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!
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).
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!
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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!