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Thursday, 10 October 2019 13:45

An Intrepid Education

By Megin Potter | Education

Experience is the best teacher. 

It requires courage and instills confidence. 

An intrepid explorer learns through discovery. These discoveries are being made every day at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs.

“We were attracted to the ideas within Waldorf. Education is similar to nutrition – absorption is everything. If you learn something in school but you can’t immediately retain it, it defeats the purpose. Experience is something you remember. Here, it’s all about experience,” said Richard Frank, owner of Four Seasons Natural Foods and Chair of Waldorf’s Board of Directors. 

At Waldorf, his two children, ages 11 and 15, are learning in a way that is constantly evolving but is based on principles first laid out by Austrian scientist Rudolf Steiner a century ago. 

100 Years of Understanding
After visiting the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory in Germany in 1919, Rudolf Steiner established a model of education for the children of the factory employees that would inspire new ideas through an integration of information and first-hand experiences. 

Today, his philosophies are the groundwork behind the 1,000 Waldorf schools located across the world. Waldorf students are highly sought after by colleges and beyond because the skills they’ve developed are bringing practical solutions to the problems currently facing our modern society. 

The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs was founded in 1981. Today, they operate four campuses within the city, including a Forest Kindergarten and one of only five Waldorf high schools within the state.

“It’s about keeping people open and giving them the skills to do what they want in life. I think it’s been a great choice for my family. We’re very happy with the education,” said Frank.

Specialized Schooling
Waldorf classes are very small – approximately 10 students per grade level in the high school. Students have the same teacher from first through 5th grade and aren’t evaluated with letter grades until 8th grade. 

Students take week-long field trips, write their own textbooks, and learn foreign languages early on. The visual and performing arts are revered, as is physical movement - the school day was even rearranged to allow more time for recess for certain grades.

“Children are not chained to a desk here,” said Frank. 

Communication is encouraged throughout and discipline is balanced with understanding consequences and focused discussions. 

With special programs, tuition assistance, and buses to transport kids to and from school, Waldorf is an individualized educational experience that is open to a broader socio-economic base than many private schools. 

Parental Partners
Parents and teachers are considered partners in the Waldorf educational model.

“You’ll really want to come and invest in your child’s wellbeing,” said Frank. 

When Janine Bitetto enrolled her son Michael, age 3, at Waldorf, it was because she wanted a change from the pace and hurried schedule that had become her normal way of life before then. 

“I wanted to disconnect from everything else and focus on the rhythms of the home,” she said. While she has also taken on the responsibility of becoming the school’s Events Coordinator, she keeps simplicity at the heart of her decision-making.

“This is the way life is supposed to be. At Waldorf, it becomes about more than just going to school – it educates everyone. I’m very connected to who I am now, while at the same time, it’s nourishing him. I can see how much he’s bonding with other kids now, too,” said Bitetto. 

The public is welcome to visit any of the school’s classrooms during their regular open houses.  This allows you to witness first-hand the students contentedly completing handwork, determinedly bent over a wood project in shop class, participating in a group discussion on literature, conducting lab experiments together, or experimenting with unstructured outdoor free play time.

“They’re not afraid of the world,” said Bitetto.

Learning that is Alive
Because Waldorf teachers and faculty are deeply immersed in their fields and passions, they are able to express it with an infectious enthusiasm. 

“The Waldorf curriculum works because the teachers are alive,” said Joshua Chambers. A professional multimedia artist and composer, Chambers gave their 2010 graduating class commencement speech and has directed several of Waldorf’s dramatic productions. 

“It was some of the best work I’ve ever done because it was so transformative – for them and for me,” he said. 

Because every child was required to play a part in their production of Tennessee William’s “Glass Menagerie,” they learned together how to transcend fear and defy convention.

“We were trying to put together something that’s going to change someone’s life – learning how to see with new eyes and experience something completely new – while being team players and working together,” said Chambers. 

That is the real power of an education based on experience – the ability to inspire change.
“For culture to evolve, people need to be fearless,” he said. 

Fun, Fearless Fall Festival
For the first time, the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs is holding their Autumn Festival on the grounds of Pitney Meadows Community Farm, at 223 West Avenue, in Saratoga Springs. 

On October 19, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., the public is invited to enjoy dancing, puppet shows, storytelling and live musical performances by the students on their colorful grounds. 

There will be horse drawn carriage and pony rides, goats, sheep and wildlife demos on-site. Children are encouraged to play, carve their own pumpkins, have their face painted and participate in the hay jump.  They can learn traditional skills including blacksmithing, wool spinning, felting, garlic braiding, jewelry making, and how to construct corn husk dolls. 

Waldorf students will be among the teachers at this event! Vendors and food from the Adelphi Catering Co. Food Truck, 9 Miles East Farm, Dizzy Chicken Wood-Fired Barbeque, and Whole Harvest Company will be available. 

This event is free to the public. There is a suggested donation of $5/adult and $2/children, and a small fee for some activities. 

For more information go to www.waldorfsaratoga.org/autumn-fest

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