Meet the Globe-Circling Sally Li

Raised in Zhangzhou City, China, Sally Li has followed her heart around the globe and through diverse careers before she joined the faculty at Marin Waldorf School this fall, where she currently teaches Mandarin to grades 2, 3, 4, and 5.


“I don’t know how I make my decisions,” Sally says. “I just feel it. Something is calling me.” Those instincts brought her to Malaysia at age 20, prompted her to leave her corporate job in Beijing to pursue a career in filmmaking, and eventually led her to Waldorf education. Read about it all (and see her short film!) below.

Sally, we’re so glad you’ve been called here!

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from and what was your childhood like?
I’m from Zhangzhou City. It’s in the middle part of China. I have some friends who say it’s like Nebraska.

My childhood was really free. In China, at that time, in my surroundings, moms tended to be very controlling and always focused on academics. My mom wasn’t like that. She trusted me. I could play with boys and I loved adventure. I was a wild little girl. 

We lived in a huge military compound and my dad was a teacher at the academy. There were people there from all across China, and they spoke many different dialects. I grew up in that type of inclusive surrounding, where people speak different languages but we are all neighbors. 

When I was 20, I moved to Malaysia.

What brought you to Malaysia?
A lot of my decision-making is very ad hoc. I was studying hospitality at the university. A Crown Hotel and a Holiday Inn had just opened in the city, and they went to my university to pick a few students who would work in their hotels after graduation. I was one of the two who were selected. My parents were super happy! I had a job already, even though I was still in school!

One day I was riding my bike and I rode past a storefront that said something like, “Go Overseas!” I went in, they told me what they did, gave me some options of where I might go. The next day I brought my dad there with me and told him, “I’m interested in this.” That was the beginning.

My dad had a friend whose daughter wanted to go to Malaysia, but she was introverted. She didn’t want to go alone. My dad said, “Why don’t you take a break for the summer and go with her to Malaysia?” After that, there was no return. I came back to China and said, “I’m not going to take that job. I’m going back to Malaysia.” I really liked the tropical weather and the blue sky, and everything was new. It was mind-blowing.

Seven years later I went back to Beijing for a project assigned by the company I was working for in Malaysia. I fell in love with Beijing all over again. I decided to come back to China. I was in Beijing for 6 or 7 years. At that time, I was doing soft-skill training, teaching corporate people how to communicate, how to influence without authority, leadership skills, and so on. 

One day I was training a bunch of IT people on how to ask powerful questions. I used myself as a real case scenario. I told them I felt a little bit stagnant in my job and I wondered if there was anything else I could do with my life. There was just a tiny little bit of feeling in me. I still loved that job. I just brought myself as a case for them to practice on. I wasn’t expecting anything.

They asked me, “What is the thing you always wanted to do but you never had the chance?” I said, “Be a movie maker!”

The next question was: “What was the last movie that you watched that inspired you?” I told them Life of Pi. 

They asked,What do you like about that movie?” I said, “I like the feeling when he encounters the tiger. At that moment, I felt very connected to the movie.”

The next question came in. “What is the tiger in your life? The thing that makes you feel excited and also a little scared?” I said, “That’s a great question! I think being a moviemaker is the thing that makes me feel most sharply alive.”

I took one month off my job. I went to Beijing Film Academy to do a workshop led by the New York Film Academy. After that, I quit my job and I went to New York.

To New York City?
Yes, I went to New York City for a year to study fiction filmmaking. I learned the skills, but I wasn’t drawn to narrative filmmaking. I found I was more interested in documentary. I told my teacher, but it was too late to change course. It was a two-year program. For the final project, everyone made their narrative films and I did a documentary anyway, and many people were touched by it.

What was the film about?
It’s about mystical coincidences. It’s about 15 minutes.

Around that time, a friend invited me to San Francisco to film the experience of a tour group that focuses on spiritual learning. I fell in love with San Francisco! So then I came here. I got married, had a son, and when my son was 9 months old, I felt very disconnected. I almost went into depression. I thought, I need to save myself. I need something that connects me to myself. I emptied myself and I couldn’t feel myself anymore. 

I had a feeling it had to be something to do with education, because I’d just had a boy and I wanted to be a good mom as well. I found Waldorf Teacher Training. I went to the three-day Visiting Day program and after the first day I said, “I’m enrolled!” Life changed again, for the better. The teacher training really helped me to reconnect with myself.

How does it feel being a new teacher?
The hardest thing isn’t the content, it’s classroom management! I started teaching at the San Francisco Waldorf School, with the 2nd grade and the 6th grade. Even though they are just a few years apart, they are a very different group. 

I started handing out questionnaires—asking what kind of pets do you have, how many siblings do you have, what are you most scares you. I wanted to build a relationship. I want them to know that they can trust me and this is going to be fun. That act alone made them feel that their teacher wanted to know about it—and then they were really into Mandarin! (Below, see some of the beautiful work Sally’s students created at San Francisco Waldorf School.)

Chinese idiom: ma ma hu hu
Chinese story drawing

Now I’m starting at Marin Waldorf and I’m learning more every day. I just love it. The students bring me so many surprises. Sometimes, I take ideas from students in one class and apply it to another class. It’s not coming from me. I’m just a carrier!

Tell me a little bit about the things you teach, and how you build a connection to Chinese culture.
The first class I had with them, I brought pictures to help create more connection to China. You never know who has a connection to what—food, Kung Fu, panda. I did a puppet show for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade. I received so many compliments from the students. I’m still exploring new and different ways to teach. I see them having a good connection with me. They are learning! There are still things I want to improve. I want to make my lesson more beautiful.

Pandas by Sally Li’s students at Marin Waldorf School.

I’m going to bring more Chinese literature and storytelling to the class. I’m preparing The Monkey King’s Journey to the West—it’s a spiritual journey, in a way, a Chinese version of the Odyssey. And later we’ll bring more ancient idiom stories. Which is super fun! Because they have to draw the character. Like “the pot calling the kettle black.” Each four-character phrase has an ancient story behind it. I did it with the 6th grade at San Francisco Waldorf School and they loved it. That can create beauty! 

Meet the Imaginative Rod DeRienzo

In the second installment of our interview series, we’re introducing the delightful Manzanita early childhood assistant teacher Rod DeRienzo. Mr. Rod is known to many children on our campus as the famous voice of the Gold Monkey and Jeremy the Giant, two characters from an original story series he created for his daughter (if you aren’t a fan already, you can listen to one of his stories by clicking here). To grades students, he’s Mr. DeRienzo, last year’s lead aftercare teacher and the creator of stories about Phillipe, Suzette, and the mice of Córdoba.

Below, Mr. Rod shares how he began making up children’s stories, how he found Waldorf education, and what he likes about working in the Manzanita classroom.

Tell me about your background.
I grew up in New Jersey, in suburbia. My father was the mayor of my little town for 30 years.

Wow! 
Yep. Proud Democrat! And I got my first job before I was a year old. 

And what was that?
I was a male model. I was the “dry baby” for the Pampers commercials that ran for about three years between 1972-75. You can still find them on YouTube. 

That’s amazing!
Yes, millions of people have seen my rear end.

How do you even get cast for something like that?
That was my mother. She thought I was such a cute baby.

Did you see yourself as a teacher growing up, or is that something that came later?
Again, with my father being mayor, he was always involved in Scouts and coaching and all that, so I think I inherited his interest in helping children. For a time I was the adult leader of the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, when I was 18 years old. Yup, I’m an Eagle Scout. 

I’ve always been interested in education. I helped tutor my niece and nephews before I had my own family. I went to a Montessori grade school so I’ve always appreciated alternatives to the standard.  

After college, I went right into the family business, which was corporate moving in the New York–New Jersey area. I ran crews of 100+ men, big trucks in and out. I got to yell a lot. But that experience probably helps with staying calm amongst herds of children.

What brought you to Waldorf?
My wife. She found it for my stepdaughter, Oona. To be honest, at first I thought it was silly. I thought the children would know nothing but churning butter and knitting. But when Oona was in kindergarten I volunteered in the woodworking class, as a father volunteer, and that’s when I started looking around and realizing how wonderful it all is. 

Dave Alsop, who was involved in the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training, was running a new dad circle where we would meet at the school once a week, read a book, and talk about how to be good fathers. It was through him that I learned about the teacher training and my wife suggested that I take it. She knew my destiny long before I did!

I enrolled in BACWTT in 2013. That year BACWTT was moving their summer session from the East Bay to the Marin Waldorf campus and they needed someone with moving experience.

You’re kidding?
No, I’m not. 

So since 2013, I’ve been on BACWTT’s board of directors. Actually, now I’m the president of the board. So I’ve come a long way from my initial what are these hippies doing? 

My first Waldorf job was in the kindergarten with Ms. Lisa, even before I graduated from the teacher training. I was the early childhood aftercare assistant. I’ve taught a combined 5th/6th grade at another Waldorf school and have substituted in all the classes here at MWS and was the grades aftercare teacher here for a few years. During training, I wanted to be in the high school track, because my college degree is in medieval history, but fate seems to bring me to the little ones. 

What’s the best part of the day in the Manzanita class?
The best part of the day? Hmm, it’s hard to say. I think the best part of the day is observing the children during free play. I’m part referee, part lifeguard. And to see them—how they interact, how they’re growing, how they work through their dilemmas—it’s just wonderful to see.

What’s it like working in early childhood and having your son right across the way?
It’s perfect. We want him to be independent and not always with Daddy, but I get to look over the fence and see him playing. I can hear the teachers singing, “Ozzi, put that stick down!” 

You know, it’s precious, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. Our children grow up so fast. Oona is already in 8th grade! And here we are, starting from the bottom up again. It’s kinda nice.

That’s where all the stories come from—it’s from Oona. Because I would tell Oona stories every night, and the books we had—the standard Doctor Seuss and whatnot—I thought I could do better. I started telling her stories and we would be giggling and laughing away in the room and my wife Tanya would wonder, What are you telling her, is it appropriate? What’s going on in there?

To provide proof of my appropriateness, I began to record our stories. It then became a tradition to record all of our bedtime stories. For Oona, I have 800 or so recorded. And for Ozzi, we’re on 604 as of last night.

So Tanya could hear them too?
Yup, she trusts me now. After a decade or so! 

Well, now your stories have made you famous on our campus. 
For years I’ve told the children stories in aftercare, both grades and early childhood, as well as during the distance learning last year. I also recorded stories during the summer for my fans.

Are you sure you don’t want to write a book?
No, you know, it’s the sound and the voices. I like uploading stories to my Patreon site. I intend to add some more stories for November. Actually, my wife and I do have a rough draft of a historical romance we’ve written together. But that story is not for the kids! 

MWS Boletin Escolar: Primera Edición

As part of his advanced study of the Spanish language, eighth grader Luca is working with Maestra Pineda to write articles and essays in Spanish about things happening on campus this fall. In the first edition of the Boletín Escolar (School Bulletin), Luca describes how 8th graders constructed their own outdoor classroom in the Magic Forest.

En este año escolar, a causa de Covid 19, construir aulas al aire libre era la única opción que teníamos para regresar a la escuela. Muchos grados armaron sus aulas debajo de los árboles grandes que nos rodean, a excepción de la clase de octavo grado quienes no teníamos un lugar físico bajo la sombra de los árboles. Construir un aula y proveer la sombra con una lona fue el comienzo de nuestro año escolar.

Durante las primeras semanas de escuela construimos nuestra aula en el Bosque Mágico.  Los estudiantes nos encargamos  de construir casi toda el aula.  Sacando  la corteza de los troncos, cortando  ramas y excavando varios pozos de dos y tres pies de profundidad fueron algunas de las muchas cosas que tuvimos que hacer. A pesar de los días de mucho humo, calor y además de todos los protocolos que tenemos con respecto a Covid logramos levantar la lona que nos cubrirá del sol.   Durante los días siguientes, agregamos otra lona y construimos un pizarrón para el aula, además El Señor Neale trajo troncos que usamos como asientos.  

Fue muy lindo ver que nuestra aula empezó con una pila de troncos y después de unas semanas se convirtió en la estructura completa que es ahora.  Fue mucho trabajo, pero con la ayuda del señor Neale y toda mi clase trabajando juntos pudimos construir el aula que vamos a usar este año. Empezamos el año escolar el Martes, 29 de Septiembre al aire libre con la vista de las colinas de fondo. 

In this school year, because of Covid 19, building outdoor classrooms was the only option we had to go back to school. Many grades set up their classrooms under the large trees on campus, with the exception of the eighth grade class, which did not have a physical place under the shade of the trees. Building an outdoor classroom and creating shade with a tarp was how we began our school year.

During the first weeks of school, we built our classroom in the Magic Forest. The students were in charge of building almost the entire classroom. Removing the bark from the logs, cutting branches, and digging several two- and three-foot deep pits were some of the many things we had to do. Despite days with lots of smoke and heat, and in addition to all the protocols that we have regarding Covid, we managed to lift the canvas that will cover us from the sun. Over the next few days, we added another tarp and built a blackboard for the classroom. Mr. Neale brought logs that we used as seats.

It was very nice to see that our classroom started with a pile of logs and after a few weeks it became the complete structure that it is now. It was a lot of work, but with the help of Mr. Neale and my entire class working together we were able to build the classroom that we are going to use this year. We started the school year on Tuesday, September 29th outdoors with the view of the hills in the background.

[p.s. We have more pictures and stories from the 7th and 8th graders’ return to campus here.]

Meet Dena Malon, Our Magical Grades Director

Today, we are beginning a new (mostly) weekly column in our school newsletter and on Grandmother Oak, focused on stories, lessons, and insight from our faculty and staff. For some, becoming a Waldorf teacher is a lifelong calling. For others, a more unexpected and circuitous path led to our school. We want to share these stories, as well as lessons and stories from our students in each classroom, from preschool to 8th grade.

Fittingly, we begin the series with an interview with our grades director, Dena Malon, whose life began in New York City, where she grew up the daughter of a professional magician—”an immaculate showman,” as she describes him—and eventually brought her to Atlanta, back to New York, and then to Northern California.

A former actress, a native New Yorker, and a longtime Waldorf teacher who joined MWS in the 2019-2020 school year, Dena Malon took the new role of grades director for 2020-2021. In the first month of school, she’s already taking a hands-on approach to the role, teaching lessons, mentoring teachers, and working directly with students in and out of the classroom.

How did you become a Waldorf teacher?
I was an actress, a long time ago. I’m from New York, and I trained there. Then I moved to Atlanta where I had a successful acting career. I became the artistic director of an educational theater company, because I always believed there were therapeutic and healing aspects in drama. I started working with children and senior adults and people in prisons and in all different kinds of communities, helping them to open up to the creativity within themselves. 

Then I started working in schools primarily, using drama to help students, in grades kindergarten to college, learn how to communicate better, to write more effectively, and to become more engaged in what they were learning. Imagining opens you up, and when you write, you’re just writing down what you have imagined. So it’s very effective. I did a lot of training for teachers in using drama to enhance the curriculum and classroom management.

I also created issue-oriented plays that explored sexual abuse, watching too much television, uncovering your own creativity. I was the artistic director of a theater company [pictured left] and our company toured all over the southeast, bringing the arts to education.

I first read about Waldorf education in Mothering Magazine, before I had children, and I thought, This sounds incredible. Years later, I had a three-and-a-half-year-old and a newborn, and we were driving down the street and there was a sign for “The Children’s Garden: A Waldorf Kindergarten”—and I thought, oh my gosh, that’s that school that I read about. That was the beginning. I knew very little about it, but I could sense that something extraordinary was happening and I wanted my children to be a part of it.

After a few years, I knew I wanted to become more a part of it. I wouldn’t have become a teacher in any other form of education, but this was so creative, and so different, and it fascinated me—to learn about a different way of working with students. I became a first grade teacher when Max was in the third grade and Jack was in kindergarten. 

How old are your sons now?
They are 28 and almost 32. And I absolutely adore them. They’ve been working remotely as creative directors for strategic communication firms for three or four years. In this capacity, they traveled all over the United States, Canada, and Europe. Jack, in particular, loves being in Mexico.

One of the most extraordinary times in my life is when I went to visit them when they were living in Tulum. We had beautiful dinners together, and the one day that they had to work when I was there they treated me to a “rebirthing experience” at a spa.

What was your childhood like?
My father was a magician. I grew up watching him perform. It was very exciting. When he did shows for children, I would get to go. He was an immaculate showman. I learned a sense of timing from him—to always leave the audience wanting more.

I always wanted him to call me up, to be one of the children involved in baking a magic cake. I would say, Please, call me up, I won’t tell anybody I’m your daughter! I just wanted to be under the spell. He never would. So when we got to the place in the act when I knew that no one else was coming up, I would say to whoever was sitting next to me, “That’s my father!”

I’ve often reflected on the fact that the first man in my life was a magician, who could make impossible things happen.

That’s very unique.
Right. So I thought I really need …

… to do something with that! I’d love to see what you do.
I have been working on a story about it.

Do you have any other ideas for writing projects?
I have been thinking about writing an imaginative one-woman performance that traces my own incarnations through history. I am married to one of the instructors from my Waldorf training, Thom Schaefer, who is the education director at Credo High School. When Thom was going to Israel to live and work—we were friends for a long while, before we were married—I told him to find the most beautiful spot in Jerusalem and shout out my name to bring me back, because I thought my story should start there, but thousands of years ago.

I love that. Did he do it?
Yes. He traveled a lot, and he began to call my name out in many places. He’d come back and he’d write me, or he’d call me, and he’d say, I was just in Turkey and I found this place… and he’d send me postcards from where he called my name.

How do you envision your role as grades director? What will you bring to our school?
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot through teaching the curriculum. I’ve taken two classes all the way through the grades, and through this, I’ve come to understand the support that teachers need.

Adult education is also important to me. I like talking to parents about the curriculum and how Waldorf schools operate. I am so grateful that at this time in my life I have been given the opportunity to share my experience with this community.

What’s something you’d like to share with parents about Waldorf teachers?
The teacher sees your child as who they are, right in front of them, but also their potential, for who they can become. You are working with the present and you’re also envisioning the future.

Finally, I wanted to ask, during this time—with the pandemic, the fires, the social unrest—any silver linings or takeaways?
We have the opportunity to learn to communicate in deeper ways. We are looking into each other’s eyes. Even unbeknownst to ourselves, we have to be more communicative with our eyes because that’s what we see. We’re learning to read more about each other, without the benefit of the whole face. Another benefit is teaching outside, which is something we will never give up!

With DEI, and the sensitivity that’s being brought up, this time is making us look at the curriculum and at our own attitudes. It’s making us even more conscious of who we are, which is very important— important for all of us.

*

Dena Malon is the grades director at Marin Waldorf School. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

Interview by Julie Meade. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Staying Safe Outside of School

Over the summer, Cammi Bell, RN, MS, joined our staff as the health coordinator. With decades of experience as a school nurse and a Nurse Manager and Clinical Nurse Specialist in the NICU at California Pacific Medical Center, Cammi is using her expertise to guide our campus health and safety programs this year, in addition to serving as our school’s health liaison with Marin County Health and Human Services. Cammi has helped us mitigate our risk of COVID exposure on campus through multiple measures, including facial coverings, frequent hand-washing, outdoor instruction, and physical distancing.

We feel good about what we’ve achieved on campus, but life doesn’t stop there. Below, Cammi answers common questions about and offers advice on how to stay safe outside of school.

As we settle into our second month of school,  a few questions have come up from parents about being in school yet also being a part of a larger community. I wanted to share some of those questions and provide guidance for you as you plan. These answers are based on all the latest information we have from the Marin County Department of Health.  

What are the safest activities to participate in outside of school?
The safest activities to participate in outside of school are those that follow the Marin County Department of Health guidelines for recreational activities.  The county has revised its guidelines and currently allows students to participate in ONE activity outside of school. Of particular interest may be the Arts and Entertainment section which covers museums, aquariums, parks, etc. and the Childcare and Youth Programs tab which covers cohort activities and Youth Sports.You can reference the county website here https://bit.ly/30nyv9u

How can I safely visit our grandparents or other older family members without putting them at risk?
Grandparents and elderly relatives are in a category of individuals that are considered high risk because of their age and potentially because of other medical conditions.  The best way to keep them safe is to minimize any contact with potentially infected individuals.  Since you are attending school and seeing a small, stable cohort of people daily, you are already at a higher risk of infection and should restrict your contact with those people as much as possible. When you do visit your relatives, it is important to wash your hands frequently, wear a face covering while you visit, and maintain a 6-foot distance from them as much as possible.  

Can siblings come to play dates?
No. We are not allowed to mix cohorts. We are following the county guidelines that require stable cohorts and require that those cohorts do not mix. The county understands that siblings are in different cohorts and live together, and they do allow for this small amount of stable mixing. However, allowing siblings to come to playdates would allow haphazard and random mixing of many different cohorts and that is strictly prohibited by the county.

Am I allowed to have play dates with children from other cohorts?
No. For the same reason siblings are not allowed to come to play dates. 

Can I carpool with children in other cohorts?  Some students schools are using school buses, so is carpooling different? 
Carpooling is prohibited.  The county does not allow cohort mixing and carpooling would violate this rule.  In addition, a carpool means you are traveling in an enclosed space, typically for more than 15 minutes, which is in opposition to the required rules for distancing. Schools that are using school buses for student transport have strict health protocols in place for how the students will be managed on the bus, health screening for the driver of the bus, and cleaning and sanitation practices in the vehicle.  Marin Waldorf School cannot enforce those types of protocols for casual carpools.  

Can I use a public swimming pool?
The county allows for use of a public swimming pool under these guidelines  https://bit.ly/33is9tY

Planning Safe Play Dates
Some other items for consideration. For safe play dates, consider planning them with only one or two other children in the cohort to keep it consistent. If you would like to safely celebrate your child’s birthday, let them celebrate with their play date student.

And of course the same rules apply when hosting a friend off campus as they do in school: Wash your hands, wear a mask (with a few safely distanced mask breaks thrown in), and stay distanced. We want to model the same safe health behaviors for our kids wherever they may be. The goal is to minimize any additional exposures to your child and your family. The more we continue to contain and slow the spread of COVID this fall, the more likely it will be that we can safely navigate the cold and flu season and begin to open up in the spring.   

In health, 

Cammi

Welcome Back, Classes of 2021 and 2022

At last we’re (almost) all back on campus together! Just yesterday, we welcomed our 7th and 8th grade back to campus for in-person instruction.

While school resumed for preK to 6th grade a few weeks back, our 7th and 8th graders have been meeting for instruction on Zoom and coming together in small cohorts on campus for recreational time, as permitted by the county. The 8th grade spent the past two weeks to constructing an amazing shaded classroom in the far east corner of school.

On the far right, Ms. Deason, our 8th grade class teacher, calls the front office from her walkie-talkie — our school’s new communication system now that our classrooms are scattered beneath the oaks and across the fields of our 11-acre campus.

Seventh grade has been busy preparing a beautiful display for Michaelmas in the Peace Garden, right in the middle of school. Although we won’t be holding our traditional Michaelmas festival this year, we are still marking the day with performances and decorations.

The 7th grade’s outdoor classroom is in a particularly beautiful spot, out in a part of campus we often refer to as The Magic Forest. Here’s the Class of 2022 practicing strings in their outdoor classroom.

So beautiful!

Gallery: Early Childhood Outdoors

Many families at Marin Waldorf School were first drawn to Waldorf education when they discovered our magical early childhood programs. Every year, our skilled and nurturing early childhood teachers create a warm, homelike environment for their young students, with natural rhythms, homemade snacks, and lots of stories and outdoor play.

Our preschoolers and kindergartners generally spend a large part of their day outdoors, with large oak- and redwood-shaded play yards just for them. Even so, it was hard to imagine our cozy early childhood classrooms moved almost entirely outdoors! But, as we prepared to reopen campus, early childhood, like the rest of our school, is taking advantage of our abundant outdoor space.

Behold the magical environment our early childhood teachers created for Marin Waldorf School Outdoors. From the new vegetable garden in the Hollyhock classroom to Ms. Sarah’s seasonal felted fairy wearing her face masks, not a detail has been overlooked. Welcome home, students!

And here are a few shots of Ms. Brenda’s beautiful Sunflower classroom from our earlier post Sweet Spaces for Early Childhood.

Bravo!

The Rose Ceremony, Reimagined

Our year in the grades always begins with an all-school assembly to celebrate the Rose Ceremony. In this beloved tradition, first graders are called one by one to the stage to receive a red rose from their new eighth grade buddy. Together, our school celebrates the first day of our first graders’ journey through the grades, while also saluting our eighth grade class, who are beginning their last year on campus.

It’s hard to imagine a school year starting without the Rose Ceremony. In fact, it’s hard to imagine a Waldorf school year without a robust calendar of community events, festivals, ceremonies, and gatherings… but reimagining is what we’ve been doing all year. Surely there was a way to mark the day without compromising our commitment to safety.

Working with our school nurse, our first and eighth grade teachers redesigned the Rose Ceremony as a safe, physically distanced event, which connected the two classes through socially distant waves and smiles (and without any intermingling of cohorts!). See below as one of our first graders passes under the rainbow bridge between our School Director Megan Neale and Grades Director Dena Malon, to stand beside her teacher, Mr. Baril. (And of course we had to have live musical accompaniment!)

The ceremony concluded with the very special delivery to the first grade of a basket of handmade gnomes from the eighth grade (pictured at top).

Gallery: Orientation Days

This week, we invited small groups of students and their parents to campus on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning. It was an opportunity for the children to use their outdoor classrooms for the first time and begin learning the new safety procedures for the 2020 school year. It was also an opportunity for our parents to see the classrooms they’ve worked hard to create one last time: When school starts next week, parents and visitors will no longer be allowed on campus.

We continued to put the finishing touches on our classrooms, learned how to use the bathroom safely, and spent a lot of time practicing our 6-foot distancing.

We also have a few adorable videos from our first days back. Here’s the second grade students and parents sewing cushions for their outdoor classrooms, and the third graders trying out their new outdoor balance beam.

Here are some happy third graders with their harvest of fresh grapes. Gardening is always a central part of the third grade curriculum, and a small garden space on the east side of campus is usually set aside for the third grade to plant and tend. This year, that garden is their classroom!

2020 has been a year like no other, and as we head into Labor Day weekend, going back to school, and all the simple pleasures that come with it, has never felt quite so grand!

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.