What Makes Our School Unique

Jennifer Farrelly, the Meadowbrook Waldorf School Administrator has been a part of this community for many years in various capacities.  She has two children currently enrolled and is the mother of three alumni. 

cover (476x640) We are proud of our school and the quality of the education we offer here and it’s a pleasure to be able to share it with those who visit us to attend an Open House, Visitor Day and other community events.  Meadowbrook was recently granted accreditation by both AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools in North America) and NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges).  AWSNA is the national affiliate of the worldwide Waldorf Education movement and NEASC is the oldest accrediting institution in this country.  We’ve always known by the quality and character of our graduates that we are doing a worthy job of educating children however it is very satisfying to have an independent group of educators and administrators validate our work.  In celebration of our school’s 35th birthday  I would like to share with you four things that I believe make us unique.

First of all, from the time I was a new parent in the school with a 3 year old in tow the school has been an incredible resource for me as a parent.   The teachers here consciously take up helping parents navigate the trials and tribulations of raising children.  Because the class teacher journeys with the children from grade to grade they get to know the child and the family quite well!  In a sense each one of my children gained a 3rd parent, luckily for them a parent who has been formally educated in child development.  This partnership between the families and the school creates a stable environment in which children can learn and make mistakes.  This partnership has meant that my children have

  • another adult in their lives who knows their strengths and weaknesses intimately,
  • another adult dedicated to helping them to overcome their daily challenges so they can reach their full potential as individuals,
  • someone actively setting an example that learning is a lifelong process,
  • someone who understands how important it is to be worthy of imitation because children need adults they can look up to and emulate.

Imagine the impact on society if all children had adults consciously holding them in this way.

SSim (640x506)The second thing I would like you to know is that the children are held in the center of every decision we make at Meadowbrook.  We work with a different management model from the typical top-down institutional hierarchy.  All work begins by considering “How will this benefit the children?”  “Is this what is best for the children?”  This practice encourages us to think creatively rather than defensively while identifying priorities.  Parents participate in shaping the life of the school through our active parents association that works with faculty and staff .  Our shared child-centered approach in all areas allows us to make extraordinary educational experiences available to the students.

The third thing you should be aware of is that Waldorf education is not meant to be a private education only available to the well to do.  Our mission statement says that we strive to offer this education to those who seek it here and invite a community which reflects the breadth and diversity of humanity.  We honor that portion of our mission statement by keeping our tuition as affordable as possible, currently at 50% of other RI independent schools.  We also have a tuition adjustment program that honors each family’s individual circumstances and ability to pay.  This can make annual budgeting challenging but we manage every year through the generous support of our community.

The last thing I would like you to know about us is that we are a learning community preparing to meet the future.  All of the adults that serve the mission of the Meadowbrook Waldorf School are committed to a path of self development and thoughtful engagement with the world.  With life becoming ever more complex we recognize that today’s children require more than intellectual training if they are to be successful.  We are a community that consciously strives to live the values that prepare children to meet the future as hopeful resilient individuals.

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Meditation with Gertrude Reif Hughes

grhMany of us are familiar with the practice of meditation from experience of its Eastern forms, such as those commonly used in yoga. Rudolf Steiner introduced a new form of meditation specifically for use in today’s world. He created verses and exercises to support a regular practice of inner contemplation, emphasizing the need to cultivate our inner resources of emotional stability and clear thinking.

In her book, ‘More Radiant Than The Sun,’ Gertrude Reif Hughes explores Steiner’s path of self development, sharing insights inspired by her own extensive experience. She describes how a healthy meditative practice can enable us to see things of a soul or spiritual nature, enhancing our own lives as well as the world around us.

Please join us at Meadowbrook on November 8 at 6:30 pm for a unique opportunity to explore Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on meditation. This is a wonderful opportunity to deepen your present practice, begin a new one or simply learn about a different way of working in the world.

Please share this link with anyone who may be interested in the topics, or about learning more about the work of Rudolf Steiner.

This event is open to the public. A $10 donation per person is suggested.

What your own biography wants to teach you

How have I come to be who I am? Does my life, and the relationships I form within it have lasting meaning? Each of us is born into a specific life situation, a set of seemingly random circumstances encompassing gender, inherited genetic and ethnic traits, a social grouping that may – or may not, help us to thrive. While the nature-nurture debate rages on we all know of instances, perhaps within our own families where similar life situations produce very different individuals leading very different lives. In her new book, Why on Earth: Biography and the Practice of Human Becoming, Signe Elkund Schaefer explores the idea that each of our lives expresses a uniqueness of spiritual intention within the unfolding of universal rhythms and possibilities. What mysteries are at work in the development of human consciousness, in the unfolding of history, in the evolution of the universe? Continue reading →

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.