By Kristine Deason, 8th grade class teacher Our last history block of 8th grade was called “The Struggle for Rights.” Using this theme as a lens into the past, students honed their understanding for the… More
The alumni panel is always a highlight of our admissions Open House, concluding the day… and often running way over time as the audience jumps to ask questions! This year, we hosted our alumni panel on Zoom, featuring four amazing Waldorf alumni. (Scroll down for their bios.)
Listening to the experiences and reflections of a diverse group of graduates reminds us why Waldorf education is unique, and how it builds a foundation of creativity, independent thinking, and confidence that lasts a lifetime.
Huge gratitude to our student musicians Angelo, Carter, and Emma, as well as to our four panelists for a wonderful morning. Here’s a little background on our four speakers.
Alberta (MWS Class of 2012)
Alberta (she/hers) attended Marin Waldorf School from Kindergarten until graduating in Kristine Deason’s class of 2012. She attended high school at Marin Academy. Alberta also spent one semester at the Mountain School in Vermont, a rigorous program in which high school juniors from across the country spend a semester farming, studying in the old barn, and even camping out for three nights alone in the mountains.
Alberta was then awarded the national Questbridge Scholarship for low-income high-achieving students, with a placement at Wellesley College. During her time there, she worked as a Research Assistant for a Sociology Professor, a tutor for the Economics Department, a farm hand at an off-campus Coop, an Admission Office interviewer, and a restaurant hostess. Alberta also designed her own major in the inter-departmental Peace and Justice Studies program—her Waldorf upbringing had taught her the inevitable inextricability of diverse disciplines when seriously studying any topic.
After studying abroad for 6 months in Buenos Aires and conducting 5 months of internships in Havana, Cuba (with a local artist collective and with Oxfam), Alberta decided to dedicate herself to immigration advocacy here in the United States. After graduating (virtually) from Wellesley in Spring of 2020, she moved down to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to work as an Unaccompanied Child Legal Specialist with the American Bar Association’s pro-bono project. She eventually plans on attending law school to continue advocating for immigrant justice.
Max (Waldorf School of Atlanta)
Max’s journey through Waldorf education began as a three-year-old in Morning Garden at the Waldorf School of Atlanta. And while it technically came to an end upon 8th grade graduation from the same school, the Waldorfian experience has proven life-long thanks to Max’s extremely good fortune in having Dena Malon, Grades Director for the Marin Waldorf School, as his mother.
Max’s post-Waldorf experience thus far has unfolded in precisely the unexpected manner one would expect from an anthroposophically-minded anthropomorph. Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence College—where, as a theater student, he developed an interest in the (un)constitutionality of life imprisonment sentences for minors after doing research for a role in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole—Max moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as deputy manager for SCOTUSblog, a publication covering the United States Supreme Court.
After a well-timed tour of duty in legal journalism during which the Supreme Court enjoyed some of its highest-profile terms in decades and SCOTUSblog won a Peabody, Max decided to take his eurythmy-derived talents over to the wide world of consulting, joining public-policy consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies. There, he helped clients like GE, the Bezos Foundation, FedEx, and the One Campaign advocate for policy outcomes on issues related to early childhood education, technology, innovation, economic development, and everything in between.
Max has since returned to Hamilton Place Strategies as the firm’s Creative Director, after spending two years living and working on the road in both the US and abroad with his brother—the two siblings having started a consulting firm from inside their Volkswagen Vanagon. Three weeks into their roadtrip, the firm was acquired by a policy-focused creative agency founded by President Obama’s White House Art Director, and the itinerary was extended indefinitely.
Max is currently pandemic-ing in Bend, Oregon, where he spends his time fly fishing, rock climbing, wood working, cello playing, and planning trips to Montana in the van.
Jarrett Cherner (MWS Class of 1995)
Jarrett Cherner is a pianist, composer and bandleader based in Brooklyn, New York. His first instrument was the violin, which he began playing at age 7, followed by the piano and drums at age 12. After graduating from high school, Jarrett earned concurrent degrees at Tufts (B.S., Mathematics) and New England Conservatory (Jazz Piano Performance).
Jarrett’s debut album, Burgeoning, was released in 2006, and earned recognition from the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards. In 2008, Jarrett moved to New York to pursue graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music. He was a semifinalist at the 2011 Montreux Jazz Piano Competition and had the honor of performing solo piano at the Whitney Museum as part of Jason Moran’s 2012 BLEED residency.
Jarrett has toured throughout the U.S. as well as South America, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, as both a leader and sideman. Today, he is an adjunct professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he teaches through the New York Jazz Academy, both privately and via Skype from his Brooklyn studio. His most recent album, Tone, with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, was released in 2020 on BaldHill Records.
Before and following the holiday weekend, students at MWS learned about, remembered, and discussed the life and work of Martin Luther King in meaningful age-appropriate ways, from preschool to 8th grade. As our faculty dives more deeply into the important work of creating an anti-racist and inclusive curriculum, we are exploring deeper and richer ways to discuss history, activism, and social justice.
In first grade, students learned about Marin Luther King’s life and legacy with the award-winning illustrated book Martin’s Big Words.
First grade teacher Mr. Baril shares, “It prompted some wonderful discussion among the children about the beauty of different skin colors. We then went to our desks and I gave them new sets of special crayons that have about six different skin tones of various peoples of our world. They were then able to take home with them on Friday their drawings of people holding hands under a rainbow.”
Before Martin Luther King Day, 4th graders had been working on a long-term project of mapping the world around them—mapping their bedrooms, their homes, their neighborhoods. Here are the maps of their neighborhoods in their main lesson books.
As Marin Luther King Jr Day approached, class teacher Ms. Stroud shared a map of the route she bikes to the Marin Luther King memorial in San Francisco from her house.
Drawing on the image of the memorial’s flowing waterfalls, fourth graders illustrated the words from Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.
Ms. Deason’s 8th grade students had been studying the speeches of Martin Luther King for many years. For a different take on his work, the class dove into the lengthy piece “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which Dr. King addressed to his fellow clergymen. The 8th graders explored King’s arguments and ideas, and discussed the ways they relate to activism today. As part of that study, they watched Anderson Cooper’s recent interview with youth poet laureate and inauguration speaker Amanda Gorman.
They also drew portraits of King, each choosing a different palette. The effect is striking.
A spirit of inquiry, experiential learning, and an integration of academic disciplines are cornerstones of our school’s approach to education.
In our middle school classrooms, where 6th, 7th, and 8th graders explore complex topics in chemistry, physics, physiology, biology, and geology, science isn’t presented in concepts and lectures. It begins with observation. Through observation, our students learn to think like scientists, asking questions and posing theories before being given all the answers.
Even art, which is integrated throughout our curriculum, is used as a tool for understanding STEM topics. For example, in their studies of combustion as part of the 7th grade chemistry block, students were asked to observe and then draw a bonfire and a candle. You can see a few examples of our students’ work below.
As a capstone to the study of combustion, teacher Ms. Terziev performed a demonstration for the class, asking them to watch silently and then offer their theories on what they’d observed.
After watching the experiment, students brought their questions and theories to the group, inspiring both curiosity and critical thinking in the classroom. This approach helps students build a meaningful understanding of complex scientific concepts. In Waldorf education, this is called a phenomenological approach to science. In this way, 7th graders at Marin Waldorf School connect and internalize complex topics in chemistry, like combustion, as well as crystallization, acids/bases, and the lime cycle.
The study of science at Marin Waldorf School begins in early childhood, with the simple observation of the seasons and the natural world, and through nature stories. In elementary school, students learn to ask questions and to learn through doing, laying the groundwork for more complex critical thinking that they will need to tackle their studies of chemistry, biology, physiology, geology, and physics in middle school.
In the sculptural, pictorial realm we look at beauty, we live it, whereas in the musical realm we ourselves become beauty. In music man himself is creator. he creates something that does not come from what is already there, but lays a foundation and a firm ground for what is to arise in the future.
—Rudolf Steiner, Practical Advice to Teachers
Music is an essential part of the curriculum at Marin Waldorf School. Throughout the day, children in the preschool and kindergarten sing with teachers and classmates, learning not only the songs but how to listen and to work together as a group.
In the grades, students begin to study instruments, starting with flutes in first and second grade. In fourth, all students begin studying violin, with some choosing to take lessons on other strings or orchestral instruments. By seventh and eighth grade, the class has become an orchestral ensemble, with opportunities to perform for their parents and the greater community at various concerts throughout the year.
Like everything else, our music programs have been adapted this year. Students and teachers are getting used to singing (and performing!) with masks on, while our orchestra teachers test out the acoustics in the breezeways and amphitheaters (our strings program will be entirely outdoors this year!). Still, there are some upsides to the new arrangements. For one thing, we’ve been hearing our students perform a lot more frequently as we listen to classes practicing outdoors, throughout our campus grounds. Take a look …
Here is the second grade practicing flute in their outdoor classrooms.
Under the protection of the outdoor breezeway, new fourth grade violinist practice strings basics with their teachers Ms. Stewart and Ms. Eldridge.
By 8th grade, students have progressed immensely, with many taking up other orchestral instruments, like cello and flute, to complete their ensemble. Here’s the class of 2021 playing for the class of 2022 in the amphitheater.
In closing, we are delighted to share this video of our students in grades 4-8 performing at the end of the fall semester. Here, you’ll see how the class ensembles progress over their years of study… and enjoy a glimpse of what we’ve been practicing on campus.
You can read more about music in the Waldorf curriculum in volume 18 of Renewal, the magazine published by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, as well as at the informative website Waldorf Music.
Sarah Whitmore, the lead Manzanita kindergarten teacher, is also our college chairperson for the 2020-2021 school year. In a beautiful letter to families that was sent out last week, Sarah shares thoughts on the season, the solstice, and togetherness. We are delighted to share it again here.
I write to you with a heart full of pictures from our campus. 6th graders playing “Silent Night” on recorders in the Peace Garden—filling the EC outdoor classes with song. Preschool children trailing behind their teacher singing about their little lanterns shining bright. A 4th grade boy offering, with arm very outstretched for social distance, a crown-sized evergreen wreath to our 8th grade teacher, Ms. Deason. “It’s for you. We are making holiday wreaths.” She places it on her head, a solstice queen.
The campus is alive with a warm, festive mood. Though it’s cold outside, we couldn’t be warmer as we unveil a multitude of Festivals of Light with our classes. School is a sanctuary during this difficult time—a balm. How can we share this light?
Most of us have an understanding that the word solstice refers to the sun. We know that the summer solstice (~June 21) is the longest day of the year, with the sun sharing peak amounts of light and warmth. In contrast, the winter solstice (~Dec. 21) is the shortest day of the year—offering the least amount of the sun’s warmth and light. This astronomical phenomena is easily observable. We have all sensed it. We recognize this seasonal moment in our bones.
The word solstice translates to something like, when the sun stands still. The winter solstice is a reflection point, opposite to the summer solstice. We are approaching this still point—when the sun shares minimal light and warmth. In response, I invite you to cultivate and kindle your own human warmth, your inner light, and share it generously. It’s no wonder so many holidays that involve gift giving, sharing, gratitude and actual light/candles arise during this time of year.
Covid brought a unique challenge to us during the summer solstice—but we could comfortably be outdoors, take walks, drink in the sunlight even if our group of friends or family was smaller. My husband and I walked late into the evening that June night—greeting strangers and neighbors who were eating outdoors on their porches. Connecting.
The winter solstice—in this time of Covid—will present us with new lessons. How can we say yes, share, give, encounter others in a meaningful way this year? How will we express our love to those close to us and to our would-be friends and neighbors without being physically together?
It seems so important to reach out to others during the coldest and darkest time of year. Interesting that the sun gives us the most usable form of vitamin D—so essential to immune health. Could it be that our inner warmth and light, shared with others, could offer some immune support?
I want to share with you that even behind masks and with many feet between u, we are radiating light and we are reaching each other. We hope you will find ways to share your light with family and friends—safely but truly—the way we have been able to at school.
As we say to each other in kindergarten each morning, with a bow to each friend:
Golden Sun in heaven blue
Come and warm us through and through
Come and bring us of your goldThat the blossom may unfold
That my heart’s blossom may unfold:
to you, to you, to you and to you…
Every December, all the children in our school gather to walk the advent spiral. In the past, this beautiful tradition took place in a hushed and darkened room, accompanied by harp music and candle light.
This year, we went out with our hats and gloves on. The breeze and the blue jays joined us. Rather than candles, children carried apples, bulbs, oranges, and pine cones. And though it looked and felt very different, it was still a gorgeous way to acknowledge the season.
The Class of 2020 walked the Advent Spiral as a class for the last time on Thursday. Some of them had been walking a similar spiral since they were in preschool. Others walked it for the first time. After the ceremony, class teacher Kristine Deason shared her thoughts with 8th grade parents, who, unlike in years past, weren’t able to witness the tradition as usual. We want to share what she wrote, below, as well as some of the beautiful photos our staff took of the day.
Earlier today, the 8th grade class walked our outdoor Advent Spiral, beautifully built by the Parent Association over the weekend. Out of respect for fire danger, we carried bright oranges instead of candles — each student carrying the “fruits of their labors” into the center of the spiral.
We have walked the spiral together every year since First Grade, and this was our last time as a class. Beforehand, I recapitulated the experience, mindful of those students who would be experiencing it for the first time. I described how, at this time of year, walking the spiral invites us to bring our own light into the darkness and thereby illuminate it. It is harder to experience this in the light of day, but I described to the class that this year our walk would be a journey inward. The students took it up with thoughtfulness and reverence. It was a gift to take part in this with them.
Please enjoy the photos. We hope they convey some small measure of the mood we experienced.
We walked the spiral today mindful of those friends who could not join us. You were in our hearts and we miss you very much.
Beginning in first grade, Waldorf students study form drawing, working on increasingly complex renderings as they grow. This work is done freehand until the 6th grade, when students begin to work with the aid of a straight edge and compass.
We’re proud to share the beautiful work our 6th grade class is doing this year, under the guidance of skier, philosopher, and 6th grade lead teacher Mr. Stopeck.
A native East Coaster, Adam Stopeck met his life’s calling as a Waldorf teacher (and his future wife!) on a chair lift in Colorado. He joined MWS last year after decades as a class teacher in Carbondale, Colorado, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, taking the lead in our now-6th-grade class. Read about his early days as a basketball aficionado, ski bum, and would-be Socrates, and what he loves about teaching the grades in the interview below.
Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Oceanside, Long Island. My mom was a piano teacher for five decades, and I’m sure that’s where the teaching gene came from.
Did you play the piano?
I did play the piano, but I was more drawn to playing basketball. In a very un-Waldorf way, I didn’t think I could do both. It was a very traumatic day for my mom the day I gave up the piano.
What’s Oceanside like?
Classic, uninteresting suburbia but it was only ten miles from the beach. Those were some of my fondest memories as a young child, endless days playing at the beach. Much of my early adolescence was filled with playing sports with the neighborhood kids. When I was 14, I went skiing for the first time in upstate New York and I was hooked. After a family ski trip to Colorado, I knew I wanted to go to college in Colorado and I eventually wound up at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
What was your experience like in university?
I really thought I was going to ski a lot but it was expensive, crowded, and difficult to get to the mountains. What I really became enamored with was philosophy. I really thought I was a young Socrates, going around most of the day asking people, “Let me ask you a question?” My great quest for knowledge and wisdom eventually landed me on a ski lift in Aspen, Colorado, where my life took a dramatic turn. After ten year of “ski bumming” in Aspen as a ski instructor, ski patroller, bike guide and, of course, dishwasher, I met my future wife. Where else but on a chairlift!
By some strange happenstance, she was the first grade teacher and one of the founding teachers at the Aspen Waldorf School. We began dating and she started inviting me to lectures at the school. Eventually I listened to a lecture by Eugene Schwartz and he said that “Waldorf education is a revolution in education.”
The word revolution sparked something laying dormant in me from my “angry young radical” college days. A week later, after ten years of living in the mountains, I suddenly found myself in Sacramento, doing Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner College. That was a shock! I eventually wound up doing a three-year, full-time teacher training. My now-wife came out and joined me and we supported our Rudolf Steiner college habit by running the food program there.
Did you begin teaching right after that?
By that time, the Aspen Waldorf School had moved down the valley to Carbondale. Now it’s the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, and that was the first place I taught. We were there for close to a decade.
Later, when I had three young children—they were 4, 3, and 2—we had this crazy idea, “Maybe we should move to a foreign country and teach at a Waldorf school ?” After pipe-dreaming about Switzerland and Germany, we moved to British Columbia, Canada and settled on Vancouver Island. My wife and I were both Waldorf class teachers at the Sunrise Waldorf School in Duncan, British Columbia. It was an amazing place for the kids to grow up. They spent countless hours romping around the woods, climbing trees and swimming in the endless lakes and rivers.
In B. C., I took a class from 1 to 8, which was something I had always wanted to do. It was an incredible journey. Taking a class 1 to 8 is not for the feint of heart. I really believe that for it to happen in a meaningful way, the stars need to align for the teacher and the students. Maybe even more so for the teacher and the parents!
How did you end up in the Bay Area?
After I graduated my 8th grade class, I took a first and second grade. But we really wanted a Waldorf high school for the kids, so we moved here. They all went to Credo. That brought us back to the U.S. after a decade in Canada.
Are all your kids still in the area?
My youngest son is a senior at Credo. My oldest son and middle child, is a sophomore at La Verne University in LA and my daughter is a sophomore at Quest University in Canada. My wife still teaches part time, as a painting teacher to high school students and adults at Credo, as well as her full time job, as a Chocolatier.
When you graduate your 8th graders in a couple of years, and your son graduates from Credo, what’s next? Are you off to a new adventure?
“I’ve been everywhere” like Johnny Cash says. But I am really enjoying my time at MWS and absolutely adore my class. I also love teaching the younger grades, so I can really see myself teaching grade one again. After I graduated my 8th grade class, I went immediately back into the first grade. At first, I wondered how was I going to go from the heights of grade eight back to class on. In grade eight you feel like you’re at the top of the mountain—you just performed a Shakespeare play after all!
At first it was really hard. But then I realized the incredible amount of freedom you have during a first grade morning lesson. With Shakespeare you’re limited by the script. In a first grade circle, you have this incredible opportunity to create the entire script. It really showed me the joy of this whole process. You can get excited about every grade. It doesn’t matter what you’re teaching, whether it’s math or grammar, you have to somehow enliven it. How do you bring grammar in a lively way in grade 1 and grade 8?
You have to totally transform yourself from the young ones to the older grades but the impulse of creativity is the same. It is this element of creativity that runs through the whole education, that brings so much vitality to the experience. As a teacher, your truly creative moments are what the students respond to. For me, it is in these moments that teaching becomes a joy.
In late August 2019, parent volunteers replanted our school’s central courtyard with pollinator-friendly shrubs and flowers. Close to a year later, we noticed the butterflies. They were everywhere! Fluttering through the redwoods, perched on yellow flowers, and sunning themselves on the walls of The Peace Garden. Last week, dozens of chubby monarch caterpillars were found clinging to the leaves of the milkweed shrubs, quietly beginning their metamorphosis.
As educators, we are always planting seeds, but it isn’t often that our work quickly bears fruit. 2020 has been kind to us in this regard. It was with a great deal of courage and a hearty dose of optimism that we joined just 12 other Marin County schools in reopening our campus to in-person learning on September 8. Eleven weeks later, our campus is thriving. Things look different now, but in many ways, children at Marin Waldorf School are benefiting from the simple pleasures of an ordinary childhood during these extraordinary times.
Returning to school this fall required courage, hard work, dedication, creativity, and a great deal of investment. Now, we are asking for your help. Our indexed tuition model does not cover the school’s full operating expenses, and we rely on donations from both our families and the greater Marin Waldorf School community to help us close the gap. This year, with our financial aid program expanded and our program costs higher than ever before, your contribution is essential.
Our goal this year is to raise $200,000—a number that is higher than in previous years, yet far less than the investment we made in building outdoor classrooms, expanding our diversity and equity program, retaining all of our excellent and dedicated teaching staff, and hiring a full-time health coordinator, among other vital investments that allowed us to safely reopen campus.
As we look to the future of our growing community, we are asking that you reflect on what our school has meant to you, what it means to children today, and what it can be in the future, with your help. Your tax-deductible donation can be made by check or by clicking the link below.
Since outdoor learning began, our breezeways, amphitheater, and fields have been transformed into casual performance spaces. In the picture above, 6th grade tunes up before strings class outside. 7th Grade Orchestra plays “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” in the breezeway in honor of the season of gratitude on Thursday, November 19.
Another way our school has transformed this fall. Enjoy!