Celebrating the Past, Weaving the Present, Lighting the Future
In January the Meadowbrook Waldorf School community came together for a day of long range planning. The turning of the year is traditionally the time when those working at Meadowbrook set their intentions for, and make commitments to, the future of the school. Nearly 50 parents, teachers, staff, alumni and board members put aside their day to day tasks to focus on the overall well being and direction of our organization. As the MWS Mission states; This school endeavors to nurture living organizational structures which cultivate respect, trust and love for the developing human being. In this spirit of endeavor, the Board of Trustees invited the breadth of the Meadowbrook community to help generate ideas and momentum to guide us through the next three to five years of growing together.
This summer MWS will celebrate its 35th birthday. We have a rich history to consider as we contemplate moving forward. What is it about Meadowbrook that makes it so special? Several community members were invited to share personal experiences that illustrate the essence of our school and what they value about it. We laughed and cried as founding teachers, current and alumni parents, as well as Trustees past and present shared their impressions.
They spoke of how the beauty of an early childhood classroom drew them into a world of different possibilities for their child’s education. With space to play and time to develop skills naturally, children surprised their parents with their confidence in their own capacities and ability to learn. We heard how the wisdom of the Waldorf curriculum in its academic aspect is receiving increasing validation from mainstream research. We also heard about the importance of the moral education our students benefit from as they prepare to take their places in an increasingly complex society.
Alumni parents told how a shared sense of being ‘comfortable within one’s own skin’ had helped form class communities that continue to support each other long after graduation. There is an almost indefinable quality to Meadowbrook graduates. As they continue their education teachers remark on their competence, resilience and initiative. They are citizens of the world who exhibit multiple intelligences and show leadership in their abilities to influence group dynamics around them. As one alumni parent put it, this ‘return on investment’ was more than he could ever have expected when he enrolled his child in the kindergarten that used only one color of paint at a time.
Parents also become enrolled when they join the MWS community. We recognize that volunteerism is at the heart of Meadowbrook and a common theme in this opening segment was the transformation and personal development each speaker had experienced through involvement with the school. As children blossomed in their new school environment, new parenting styles developed and family lives changed accordingly. Career tracks altered course as parents became teachers and administrators. Three treasurers, past and present shared what volunteering their service to the school had meant to them personally but also how MWS methods of working had impacted their corporate lives.
After years of makeshift accommodations Meadowbrook moved into its permanent home seven years ago. Our community had to overcome many challenges to reach this point. We have always had to work thoughtfully to build strong relationships, and to think creatively to balance our budget. The financial considerations of paying tuition or being employed at MWS continue to be challenging. However, as we worked with facilitator Walt Galloway, it became clear that we deeply value our community. We value our relationships with one another and recognize that they are consciously held and cared for. Anthroposophy provides a foundation that fosters our understanding of all human beings and of each other. We hold expectations of respect, kindness and grace. We have faith in the power of the curriculum and in the ability of our faculty and staff to deliver it.
Moving into the planning stage of the event, we distilled four areas of interest for future focus.
The Relationship of MWS to the Wider Community: Outreach
This group discussed ways of raising the profile of MWS and its activities, and to educate the wider community about Waldorf education. It is hoped that a renewed focus on who we are and what we bring to our students and the community would increase enrollment and contributions of material benefit to the school. We are seeking opportunities to showcase what we do well and tell our story with an authentic human voice that others can understand. We must also listen and learn what individuals and society are looking for that we may be able to provide. Imagine what the world would be like if all schools were Waldorf schools! This group asked: How do we bring people in so they can personally experience our school and this education? What enrolls people in the spirit of the school and the tasks we undertake?
The group came up with several ideas to support outreach including:
- Create a team of volunteers and educate them to be ‘Ambassadors’ able to go out into the world and represent us
- Create a campaign each year with a theme that Ambassadors would use to represent MWS at various public events
- Indentify topics that will bring people in and engage them in aspects that are essential to Waldorf Education
- Network within existing relationships, local small businesses and other like minded organizations
- Find ways to have articles about our school printed in Renewal and local publications
- Expand our relationships with area colleges (we currently host visitors/ interns from CCRI and Brown). This could include sending our faculty and staff to area colleges as guest lecturers.
As we transition from our pioneering origins to being an established community, it becomes more important to create opportunities to bring together parents, friends and extended family, alumni and alumni parents. It is also important that the community schedule includes play and allows time to breathe. Our relationships are strengthened when we have good communication and a common understanding of the organization supported by continuing education for parents and staff..
- How effective are the means of communication we use now, and what improvements could we make?
- How do we forge strong connections with new employees and parents joining the school?
- How can we support faculty and staff so they feel supported?
- Which resources do we have within our community to support each other? E.g. volunteer skills, material resources, new ideas such as sharing community grown produce.
This group chose to identify what we value most about MWS and generate ideas to assure that these things are preserved, protected and passed on. Important features of our school included:
- The teachers’ freedom in carrying out the curriculum in accordance with their deep knowledge of the class
- That an appropriate level of childhood is preserved throughout the student’s entire MWS experience
- That children develop their own individualities and the community allows and encourages this
- That we support children with special needs
We hold anthroposophy as the foundation of our curriculum and our community life, with its core values of simplicity, truth, beauty and goodness. The study of anthroposophy within the bodies of the school, including the MPA, strengthens the integrity of the Waldorf curriculum and enhances the students’ experience of childhood. Adult education, such as the MWS Orientation to Service and opportunities shared with the wider community, preserves our sense of community and develops both our relationships and the institution.
The group suggests that all bodies of the school participate in capturing our core themes and values, and finding opportunities to communicate them. They also recommended creating community wide events such as a Shepherd’s Play to enliven our relationships through play as well as work.
Space to Breathe, Move, Play & Interact
The simple act of bringing people into our space is one of the most important ways we have of educating new-comers about the essence and values of our school. As we consider how to develop the school there is a spirit of place that we need to be conscious of in our work. We value the connection to nature our campus allows and the physical activity that this education makes possible here. We have identified that surrounding our community with beauty is a priority.
Ideas to address program and community needs, and to increase enrollment included creating the following:
- Community gathering space
- Additional space for Early Childhood
- Separation of handwork & woodwork space
- Space for after school activities
- Space for faculty work
- Tutoring rooms
- Outdoor classrooms
The group suggested that space needs identified during the accreditation process should be prioritized by faculty and staff, and that the master plan for the campus is reviewed. A building committee should be formed to oversee the structural needs of the school. Long range needs such as additional buildings need to be explored and short term changes in the use of existing space should start this summer.
This Long Range Planning event was only a beginning. A full report was written and circulated amongst all who had taken part in the discussions and a copy will kept on file and be made available to the community. From it, task lists and timelines will be constructed. From each of the four groups, an initial list was compiled of those interested in continuing the work. Meadowbrook’s history and the spirit in which this day of planning took place show us to be a thoughtful and resourceful community, concerned for each other and for the healthy development of our school. As the focus groups reconvene to consider the next steps needed, you might consider what you could bring to the effort; ideas, skills, goods and services are all of great value as we move into building the future together.
To learn more about the work of the focus groups contact the facilitators:
Outreach: Beth Riungu
In-reach: Walt Galloway
Preserve & Protect: Tabitha Jorgensen
Space: Jennifer Farrelly