Editorial Team

Imagination Lab School (ILS) is a grades TK-8 independent, progressive school with a commitment to social and emotional development, experiential learning, and community engagement based in Silicon Valley. The school offers a world-class, global education program using a competency-based approach to teaching and learning. Here, a problem-based and project-based approach is implemented to curriculum based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Moreover, ILS has a culture and community that meaningfully engages all stakeholders in individual and collective growth. The school makes a deliberate and purposeful connection to the broader community, both locally and globally. Similarly, ILS stands true to its promise of empowering each student to know themselves, find and exercise their voice, seek to understand multiple perspectives and take meaningful action.

The Beginning

ILS was founded in 2018 by Jingjing Xu, Yinuo Li, and Chris Bezsylko. Jingjing, Yinuo, and Chris were together at AltSchool Palo Alto where Chris was the founding head of the school and Jingjing and Yinuo were parents. Over time, Yinuo founded ETU School in Beijing and AltSchool announced it was closing its campuses. These three realized that there was a need for an innovative lab school in Silicon Valley and their combined efforts led them to start Imagination Lab School.

Over the years, ILS has collaborated with educators and schools from across the globe in the areas of professional development, school design, and student exchange programs. As a global school, ILS looks forward to building partnerships with other schools and organizations that are committed to empowering students to be their best selves.

Mission and Vision

“Our mission is to ignite and nurture confidence, curiosity, and creativity,” shares Chris Bezsylko, Head of School. The school has a highly engaged, reflective, courageous, and diverse community of students and adult learners. Together, they remain committed to becoming their best selves intellectually, socially, emotionally, and physically.

Likewise, ILS’ vision is to prepare students for a future that is impossible to know but not impossible to shape. For this, the school develops within each member of its community the mindset, toolset, and skillset needed to engage meaningfully and purposefully with the world around them.

The Programs

Kindergarten: The ILS kindergarten program encourages children to learn through experiences as they begin their journey in elementary school. Its child-centered curriculum introduces concepts in mathematics, literacy, and STEAM while focusing on core themes like community and culture. Moreover, children are encouraged to think about concepts like equity, social justice, and sustainability through their interactions with one another. Instruction is tailored to individual interests and abilities, so children start their academic journey with confidence.

Elementary Years: The focus on fostering the social and emotional lives of children continues in the elementary years with an emphasis on community. Direct learning experiences are supplemented by other sources of knowledge as students learn to gather information from books, museums, pictures, documents, interviews, and internet searches. At the core of ILS’ progressive curriculum from the elementary through the middle years are the United Nations Sustainability Goals. Like the ILS mission, these goals reflect an unwavering commitment to equity, social justice, and sustainability. Under the guidance and support of their learning guides, students make powerful connections between events from distant places and times and their own experiences. Projects draw on and build each child’s developing skills as a mathematician, reader, writer, scientist, and creator.

Middle Years: ILS’ multi-age approach is specifically designed to nurture and guide students on their journey to becoming responsible, thoughtful, and actively engaged adults. Classes are taught in small group formats that encourage collaboration and active problem-solving. Students have a dynamic schedule that includes classes from multiple disciplines, time for peer and independent work, and opportunities to learn from their mistakes. This continues in grades 7-8 as the school extends the skills, concepts, and learning styles developed in previous grades to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities in high school and beyond. Preparation for the high school application process begins in seventh grade. ILS’ graduates are coveted additions to the many high school communities to which they apply such as Design Tech High School, The Waldorf School, and Stanford Online High School.

What Makes ILS a Notch Above the Rest?

“We believe that every child deserves a learning environment where they can feel both challenged and supported, a space where they feel seen and heard, and a team of caring adults who help each child learn and grow at their own pace,” highlights Chris Bezsylko, Head of School. “This commitment is embedded in our approach, our curriculum, our physical environment, and our community culture.”

Furthermore, as a lab school, ILS constantly grows and evolves based on shared learning experiences with its students and their families; its own experiences and observations as professional learners; the latest research around child development, teaching, and learning; and ongoing interactions with other innovative educators from across the globe. ILS partners with many of the other nonprofit organizations on site for everything from special events to community gardening, to workshops, and more. It also partners with artists, creators, makers, and influencers from throughout California and beyond. These partnerships take the form of special projects, ongoing classes, and school programs/workshops for children and adults.

A Team of Seasoned Learning Guides

Since teaching today involves more than simply disseminating knowledge, the ILS’ team comprises of a collection of exceptional individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Its learning guides are curators of experiences, coaches who help students observe and reflect, facilitators who develop responsibility and agency, advocates who celebrate and challenge each student, and team players who engage with other guides, students, families, and external partners.

Fostering a Supportive & Inclusive Learning Environment

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is literally the river that runs through the ILS experience. Borrowing from Maslow, and with an eye on the large body of research that supports the idea that children learn best (problem solve best, are the most curious and creative) when they are emotionally healthy and socially connected, ILS integrates SEL into each and every part of the day in both formal and informal ways.

At ILS, each day begins with a morning circle and ends with a closing circle. The learning guides create and foster classroom communities that reflect the ILS mission, vision, and promise. Together, the ILS community celebrates individual voices/ideas, model learning from their mistakes, practices giving and receiving feedback, and makes time each day to celebrate one another and express gratitude.

Furthermore, ILS’ multi-age approach allows students to experience the roles of mentor and mentee multiple times throughout their careers. This helps them build empathy, compassion, responsibility, leadership, communication, collaboration, and support skills. The school also has a variety of formal and informal activities across the TK-8 classes that are dedicated to celebrating the individual and supporting the group, while having fun, exploring, discovering, making connections, making mistakes, and learning with and from one another.

Promoting Creativity and Innovation in Students

Helping children explore and then develop their creativity, curiosity, and sense of self is core to the ILS experience. Its multi-modal approach begins with a constructivist approach that builds from the individual student’s experience and sense of self. For example, ILS doesn’t hand out textbooks or workbooks and asks students to read the definition of division, complete a few sample problems that follow a strict algorithm, and then complete a worksheet or problem set before giving them a quiz. Instead, students are asked how they might divide a large number (let’s say 36) into equal groups. At that point, the learning guides step back and give the children time and space to explore the problem and come up with multiple solutions. They pause the action to facilitate a conversation that begins by asking each child to share one solution/strategy that they came up with. This may be in dyads, triads, or a whole class discussion.

Throughout these discussions, the learning guides ask the children to share their observations and feedback. From there, they challenge students to look for patterns and to experiment with different strategies to identify the most efficient strategy. At this point, the ILS learning guides might ask the students if they know what taking a large number and breaking it into smaller, equal parts is called. This reflects the seek to understand multiple perspectives part of the ILS promise. Rather than teaching them a discrete skill and asking them to repeat it (compliance and repetition), the ILS learning guides help them explore, discover, discuss, analyze, argue, and explain (curiosity, creativity, innovation, and depth of knowledge).

The Role of Technology in Enhancing Learning Experiences

At ILS, the use of technology is intentional and deliberate. Throughout the student experience, the school achieves a strong balance of on-screen and off-screen activity. ILS’ youngest students rarely use tech devices. They will use a laptop 3-4 times per year as part of its assessment program, and depending on the course of study, they may learn to use an iPad to document parts of their learning. Children in lower elementary are introduced to digital citizenship and literacy, and begin some basic coding classes, exploring robotics, 3D printing, and other tech tools along the way. The majority of their learning within and across subjects continues to be offline (75-90%).

As students enter upper elementary and middle school, they begin to use technology as a tool for learning, while extending their understanding of how to use technology to document, communicate, create, and collaborate. The projects are designed to have an appropriate balance between on and off-screen. For example, for a recent unit, students in upper elementary wrote novels. The writing of the novels was done online using Google tools. However, throughout the process, students worked offline to create characters and settings (drawing/building them), analyze and discuss various writing styles, and utilize a variety of writing prompts and resources.

Approaches to Measuring Student Learning

Learning guides at ILS regularly document, record, and share student progress throughout the learning experience. This involves progress toward learning targets at the whole-class, small-group, and individual levels. While personalized goal updates and student highlights provide snapshots of student progress, the Progress Report provides a holistic view of the student’s overall progress during the first half of the school year.

The goal of the Progress Report is to identify areas of strength, opportunities for improvement, and the next steps in each student’s learning journey. The Progress Report includes narrative feedback from learning guides across all subject areas and is specific to end-of-year, grade-level targets.. Summative feedback for the development of Character Lab Strengths is reported in the Habits section.

Assessing Students’ Performance

“We believe that the primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning,” shares Chris Bezsylko, Head of School. For students, effective assessment is an opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned, an opportunity to monitor their own learning, set goals, and plan the next steps, an opportunity to understand the benchmarks and the criteria for success, and an opportunity to reflect and share with peers, and to build confidence and self-esteem.

Likewise, for families, effective assessment is a chance to become an active participant in the learning process, be informed of their child’s progress, and be informed of their child’s strengths and areas in need of improvement. Above all, effective assessment helps educators to determine degrees of prior knowledge before a new unit, to identify and support different learning styles and learner needs, to ascertain degrees of understanding at various stages of the learning process, to modify curriculum and instruction based on the needs of the learners, and to provide relevant feedback that supports continued growth and development.

Helping Students Discover their Interests & Talents

At ILS, there are multiple opportunities to build off a child’s interests within the program. For example, during the animal migration study, children could choose their own animal based on their interests. For instance, during a recent study on the origin stories of people, there was a clear interest in learning more about caves across the globe. Students were able to choose their area of interest and explore that.

Similarly, outside of the core curriculum and theme, there are multiple opportunities for students to explore the arts (visual arts, tech arts, performing arts) and chess. The school also regularly hosts creators, artists, makers, designers, and tinkerers who come to school to share a bit about their passions and then there are some hands-on activities directly related to that person’s area of interest/passion. Students in the younger grades have choice time multiple times throughout the week. Over time, this turns into an opportunity to explore their own passion projects based on their individual interests.

Bringing Real-World Learning into the Curriculum

Head of School, Chris Bezsylko states, “We feel like (almost) everything we do is unique. Our thematic curriculum is guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and is anchored in authentic learning experiences. This means that we often pivot based on the needs and interests of the students directly in front of us, as well as what is happening in the world around us.”

For instance, two years ago, the theme at ILS was migration. The first trimester was focused on their own migration stories (where they are from, and where their families are from). The school used this as a launching point to learn about indigenous people from across the world and to try to understand why and how they migrated. The second trimester was focused on migration in the natural world, for example, animal migration. Students in lower and upper elementary each picked an animal that migrates in/out of California. They researched their animal and also created art that reflected various stages of the migration, as well as interactive maps that documented each animal’s respective journey. The older students incorporated some basic programming by using Dash & Dot robots and created floor maps to physically demonstrate the migration paths, with a specific focus on the overlaps and similarities they observed by comparing and contrasting animal migration.

The third trimester was designed to explore what the future of migration might look like, but then the Ukrainian War started. The ILS team under Chris Bezsylko’s leadership did a quick pivot and embraced this topic as a way to help students make connections to something that was very personal for many of them (with Russian and/or Ukrainian families), as well as a way to try to make sense and understand this awful thing that was happening. Some students were too young to have their own feelings, but they could see and recognize feelings that their parents or other family members had. Discussing these experiences in a developmentally appropriate manner, while making authentic, real-world connections to the theme of migration expanded the children’s global perspective, deepened and strengthened their empathy and compassion, and the projects they created (multiple projects aimed at supporting Ukraine via letters to soldiers, donated goods, and fundraising) enabled the children to take meaningful action and get involved in something that was happening on the other side of the world.

Helping Students Navigate Challenges & Reach their Full Potential

As a relationship-based community of learners, first and foremost, ILS invests in getting to know its students and their families. The school starts each year with a theme of Community & Diversity. Within that theme, the learning guides spend the first 6-weeks of school developing a Learner Profile that helps them identify a child’s strengths, challenges, and opportunities. They work with the child, starting with their youngest TK-K students, and families to develop a set of personalized goals that are focused on cross-disciplinary skills and social-emotional growth.

As with any diverse learning community, ILS has several learners who are neuro-diverse, including those with dyslexia, dysgraphia, twice exceptional, gifted, ADD/ADHD, and others. In such cases, ILS partners with families and in some cases, third-party providers such as occupational therapists, speech therapists, and others to provide a team of support for these children and their families.

Taking Meaningful Actions for the Community

According to Head of School, Chris Bezsylko, community engagement and community connections are core principles at ILS. From monthly community service projects, to hosting community events such as authors and opening up the school space to host artist and community action groups, to hosting innovation events such as the Global Cardboard Challenge and Day of Design, to its Annual Fall & Spring Markets, and more, ILS has a lot in stores for all its stakeholders.

In addition, ILS regularly partners with the city of Palo Alto and nonprofit organizations at the Cubberley community center to build a stronger community across these organizations, engage with the broader Palo Alto community, and rejuvenate its campus. To date, they have built two community gardens and just started a bigger project that will involve a pollinator garden and a large mural.

For More Info: https://www.imagination-school.org/



Chris Bezsylko, Head of School

Chris is an experienced school leader with over twenty-five of experience working in both public and independent schools. His passion for experiential education, social-emotional learning, and community engagement is driven by the belief that the building blocks of a true community of learners involves a progressive approach to teaching, learning, and leading, a purposeful application of brain-based research, opportunities for individual choice, and the integration of diverse ideas, cultures, and experiences.

After a decade as a public school teacher and an educational consultant, Chris earned a Master of Arts in Private School Leadership through the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to founding Imagination Lab School, Chris was the Director of Enrollment and Marketing at Blue Oak School, the Middle School Principal & PS-8 Curriculum Director at Henderson International School, and the Founding Head of School at AltSchool Palo Alto.

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