Strings Outdoors & the MWS Music Program

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.

Seasonal Greetings From Our College Chair

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…

The Advent Spiral & the Class of 2021’s Last Walk As a Class

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.

Dear Families,

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.

Kristine

Gallery: 6th Grade Geometric Drawings

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.

Meet Adam Stopeck: Philosopher, Singer, Skier, Sixth-Grade Teacher

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! 

Mr. Stopeck leads the 6th Grade class in a pre-Halloween.

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.

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Imagine: An Ordinary Childhood in Extraordinary Times

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.

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