The Advent Spiral & the Class of 2021’s Last Walk As a Class

Every December, all the children in our school gather to walk the advent spiral. In the past, this beautiful tradition took place in a hushed and darkened room, accompanied by harp music and candle light.

This year, we went out with our hats and gloves on. The breeze and the blue jays joined us. Rather than candles, children carried apples, bulbs, oranges, and pine cones. And though it looked and felt very different, it was still a gorgeous way to acknowledge the season.

The Class of 2020 walked the Advent Spiral as a class for the last time on Thursday. Some of them had been walking a similar spiral since they were in preschool. Others walked it for the first time. After the ceremony, class teacher Kristine Deason shared her thoughts with 8th grade parents, who, unlike in years past, weren’t able to witness the tradition as usual. We want to share what she wrote, below, as well as some of the beautiful photos our staff took of the day.

Dear Families,

Earlier today, the 8th grade class walked our outdoor Advent Spiral, beautifully built by the Parent Association over the weekend.  Out of respect for fire danger, we carried bright oranges instead of candles — each student carrying the “fruits of their labors” into the center of the spiral. 

We have walked the spiral together every year since First Grade, and this was our last time as a class.  Beforehand, I recapitulated the experience, mindful of those students who would be experiencing it for the first time.  I described how, at this time of year, walking the spiral invites us to bring our own light into the darkness and thereby illuminate it.  It is harder to experience this in the light of day, but I described to the class that this year our walk would be a journey inward.  The students took it up with thoughtfulness and reverence.  It was a gift to take part in this with them.

Please enjoy the photos.  We hope they convey some small measure of the mood we experienced. 

We walked the spiral today mindful of those friends who could not join us.  You were in our hearts and we miss you very much.

Kristine

Gallery: 6th Grade Geometric Drawings

Beginning in first grade, Waldorf students study form drawing, working on increasingly complex renderings as they grow. This work is done freehand until the 6th grade, when students begin to work with the aid of a straight edge and compass.

We’re proud to share the beautiful work our 6th grade class is doing this year, under the guidance of skier, philosopher, and 6th grade lead teacher Mr. Stopeck.

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.

Categories MWS

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.

Categories MWS

Gratitude: Music in the Air

Since outdoor learning began, our breezeways, amphitheater, and fields have been transformed into casual performance spaces. In the picture above, 6th grade tunes up before strings class outside. 7th Grade Orchestra plays “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” in the breezeway in honor of the season of gratitude on Thursday, November 19.

Another way our school has transformed this fall. Enjoy!

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.

Categories MWS

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.

Categories MWS

We Shall Be Known

After our campus closed last spring, our lovely 8th Grade class worked together to record the song “We Shall Be Known” by Ma Muse, under the direction of choir teacher Ms. Mallard.

May their beautiful voices and the poignant message of hope bring you of joy at this moment of great change!

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth
It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love

We shall be known by the company we keep
By the ones who circle round to tend these fires
We shall be known by the ones who sow and reap
The seeds of change, alive from deep within the earth
It is time now, it is time now that we thrive
It is time we lead ourselves into the well
It is time now, and what a time to be alive
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
In this Great Turning we shall learn to lead in love
— We Shall Be Known, by Ma Muse

P.S. Click here to see some of Ms. Mallard’s other projects for music classes during our school closure—they are amazing!

Meet Adventure-Loving Marieke

A native of the Netherlands and a graduate of the Waldorf teacher training program in Stuttgart, Germany, Marieke Duijneveld joined the MWS family two years ago as a mom to four students before taking a place on our faculty last year as a parent-child teacher. In the fall of 2020, Marieke took the lead in the Morning Glory kindergarten class, where she leads twice-weekly song-filled play-based hikes in the hills around school. Read on to hear how Marieke’s free spirit and a love for adventure has propelled her across the world and all the way to Marin County.

Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from and where did you grow up?
I am from the Netherlands, from a little town close to the coast—right near the polders, or reclaimed land. In the Netherlands, a lot of the land is created, because it’s below sea level, so they pump the water out and create land.

My father was a teacher in a public school, but when I was two, he became a Waldorf teacher. I went to a Waldorf school from preschool through 12th grade. We biked to school every day. We used the car to go on vacation or to visit my grandparents, who lived two hours away, but we never used it for school—only on my birthday! That was very special, because on my birthday my mother baked a treat to share with the other children in my class, and so we had to drive to school to bring it. Otherwise, rain, shine, snow, we always biked. 

I was a very dreamy child. I had a vivid imagination. I would go into the woods with my friends in long dresses without shoes. I always dreamed of traveling, my ideal was with a covered wagon pulled by a donkey. 

Did you imagine yourself being a teacher growing up?
Not at all, because both my parents were teachers, and they taught at the school I went to. I thought I’d never be in that same situation with my own children!

And now you work at the school where your children go!
Well, at least I don’t teach them. 

What did you parents teach?
My father was a class teacher—but in the Netherlands, there aren’t many subject teachers, so the class teacher also teaches subjects, like form drawing, music, English, German, gym. My mom was the woodwork teacher. 

When I was 16, my father took his sabbatical and we moved to Sweden for a year where we lived on a farm with adults with special needs. I went to a school that wasn’t a Waldorf school. It was a huge shock! But it was good for me, and helped me to appreciate Waldorf education.

Then you went back and graduated from the Waldorf school?
Yes, and then I went to college and I met my husband while in college. We were in the students’ choir, and one weekend we were all on the train and someone found out I went to a Waldorf school. 

He called to Jasper, “Hey, Marieke, also went to Waldorf school!” So we sat together and talked about woolen underwear and no TV, and so on, and that was it!  

How did you end up in California?
When we were both 28, we wanted to move abroad. I had a dream: Let’s start an orphanage in Argentina! I was looking for something adventurous—something that sounded very far away. My husband is a bit more realistic. A friend of his worked at Weleda and it’s an international company, so Jasper applied to Weleda, and was hired in a role in Germany. Moving to Germany did not feel as adventurous as Argentina. And there were no palm trees!

Since we’d moved to Stuttgart, I decided to attend the Waldorf teacher training. I didn’t speak German very well, so I needed to find something to help me learn the language. I loved it. I studied to be a class teacher, and I taught in a local Waldorf school after graduating. Then our first daughter was born, and our second daughter soon after that. 

When Jasper was asked to lead Weleda North America, we had to decide whether we would move to the United States. At first, it didn’t sound appealing to me. But we both like adventure, so we said, let’s do it and see what happens. We moved to Chestnut Ridge, New York, a little north of New York City. 

We loved it there. I didn’t know much about the U.S., and the people were so helpful and so nice. It was nice to live close to New York City, because we could just go there for a night, for instance to Carnegie Hall. We loved the Waldorf school our children went to. In the Netherlands, all Waldorf schools are public charter schools, none of them are fully independent, private schools. So children have to take tests and the curriculum is heavily influenced by the public school system. The education at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge felt so much closer to what I think Steiner intended with Waldorf education. 

I worked as a parent and child teacher, and later as a kindergarten teacher at Green Meadow Waldorf School. After a total of 10 years in New York, it was time for something new. I still missed those palm trees and wanted to go to California. So we chose to move across the country and embrace yet another adventure here in Marin! 

Tell me about being a mom to four children. That’s a lot of kids!
Yes it is a lot. And I love it! 

I always wished for a large family and am so grateful to have four wonderful children. There is an anecdote about how to deal with a large family. With one child, both parents have their hands full, with two, it’s really, really busy but at least you have two hands, and in my case a partner. Three is stressful because you’re trying to stay in control, with four you just have to give up trying to keep everything under control. 

Working with children in kindergarten every day inspires me to be a better mom. And vice versa, my experience as a mom probably also helps me professionally. 

Kindergarten is different this year, but are there any upsides to early childhood during COVID?
It is wonderful to be outdoors more than before. We added more hike days to the program, which I otherwise maybe wouldn’t have done. Being on these hikes in nature with the children is so sweet. We go to places where there aren’t any toys, and they just play! They play for an hour and a half without taking a break, and they enjoy being in their dreamy worlds.

It’s lovely to be in kindergarten and to help create a world that is good, and forget about everything else that is going on. 

Also, I love that the groups are smaller as a result of the Covid pandemic. It seems to benefit the children socially. It feels more natural. 

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.