A New Chapter at Wheeler

Allison Gaines Pell returns to the East Side as the institution’s head of school


This year, the Wheeler School welcomed its eighth head of school, Allison Gaines Pell. Pell comes to Wheeler from the Blue School in Manhattan, a K–8 progressive school founded by the members of the Blue Man Group. Although at first glance the schools seem quite different, both communities encourage creativity and respect.

Pell describes the warm welcome she has received from both parents and students – this welcoming nature, she says, is a hallmark of Wheeler’s dynamic community, a place both strong and “humble enough to accept and invite the idea of a next chapter that isn’t in any way a comment on the chapter before.” While Wheeler is in great shape, Pell says, there are opportunities for growth in thinking about education in general as a backdrop to the student experience.

“The absolute central focus of every decision and program is the students,” Pell says, with a faculty focused on innovation, curiosity and challenge. “When there’s a problem with a course placement or when a student wants to study a particular subject, such as black holes, the school will make it happen.”

Neeltje Henneman, Head of Upper School, describes the effort that Pell has put into spending time visiting classes and getting to know the community. “We are really appreciating her energy, intelligence, warmth and insight,” Henneman says, “and we are excited to see where her leadership will take us.”

Pam Levanos, parent and faculty member, mentions that Pell often reads poems aloud and “has introduced excellent group activities” during staff meetings “that we can also bring to our students.”

As a Brown University alumna, Pell was familiar with the East Side, but her experience of the neighborhood now that she is a full-time resident (and parent) has changed dramatically. She sees the city as having grown into its artistic and creative culture; when she was here last, WaterFire had just begun and AS220 was a much smaller operation. She and her husband have been exploring the city’s restaurants, farmers markets, the Athenaeum and all the places that she didn’t get a chance to visit
while in college.

“I feel like I won the Head of School lottery,” Pell says. “The promise of a school to be a place that engages kids so completely and deeply and sees them as individuals and enables them to find their place within the school, and then in the world, is
pretty spectacular.”

Smart News

Books Are Wings Gift of Literacy Campaign
To further their mission of putting free books in the hands of children, Books Are Wings has launched their fourth annual Gift of Literacy Campaign. Last year’s campaign allowed them to place over 52,000 books into the homes of Rhode Island children. This year’s goal is to raise $10,000 for programs that build children’s opportunity, desire and passion to read. There will be a Holiday Open House at the nonprofit’s new location in Hope Artiste Village on Saturday, December 9 from 9am to 1pm, with many family-friendly activities. For more information or to donate or volunteer, visit or email

Fourth Graders Visit National Parks for Free
The Every Kid in a Park program allows fourth graders and their families free access to 2000+ federally managed public lands and waters nationwide for an entire year. According to the initiative’s website, “Connecting our nation’s youth to the great outdoors is even more important at a time when 80 percent of American families live in cities and most children spend more time on computers and smartphones than exploring nature.” To obtain a pass for your child or for more information, visit