Parents and students enjoy the stingrays during Wilson School Night at the Saint Louis Zoo.

“At the end of the school day, if a child comes home from school with a smile on their face, you’re in good shape.” For any parent wanting a happy and successful educational experience for their child, could there be a more definitive mission statement? When he describes the many advantages of an education at The Wilson School, head of school Thad Falkner speaks enthusiastically about the comprehensive academic programs, the nurturing environment and the emphasis on respect and confidence-building. But it’s the smiles that clearly indicate the success of ‘The Wilson Way.’

From pre-kindergarten students through sixth graders, anticipation is high at Wilson as the school looks forward to its 100th anniversary in the 2012-2013 academic year. Until then, prospective students and their parents are invited to visit and learn more about Wilson at the school’s annual open house on Nov. 12. “It’s a great opportunity to take a tour of the school,” Falkner says. “Everyone can meet our teachers and board members, and get a sense of what Wilson is all about.” Wilson sixth graders also participate in the open house, leading campus tours. “It helps demonstrate the poise our students achieve by the time they graduate.”

The small and nurturing environment of the school is integral to helping students develop confidence. “It isn’t about being arrogant,” Falkner explains, “It’s about being poised and feeling comfortable in whatever you’re doing. Being ‘smart’ comes from being passionate about something, learning a lot about it and experiencing it deeply. Our goal is to help students maximize on their own curiosity and develop a capacity for critical thinking, even in pre-kindergarten.”

Younger students are mentored by older classmates in the school’s Buddy Program, which begins with fourth-graders being paired with a pre-K student. “They spend time together at least once a week— reading and playing together—maybe with arts and crafts or a service project, like a toy drive,” Falkner says. “The younger kids love it, the older kids love it. It’s just a winwin!” The program continues as students move to the next grade, and at sixth-grade graduation, the school invites a Wilson alum—who is graduating from high school—to speak at the graduation of their former younger buddy.

Wilson’s academic program emphasizes classical studies, including mathematics, science, language arts and social studies, as well as specialist-taught programs in French, Latin, music, art and technology. “We have a very rigorous academic program, and our students typically are between one and three years ahead of grade level by the time they graduate.” Wilson School’s emphasis on character is reflected in the school motto, ‘mymago,’ which incorporates a different theme each academic year. “It stands for Make your mark a good one,” Falkner explains. “And each year we wrap it around something that is important, like Make your mark a good one by being respectful.”

And those smiles? They come from parents, too. Falkner was greeting students on a recent morning when the parent of a first-grader turned to him, laughing. “Thad, as my daughter was getting out of the car just now, she said, I go to the best school ever!