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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.
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.
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
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Every year during the final half of February, each high school junior at Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs participates in an internship that helps them to explore a profession they have an interest in, near and far from home, for at least a week.
“At the end of the experience, they will not only have a jump on their resume, but they will have gained soft skills and a selfknowledge that will serve them for life,” said Jennifer Dempsey, communications director, in a press release.
In the beginning of the school year, every junior is required to research a professional field of their choice, which includes exploring their own strengths and interests, interviewing professionals in their chosen field, and securing and completing their internship. Each student concluded their experience with a public presentation about their experience. The juniors traveled far and wide for their internships; Elliot Sabatella interned at the UK Ministry of Defence, Bristol, UK; several students spent time in Massachusetts; Kathleen Rembish interned at Nicole Miller, an iconic fashion designer, in New York City; Julie Stuart shadowed EMTs at the Saratoga Springs City Fire Department, and beyond.
Laura Howe chose to learn about music therapy in two different settings: Wildwood School in Schenectady, where she worked with individuals on the Autism spectrum, and The Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, where she learned about occupational therapy and speech therapy. Howe worked under Caitlin Hyaat at The Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and at Wildwood she shadowed Mark Ahola.
“I don’t know if I would say I preferred Spaulding over Wildwood, but I know that I really liked being in the hospital setting because there were co-treatments, so you could have different therapists in the room, and I really enjoyed that variety,” Howe explained.
Jacob Valmore cut his internship time between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and NASA. Valmore explored the field of engineering at RPI and shadowed engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland.
“At NASA I saw a lot of the rigs that they use to test the space telescope that they just sent off to Houston, which was cool, and I got to the see the biggest clean room in the world where they built the spacecraft. At RPI, the coolest thing I did was fire up the wind tunnel, I’d never done that before,” Valmore said.
“It’s really cool experience that we’re given at Waldorf,” Howe said.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Children and families took an adventure through time and space in the fields near the Saratoga Casino Hotel as Circus Smirkus returned to town. The renowned Vermont-based youth circus promotion made its way back to Saratoga Springs from July 11-12, once again with the collaboration of the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs. This year marks the show’s 30th anniversary, and the wild theme this year was designed to evoke a sense of its history. While certainly a grand afternoon out for many families in the area, the event also serves as one of the school’s biggest yearly fundraising opportunities, bringing in a significant amount for the school’s general operating budget.
The theme of this year’s show is “Midnight at the Museum,” which sees three young performers staying the night at the otherworldly “Smirksonian” museum. After a bit of mischief results in “The Archives” being opened against the express warning of the museum’s curator, all of the exhibits spring to life and serve as the basis for the show’s various set pieces. The general feel of the story being told by Circus Smirkus is most similar to the “Night at the Museum” film series.
Some of the set pieces in this year’s show include ones themed around jungles, skeletons, pirates, astronauts, and one particular inventive sequence based around a museum heist. One of the more striking performances early on came from 16-year-old Isabella Majzun, who performed a mesmerizing juggling routine while also balancing herself on a large ball. Artistic director for the show and head clown Troy Wunderle said that the museum theme was chosen deliberately, as it allows them to pay homage to Circus Smirkus’s 30-year history. Many of the individual set pieces in the show are references to themes from previous years.
One thing that should immediately stand out to viewers is the youth of the performers in the show. According to Wunderle, the performers range in age from 12-18, and come from all over the country. One performer, 18-year-old Patrick Chikoloma, is from as far away Lusaka, Zambia. While the performers may be young, Wunderle said that they are entirely professional, as anyone who watches their polished and skillful performances can attest. The teens in the show are properly trained in a variety of different circus arts programs. Quite often, Circus Smirkus serves as a springboard for careers in the circus industry, as Wunderle noted that past performers have gone on to work in world-renowned promotions like Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
This year marks the 11th time that the Waldorf School has worked with Circus Smirkus to bring the show to Saratoga Springs. On a yearly basis, the show has been one of the school’s biggest fundraising opportunities, bringing in around $20,000-30,000, according to administrator Anne Maguire. Funds raised with Circus Smirkus go towards the school’s general operations budget, which includes salaries, building maintenance, and more.
Maguire also said that working with Circus Smirkus helps encourage students to pursue interests in circus arts, as the school itself offers a Juggling and Circus Arts Club, where students can learn to do all the various tricks and techniques they might have seen under the big top. Two Waldorf students have in the past performed with Circus Smirkus.
Photos by www.photoandgraphic.com.
SARATOGA SPRINGS – Most people might balk at the idea of a weekly commute from Ballston Spa to New York City and back, but for one area student and her family, it could not be more exciting.
Alexandra Bretz-Aguirre, a freshman student at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, is currently enrolled in New York University’s (NYU) prestigious “Future Filmmakers” workshop, where she currently spends her Saturdays learning the ways of cinema from the university’s faculty of film industry luminaries. Hitting the road on Friday, Bretz-Aguirre and her mother, Catherine Bretz, stay the night in the city before her lessons, which run from 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Following that, they head back home straight away, getting in late on Saturday night.
It can be an exhausting process, but it is one that Bretz-Aguirre is happy to undertake if it allows her to follow her dreams.
“I like, leave Friday, come back Saturday night,” Bretz-Aguirre said. “But we’re always excited. It’s worth it.”
Bretz-Aguirre’s dream to attend NYU began when she was 10-years-old, visiting the city with her mother. After noting the university’s purple flags, she and her mother went to the Tisch School for the Arts and were given a tour. Since then, she was driven to one day attend the school. Frequently, she would browse the university’s online program listings, passing the time and looking for anything that sparked her interest. That spark came when she found the Future Filmmakers program. She was intrigued right away.
Bretz-Aguirre’s love for film grew in tandem with a love for photography, both of which were passed down from her father, Oscar Aguirre. She and her family had also always been film buffs, with a particularly affection for the work of director Hal Ashby. She has been practicing her photography since she was 13. Considering this love of film and her desire to attend NYU, the Future Filmmakers program looked like a huge opportunity for her.
According to Bretz-Aguirre, the process for applying to the program involved a lot of essay writing. Some of the prompts included “How do you think filmmaking is encouraged in your world,” and other more general ones that were meant to give them a sense of the applicant as a person. There was also an interview portion that came later on in the process, wherein the interviewers discussed various images and their meanings. Two days later, Bretz-Aguirre saw an email in her inbox with the best news she could have hoped for.
“I was screaming,” she said. “I was doing my homework, and I was checking my email, and I saw [the word] ‘accepted.’”
Bretz-Aguirre’s parents noted with particular pride how competitive the admission process had seemed. Indeed, she is one of only 14 high school students from the tri-state area accepted into the program, and within that group, she is one out of only two freshmen.
In the program, Bretz-Aguirre is learning from some of the brightest talents in the film world. These include the likes of Kelly Edwards, Head of Talent Development at HBO, and Grammy-winning music video director Melina Matsoukas. In one standout lesson, her class was instructed by film editor and frequent Spike Lee collaborator Samuel D. Pollard, who showed the class “Mo’ Better Blues” without sound to show them how the images on their own tell the story. Bretz-Aguirre found this to be particularly illuminating.
Lessons began on the first weekend of February. All of the film projects that Bretz-Aguirre and her classmates work on must be silent, so that they can focus on conveying meaning purely through images. The lessons and projects also stress the collaboration at the heart of filmmaking. Her class has worked together with other NYU workshop classes, including the “Future Dramatic Writers” and “Future Dancers and Dancemakers.” She was immediately fascinated with the tasks given to her on their first project, which involved finding actors and scouting for locations.
“It was so interesting,” she said.
Moving forward from the 12-week workshop, Bretz-Aguirre plans on continuing to explore filmmaking. She hopes to make a film all on her own someday soon, and she is hoping to establish a film club at the Waldorf School. And while she stressed that this was not necessarily the only end-goal for her, she said that she could see herself pursuing a career in the film business.
“I love it,” her mother Catherine Bretz said. “I love to see her involved with the diversity of the program and the craft.”
“We’re amazed at her dedication and focus,” her father Oscar Aguirre said. “It was her initiative that drove this.”