A Visit From Coast Miwok, in the Shade of Grandmother Oak

Yesterday, Dean and Jason, two representatives from the Coast Miwok Tribal Council, joined our faculty and staff on campus. We gathered in the shade of Grandmother Oak, where Dean and Jason spoke their truth, told us about their ancestors, shared their knowledge of the land, and invited us to reflect more deeply on the place we live, the land our school occupies, and the history we teach. It was a fitting start to a school year that will begin during a global pandemic, and one in which the natural world (particularly the beautiful valley oaks and bay laurel trees on our campus) will play an outsize role in our experience. To conclude, they joined us in a walk-through of our school’s outdoor classrooms, in preparation for our students’ arrival.

During the past month, our faculty and staff have been like busy bees, buzzing around campus (literally) with saws, drills, and pick-up trucks, assembling the outdoor classrooms. We have been ticking off the to do list and distributing Humanity Shields and hand sanitizer. We have been making safety plans and obsessively monitoring the air quality.

With so much to do, it felt impossible to slow down … until we were all gathered in the shade of the oak trees yesterday afternoon. Our guests, and the moment of reflection they inspired in us all, rejuvenated our mood, preparing us mentally and spiritually to welcome our students back to campus.

Dean and Jason, thank you! We hope we will continue to learn from you and the land this year, and into the future.

A Message From Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

As we mourn yet another senseless death of a Black man at the hands of police and continue to see the lives of Black, Brown and Indigenous people compromised and threatened, we are continuing to dedicate ourselves to the work of social justice and bringing your children an antiracist education.  

Our faculty and staff have taken up individual and collective work over the summer in looking at our curriculum with an equity lens, adding books to our libraries, creating or purchasing art that represents Black, Brown and Indigenous people, and developing ideas to broaden and strengthen our curriculum content. We have purchased crayons for each class which will broaden the capacity for different skin tones, and have watched a tutorial on how to use our colors for many various shades. But know that the work both continues and goes much deeper than that. 

This summer, we welcomed Randolph Carter (bio below) to guide us through a DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) training.  As part of our DEI intensive, we read thought provoking articles, we took racial antibias tests put forth from Harvard University. It was an eye opening exercise we invite you to explore: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html.

We looked at our own biographies and conversed about ideas related to bringing a strong antiracist education to Marin Waldorf School. Faculty and staff were grateful to share together and to deepen our understanding. We are pleased to announce that we will continue our relationship with Randolph, as we have brought him on board as an outside consultant to work with the DEI group, the staff and faculty, and the extended community.  

We look forward to welcoming parents into the conversation in a formalized way, and in the meantime encourage you to reach out to us at dei@marinwaldorf.org with any comments and or questions.

As both the founder of East Ed and a member of the Black Panther Party, Randolph has devoted his career to promoting equity and diversity in education and communities. He is currently directing the campus diversity efforts at Portland Community College, Cascade Campus. He was a Fellow in the Harvard University School Leadership Program, Graduate School of Education, where he received a master’s degree in education with a school leadership qualification. He is currently a doctoral student in the School of Education Leadership and Change at Fielding University.

He was a middle school reading specialist, a school administrator, and while at the National Association of Independent Schools, he directed their equity programming and founded two of their signature projects: People of Color Conference and Student Diversity Leadership Conference. Randolph has also served on numerous school boards, including Fielding Graduate University and the Institute for Community Enrichment. He is a member of the Education Committee of the New Press. His publications include peer-reviewed articles and book reviews published in national journals.

Sweet Spaces for Early Childhood

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had pictures of hay bales, wheelbarrows, and pickups rolling around campus. Now, we’re starting to put the finishing touches on our new outdoor spaces. For early childhood students, our teachers are hard at work re-creating the cozy, warm, homelike environment we love in their outdoor spaces.

Sunflower lead teacher and early childhood director Ms. Brenda has been busy in her new classroom, as she writes to her families this week:

“Every good Waldorf teacher knows that the classroom is another teacher for young children, so planning for a mixed-age class has provided me with the opportunity to broaden my imagination.  For the past week, I have been getting the basics in place. I have made, bought, received, rehabilitated, acquired, or polished wooden toys, huge building blocks, 12 new cutting boards for vegetables, 12 Kindergarten hammers + other woodworking equipment, place mats that ensure social distancing, hand-dyed silk for play, babies with dresses and pinafores, a little kitchen, soft rugs, outdoor rugs, and so much more.”

“All of this work has been done with an understanding of how to build a classroom during a pandemic,” says Ms. Brenda. “Can you believe it? I can. Now I am working on creating a pulley system for our older children (the younger ones will be captivated), one that will help us move all kinds of important items. It’s science in action!”

Outdoor Classrooms Across the Country

If you’ve been following along on this blog or are already a member of the MWS community, you know we’ve been working hard all summer to prepare our school’s outdoor classrooms for a safer reopening of campus this fall. Last week, our school applied for a waiver from the county and state to reopen to in-person learning on September 8.

While distance learning was a challenge for our close-knit, tech-free community, spending time outdoors is right within our element as a Waldorf school, where building a relationship with and respect for nature is an integral part of education. While we wait for a response to our application for a waiver, we’ve been feeling inspired to be a part of the nationwide movement to move learning outdoors. From Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Burlington, Vermont, teachers are pulling out whiteboards and setting up umbrellas and shade sails to create new classroom spaces. Just yesterday, New York City shared a potential plan to move classrooms outdoors, taking students to nearby parks and even into (closed) city streets!

In this story from PBS News Hour, Sharon Danks, co-founder of the National Covid-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, says, “Schools have a lot of potential to use their grounds that they’re not tapping.”

“So in this case, in the COVID context, we think they have plenty of space outside that can augment the inside space when they’re looking to spread kids out for social distancing,” she continues. (You can read more about Danks’s project, National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative, here.)

Here in California, we have mild (if, hopefully, rainy) winters, but Danks says it’s possible to move education outdoors across climates. “We have great examples from Canada and from northern Scandinavia where they can go outside in the winter. And actually in Chicago in the pandemic in 1918, tuberculosis and the Spanish flu pandemic, they did go outside even there all winter in some schools,” she tells NewsHour.

We love seeing so many other Waldorf schools across the country redesigning their programs for outdoor learning. Just this morning, the Lake Champlain Waldorf School was featured on the Today Show segment about outdoor classrooms while a fourth grade teacher at Prairie Hill Waldorf School was featured in the national news for her unique outdoor classroom design.

Is this the beginning of a new movement in Waldorf schools and education in general?

A Visit to Our Summer Garden

This year, our fortunate 6th graders will spend their school day in our beloved campus garden, which is being transformed into the 6th grade outdoor classroom.

One of the most special spots on campus, it is a true cooperative project, tended by faculty, parents, and students throughout the year. Just last week, our gardening teacher, Ms. Betsyann, shared some pictures of our school’s beautiful garden in bloom over this warm and sunny summer. See the photos and read her update below.

The Waldorf Garden is thriving this summer thanks to the watering help of parents. Sunflowers are blooming!

Taking a picture of a butterfly is hard as they don’t sit still. The bees are a little easier to photograph. Here, both these pollinators, are visiting the milkweed.

Elderberries are ripe and grapes are ripening. 

Bubbles the turtle misses everyone.

What the Redwoods Can Teach Us About Community Health

By Rising Percey, 5th Grade Class Teacher

Alone we fall, together we stand. Knowing this, teachers and staff have been working all summer to create an opportunity for our community to be together on campus this year. But on a recent trip through northern California, seeking both solace and inspiration for this year’s Botany lessons, I learned a surprising lesson about community in a grove of majestic redwoods. 

The tree pictured here is called the Corkscrew Tree and resides in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.  It is actually about 7 trees fused together at its base, and I couldn’t help but spend a good while standing in awe at its center; its tremendous beauty took my breath away.

Redwoods can grow upwards of 300 feet, and yet they have extremely shallow root systems for a tree of that size. Typically, their roots extend only a mere 5-6 feet below the earth, and radiate in all directions several hundred feet. Weighing up to one million pounds, these trees would easily drive themselves downwards deep into the earth if it were not for the interconnection of their roots with their neighbors. The ability of these trees to interlace, and even merge with one another, allows them to share water, and remain stable in times of heavy winds and floods.

In a study done near Arcata, California when a substance was injected into one tree, traces of that substance were later discovered in a tree 500 feet away. Redwoods rarely survive alone; instead they create communities, and sometimes even merge at their base to grow as a single tree. The strength of these trees, indeed lies in their connection to one another. Essentially, it is their existence as a community that enables them to grow to the heights that they do.

Like the Coastal Redwood trees that grace our very own campus, I believe we too are stronger because of our connections with one another. And, as we prepare ourselves for the return to campus, it’s critical to the health of our community that we acknowledge not only the benefits of our connections, but also the responsibility to each other that we individually hold.  

In a recent news release about reopening schools Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s Public Health Officer said, “…all of us have a role to play in getting children back into school, where their needs are best served.” This role we play of course is wearing masks, washing hands frequently, staying physically distant, and following the county guidelines and health codes. 

Indeed children’s needs are best served when they can be in school and on campus, and so this year’s success for being on campus will essentially rest upon our ability to do our part, all of us as a community. 

Next week class teachers and staff will be attending a health and safety training at our Back-to-School faculty meetings. The school, through our nurse, Cammi Bell, will be establishing health agreements that we will all commit to following. (More specific details about this coming soon.)

As we commit to these agreements, I hope that we can all remember the image of the soaring and formidable redwood groves who have thrived for thousands of years, due solely to their ability to live in community with one another. The success of our year ahead will take all of us doing our part. Together, we can achieve great heights.

Categories MWS

Gallery: Our Campus in Transformation

Every Monday this summer, our faculty has come together on Zoom to discuss our plans for the upcoming school year. During our meeting this week, each of our class teachers took a few minutes to describe their progress on and vision for their outdoor classroom. We heard about a planned arbor at the entrance of one room, a planting project atop the straw bales that form a classroom’s border, a wall made of twined willow, spaced tree stumps, and more. With each class, our excitement grew.

At Marin Waldorf School, we have always been grateful for our beautiful campus, with its big grassy field, abundant working garden, surrounding open space, and groves of redwoods and valley oaks throughout. As we approach the next year, this beloved space is becoming all the more essential as we re-envision our students spending their days almost entirely outdoors.

On Sunday, we shared some photos from the first few weeks of our classroom build out. We’re back today with some gorgeous shots taken by one of our parents. Look at these beautiful classroom spaces for the fall of 2020 (that’s 5th grade under the oaks in the first three pictures, 1st grade nestled amid the redwoods, and 7th grade in the last picture on the bottom right).

And here are a few more fun action shots from the building.

We’ll keep posting photos, so please check back for images of the arbor and willow walls, the new plants and the new chalkboards very soon!

Stumps, Straw, and Chips: 2020 Classroom Building Begins!

Last week, NBC News ran a story that featured our colleagues at the Detroit Waldorf School, who are planning to open their classrooms entirely outdoors this fall. The writers pointed out that their back-to-school shopping list is a bit “unusual.” “The Detroit Waldorf School in Michigan is buying carriage bolts, berry bushes and 8,000 square feet of cedar wood,” the authors report.

Our own shopping list is somewhat unconventional too: In the past week, our campus has received shipments of wood chips, tree stumps, straw bales, shade sails, recycled wood, and Crazy Creek chairs. (We’re also stocking up on Humanity Shields and alcohol-based hand sanitizer.) Last week, we shared how work on outdoor classrooms had started, and now, as supplies are arriving on campus, that work has begun in earnest!

In the photo to the left, Ms. Percey gives the 5th grade classroom a test run, with masked students seated on hay bales and fold-up chairs. Their lap desks, which students may use on top of a folding table or on their lap when seated on the earth, seemed to work very well in our test run.

What a lovely spot for our 5th graders to learn this year—and especially appropriate for the 5th grade botany block!

Beneath the shade of the oak trees in the Magic Forest, the 7th grade space is clearly marked with hay bales along its border, and tree stumps are set up at 6-foot intervals.

In this picture, you can see the frame for the chalkboard at the front of the 7th grade class, with the branch of all beautiful valley oak tree serving as a natural wall.

Early childhood classrooms will each their own dedicated outdoor space, where children will spend a large part of the day, rain or shine.

In the photo at the left, a family in our new mixed-age early childhood classroom Manzanita helps prepare the new play space for our smallest students. Manzanita teacher Ms. Sarah imagines a big garden in this space, where the children will grow plants all year.

We can’t wait to see the way our classrooms take shape over the next few weeks, as our teachers and parents bring their goodwill and creativity to the great outdoor classroom build out of 2020. We will have even more pictures of the outdoor classrooms this week… so check back soon.

Imagining Grandmother Oak in Norse Mythology

This year, the oldest tree in our oak grove and the namesake of this website, Grandmother Oak, will shelter our fourth grade outdoor classroom.

“I painted Grandmother Oak on Monday when I was on the Faculty Planning call. I want to really get into the spirit of the tree and our fourth grade classroom,” says Ms. Stroud. 

She is already dreaming up ways that the tree will become a part of class lessons too. “I am also going to have to rename her after the great tree Yggdrassil which links the nine worlds of the ancient Norse cosmology,” she says. “Norse Myths are a central part of fourth grade!”

Building Teacher-Student Relationships Through Looping

When schools closed in March, it quickly became clear how important personal relationships between students and teachers are to a productive learning environment. For some schools, turning to the innovative idea of “looping,” or keeping the same teacher with a fixed class of students for two or more years, is a way to strengthen the bonds between class and teacher. Last week, KQED shared the story “How Teacher Looping Can Ease the Learning Disruptions Caused by Coronavirus,” in which writer Kara Newhouse discusses the benefits of looping.

Looping is common to almost all Waldorf schools, where class teachers stay with the same group of students through the grades, in some cases from 1st through 8th. In fact, looping was incorporated into the very first Waldorf school, which opened over 100 years ago in Germany. At Marin Waldorf School, the special relationship between each class is fortified by their growing relationship with the class teacher. (A case in point, the warmth exuding from our 8th grade teacher Ms. Percey in the picture above, as she speaks to her class at our outdoor/socially distant graduation for the class of 2020. Ms. Percey had been with this class in grades 5-8, and she’ll be starting a new loop as the 5th grade class teacher in 2020-2021!)

Ms. Weger took the class of 2019 from 5th grade to 8th grade. In the fall of that same year, she started first grade with a new class of students whom she’ll be teaching in second grade this coming fall.

While recent school closures may have brought the teacher-student relationship into the spotlight, there is plenty of research to suggest that looping is beneficial to students in any environment. In the article “In the Loop,” published by the AASA, The School Superintendents Association, the authors explain, “Schools that have effectively implemented the looping structure point to the following benefits: improved relationships among students and between teachers and students, more efficient instruction, higher attendance rates, reduced student retentions, fewer referrals of students to special education programs and improved student discipline.”

Many experts are citing the importance of significant relationships in young people’s lives. As James P. Comer, who runs the School Development Program at Yale University, puts it: “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” – JIM GRANT, IRV RICHARDSON & CHAR FORSTEN,
The School Superintendents Association Schools

There are similar takeaways in this piece, “Looping Leads to Long-Term Connections with Students,” at Edutopia, which credits Rudolf Steiner as the probable originator of the idea. “People are hardwired for long-term relationships,” the authors writer, “and emotional growth isn’t optimally possible without a permanent, supportive presence.”

We’ll be talking more about looping this week, as well as the other ways Waldorf education is adapting to a new educational environment… so please check back for more!