Gallery: Day of the Dead, November 2

On Monday, our students came together to create a colorful altar in observance of the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), overseen by Spanish teacher Maestra Pineda. (You can read her description of Día de Muertos by clicking here.)

As an assignment for Spanish class, 7th and 8th grade students created beautiful individual tributes for the altar and wrote biographies of their loved ones to accompany them.

Their work was on display in the Peace Garden on Monday, November 2. Throughout the day, different classes visited the altar with their teachers, viewing the pieces and leaving their own photos and mementos.

First graders visit the Día de Muertos altar with their teacher Mr. Baril.
8th grade before performing a song on Día de Muertos.

In the morning, the 7th and 8th graders gathered to sing together. Enjoy the beautiful video below.

El Vuelo de los Ancestros

Under the guidance of Spanish teacher Has Pineda, the traditional Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos has become a part of our school’s annual celebrations. Last year, as part of the school’s festivities, our 8th grade class presented a wonderful play in Spanish to the student body, 3rd graders baked the traditional sweet bread pan de muerto, and we all brought mementos and photos to assemble a traditional Día de Muertos altar to remember departed loved ones.

This year, students worked with Maestra Pineda to create a beautiful altar in the Peace Garden (click here for photos). Below, Maestra Has Pineda describes the origins and meaning behind Día de Muertos celebrations.

El vuelo de los Ancestros
Return to the ancient path,
the roadmap of greatness,
the elders call must be obeyed,
thoughts of the ancestors is enough,
everything is hidden within it.
It is the beginning of healing
for all of us and our land.
Put your ears on the ground to listen
to what they have to say.
Tilt your head and look up for
the sky bears witness to this truth.
The air still sings their music,
even the waters also whispers their songs
for they drank from the same well as you.
Emeka Mokeme, The Elders Call
by Morgan Vierheller

Death has been in all cultures and throughout history, an event that invites reflection, rituals, ceremonies, the search for answers, which causes fear, admiration and uncertainty. The festival of the Day of the Dead in Mexico is a tradition that began long before the arrival of the Spanish. About 3,000 years ago, the original Aztecs left a legacy that shows, in the eyes of the world, a culture of great intangible wealth: the spiritual. Through these practices and beliefs they speak to us of respect and love for connections even after physical death.

Pre-Hispanic cultures shared the belief that there is an immortal and soulful entity that gives consciousness to the human being and that after death continues its path in the world of the dead, where it continues to need utensils, tools and food. 

Every year, as the fall season arrives Mexicans and many other people from around the globe turn their hearts and minds  to loved ones that have crossed the threshold and once more  enlighten the bridge between the dead and the living by celebrating “dia de los muertos”. The most representative element of the Day of the Dead festival are the altars with their offerings, a representation of the vision of death, full of allegories and meanings.

This year at Marin Waldorf school we will be honoring with respect, wonder and inclusivity this festival of remembrance. Each class will be offering a gift to the “ofrenda”. First graders cut out pieces of paper to make banners or “papel picado” that will represent the air element. Fifth grade will be making Cempasúchitl  flowers(marigolds). They are a symbol of the impermanence and fragility of life and have many uses in Day of the Dead celebrations. 7th graders learned about the history and the components of an altar while 8th graders will write biographies of a loved one they will be honoring during day of the dead. 

We set up an altar in the peace garden to allow all students to walk through and in reverence take part of this beautiful celebration. 

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! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Message From Our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Staying Balanced, Staying Healthy

By Mia Terziev, 7th Grade Class Teacher, Marin Waldorf School

In this time of great uncertainty and what, at times, feels like chaos, I have been focusing a lot of my time and energy on the external, precautionary measures we need to take in order to be safe and healthy in the midst of a pandemic. There are many critical behaviors for us to commit to and create as habits in order to keep each other safe: regular hand-washing, mask-wearing, social-distancing, disinfecting. These are all very clear and necessary and specific – rules that we must follow as we navigate the stormy seas together. We are all in this boat, every single one of us. For me, the outlook can easily increase my stress levels. In addition to the necessary precautions we all need to take to limit the risks of Covid, what about the other aspects of our health? In a phone conversation with a parent in my class last week, I was pleasantly reminded of a free, convenient, healing immune system booster: sunshine! When enjoyed in moderation, the sun has many healing benefits. So, I am increasing my daily dose from not much to more. 

This week I have decided to remember and focus on all the ways I can take action to fortify my health and well-being while sheltering in place. Really there’s nothing new here, just reminders about what we already know. But sometimes I need a reminder, it is so easy to get out of balance with diet or sleep or screen time, especially when I am feeling fear, grief, overwhelm, and anxiety about the world and all the things I have no control over. Now more than ever I feel the need to recommit to myself by doing what I can to strengthen my forces. 

Here are some thoughts and articles I have found to be very helpful reminders as I strive to cultivate healthy habits. This is meant in a general way regarding general good health. Some people live with acute health issues and preexisting conditions for which these ideas and resources may or may not be helpful. 

On balance: 

“The best protection against any [contagious] illness is to have a healthy and balanced lifestyle, diet and work/sleep rhythm. One’s mental and emotional balance is critical. One should be prudent, but not obsessive or fearful; confident and self-possessed, but not thinking oneself invulnerable.” Dr. Philip Incao

On thoughts: 

“Thought is a vital, living force, the most vital, subtle, and irresistible force there is in the universe…The “power of the word” is a literal scientific fact…The spoken word is nothing more or less than the outward expression of the workings of (our thought) forces…And in a sense love is everything. It is the key to life, and its influences are those that move the world. Live only in the thought of love for all and you will draw love to you from all. Live in the thought of malice and hatred, and malice and hatred will come back to you. Every thought you entertain is a force that goes out, and every thought comes back laden with its kind.” Ralph Waldo Trine

On healthy habits:

Your immune system hums with activity. Cells, tissues, and organs work together all through your body to coordinate attacks against invading pathogens. You can help to keep this system running smoothly and efficiently when responding to threats.” (Read the full article)

On finding the essential:

“So all one needs to do is spend time looking at the visions one has for body, soul and spirit, and this will help clarify our goals and guide us to those essential and most important activities in our life.” Susan Johnson (Read the full article)

In addition to spending more time in the sunny garden, prioritizing nutritious foods, finding ways to move my body often, and taking time to have fun with my family, I am listening to this audiobook by our own Jack Kornfield,  Guided Meditations for Difficult Times. I highly recommend it. From the beginning I was laughing and crying and feeling hopeful. Here’s a short excerpt from the introduction: 

“If you can sit quietly after difficult news;

if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm;

if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy;

if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate;

if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill;

if you can always find contentment just where you are:

you are probably a dog.”

As a person who thrives on making plans and knowing what to expect, I am being forced every day to navigate life and work during a pandemic, a difficult task which includes accepting the unknown while remaining open and flexible. Any plan I make is almost immediately thwarted. Of course, there are preparations I can focus on, and I believe one of my most important tasks right now is to cultivate my health – finding balance, and living more fully in the present moment. 

If you have found great ways to stay healthy and balanced, please share them! 

The Great Outdoor Classrooms

At Marin Waldorf School, we nourish the relationship between children and the natural world. Starting in early childhood, our students spend ample time outdoors, playing, hiking, and lunching beneath the oak trees. As grades students, they hike in the open space that surrounds our school, care for and study our campus flora, and work in our school’s abundant garden.

We are building on that foundation now. This summer, we are creating open-air classrooms for each grade, scattered across our 13-acre campus. (In the drawing above, you can see a snippet of our reimagined campus map, with outdoor classrooms for each grade level.) The classrooms will allow for fresh air and maximum social distancing—and of course they will also be beautiful! To the left, our woodworking teacher Mr. Neale paints one of the blackboards that will be installed in each of the classrooms. Lap desks, hay bales, and sun shades will follow.

There is strong research to suggest that outdoor classrooms would be safer for students during a pandemic, but are they effective places to teach?

Last week, many people in our community noticed this fascinating story in the New York Times (right), which documents the use of outdoor classrooms in early 20th century New York to fight rampant tuberculosis infection in the city.

The article outlines the compelling safety reasons for building outdoor classrooms (“one of the few things we know about the coronavirus with any degree of certainty is that the risk of contracting it diminishes outside — a review of 7,000 cases in China recorded only one instance of fresh-air transmission”). However, it also outlines the emotional and pedagogical benefits of being outdoors.

Among other compelling research, author Ginia Bellafante shares the following: “A 2018 study conducted over an academic year looked at the emotional, cognitive and behavioral challenges facing 161 fifth graders. It found that those participating in an outdoor science class showed increased attention over those in a control group who continued to learn conventionally. At John M. Patterson, an elementary school in Philadelphia, suspensions went from 50 a year to zero after a playground was built in which students maintain a rain-garden and take gym and some science classes, the principal, Kenneth Jessup, told me.”

This morning, the Marin Independent Journal shared another story, “Marin school finds pandemic workaround: the outdoors,” about the local Terra Marin School in Mill Valley, which is going to be operating outdoors this fall.

We’ll be sharing more photos and updates of our classrooms this summer, as well as more research about the benefits of outdoor learning, so please follow along.