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How Wayfinder Began

Started at the world-famous K12 Innovation Lab at the Stanford University d.school

Wayfinder was born at the Stanford Institute of Design after asking one key design question: how can we reimagine adolescent education to develop a student’s sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging? Rather than recycle old solutions to curb student depression and anxiety, Wayfinder is addressing the youth mental health crises in a new innovative model — what we call SEL Reimagined.

Based on the research of Dr. Bill Damon, the Director of the Stanford Adolescence Center + Wayfinder Advisory Member, Dr. Damon and his team at the Stanford Center on Adolescence lead a growing body of research that shows that young adults are stressed not just because they have too much to do, but because they don’t know why they’re doing it. At the core, we help students find meaning - an antidote to the mental health crisis plaguing our students.

For too many decades our students have suffered — school does not answer the calls of the 21st century. Instead, schooling is locked in an ineffectual, centuries-old model. As a result, our students are suffering. Our students and teachers deserve better. To answer this call, Wayfinder has designed the world’s preeminent SEL and human development tools for educational settings from middle school to college and beyond.

“The biggest problem growing up today is not actually stress; it’s meaninglessness.”
Dr. Bill Damon
Stanford Center on Adolescence
Are your students equipped to answer the big life questions?

Most of today’s teens are not. Only about 1 in 5 young people report feeling connected to a deeper "why." Instead, adolescents are sleepwalking through their school experience feeling predominantly “tired,” “stressed,” and “bored.”

Adolescent students who have purpose, meaning, and belonging are happier, healthier, more engaged, and less stressed than their peers who lack it. Without connection to their intrinsic motivation, or an inner “purpose compass,” today’s youth will keep mindlessly racing to check boxes of external achievement that lack personal meaning, and suffer at epidemic rates as a consequence.

Drawing upon purpose development research, brain science, interviews with dozens of "purpose exemplars," and the practices of human wayfinding traditions, Project Wayfinder is an educational community that seeks to answer the urgent call to make meaning and purpose development a central focus of adolescent education. Wayfinder’s signature teacher trainings and student toolkits are our contribution to giving young adults meaningful educational experiences the world over.

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