Sunday, August 16, 2009

Opening a Public Waldorf School - an Interview with Alliance for Public Waldorf Education

How does the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education assist people and communities?

The Alliance for Public Waldorf Education is a member organization, supporting established schools, developing schools and initiatives in the planning and start up phase. The Alliance provides resources and free consultation from experienced administrators to its member schools. In addition, the Alliance provides an annual conference, professional development opportunities, and is developing partnerships in support of the public/charter schools movement.

How close does the public version of Waldorf come to the traditional Waldorf schools?

The curriculum and pedagogical approach looks very similar in both public and independent Waldorf schools. The public sector lens comes with additional transparency and accountability requirements, particularly around documenting grade-by-grade curriculum and academic standards. Most people wouldn’t notice much difference in the classroom if they visited a private Waldorf school or a public school inspired by Waldorf education.

With public schools' inflexibility on standardized testing, how do you keep the integrity of the pace of Waldorf with literacy?

At most public Waldorf schools, the curriculum doesn’t vary much from the traditional independent Waldorf program. Meeting literacy and all academic standards while nurturing the development of the whole child is integral to a Waldorf education. A Waldorf curriculum takes a different approach to reading in grades one and two; however, students are not tested in most states until grade three, by which time students’ literacy is basically on par with the testing standards. California schools test a year earlier than the federal government recommends or requires, and students tend to do poorly on the second grade exams. In later years, however, student test results are comparable and above, as would be expected with the full Waldorf curriculum.

In public Waldorf schools, do the students stick with the same teacher for 8 years or at least several years?

Yes. When a teacher has a class for several years, the teacher and the children come to know and understand each other in a deeper way. Children who feel secure in that familiar relationship, may be better able to learn. The interaction of teacher and parents also can become meaningful over time, which can be supportive to the child’s development.

How do you strive to keep the hands, heart and head balance in the public school setting?

Waldorf curriculum and pedagogy seeks to nurture all aspects of the child’s development leading to excellence in intellectual and academic capabilities. Artistic and practical subjects such as gardening, hand work, and woodworking play a significant role in preparing students for life in the ‘real’ world.

In addition to reading, writing, math, history, geography, and the sciences, children learn to sing, play a musical instrument, draw, paint, carve and work with wood, speak clearly and act in a play, think independently, and work harmoniously and respectfully with others. Lessons are primarily delivered orally by the teacher in a thoughtful, interactive and artistic manner, thereby engaging hands, heart and head into all lessons and activities of a student’s day.

How many public Waldorf schools are there in the United States?

There are 46 schools and initiatives in the United States.

How successful have they been?

Lower grade students moving to a comprehensive high school (public or private) are often recognized for their keen ability to think, for being well-rounded young adults, and as having experience as learners rather than merely digesters. High school graduates are likely to have well developed sense of themselves, sound thinking and reasoning skills, a genuine curiosity of their world, and love of learning. While public schools inspired by Waldorf education are relatively new in the United States, even the most prestigious colleges embrace Waldorf educated students as likely to be a contributing, engaged student and have a successful college experience. The Yuba River Charter School in Nevada City, CA, whose oldest graduates are now 25 years old, has had a group graduate from UCLA and Berkeley this year and has their first high school graduate attending Harvard. Other students are now finishing graduate school and one is a Waldorf teacher!

For more information on the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education, go to

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