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.

Inspiring Music From Kusi Kawsay

A few months ago, we shared some gorgeous pictures and an update from our sister school, Kusi Kawsay Andean School, an indigenous nonprofit educational project in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Pisac, Peru. Today, we are delighted to share that Kusi Kawsay has released its Pukllay album, a beautiful compilation of student songs for the fertility season of the traditional Andean Calendar.

Kusi Kawsay’s mission is to foster personal and cultural self-esteem based on respect, reciprocity and dignity while providing its students with the skills to navigate both modern and traditional worlds. 100% of proceeds from this benefit album will go to Kusi Kawsay School. Let’s support their important work! Click here to listen to a sample and purchase the album.

You can learn more about Kusi Kawsay and their unique community on their website.

MWS Recommends: Activities at Home

Since our school closed in March, our families have been sharing resources with each other in our weekly newsletter and through word of mouth. Here is a roundup of some of our favorite activities and recommendation for children at home… and please send more if you have them!

“The Great Pause” — A Tale for Young Children
Once upon a time, in a land far away, but not too far away, in a time long ago, but not too long ago, there was a lovely little kingdom of very hard workers. This kingdom was built up of four villages, each ruled by a wise and kind Queen…
Click here to read the rest of the story on the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) website.

You can join the Marin County Free Library online then borrow from their huge selection of e-books and audiobooks at home.

During the closures, the Marin County Free Library has started recording their weekly story times for young children.
Click here to hear more about online story time or to check out the many crafts and activities the library recommends.

Audible is also offering free audiobooks while schools are closed.

Founded by preschool mom Heidi, Blue Dot Kids Press is a small press that publishes stories that connect us to each other and the Earth. Click here to check out their beautiful offerings.

A MWS kindergarten family recommends family-friendly martial arts with Oakland-based Peter Ajemian. He leads daily workouts for adults, and three weekly kids classes on Zoom. More info on Soja’s website.

MWS families recommend Quarantine Clay Club with Petaluma Pottery! Clay kits (for pickup), online tutorials, and more. Click here for more information about their programs.

The Metropolitan Opera in New York City is sharing free nightly live streams of their operas, which remain available to watch throughout the following day. Click here to watch the most recent performance.

Keeping it local, San Francisco Opera is also offering free streaming of their performances on their website, as well as steams of previous performances.

America’s test Kitchen Kids: Downloadable and printable recipes, as well as food-based activities, like salt painting.

Mapbox created a printable map coloring book to use at home, with instructions on how to download software and create your own color-able map. Click here to download the maps or create your own.

Celebrating Pianist Carolyn Binford

Anyone who has the good fortune of meeting Carolyn Binford knows she is a ray of sunshine: kind, patient, always impeccably dressed, and a beautiful musician who has brought her craft to our choir and eurythmy programs. During her 20 years at Marin Waldorf School, Carolyn has accompanied countless eurythmy classes, provided music at hundreds of class plays and special events, become a reliable member of our faculty salad squad, and helped middle school students perfect their piano playing as an after-school piano teacher.

This year, Ms. Binford is retiring from MWS and we can already feel her absence!

“Her good will and receptivity has made that the intimate work between me as the Eurythmy teacher and her as the musician rich and filled with light for the students. It’s not easy for a pianist to play pieces over and over so the students can practice and learn their parts. Mrs Binford has given her whole heart ever and again selflessly and joyously for the Eurythmy program to grow. I am deeply thankful for her as a colleague and as a friend. May the wind be always at you back, Ms Binford!”

Juan Carlos Lancelloti, Eurythmy Teacher

We asked Ms. Binford to share a little bit about her 20 years at Marin Waldorf School. Read on to hear how she became our school’s pianist, what she knew about eurythmy before she took the job, and what she’ll miss most about MWS.

Tell us a bit about your history at our school. How long have you been at Marin Waldorf School as a pianist and parent?
My daughter Catherine joined the MWS Hollyhocks when she was 6 years old. She is 27 now!  My son Ben (24 years old) joined the Hollyhocks the following year. Catherine moved into the First Grade class with teacher Frances Santaguida. During Catherine’s First Grade year, a pianist was needed to fill in for the Winter Assembly because of a conflict their current pianist had. At the end of that school year of 2000, our Eurythmy teacher, Barbara Newman, asked if I would like the position of Piano Accompanist. I said “Yes!” with trepidation because I was terrible at sight-reading music. I spent most of that summer practicing all of her Eurythmy pieces so that I could “get them down.” Needless to say, my sight reading has improved over these last twenty years with experience and a few tricks learned along the way! Pablo Rodriguez joined the faculty as Choir Director that same year.

Describe your typical week.
In a typical week, I have 15 classes to play for, 14 Eurythmy classes and 1 Choir class. And no, I had never seen a Eurythmy class before I began accompanying the classes that fall!

In addition to the classes, I play for assemblies, class plays and musicals, the faculty Shepherd’s Play (I may know the lines by heart) and May Faire dance rehearsals. A typical day involves arriving early to receive lesson plans from the Eurythmy teacher and play through some of the pieces to help with choreography.

How many Eurythmy teachers have you worked with during your time at MWS?
Through the years, I have had the pleasure of playing for 5 Eurythmy teachers. I have learned to love the collaboration between my music and movement. Through the wooden flooring in the Eurythmy Room, you can not only hear the stepping, skipping, and stomping but you can also feel the vibration. Students can fly by as if they are playing along with me. It is a partnership and one that I have thoroughly enjoyed! Every class, every group of students is unique even after 20 years!

Every class, every group of students is unique even after 20 years!

What will you miss most?
One of the highlights for me has been the musical collaborations with many of the class plays. Rehearsals were during main lessons over several weeks. Being part of these class performances was the icing on the cake! 

Where are you off to now?
Within this new chapter of my life, I’m looking forward to working on more of the classical piano repertoire and continuing to teach piano lessons in the After School Music Program. Beyond that, I’m not exactly sure what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to it!

I will miss being a part of the inside of the Waldorf classroom on a daily basis, hearing beautiful poetry, songs, being part of the choir, watching the students grow, change and meet new challenges. I feel blessed to have been a part of this school in this capacity for so long! 

With love, 
Carolyn Binford