A Different Approach to Financial Aid

This post is written by Tabitha Jorgensen, a current member of our Board of Trustees.  Tabitha previously served as our  Admissions Coordinator, welcoming new families to Meadowbrook for more than 14 years.

Part of the Mission Statement of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School reads, “We strive to offer this education to those who seek it here…” One of the ways MWS supports this part of the mission is through financial aid, and like many things at a Waldorf School, we do it a little differently. For one thing, we call it “adjustment” not “aid,” and this is quite purposeful.

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A more traditional financial aid system works something like this: The school has a line item in their budget designated for financial aid. This is a specific amount of money set aside and given out to families who qualify. Once the limit is met, the school generally won’t give out any more. The allocated amount can be adjusted during budget planning, but generally not during the school year.

At Meadowbrook we don’t have a budgeted line item for financial aid. So how do we responsibly budget this way? How do we meet the needs of our community members for whom full tuition is not possible? How do we work with a family facing a financial crisis?

First, we rely on our experience and make some educated estimates. Based on past experience, we are able to determine the percentage of students that will need adjustment with reliable accuracy. An “average” tuition amount is calculated per student and a budget is built around that number. In this way, any new family who applies to MWS late in the season adds to the bottom line of our budget, even if they are not able to pay full tuition.

Second, we have cash reserves for a rainy day. If a particular year turns out to be financially challenging for our families and more requests for adjustment are made than anticipated, or emergency situations arise during the school year (job loss, unexpected medical conditions etc.), we are generally able to meet those needs. If a trend begins, as it did when the recession hit, future budgets are adjusted accordingly.

Third, we are committed to working this way. It is a time consuming process to manage every case through our tuition-adjustment committee, but every family and every circumstance is unique. This work provides an opportunity for MWS to show that we honor and value all our families, and it is also a time when our families can see Meadowbrook principles in action.

It is through working with families, and not merely formulaic calculations, that we strive to reach a tuition level that is acceptable to both the family and the school. As with any agreement between two parties, there are expectations. Families can expect a confidential, fair, thorough process from MWS, a process in which they are active participants. In turn, MWS expects that our families will make choices to demonstrate they consider this education is a priority.

Part of managing a thorough process means a family must provide financial documents, honor deadlines, and present a complete picture of their circumstances.  Part of creating a fair process means MWS cannot support certain “lifestyle” choices through the tuition adjustment program. For example, our policy statement indicates both parents should be employed once all children are of school age. MWS cannot subsidize a choice to be unemployed at the expense of our other families or our faculty. Of course there are exceptional circumstances and times where employment is not about choice – illnesses, job changes, divorce, etc. Exceptional circumstances will always be considered.

The tuition adjustment program is designed to meet as many families as possible, sustainably and fairly. The tuition adjustment committee works to balance the needs of our families with the needs of faculty, staff, programming, and facilities. The tuition adjustment program is an area where we express our belief that those in a Waldorf community carry one another’s destiny. Meadowbrook is entrusted with supporting the destiny of a child and that child’s family. The family, in turn, supports MWS through tuition, and by participating in the vibrant community life of the school.

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Who is the Waldorf Teacher?

As parents we bring our children gradually into the world, nurturing them closely through their earliest years and hoping to bring them to experiences that will promote their healthy development.  As they grow in independence we become increasingly aware of their individual capacities and especially their enormous appetite for learning, their innate ability to assimilate the world around them.  In the early childhood years parents are allowed a level of autonomy with a choice of services offering various components of education and daycare that we may include or decline.  For most of us then, the beginning of the grade school years marks the first time our choice of just who will be our child’s teacher, who will direct him/ her for a significant number of their most formative hours is no longer wholly our choice.  We may choose the educational philosophy that best suits our family’s values but a leap of faith is required.  We must trust in the individual teacher assigned to our child’s class.

The Waldorf ideal is that the class teacher will stay with the class from grade one through grade eight.  Waldorf education holds the child at its center.  Concerned with educating the whole human being, the creation of a familial environment within the class with a consistent, authoritative voice is fundamental to providing the secure setting necessary for students to explore and unfold their life’s purpose.  The continually evolving relationship between teacher and parent is essential to this process.  At Meadowbrook these relationships developed between students, between students and teachers, parents and teachers continue to enrich the lives of all far beyond grade school and college.

In recognition and celebration of our community, here is a short (12 minutes) film in which Waldorf teachers from some of our affiliate schools describe their roles and share their motivations.  Being a Waldorf Teacher.