Five Questions With Allison Gaines Pell


Allison Gaines Pell | Head of school, The Wheeler School

1. What prompted the recent change in the school’s mission ­statement? Our new mission statement emerged from the pages of a biography of founder Mary Wheeler. It wasn’t so much of a prompt for change but a realization that this is actually who we are; who we always have been; and what Miss Wheeler always intended. When this phrase got out in our community, community members – from students to parents to alums from 1945 – lit up. They said, “Right, that’s us! That’s what drives us.” We knew we had our new North Star.

2. How is the new statement – “to learn our powers and be answerable for their use” – different than the previous one? Our old mission statement was beautiful, and accurately portrayed who we are, but it was long. We were lucky that we found our new mission in the words of our founder, one that helps us make decisions in the here and now about who we want to be on the playing fields, in … Providence, in our lives and in our world.

3. How will the new mission be reflected in the school’s curriculum? A Wheeler education is one that nurtures the potential of every child and gives them a chance to explore their interests in the context of a world-class academic, artistic, social and athletic education. … We will challenge our students to go even higher with their research and their inquiries into the world around them, as well as defend their ideas before experts, all in service of meaning and relevance in 21st-century education.

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4. Can you give us some specifics? Our curriculum reflects this new mission with everything from publishing DNA sequences in biology class, giving Early Childhood students “Forest Fridays” for outdoor, play-based education at our farm campus, or collaborating for new programs both on and off our campus with WaterFire Providence and NuVu Innovation School.

5. Aside from tuition, what is the main difference between The Wheeler School and public schools? What differentiates Wheeler is that we make any field of study possible for our students through our Aerie Approach. Do you want to write a novel? Learn advanced German or Portuguese? Read Aristotle for a semester? Take neuroscience? Learn animal psychology? Filmmaking? Anatomy? We will find a mentor or teacher to make it happen. We have [more than] 251 courses in our upper school alone because of this program. We invest in interest and passion in our students.

Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at

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