Master of the Stories: Meet Curriculum Coordinator Paul Spanagel
Updated: Mar 13, 2021
The backbone of The Story School is of course, our stories. Have you ever wondered how exactly our adventures develop? Who peers into his crystal ball for a secret look at Sidleterra, then weaves together plot, character and merriment to create the enchanted worlds in which we learn?
Meet Paul Spanagel, Curriculum Coordinator and Lead Instructor at The Story School. Paul has fused his UPenn Master of Education with his Vassar double B.A. in Theater & Music to create a prolific Story Development department that churns out imaginative fictional frameworks for all of The Story School classes, events and summer camp. Paul leads a creative team of staff and volunteers whose originality and inventiveness bring the unique spark that elevate our activities from good to great!
Paul’s connection with The Story School began years ago when he attended Guard Up’s summer camp as a teenager and got hooked on the sport of fencing. He subsequently taught at Guard Up camps for seven summers, culminating with his promotion to Director of Logistics, where he led the team writing the camp stories and managed the “monster campers,” or counselors in training.
Paul’s love of fantasy fiction and extensive performance experience mesh beautifully to form the perfect background for a creator of fantasy worlds. From his childhood fondness for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, to his longtime musical training (he has played the cello since age 4), to his extensive training in karate, circus acrobatics and stage combat choreography, Paul embodies all the skills that our classes aim to instill in our students.
But the rare factor that synthesizes all of Paul’s many accomplishments into the perfect commander of The Story School education team is his innate appreciation for the importance of mentoring. His studies at UPenn in Informal Learning led him to a seminal book by cultural anthropologist Peter Gray, “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.”
“With the intrinsic motivation learning model, kids have agency and ownership over what they’re learning, they’re invested in the learning, and learn better, faster, and more thoroughly,” explains Paul. For example, in our story-based classes, heroes “have a personal reason to figure out how the lesson material works, such as how mirrors reflect light, so [they] can defeat the vampires.”
Paul believes that “mentorship is not a cherry on the top.” Instead, it’s the most fundamental way that teaching works best. For several years, he was a youth coordinator through the Unitarian Universalist Church, helping middle school and high school kids navigate non-academic life challenges. “I went into education because of this interest in mentorship. Mentors make the difference in students’ long-term success,” he reveals. “[It’s] the secret sauce!”
According to Paul, The Story School instructors have “a responsibility not to explain heroism, but to model it. We give heroes opportunities to experiment with it, get comfortable with it, and practice it, and lead toward a more vital spirit. A minister I worked with said the spirit is a muscle, not a passive thing; you have to exercise it, and the more you use it, the stronger it gets.”
The Story School is lucky to be able to incorporate Paul Spanagel’s skills and philosophy into all of our activities.
The next opportunities to join us for our unique immersive classes and events can be found here: