2021 Alumni Panel: Meet Our Alums!

The alumni panel is always a highlight of our admissions Open House, concluding the day… and often running way over time as the audience jumps to ask questions! This year, we hosted our alumni panel on Zoom, featuring four amazing Waldorf alumni. (Scroll down for their bios.)

Listening to the experiences and reflections of a diverse group of graduates reminds us why Waldorf education is unique, and how it builds a foundation of creativity, independent thinking, and confidence that lasts a lifetime.

Huge gratitude to our student musicians Angelo, Carter, and Emma, as well as to our four panelists for a wonderful morning. Here’s a little background on our four speakers.

Alberta (MWS Class of 2012)

Alberta (she/hers) attended Marin Waldorf School from Kindergarten until graduating in Kristine Deason’s class of 2012. She attended high school at Marin Academy. Alberta also spent one semester at the Mountain School in Vermont, a rigorous program in which high school juniors from across the country spend a semester farming, studying in the old barn, and even camping out for three nights alone in the mountains.

Alberta was then awarded the national Questbridge Scholarship for low-income high-achieving students, with a placement at Wellesley College. During her time there, she worked as a Research Assistant for a Sociology Professor, a tutor for the Economics Department, a farm hand at an off-campus Coop, an Admission Office interviewer, and a restaurant hostess. Alberta also designed her own major in the inter-departmental Peace and Justice Studies program—her Waldorf upbringing had taught her the inevitable inextricability of diverse disciplines when seriously studying any topic.

After studying abroad for 6 months in Buenos Aires and conducting 5 months of internships in Havana, Cuba (with a local artist collective and with Oxfam), Alberta decided to dedicate herself to immigration advocacy here in the United States. After graduating (virtually) from Wellesley in Spring of 2020, she moved down to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley to work as an Unaccompanied Child Legal Specialist with the American Bar Association’s pro-bono project. She eventually plans on attending law school to continue advocating for immigrant justice.

Max (Waldorf School of Atlanta)

Max’s journey through Waldorf education began as a three-year-old in Morning Garden at the Waldorf School of Atlanta. And while it technically came to an end upon 8th grade graduation from the same school, the Waldorfian experience has proven life-long thanks to Max’s extremely good fortune in having Dena Malon, Grades Director for the Marin Waldorf School, as his mother. 

Max’s post-Waldorf experience thus far has unfolded in precisely the unexpected manner one would expect from an anthroposophically-minded anthropomorph. Upon graduating from Sarah Lawrence College—where, as a theater student, he developed an interest in the (un)constitutionality of life imprisonment sentences for minors after doing research for a role in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole—Max moved to Washington, D.C., to serve as deputy manager for SCOTUSblog, a publication covering the United States Supreme Court.

After a well-timed tour of duty in legal journalism during which the Supreme Court enjoyed some of its highest-profile terms in decades and SCOTUSblog won a Peabody, Max decided to take his eurythmy-derived talents over to the wide world of consulting, joining public-policy consulting firm Hamilton Place Strategies. There, he helped clients like GE, the Bezos Foundation, FedEx, and the One Campaign advocate for policy outcomes on issues related to early childhood education, technology, innovation, economic development, and everything in between.

Max has since returned to Hamilton Place Strategies as the firm’s Creative Director, after spending two years living and working on the road in both the US and abroad with his brother—the two siblings having started a consulting firm from inside their Volkswagen Vanagon. Three weeks into their roadtrip, the firm was acquired by a policy-focused creative agency founded by President Obama’s White House Art Director, and the itinerary was extended indefinitely.

Max is currently pandemic-ing in Bend, Oregon, where he spends his time fly fishing, rock climbing, wood working, cello playing, and planning trips to Montana in the van.

Jarrett Cherner (MWS Class of 1995)

Jarrett Cherner is a pianist, composer and bandleader based in Brooklyn, New York. His first instrument was the violin, which he began playing at age 7, followed by the piano and drums at age 12. After graduating from high school, Jarrett earned concurrent degrees at Tufts (B.S., Mathematics) and New England Conservatory (Jazz Piano Performance).

Jarrett’s debut album, Burgeoning, was released in 2006, and earned recognition from the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Awards. In 2008, Jarrett moved to New York to pursue graduate studies at Manhattan School of Music. He was a semifinalist at the 2011 Montreux Jazz Piano Competition and had the honor of performing solo piano at the Whitney Museum as part of Jason Moran’s 2012 BLEED residency.

Jarrett has toured throughout the U.S. as well as South America, Canada, Mexico, and Europe, as both a leader and sideman. Today, he is an adjunct professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he teaches through the New York Jazz Academy, both privately and via Skype from his Brooklyn studio. His most recent album, Tone, with vocalist Sarah Elizabeth Charles, was released in 2020 on BaldHill Records.

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Remembering Martin Luther King

Before and following the holiday weekend, students at MWS learned about, remembered, and discussed the life and work of Martin Luther King in meaningful age-appropriate ways, from preschool to 8th grade. As our faculty dives more deeply into the important work of creating an anti-racist and inclusive curriculum, we are exploring deeper and richer ways to discuss history, activism, and social justice.

In first grade, students learned about Marin Luther King’s life and legacy with the award-winning illustrated book Martin’s Big Words.

First grade teacher Mr. Baril shares, “It prompted some wonderful discussion among the children about the beauty of different skin colors. We then went to our desks and I gave them new sets of special crayons that have about six different skin tones of various peoples of our world. They were then able to take home with them on Friday their drawings of people holding hands under a rainbow.”

Before Martin Luther King Day, 4th graders had been working on a long-term project of mapping the world around them—mapping their bedrooms, their homes, their neighborhoods. Here are the maps of their neighborhoods in their main lesson books.

As Marin Luther King Jr Day approached, class teacher Ms. Stroud shared a map of the route she bikes to the Marin Luther King memorial in San Francisco from her house.

The MLK Memorial in San Francisco.
Ms. Stroud shows the map of her neighborhood.

Drawing on the image of the memorial’s flowing waterfalls, fourth graders illustrated the words from Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.

Ms. Deason’s 8th grade students had been studying the speeches of Martin Luther King for many years. For a different take on his work, the class dove into the lengthy piece “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which Dr. King addressed to his fellow clergymen. The 8th graders explored King’s arguments and ideas, and discussed the ways they relate to activism today. As part of that study, they watched Anderson Cooper’s recent interview with youth poet laureate and inauguration speaker Amanda Gorman.

They also drew portraits of King, each choosing a different palette. The effect is striking.

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Meet Adam Stopeck: Philosopher, Singer, Skier, Sixth-Grade Teacher

A native East Coaster, Adam Stopeck met his life’s calling as a Waldorf teacher (and his future wife!) on a chair lift in Colorado. He joined MWS last year after decades as a class teacher in Carbondale, Colorado, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, taking the lead in our now-6th-grade class. Read about his early days as a basketball aficionado, ski bum, and would-be Socrates, and what he loves about teaching the grades in the interview below.

Tell me a little bit about your background.
I was born and raised in Oceanside, Long Island. My mom was a piano teacher for five decades, and I’m sure that’s where the teaching gene came from. 

Did you play the piano?
I did play the piano, but I was more drawn to playing basketball. In a very un-Waldorf way,  I didn’t think I could do both. It was a very traumatic day for my mom the day I gave up the piano.  

What’s Oceanside like?
Classic, uninteresting suburbia but it was only ten miles from the beach. Those were some of my fondest memories as a young child, endless days playing at the beach. Much of my early adolescence was filled with playing sports with the neighborhood kids. When I was 14, I went skiing for the first time in upstate New York and I was hooked. After a family ski trip to Colorado, I  knew I wanted to go to college in Colorado and I eventually wound up at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

What was your experience like in university?
I really thought I was going to ski a lot but it was expensive, crowded, and difficult to get to the mountains. What I really became enamored with was philosophy. I really thought I was a young Socrates, going around most of the day asking people, “Let me ask you a question?” My great quest for knowledge and wisdom eventually landed me on a ski lift in Aspen, Colorado, where my life took a dramatic turn. After ten year of “ski bumming” in Aspen as a ski instructor, ski patroller, bike guide and, of course, dishwasher, I met my future wife. Where else but on a chairlift!

By some strange happenstance, she was the first grade teacher and one of the founding teachers at the Aspen Waldorf School. We began dating and she started inviting me to lectures at the school. Eventually I listened to a lecture by Eugene Schwartz and he said that “Waldorf education is a revolution in education.” 

The word revolution sparked something laying dormant in me from my “angry young radical” college days. A week later, after ten years of living in the mountains, I suddenly found myself in Sacramento, doing Eurythmy at the Rudolf Steiner College. That was a shock! I eventually wound up doing a three-year, full-time teacher training. My now-wife came out and joined me and we supported our Rudolf Steiner college habit by running the food program there. 

Did you begin teaching right after that?
By that time, the Aspen Waldorf School had moved down the valley to Carbondale. Now it’s the Waldorf School on the Roaring Fork, and that was the first place I taught. We were there for close to a decade.

Later, when I had three young children—they were 4, 3, and 2—we had this crazy idea, “Maybe we should move to a foreign country and teach at a Waldorf school ?” After pipe-dreaming about Switzerland and Germany, we moved to British Columbia,  Canada and settled on Vancouver Island.  My wife and I were both Waldorf class teachers at the Sunrise Waldorf School in Duncan, British Columbia. It was an amazing place for the kids to grow up. They spent countless hours romping around the woods, climbing trees and swimming in the endless lakes and rivers.  

In B. C., I took a class from 1 to 8, which was something I had always wanted to do. It was an incredible journey. Taking a class 1 to 8 is not for the feint of heart. I really believe that for it to happen in a meaningful way, the stars need to align for the teacher and the students. Maybe even more so for the teacher and the parents!

How did you end up in the Bay Area?
After I graduated my 8th grade class, I took a first and second grade. But we really wanted a Waldorf high school for the kids, so we moved here. They all went to Credo. That brought us back to the U.S. after a decade in Canada.

Are all your kids still in the area?
My youngest son is a senior at Credo. My oldest son and middle child,  is a sophomore at La Verne University in LA and my daughter is a sophomore at Quest University in Canada. My wife still teaches part time, as a painting teacher to high school students and adults at Credo, as well as her full time job, as a Chocolatier.  

When you graduate your 8th graders in a couple of years, and your son graduates from Credo, what’s next? Are you off to a new adventure? 
“I’ve been everywhere” like Johnny Cash says. But I am really enjoying my time at MWS and absolutely adore my class. I also love teaching the younger grades, so I can really see myself teaching grade one again. After I graduated my 8th grade class, I went immediately back into the first grade. At first, I wondered how was I going to go from the heights of grade eight back to class on. In grade eight you feel like you’re at the top of the mountain—you just performed a Shakespeare play after all! 

Mr. Stopeck leads the 6th Grade class in a pre-Halloween.

At first it was really hard. But then I realized the incredible amount of freedom you have during a first grade morning lesson. With Shakespeare you’re limited by the script. In a first grade circle, you have this incredible opportunity to create the entire script. It really showed me the joy of this whole process. You can get excited about every grade. It doesn’t matter what you’re teaching, whether it’s math or grammar, you have to somehow enliven it. How do you bring grammar in a lively way in grade 1 and grade 8?

You have to totally transform yourself from the young ones to the older grades but the impulse of creativity is the same. It is this element of creativity that runs through the whole education, that brings so much vitality to the experience. As a teacher, your truly creative moments are what the students respond to. For me, it is in these moments that teaching becomes a joy.

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

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Imagine: An Ordinary Childhood in Extraordinary Times

In late August 2019, parent volunteers replanted our school’s central courtyard with pollinator-friendly shrubs and flowers. Close to a year later, we noticed the butterflies. They were everywhere! Fluttering through the redwoods, perched on yellow flowers, and sunning themselves on the walls of The Peace Garden. Last week, dozens of chubby monarch caterpillars were found clinging to the leaves of the milkweed shrubs, quietly beginning their metamorphosis.

As educators, we are always planting seeds, but it isn’t often that our work quickly bears fruit. 2020 has been kind to us in this regard. It was with a great deal of courage and a hearty dose of optimism that we joined just 12 other Marin County schools in reopening our campus to in-person learning on September 8. Eleven weeks later, our campus is thriving. Things look different now, but in many ways, children at Marin Waldorf School are benefiting from the simple pleasures of an ordinary childhood during these extraordinary times.

Returning to school this fall required courage, hard work, dedication, creativity, and a great deal of investment. Now, we are asking for your help. Our indexed tuition model does not cover the school’s full operating expenses, and we rely on donations from both our families and the greater Marin Waldorf School community to help us close the gap. This year, with our financial aid program expanded and our program costs higher than ever before, your contribution is essential.

Our goal this year is to raise $200,000—a number that is higher than in previous years, yet far less than the investment we made in building outdoor classrooms, expanding our diversity and equity program, retaining all of our excellent and dedicated teaching staff, and hiring a full-time health coordinator, among other vital investments that allowed us to safely reopen campus.

As we look to the future of our growing community, we are asking that you reflect on what our school has meant to you, what it means to children today, and what it can be in the future, with your help. Your tax-deductible donation can be made by check or by clicking the link below.

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A Look Back, in Gratitude, at Our Autumn Season

Our extraordinary autumn began with power tools and wheelbarrows, hammers and hard work, as faculty, students, parents, and staff came together in small groups to construct our outdoor classrooms. Right before campus opened, we were joined by two members of the Miwok tribal council to talk about the land and prepare the campus to receive our students.

On September 8, our preschool and kindergarten reopened with a new mixed-age model and a fifth classroom called Manzanita. Lots of time outdoors, plus our staple weekly hikes to the open space, made this year memorable.

Grades 1-6 also came back on September 8, and their learning began atop stumps and hay bales, nestled beneath the oaks and bay laurels. Two weeks later, our 7th and 8th graders joined us. We hiked to open space, observed the change of the season, and found monarch caterpillars in the Peace Garden milkweed.

An AQI-related closure postponed our Michaelmas celebration, but the dragon still came out the following week, with students watching each other’s performances from a distance.

The week before Halloween, children carved pumpkins in early childhood and the grades, and the 6th grade dressed up in pirate garb to serenade our school with a seafaring song.

The following week, Maestra Pineda guided the 7th and 8th grade students in creating a traditional altar in observance of the Mexican holiday Dia de Muertos. Read Maestra Pineda’s description of the holiday or see more photos of the altar here.

And the two classes united that day to sing “Ishe Oluwa,” a song of the Yoruba people in West Africa.

We continued our work in examining our school curriculum and community through the lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And now, heading into the holiday week, we are feeling nothing but gratitude for being surrounded by the oaks and laurels, the great big sky, and our wonderful community.

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An Update on Our Work in DEI

At the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year, several members of our faculty and staff created a new committee focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in our community. Since then, the DEI committee has led our faculty and staff in workshops, shared readings, and deep discussions as we strive to bring strong anti-racist and anti-bias teaching into the Waldorf curriculum and our school community.

Consultant Randolph Carter of Alma Partners has been working with our DEI committee, as well as our faculty and staff, throughout the summer and fall. Last week, Mr. Carter joined us for a well-attended all-school parent evening on Zoom, which focused on our work in DEI. As part of our discussion that evening, he is leading our community in reading the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?: And Other Conversations about Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, and he recommended the story Why All Parents Should Talk With Their Kids About Social Identity from NPR, which discusses how and why to discuss racial, ethnic, class, and gender identity with children. We hope our blog readers will also join us in our group study of these materials!

Among the other things we discussed at last week’s parent evening is how our faculty is examining the Waldorf curriculum, from early childhood through 8th grade, to identify the ways we can incorporate diverse characters, images, and stories into the classroom. Sarah Whitmore, a member of our DEI committee and the lead teacher in the Manzanita early childhood classroom, discussed the various ways she is incorporating diverse characters, images, toys, and stories into her classroom, among other efforts to create a more inclusive environment for young children.

We also heard from 8th Grade class teacher Kristine Deason, who discussed the way the Waldorf curriculum connects children in the upper grades with the greater world, teaching them to view history as well as current events with a critical mind and from different perspectives.

On November 14, 1960, our faculty remembered Ruby Bridges, who at just 6 years old became the first African American student to integrate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Every day that year, federal marshals accompanied Ruby to school. Our music teacher shared the song “Ruby Shoe’s” by Lori McKenna (see her beautiful rendition in the video here).

Some of our teachers incorporated Ruby Bridges’s story into their classwork this week. In 3rd grade, Ms. Martin asked students to share words on the chalkboard that describe her.

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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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