “chongololo”!
Even the wildlife in Tigoni seemed to welcome them when a red and black bird accompanied my son home as it hooked on to his finger but took flight when it found a new environment to explore. Despite joining the school mid‐way, the children got to play a part in the school theatrical “Ajabu in Wonderland” which they still act out. And what a wonderful setting in the woods! The greatest wonder was the friendship they found not only in the students but also in the faculty and parents!
These were just a few of the many wonders that we can talk about. Principle Timo constantly offered more help, though the support we received from WSS was more than we could ask for, enabling us to focus on the task at hand. My father’s heart became young again as he watched over the children and interacted with their teachers. In the weeks that followed, we met other people that had endured similar struggles for years, though very saddening as most did not have the support of loved ones.
Our situation suddenly seemed less grave, but as the months went by and the preparations intensified, normalcy became a past phenomenon. We eagerly looked forward to the day this was all going to change as we met with various professionals who guided us through the journey. The journey was long as dates kept changing, but we soldiered on with tremendous support and encouragement from the family and WSS.
Finally, the long wait was over and the metamorphosis began. We went through final preparations in a very calm manner as our family did all the worrying. In early April 2019, my dream about the lightest moment of the journey finally made sense. A miraculous transition with an abundance of life in a way that amazed even the specialist in the field. We however still had to take some precautions over the next couple of days to guard the delicate transition. For the first time since the journey began,
I saw the indulgent side of all the specialists as they beamed with excitement and gratitude for taking part in the metamorphosis. We could now sit back to get some much‐needed rest and take in natural vitamin D as our family helped care for the children. Normalcy has since returned and though we must change a few nutritional and fitness habits, we move forward with a new appreciation for life! Saying goodbye to WSS was very difficult for us. My son shielded his tears from principal Timo as he hid behind the parking lot tree.
My elder daughter also broke down in the car as her little sister comforted her with a nostalgic promise of a future visit to WSS. WSS played an un‐comprehendible role in this journey, and my family and I will forever be thankful for your kind and generous support. To all the kind and generous people, my family encountered during this journey, Thank you for filling our lives with sunshine!
Emelyan joined the Woodland Star School three years ago when our family relocated to Nairobi from Hong Kong. Following his experience of being a high-functioning autistic kid integrated into a mainstream school environment and supervised by a personal tutor, we had vague hopes of finding similar opportunities here in Kenya. Luckily for us, by the time we arrived in Nairobi, the Woodland Star School was very open to kids with various special needs and supported the idea of integration. Being strongly against a special school for Emelyan and after being rejected by a few big international schools, we had no other options than to join WSS. And this was indeed the right decision!
Great environment, crafted personal attitude to each child regardless of his/her abilities and talents, small classes, caring teachers and students, and a warm and kind atmosphere made Emelyan change amazingly fast. The boy’s emotional and social development has always been our priority, and we were amazed at how fast his progress was. We have often been through hard times: bringing up an autistic child is always two steps forward followed by one step back. There were many discouraging moments but looking back, we understand that Emelyan has developed into a kind person, a caring adolescent who values his peers, adults, his relations, and friendship. What he talks about now is mostly the people whom he values – not the toys, machines, travels, or other inanimate things he used to be focused on. Amazingly, he now gets worried when he is left alone, while not so long ago, he tended to avoid people and spend time playing on his own.
By all means, we also value his academic achievements. This is the baggage he is building up for his future profession. A year ago, I had big doubts that Emelyan would be able to become an independent person, live on his own, and even get a profession. Now I am sure that all this will be possible for him. There is still a long way to go, but Emelyan’s current progress and devotion speak for themselves.
We are pleased that after we joined WSS, the school has created its own Learning Support department. It is such a pleasure to see normally functioning kids being so supportive and understanding. We are proud to be a part of this inspiring community but even more happy to see Emelyan being proud to be a part of it.
We are looking forward to another year at WSS, and we are sure it will bring us a lot of pleasant surprises.
The WSS Community survey helps us better understand the inner workings of our school and how students and parents relate to the school and its environs.
In our recent survey we asked: What do you think are the core elements that define WSS? What makes WSS unique? Here are some of the responses we received:
“I like the indigenous forest, the hands-on approach (i.e. the mud kitchen), and the architecture of the rooms that make the school look more like a home with a fireplace and such. Of course, I could tick them all but I wanted to limit the number that I ticked to 3. “
“I love WSS because my kid loves going to school and thrives in such a wonderful and inclusive community. She also grows and develops academically, emotionally, and socially. Every child is celebrated as an individual and enjoys the freedom of being themselves. The level of engagement is amazing too. We appreciate the friendships formed. The exposure, the all-round education our daughter is receiving and the warmth and kindness we have received as well.”
“When we were initially looking for a school, we were mainly interested in inclusion. After visiting WSS, we realised that an education evolution was taking place. Education curriculums in the world, besides the Finns, are all stuck in the yesteryears but WSS has evolved. We see our children becoming creative thinkers and being able to think outside the box, something that is lacking in the new generations coming through. I believe our children will not only have a solid education foundation but also be better prepared for life. We hope WSS continues growing until all age groups are catered for as we do not see our children being educated anywhere else.”
“The broader view on what education is and can be. We find that our children are truly being educated in a wider sense of the word. We would be sorry to see WSS become just a “normal” curriculum school dressed in a different cloak, though we also recognise the need to follow some sort of standard/learning curve.
However, we do feel that WSS exactly does NOT have to try to be like everyone else! We know the school is aware of this but we would like to weigh in; we love the neurodiversity but do find that it is important to keep a healthy level of neurotypical children – in everyone’s interest!”
“In no particular order, some positive points are: 1. Safe environment (i.e reduced risk of kidnappings going in and out of the school). 2. The setting of the school within Brackenhurst; the forest, tea fields, and nature. 3. The familial atmosphere: all seems morally good/clean; school is almost an extension of the home; learning is as ‘natural’ as play; older kids seem to be friendly/helpful to younger kids (no bullying or harshly delivered status enforcements that I’ve heard of). 4. The way racial/ethnic diversity permeates throughout the school and is not an issue at all. 5. A good selection of staff – most of whom seem to have ‘bought in’ – hence children’s/ parent experience is quite consistent. 6. The feeling one has, given the resources available, the idea of Woodland Star is to educate/bring up children well (as best possible) – not merely make a business.”
“The parents, teachers, and students at WSS are all so much on the same page and want a holistic approach to learning. The school also has a lovely ethos, offers inclusivity, looks after children holistically, embraces the love of learning, and gets children to enjoy the school experience in an unpressured environment.”
“I love the teamwork spirit, sense of togetherness and belonging, multi-cultured environment, and the mutual respect that exists among the staff and the students. Also the inclusion and accommodations of diverse learning needs and the teachers’ positive mindsets.”
“I feel silly checking all the boxes, but I feel all of them are so true! Our biggest draw was the neurodiversity, individualized instruction, and class sizes as I can’t imagine another school where both boys and girls could thrive so meaningfully. “
“We absolutely love the school community and feel daily blessed to be part of it! Leadership, teachers and staff, and amazing facilities are fabulous. We also love the environmental focus and extra opportunities for learning– such a rich experience for our boys, girls, and family! Thank you WSS for all you do!”
This is just some of the feedback that we received from parents in our latest community survey and we are grateful for every response.
We always look forward to hearing from our parents and wider community, so please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or comments: email@example.com. You can also call us on+254 (0) 715 741 041.
Our family was part of the Woodland Star School community for 7 years (Sept 2011 – June 2018). We are still part of it! Once you join WSS, you give your heart to it! The doors of the school are always open and friendly. The smiles from staff and students make you always feel welcome. Our experience was special because we saw the school start, grow and mould through the years into a place of love and learning.
What started as two room cottages has become a big campus. WSS is an ideal school where students are nurtured in a holistic way, where learning is experiential and where a student’s character is strengthened. WSS is also a place of acceptance where all are valued for being unique individuals.
Our children Ned and Hana became more empathic, caring and giving because of it. They climbed trees, played with mud, grew fruits and vegetables, built eco friendly structures, explored the forest and released orphaned owls.
They learned that there are many ways of arriving at an answer. They studied books critically, experimented and measured distances throughout the campus, and expressed themselves through many artistic avenues. The teachers were passionate about their work and inspired them to find joy and purpose in their learning!
At WSS our children learned that their opinion matters and that they can make a difference. These formative years were the best and we can see how they carry the Woodland Star values with pride in their new school. Thank you Woodland Star and keep growing so you can share your beauty with more young people!
Shadrach had been enrolled at a previous school since preschool, so my husband and I were shocked and very disappointed when the school told us that it was no longer able to accommodate Shad’s needs. Shadrach is a “twice exceptional” kid, unusually intelligent as well as diagnosed with ADHD, Major Depressive Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, and more recently he has gotten a provisional diagnosis of Asperger’s.
We know this now. But Shadrach has lived through most of his early childhood without these diagnoses (and the therapeutic interventions that go with them). By the end of 4th grade, he was depressed, violent, anxious, an atheist, talked about suicide, and a playground bully. His classmates at his previous school were uncomfortable around him and avoided him. His teachers put a great deal of energy into developing individualized plans for him. My husband and I had tried all the tricks we could think of. Nothing was working.
My husband and I decided that after 10 happy years in Kenya, we probably needed to move back to the USA to get more support for Shadrach. But then someone suggested we try Woodland Star International School. We agreed, hoping that at the very least it would buy us a bit more time before we needed to relocate.
The first month at WSS was very bumpy. Shadrach was panicked about being at a new school. He insisted that I stay with him at school from the time I dropped him off in the morning to the time I picked him up in the afternoon. The WSS staff graciously allowed me to do this, but even with me there, some days were simply too overwhelming. There were so many tears. Some days he was so overwhelmed that he couldn’t bring himself to go to class. It was like his whole self just shut down. Together with his teachers, we agreed to have him only go for half days until the sense overwhelm reduced, and to minimalize the academic demands to a level that didn’t exacerbate his stress levels.
By the second month, I started noticing that Shad was less panicky when I left the school building for a meeting, phone call, or several hours at Muna Tree Café. It was enough for me to leave him a little note at my desk that said where I had gone and when I would come back. He started inviting Graham over for video game playdates, which helped him feel more at home in the social environment during school. His teachers developed a break system with him in which he could ask for one break per class period if he started to feel anxious. Though at first he made use of this privilege multiple times a day, we noticed that it eventually tapered off. The teachers learned how to “read” him well, how to avoid the things that traumatize him, and to include him in ways that make him shine. As his sense of safety with the adults at the school increased, he became less hyper-vigilant and more able to stay engaged in the classroom.
One morning in the third month when we arrived at school, Shad refused to get out of the car. This was not uncommon. We just sat in the car together and waited for him to relax. Finally he said, “You know what the problem is, Mom? You waited too long to move me to Woodland Star. This is a good school, but I’ve been in a bad school for so long that I associate school with trauma.”
By that time he was usually able to make it through half days, most of the time. We noticed that going to class was only a problem on days when he had math tests. He was terrified of math tests, terrified that he couldn’t do the work, that he would be embarrassed in front of his friends, and that Ms. Taylor would get angry at him. When I realized what was going on, I asked Ms. Taylor for permission to administer the test orally and coach him through the problems. She agreed, and Shad and I developed a very pleasant Math Test Ritual that involves a big slice of carrot cake from Muna Tree Café, and for the really hard tests we would have a drinking game (with Coke) that helps us make it all the way to the end of the test.
Timo and the teachers have been willing to work with our situation to an extent I would not have guessed possible. They agreed to allow academics to take a back seat, and reduction of Shad’s panic to be our organizing principle for his time at school. He has been slowly opening from a lockdown position. By the end of this term, he had developed a number of friends — the types of friendships that he did not experience with his classmates at his previous school. The WSS kids did not harass him for being an atheist, and he doesn’t stand out as The Class Problem. He has found just the topic to tease Ms. Taylor about that makes her blush. With the support of Ms. Jo, he wrote a creative short story about Fidel Castro for Ms. Casey’s class — his first ever.
All of this comes together to a very significant conclusion: this term at WSS has been a pivotal time of re-writing the narrative of who Shadrach is and how he inhabits his world. For these past four months, Shadrach has had the opportunity to be a fun kid who makes his teachers laugh, successfully completes his math tests, invites and gets invited to play dates, and knows a great deal about the CIA’s assassination attempts on Fidel Castro. This change of trajectory is a great blessing to his family and his future.
We have all left Kenya with heavy hearts. However, over the past few weeks I have felt and seen that the kids were able to find space in their hearts for both joy of adventure and starting the unknown, and loss for what is loved and known. They certainly have taught me how to find balance, and see the ‘green side’ during a period of change. That is in itself is a testimonial to the school, and how they have grown there. I am particularly impressed with Oscar’s ability to articulate – including in writing – his emotions, particularly to his dearest friends, about leaving.
In general, and throughout our years in Kenya, Woodland Star International School (WSS) has been a second home. I still remember Mira welcoming us, after testing us to see how “long the drive was”, and Oscar, after seeing several schools, saying “this is it” just upon seeing the space. Stella, 18 months at the time, climbed into the treehouse and did not look back.
All the teachers who have taught my children have left a mark of love and kindness, curiosity for learning and life, and appreciation for nature and respect for the environment. Again, my kids have become my teachers in many regards thanks to the life lessons they have picked up at WSS. I would love to thank everyone involved in my children’s upbringing while at school – your dedication and passion for truly being child-centered, for acknowledging and celebrating that there is unity in diversity, and for exposing children to the realities of life beyond the WSS campus through sharing, story telling, dance, books, guest speakers, and field trips.
This has contributed to them becoming more empathetic to the world around them. Of course I am apprehensive as they navigate a new school and environment, but I can also not wait to see how they will apply the skills and tools that WSS has supplied them with to start a new circle of life.
When we arrived in Kenya and started WSS, Oscar’s Skype video calls with previous classmates in Brazil helped a lot. It turns out, that school in Brazil or Kenya isn’t all that different! And that helped Oscar a lot to realize that he was still in the same boat as his peers.
The support system and community that Kenya has allowed us to be part of is what we will miss most from our time in Kenya. A big thank you to everyone WSS, for being such an integral part of it and for filling our hearts with so many beautiful memories! You will be in our minds and conversations for some time to come. Even though we are leaving, we hope to remain to stay in touch.