A Day In The Life Of A Student
We want to give you an inside look into a typical day for a student attending Illuminated Life School.
Please meet Emma, Isabel and Xavier and hear about their day from start to finish. Click the + sign to see each story.
Day In The Life – 1st Grader – Emma
Emma comes bursting into school at 8:20am with boundless energy and enthusiasm for the day. She has all kinds of plans, and she is especially excited about sharing a new idea with her inquiry-based project group.
At her previous school, Emma struggled with social anxiety. She often felt swallowed up by the crowded hallways, the noises, the sense of always being rushed. She coped by staying small, sometimes going whole days without really interacting with other kids, and often not daring to speak up in class.
Since starting at Illuminated Life School, Emma has gotten the additional support she needs, and she has blossomed.
With the help of her Learning Guide, Sabrina, and the Wellness Guide, Luis, Emma has a better understanding now of what she needs to stay calm during the day. She’s recently discovered an interest in martial arts, so after school on Wednesdays and Fridays, she joins a few other friends for a class. She finds that the movement and the training help her feel strong, focused, confident, and balanced throughout the week.
This morning, she’s more in the mood for silence, so she heads to a cozy space where she does a brief centering practice with the help of her Learning Guide, Sabrina. Then she engages in some quiet play until it’s time for the school day to begin.
With her mind clear and her body relaxed, she grabs her books and goes out to join her classmates in the community room.
START OF THE SCHOOL DAY
Emma and her friends love to start the day together with stretching and breathing exercises, and there’s almost always some laughter as they try the balancing poses on their mats.
They talk about the Illuminated Intelligence prompt on the board (“When you’re having a rough day, what makes you feel cared for?”). Emma says she loves hugs from her mom, while her friend Alejandro prefers some space and then a walk or a snuggle with his dog. This helps Emma get to know her friends better, and her friend Alejandro says, “The next time you’re upset, I’ll offer you a hug if you want one.” During a time of sharing and gratitude, Emma gets to show the bracelet her grandmother sent her from a recent trip to her native France.
They finish up by reviewing their Learning Plans, double checking the schedule for the day, checking in on how they’re feeling, and asking any questions they might have.
Learning through 22nd Century Skills and Loving Community As sometimes happens, Emma has an unexpected conflict with another student on the way to meet with her Learning Guide. Riley is a year older, and while they usually get along just fine, today Riley does something that makes Emma mad, and in their frustration, both kids wind up saying things that are hurtful. The Landscaping Guide, Valeria, is nearby when the conflict starts, and she immediately moves to bring calm to the situation with de-escalation tactics that make each child feel safe and seen (all school Guides have deep extensive training). When both kids are calmed down, Valeria invites them into a Restorative Circle. In this space, both Emma and Riley get a chance to express themselves. They get to share where harm occurred. They get to identify their role in the conflict, take responsibility, and make meaningful amends. And they get to enter back into whole relationship based on clarity, dignity, and mutual respect.
Through Illuminated Life School’s approach to conflict resolution, kids like Emma are learning early on the value of communication, curiosity, sovereignty, and restorative justice. Their learning is not interrupted by punishments or detentions. Instead, every interaction — even the challenging or difficult ones — is seen as an opportunity for growth and empathy-building.
The argument now behind them, Emma and Riley decide to get a glass of water together, then make their way back to the community space for a break and a 3-minute dance party. By the time they part ways to go work on their inquiry-based passion projects, both kids are relaxed and ready to dive back into their days.
Learning through Rigorous Inquiry
Emma’s mom is a chef, and Emma has grown up around tasty flavors and wonderful smells. She and her mom spend a lot of time in their home garden, and Emma is fascinated by plants, especially the kinds you can eat! Her current Inquiry-Based Learning passion project is all about growing food. Working closely with Gabriel, the Culinary Guide at Illuminated Life School, Emma is finding new ways to explore this topic she is so naturally drawn to.
In addition to working in the school’s community garden — which provides most of the organic, delicious produce that students and staff enjoy each day — Emma also volunteers with her mom at a local community garden. And through this passion project, she is learning about things like:
- Soil health
- Plant life cycles
- Sustainable practices
- Creating pollinator-friendly natural spaces with native Puerto Rican plants
- Where her mom’s restaurant gets its produce
- Climate change
- The link between food production and political independence in Puerto Rico
- Amazing traditional Puerto Rican recipes that she and her friends can make with just a few ingredients
Speaking of recipes …
It’s lunch time! Emma has a gluten sensitivity and is vegetarian so the fact that Illuminated Life School is gluten-free and has an abundance of vegetarian and vegan options available means that she can enjoy diverse whole-food meals that are flavorful and satisfying (all students and faculty eat for FREE at our whole-food mostly-organic school cafe).
She and one of her friends pick a sunny spot outside and enjoy an unhurried meal, talking excitedly about what they might explore next.
Learning through Identity
Illuminated Life School is structured in a way that is constantly inviting students to know themselves in honest and empowering ways. This happens through direct work like meditation, journaling, and reading, and it is also woven naturally into all their academic inquiries.
Emma knows her grandma Jeanne is from France, but she only recently started asking her grandma questions about her homeland. The more she’s been asking, the more she wants to know, and she feels a bigger story unfolding layer by layer.
She knows that her mother’s love of food came from Grandma Jeanne, so in addition to learning about traditional Puerto Rican cuisine, Emma is learning more about French cooking. She loves the lilting sounds of the French language as her grandparents speak to one another, so she’s decided to start taking French classes. And, she recently learned that her grandma was just a tiny baby when her family left France and came to the United States. She knows it has something to do with the fact that her grandma is Jewish — but she wants to learn more about Jeanne’s life and story so that she can understand where she comes from and how they all wound up in beautiful Puerto Rico, so far from their first home in beautiful France.
As Emma dives into her family’s story, she’s also learning about her classmates’ stories, and she’s amazed to find similarities and overlaps in the family narratives of students from places as different as Puerto Rico, Palestine, and South Korea. As a result, Emma and her classmates have decided to invite some of the grandparents to come and share their ancestral histories. With the help of her Learning Guide, Sabrina, Emma will practice leading a small group of fellow students in this project.
Emma receives a message from the office that her mom is going to be a little bit late picking her up: there was a delay at the restaurant. No problem! Illuminated Life School has an easy check-in system so every child is taken care of in the aftercare program. This isn’t a day that Emma has any extracurricular sports or language classes, so Emma decides to drop in to the Bomba practice session which her Upper Elementary friend Isabel is running in the community room. The time flies by, and soon she sees her mom waving from the door and it’s time to go home.
Day In The Life – 4th Grader – Isabel
Isabel Ruiz is so excited to arrive at school today that she is up and dressed a half an hour early. As a 4th grader and a member of the upper elementary, this year she gets to be part of planning Semana de la Puertorriqueñidad (Puerto Rico week) celebrations for the lower elementary. She has waited for this Illuminated Ubuntu opportunity for three long years!
When Isabel arrives at Illuminated Life School, she waves goodbye to her mom, who is headed to the school café to grab breakfast and a coffee before heading to work. Parents are welcome to eat in the school cafeteria for a small fee, and 100% of the proceeds go back into creating nutritious, delicious, whole-food meals for the students.
Learning through identity
The committee Isabel is on is responsible for organizing a Bomba y Plena dance and percussion class for the younger students. Isabel reminds herself that she wants to add time in her schedule this week to research the African origins of Bomba.
Last year, she explored her own ancestry and learned she has African, Spanish, and Taíno heritage. She really wants to know more about what life was like for her African ancestors, who were enslaved and forced to do the most difficult work on the island’s sugar plantations. Her family doesn’t talk much about this, so she’s thinking for her Illuminated Racial Consciousness Milestone project, she may work with her Abuelita to create a family-student discussion group on the history and impact of slavery in Puerto Rico.
But, for her work with the Bomba committee this year, she wants to learn more about African contributions to music on the island. This way her group can teach the lower elementary students about it during Semana de la Puertorriqueñidad.
Finally, Mama is ready to leave and Isabel is on her way to school!
Isabel practically dances into her classroom. Ricardo, her Learning Guide, welcomes her with a big smile and asks her if she is as excited as he is to start planning for Semana de la Puertorriqueñidad. Isabel enthusiastically replies, “Yes!” and heads to her cubby where she pulls out her journal and yoga mat.
After finding a space to set up next to her friend Xavier, she looks to the board to find the Illuminated Intelligence journal prompt for the day, “What are your biggest personal strengths? How can you use your strengths today?” Isabel settles in to write about this, and before she knows it, Ricardo is encouraging everyone to move into stretching. Isabel loves the twenty minutes her class spends every morning developing their physical wellness. It leaves her feeling balanced and ready to focus on her Learning Plan.
START OF THE SCHOOL DAY
After putting her yoga mat away, Isabel grabs a chair and sits down for the opening community-building circle.
Today Alexei, a 6th grader, is the circle lead. Alexei’s mom is originally from Russia and his dad is from Chicago, where they lived before immigrating to the island. For this circle, Alexei has asked everyone to bring an object from home that represents their family’s culture. He shares a Matryoshka doll painted like a baseball player his dad gave him when he was little, before passing the Talking Stick to the next student in the circle.
When it is her turn, Isabel is very proud to share a mofongo recipe that has been passed down in her family for three generations. The mofongo is made of fried plantains smashed with garlic, salt, and other delicious ingredients.
Learning through 22nd-Century Skills
With their morning routine carried out, Isabel lays out her Learning Plan and Goal Tracking sheets and updates her weekly plan to include her Bomba research task. She then reviews her work for the day.
Her Bomba committee kick-off meeting is at 11am (Isabel smiles just thinking about it!), so before that, she should work on her Illuminated Inquiry Milestone. Isabel loves visiting the El Yunque National Forest with her family and is investigating why they are planting so many new trees there.
After her committee meeting wraps up, she, Luis, and Madison will meet for lunch. Every Monday the Culinary Guide, Gabriel, runs a recipe contest. Isabel, Luis and Madison love to talk about which recipe is the best before they vote.
Mondays are also Isabel’s day to help clean up the cafeteria as part of her Illuminated Ubuntu. She sometimes forgets, so she quickly jots a reminder note to herself and slips it in her pocket; she and Ricardo came up with this strategy to help her remember.
Learning through Rigorous Inquiry
In the second half of the day, Isabel’s 5th grade classmate Rosa has agreed to help her with ratios. Isabel is struggling with this mathematics skill and she wants to get better at it.
In a video Isabel watched for her Inquiry project, a Park Ranger said they were working to find the right ratio of forest to open space to meet endangered parrots’ needs and park users’ recreational needs. Isabel wants to understand this better.
Illuminated Life School is committed to creating a sense of caring community through student-led learning. This includes students learning to identify where their strengths lie and allowing those strengths to be of service to other students. Not only does this foster a sense of purpose and solidarity among students, it also helps to normalize asking for help. When there’s no shame in saying, I don’t know — can you show me?, kids learn that it’s okay to be curious and open. They develop a Growth Mindset and can let go of the Perfectionist Mindset that has permeated much of the 20th- and 21st-Century educational system.
Phew! It’s been a whirlwind of a day so far, and Isabel needs a little break. She excuses herself to use the restroom, get a glass of water, and step outside for some fresh air. While outside, she stretches and reflects on what she’s grateful for.
Learning through Loving Community
Finally, Isabel is really excited for the Illuminated Abundance lesson that Ricardo and Madison’s mom, Rachel, are facilitating towards the end of the day. This weekend they were supposed to identify and journal about an unmet need in their community. Today, she and her friends will be brainstorming how their class could both meet a need and raise funds for their class savings account.
Illuminated Abundance holds that multiple good things are possible at any given time. Solving problems isn’t a zero-sum game where one group “wins” and another has to “lose.” So meeting a community need with love and increasing class savings can happen in a way that helps everyone and operates with integrity. This fresh mindset has been useful for Isabel in many areas of her life and has helped her see new and creative ways to find solutions to everyday challenges.
Isabel has arranged with her parents and Illuminated Life School to stay after school for 45 minutes to help any students who want extra practice time with the Bomba y Plena dance and percussion.
After a quick snack in the cafeteria, they gather in the community room. Rosa shows up too, just for fun, and jokes that while she’s great at ratios, she definitely needs some assistance with rhythm.
At the end of the learning session, Isabel returns to her cubby, arranges all her materials for the next day, and heads out to meet her dad.
Even though she works hard each day at Illuminated Life School, she feels a sense of satisfaction and purpose in each area of learning. She has a growing sense of confidence in herself and a connection to her school community that makes her feel a part of something that matters.
Day In The Life – 5th Grader – Xavier
Today, Xavier gets dropped off by his mom earlier than usual because his entrepreneur parents have early meetings. Illuminated Life School has a 90-minute drop off window to make life easier for families (and we’re working on having a bus/van transport students from Palmas and surrounding areas).
Xavier arrives just after 7:30am and is feeling a little tired and not very social, so he chooses to read a book and then take a power nap in the Quiet Studio. Just after 8am, he’s up from his nap and feeling hungry, so he heads to the school cafe where he spots a couple of his friends who have arrived at school (all students and faculty eat for FREE at our whole-food mostly-organic school cafe).
Xavier and his friends sit together, laughing and talking as they eat their breakfast. After they finish eating, they see that they have another 20 minutes before school officially starts, so they head outside to play a little soccer.
START OF THE SCHOOL DAY
When school is about to begin, they head inside for their short but powerful daily morning practice where students do some stretching, meditation, reviewing of their goals, and set their intentions for the day.
After the morning practice, Xavier heads to his Community Circle with his Learning Guide, Ricardo. Each student is assigned a personal Learning Guide who is with them for several years co-creating a customized learning plan with the student and the student’s family. Each student’s Learning Guide also helps monitor their progress, identifies and helps fill needs and gaps along the way, and develops a toolkit to provide social-emotional support. Each Learning Guide has a maximum of 18 students.
Learning through 22nd Century Skills
After the Community Circle, Xavier checks his weekly planner and reviews his goals for the day. He excitedly heads to a project studio space where he and a small group of other students are working on an Inquiry-Based Learning passion project to open a surf shop (this is a project they chose). As part of this process, they are encountering all the real-world scenarios involved in business creation, such as:
- becoming knowledgeable about the 800 year history of surfing
- researching their idea
- creating a business plan
- pitching “investors”
- getting feedback on their plan
- getting their seed money (monopoly money)
- exploring the cultural and religious significance of surfing
- designing surfboards
- sourcing surf apparel to sell in their shop
- talking to Indigenous surfers to understand how to build a business that respects their practices
- talking to surfers for market research
- getting customers
- creating a social-impact plan for their business
Xavier and his business partners — fellow students who are a mix of different grades — are hyper-focused on this passion project they chose. Through this project, they’re learning history, math, presentation skills, negotiation skills, researching skills, technology, how commerce works, entrepreneurship, and more. The team has gained multiple racial perspectives through their exploration of surfing, connected with the surfing community, and considered how their social action will have an impact on people and the environment.
While they’re working on their project, they help themselves to the array of healthy snacks available to students. Students have the autonomy to get a snack when they’re hungry, go to the bathroom when they need to, and they’re encouraged to drink water throughout the day. The school provides reverse osmosis water and high-quality snacks for free to students and faculty.
Time for the mid-morning dance break! When it’s time to switch into the next session, students and faculty take a 3-minute dance break where students get to choose the song and everyone is encouraged to move their body, release any tension, anxiety or frustration they’re feeling, play, laugh, get loud, and dance it all out.
Learning through Rigorous Inquiry
After the dance break Xavier transitions into one of his Milestone Learning Experiences.
Milestones are markers on a student’s learning journey. The experiences allow students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and unique ways of applying their learning within one of the six Illuminated Life Learning Strands. All students across the Illuminated Life Schools network must complete the experiences listed in the Milestone Matrix for graduation. This afternoon, Xavier is exploring the Milestone question, “How do I make healthy choices?” by studying a treasured family recipe for chicken adobo. He’s consulting with Gabriel, the Culinary Guide, about the origins of the ingredients in the recipe and whether or not they are nutritious. Last week he was reading a history of chicken adobo and learned that the vinegar and salt in the recipe were originally selected to preserve meat in the hot climate of the Philippines. He wants to know more about the science behind that, so he’s also meeting up with his Learning Guide, Ricardo, to set up an experiment.
Learning through Loving Community
After his work on his Milestone and a second dance break, Xavier transitions into Illuminated Ubuntu.
Ubuntu comes from the Zulu and Xhosa languages in South Africa and is translated as I am because we are. It is rooted in the concept of our interconnectedness and the reality that community health and individual health are intimately linked. Students are taught to be contributing members of every community they’re in — their homes, their schools, their towns, and in their role as a global citizen.
In that spirit of ubuntu, Xavier and his friends Irina, Isabel and Luis have volunteered to help the Landscaping Guide, Valeria, plant some new hibiscus plants in the school garden. If there is time, he also needs to check in with his Service Learning team to schedule their next work session. He’s serving as the project coordinator for the coming week and so it’s his job to practice using the scheduling assistant in the calendar to find a time they can all meet. In fact, just so he doesn’t forget, he’s going to add this item to his online task list before he heads out to the garden. He’ll have plenty of time after lunch to dig into his Service Learning project.
It’s mid-day, and Xavier is hungry and ready for a break. He meets up with some of his friends in the cafe, grabs lunch, and they decide to go outside to eat on the terrace. They have a full 40 minutes to get their food, eat, talk, laugh, decompress, and play in the school yard or the gym or head to a quiet area inside or out to read, meditate, or day dream.
Learning through Identity
Throughout the day, Xavier has a chance to learn more about himself through many contexts, which are woven in through his projects, his collaborations, his inquiries, and his self-development.
As part of a year-long autobiography project, he is answering the question, “Who am I?” This is an in-depth exploration of his identity, including race, culture and family heritage and an opportunity to develop pride and celebrate everything that makes him unique and a part of many communities. Through his surf shop project, he is gaining more than financial literacy and is also learning about the experiences and challenges faced by small business owners in his community, like his parents, and how he connects to the larger historical, racial, and cultural context of entrepreneurship in Puerto Rico. Xavier has some tools he uses to reflect on his emotional and mental well-being. If he’s having a rough day, he takes a rest and does reflection through journaling about his emotions, deepening his understanding of himself.
On this particular day, Xavier spends his afternoon deeply engrossed in his Service Learning project. This includes practicing a few different tech tools, including learning to schedule a meeting in the school’s e-calendar program and creating a group task list, as well working with Ricardo to find a few books or videos to help his team learn more about their topic, the impact of Hurricane of Maria. Once they understand more about why there are still a lot of empty buildings and houses in the community, they’ll reach out to some local non-profit organizations to see how this is being addressed and if there is a way their student team can support the community. But first, Xavier must get his team’s meeting for next week all squared away!
At the close of the school day, parents are free to arrive anywhere between 3:20 and 7:00pm to pick up their children, based on schedule needs. Xavier knows that today is a day where both his parents have to work a little later — but it’s no problem. In fact, he has lots of things to look forward to.
Illuminated Life School provides a variety of after-school programs, activities, and sports options, as well as opportunities for kids to read, rest, create, or play as needed.
On Thursdays, Xavier joins other kids for an after-school surfing program. Today, Xavier opts for some time alone to get ready for the next day, and then a game of basketball with his friends. Afterward, winded and giggling, he and his friends head inside for dinner. Every day, Illuminated Life School provides a nutritious soup and salad bar at dinner time for any kids or staff who need it (all students and faculty eat for free at the school cafe).
At 5:30, Xavier’s dad arrives to pick him up. Since the kids are eating and there’s still time before Xavier’s mom is finished with work, Xavier’s dad opts to join them for dinner. Parents can eat with their kids for a small fee, and 100% of the proceeds go back to providing delicious food for Illuminated Life School’s students during the week.
From the moment Xavier arrives at Illuminated Life School to the moment he heads home with his father, his physical, emotional, and intellectual wellbeing are tended. With the skills he gains at school, he’s able to go home into his family and out into his community as someone who is connected, curious, and caring.