Building the Future Together

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.

LRP SuRu (640x409)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.

honoring AmyAlumni 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.

LRP Doug P (493x640) 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.

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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.

gr 2 girlsIn-reach: Fostering Our Culture of Care and Concern for Others  

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.

Michaelmas 363Preserving and Protecting What is Here 

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.

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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

 

 

 

Why Pre-School is Important

Joan Almon is the founding director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood and an international consultant on early childhood education. She is also a former co-chair of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America.

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Creativity, curiosity, play, and problem-solving are all intertwined in early childhood. Social negotiation is also frequently part of the mix. In this article Joan Almon explains how play-based education supports the healthy cognitive, social-emotional and physical development of children, preparing them for the 21st century workplace where creativity is highly valued. Click the link below for the full article.

Let Them Play by Joan Almon

How one parent found Waldorf education

Susan Corkran is an alumni parent and MWS board member. The following is a speech she gave at Meadowbrook during the 2013 New Parents Reception.

Welcome Dear Friends, to this beautiful place on this beautiful evening.  You have embarked on a journey which if you let it, will change your life. Through it you and your children will change the world. I know my little talk runs the risk of being as memorable as most speeches but I ask that you please keep in your mind one question, and that is “what brought you here?”

My name is Susan Corkran and I am the mother of a Meadowbrook Waldorf School graduate of the Class of 2010. My son, Jasper Romero is in his senior year at South Kingstown High School and he is what brought me here, not just to this podium on this night or to this community but to Rhode Island and, I have begun to believe to this life on this planet.

Susan delights Holiday Faire visitors as the Pocket Lady

When I was 21 and living in Colorado in a basement apartment working as a costumer at an opera festival I saw a picture of two hale and hearty farmers, a young Vermont couple loading hay onto a horse-drawn wagon. At the end of the opera season I packed up my Datsun F-10 and my dog and headed for Vermont. The car died in Connecticut and my sister drove me to Maine to work as a waitress in a national park. At the end of the national park season I made it to Burlington Vermont where I lived at the YWCA until I found a chilly apartment in an old house and started working as a baker in a subterranean cafe. There followed stints as a poster hanger, ice cream scooper, and brochure distributor. No farming.

Then I met a man who dangled tempting images of rural Rhode Island. I moved here to Charlestown to a cottage on a sheep farm adjoining the Merners’ property and resumed work as a costumer, this time at Theatre by the Sea. At the end of the summer theater season I found a job in the retail shop at a small herb farm just down the street from here, in Wyoming. Finally, farming. Or selling things in a shop attached to a greenhouse on a tiny two acre biodynamic herb farm, and occasionally working up a righteous sweat rubbing dried herbs from their stems while listening to the farmer wax philosophical about Steiner this and Anthroposophy that.

The pieces started coming together slowly over the next few years, when our landlords’ daughter Kate, a bright, engaging, always-smiling young person who had played the flute at our wedding in the sheep field invited an elderly lady, “Miss Gerri” to her high school graduation party. What kind of 18 year-old invites her first grade teacher to her graduation party? And who was this person who had so formed this young woman that she was revered in the household as a wise elder? The story came out that clever Kate had so wilted over a few weeks in public kindergarten that her parents, both PhD’s in one science or another, quickly scooted lovely Kate to the new-forming Waldorf School which was then in a church basement being nurtured by, among others, our very own Betty Merner. Their bright child rapidly returned with new songs and games to share with her little brothers on the vast farm by the swamp. Miss Gerri taught Kate through the third grade, a concept which garnered from me the usual concerns about “what if they don’t get along?” and “how can a teacher know how to teach different grades?”

Heading to the Olympics in grade 5

Enter Jasper, after his mother’s first seven years of wondering what the heck a big Western girl like her was doing in this tiny Eastern state where the trees blocked every view and people were just, well, Yankees. Swamp Yankees, even. Fast forward to our own public kindergarten experience: the teacher was lovely, the school as cozy as could be but when we sat down for our first parent-teacher conference and it all boiled down to the 17 words Jasper could read, a chill ran down my spine. I tried to maintain a respectful attentiveness but all I could think was “you do not know my child.” That teacher met the standards of her profession with grace and compassion, became a reading specialist because she wanted to make a difference for individual children. She would have made a great Waldorf Teacher.

In the midst of a divorce, we stayed at that school for first grade assured that we had the best teacher. And that teacher miraculously held the attention and affection of 30 busy six year olds, told stories, sang songs. Today Jasper says she was a “no-nonsense lady, very good at working with kids, at getting past things in a friendly way. She had a motorcycle. She was cool.” She would have made a great Waldorf teacher.

But when for the next year, Jasper’s 17 words  suddenly having become thousands so that he was testing at sixth grade level, we were offered the options of putting him into a computer-based accelerated reading program, advancing him to third grade instead of second, or putting him in a class of 10 “accelerated learners,” 10 “delayed learners” and four adults, we knew enough even as divorced parents flattered by this recognition of our son’s special cleverness, to become alarmed. It seemed clear that our child was being viewed as a feather in someone’s statistical cap. We had considered and decided against home schooling because Jasper had thrived in daycare while I was in nursing school; how would using a machine to make him smarter at something he was already smart at advance his need for human connection?

Jasper, right, jams with fellow alumni during a visit to Meadowbrook

And so we found ourselves on a May afternoon in a dimly-lit room draped in pink silk, trying to sell ourselves to Betty and Miss Su. Jasper’s dad was reassured by whatever they said about the academic rigors of Waldorf education, the statistics indicating that children who participate in this education go to the high schools they want to, the colleges they choose. My only agenda at the time was that my son, who was struggling with the sadness and anger of our divorce be a nice, happy person. (I have since learned by the way that as altruistic as that sounds, I really had no business having any agenda for my child but that he be himself.) The delightful irony of the ironclad ‘six-by-June first’ rule meant Jasper,  who had been five when he started first grade would be repeating first grade and not skipping second. He was invited to visit with the kindergarten class he would be joining as a first grader the next year. To this day, Jasper thinks he attended kindergarten at Meadowbrook so indelible an impression did Miss Su make in that week of visits.

And so there we were, and here we are. Here we are in a place where you pay money so that your child has a chance to break her arm at recess. Because she will be in a tree or on a rope, or riding on the back of a bigger child. In a place where instead of being suspended for a physical disagreement with another child, your child will be sentenced to community service alongside that child weeding gardens, or stacking wood, or moving risers. So that when they are high school seniors they will sit in your living room together and play their guitars. Or yes, their video games.

Here we are, where you do not have power over what happens in the classroom because this is not a democracy; it is an exquisitely planned and executed pedagogy that recognizes, perhaps better than you will sometimes, what your child needs and offers it cleverly disguised as a walk in the woods, a wooden flute, a knitted sock, a math poem delivered in unison while marching in a circle, a violin lesson and the attendant torturous 15-minutes-a-day practice (I recommend viola; not as squeaky), a Shakespeare play, “Farmer Boy”, wet-on-wet watercolor (all yellow? Just yellow?), Diwali, Michaelmas, eighth grade projects (ask Lorna, board president, about that log cabin), the eighth grade trip… Savor it while you are in it, friends. It flies. Congratulate yourselves for having the wisdom to let the universe bring you and your children here.

And please bring what you have. If it’s money, great. We can always use more of that. If it’s time, that’s good too; let your skills and interests be known and used. Build a fence. Sew a costume. Weed a garden. Drive another child to and from school. Bake cookies. And more cookies. Show up for everything you can show up for. Don’t argue about technology policies; they are there for a reason, and it’s a good one, and it has to do with the long-term health and functioning of your child, not their short-term pleasure or their grandparents’ disappointment about not being allowed to buy the latest gadget for Christmas. Watch plays instead of filming or photographing them. Be here. Drive for field trips, or buy gas for someone who is driving for field trips. When the teacher asks for your help, give it if you can. He or she is tending the soul of your child and the future of humanity. Learn about Steiner and Waldorf education; attend adult ed programs. This is more than just an alternative to public school; this is a movement, and its goal is the evolution of human spirituality, one little human spirit at a time. We are in the business of equipping human beings to meet the world they are in; it’s going to take all of our energy. Please bring your trust in this process; these teachers and administrators are meticulous professionals who are very serious about their tasks. And it is a joyful, beautiful process. If it makes you want to quit your job and become a Waldorf school teacher, please do so.

Here I am, a big Western girl in a little Eastern state.  I have thought of leaving many times, moving closer to family, or someplace where the views are better and land cheaper. This idea was, of course, emphatically vetoed by my son. The Meadowbrook Waldorf School community has been the village that has raised and continues to embrace my child and be his home. Jacquelyn tolerated my endless late tuition checks (do not take that as an endorsement of late tuition); Lorna was Jasper’s Thursday mom; Charlotte the Administrator sang him nonchalantly off a stone wall his first day of first grade while I was panicking that he wouldn’t obey my direction to get down off the wall; Jeremy the strings teacher almost succeeded in getting him to continue viola past 10th grade. Amalia corralled 19 very different children into a cohesive class that still meets for birthdays, breakfasts, musical jams, Three Kings’ Day, hiking trips, going-away parties, and to remember their beloved friend and classmate Allie.

Grade 7 (Jasper with guitar) winners of the 2009 German play competiton at Mt Holyoke.

A week ago Jasper came out of the bathroom in distress, pointing out to me his receding hairline. Sadly, he was correct; my brother started balding at 17, so the hand is dealt. Then, we got in the car and headed to Michaelmas. There I was, driving to my son’s grade school, with my son and his receding hairline. At Michaelmas he met up with his reading buddy, who showed him forts in the woods. One of my colleagues on the board, Mikhail, who has younger children, asked me what my son looked like; “Like a man,” I said, “with a receding hairline.” In the blink of an eye, this community has nurtured and sent forth a young man who will spend a Saturday morning walking through sunny woods with a 10-year old boy; a young man who fills my living room with music, who writes like he’s on fire, who scores well on standardized tests but won’t take them over to see if he can score even better, who knits hats for extra money, who can mastermind a backpacking trip or a charity concert, who says the entire take-home message of his grade school education was “nobody’s perfect, but everybody has something to offer,” and who above all, loves his friends fiercely. I am deeply grateful to the forces that brought us here.

 

 

 

 

Leading Children Back to the Future in the Waldorf Classroom.

 

This piece was written by Jack Petrash, a respected author and highly entertaining speaker on Waldorf education. Petrash founded the Nova Institute as a resource and support for those seeking to use Waldorf methods in public and mainstream settings. He is currently in grade 5 of his fourth go-around as a class teacher at the Washington Waldorf School, MD.

Each morning when I open the door and step into my first grade room, I immediately feel at home. I am so fond of my classroom – the plants by the windows, the children’s watercolor paintings brightening the walls, the wooden desks and chairs all ordered and arranged to face the blackboard . I like to think that this classroom is lovelier than the one I entered as a child, but the truth is that there is something about my room that at first glance is similar to the classrooms of the past. Continue reading →