What the Redwoods Can Teach Us About Community Health

By Rising Percey, 5th Grade Class Teacher

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.

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A Brief Note on the Nature of Tuition

This essay by John Bloom, Vice President of Organizational Culture at RSF Social Finance and General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in America, was originally published on the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America’s community hub. Thanks to AWSNA and Mr. Bloom for allowing us to republish it here.

The current climate has produced a lot of personal and organizational stress, and for some raised hard economic questions. The pandemic seems to have changed everything rather suddenly—home life, work, school, as well as other basic life rhythms. Situational uncertainty and the tension that often accompanies it seem ever-present, even as we reorganize and recognize new priorities. The linkage between illness and the economy, spatial distancing and employment, working from home with the children present, all have necessitated a shift in consciousness and operating assumptions. None of this is easy.

At the same time Waldorf schools, without students, their primary reason for existing, are having to reinvent how they can still serve the children and families until such time as they can return to school. There is amazingly creative work being done in this regard; and, being done with the same thoughtfulness for child development that one would expect of Waldorf educators given the circumstances. Teachers are turning as quickly as they can to other modalities of teaching where possible and appropriate. For the Waldorf students, “distance learning” really means learning from the archetypes and knowledge of the distant to modern past as preparation for stepping mindfully and heartfully into the present, and further, so that the future they will create is rooted in the fullness of what it means to be human—so they can go the distance. How we as adults model and move forward through adversity is also teaching the children—and this may be a singularly important opportunity to learn what resilience looks and feels like.

Of course, all the sudden change factors have raised real and important economic questions. You might reasonably think: I am busy working, and caring for or teaching my children at home and yet I continue to pay tuition—even if the school is offering online classes. What am I paying for? In a consumer-oriented society, it is essential to understand what tuition actually is because in the end you cannot buy an education. If you look back on your own educational experience whether in public or private school, the economic life of the organization needed to be supported via taxes or tuition so that the actual cultural activity of teaching and learning could unfold unfettered by the quality of financial exchange. In reality tuition is a mandatory contribution or gift to the creation of the daily experience we call school, a kind of contribution that bears fruit outside of the bounds of time. Education, learning does not stop though schooling may have concluded.

The school association to which tuition payments are made is actually made up of all those who are paying, which means that the community (association in this case) shares the risk in supporting the schools ongoing life. This in turn means that tuition makes the life of the school possible regardless of whether your child is home sick on any given day or whether, as in the current situation, children and parents are required to shelter in place. 

The current pandemic has made some realities visible that may not have been so evident in the norm. Our assumptions are challenged as may be our patience. Our roles and responsibilities as parents or grandparents have suddenly shifted. But is also an opportunity to realize what future we are making, not only with the gift of Waldorf education, but also how we think about how the economy works, what money is, and what it is for. It may well be that some families’ circumstances will be so changed that continuing to support the school so that their children can attend is not possible, though I am sure that schools are mindful of this reality and are trying to work with it as a short term issue and longer term as well. This is one painful reality that has become visible, but so too has the true gift nature of tuition.

John Bloom ©2020

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