Developed by scientist and artist Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education is based on an understanding of human development as a holistic experience. It addresses not only what children learn but the ways in which children learn, recognizing that children have distinct, age-related educational needs.
“Waldorf schools strive to awaken and elevate capacities, rather than impose intellectual content on the child,” says Judith Jaeckel, administrator of Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz. “Learning becomes so much more than memorizing information: it becomes an engaging voyage of discovery, not only of the world, but of oneself. It emphasizes creativity and individual thinking over high-stakes testing.”
The Mountain Laurel Waldorf School in New Paltz will host their annual open house this Saturday, February 23 from 10 a.m. to noon. The event offers parents and children the opportunity to explore the Waldorf philosophy and academic offerings at the school while enjoying music and refreshments, craft-making, bread-baking and a puppet show. Samples of student work will be on display and parents of prospective students can meet parents whose children currently attend or have attended the school.
The open house will begin with refreshments supplied by Agnes Devereux of the Village TeaRoom, an enthusiastic supporter of Waldorf education ever since her own children attended Mountain Laurel, according to Jaeckel. There will be time to get acquainted with the teachers and other parents, followed by a morning circle from 10:30 to 11 a.m., an activity that recognizes the need for movement in students in the early childhood program.
Bread-baking and craft activities will be offered at the open house from 10 a.m. to noon, with a Q&A session for adults from 11:15 to 11:45 a.m., after which the event closes out with a puppet show celebrating the school’s embrace of the natural world in its curriculum.
Attendees will find the school to be “a beautiful, warm environment,” says Jaeckel. “When you enter the building you can just feel that something is different. It’s light-filled, and very home-like, and that makes children and their parents comfortable.” The hands-on activities such as the bread-baking and craft activities are characteristic of the Waldorf’s tactile approach to education, in which the arts are not just an “add-on” but an integral part of the child’s education.
Visitors may tour the three floors of the school, which is an historic property in its own right, Jaeckel notes, built by one of the Hasbrouck family that settled New Paltz. The building was in disrepair when they acquired it from St. Joseph Church many years ago, but has been lovingly restored with some original details retained; the classroom for eighth graders on the top floor was once a chapel, and its stained glass windows remain today.
Parents of current and former Mountain Laurel students will be at the open house to greet new families and answer any questions they might have. That community of parents has been vital to the Mountain Laurel model as well as being the reason for its very existence, says Jaeckel, noting that the school was first founded in New Paltz by parents David and Barbara Clark and Livia and Bill Vanaver when a nursery/kindergarten school their children attended closed. Moving forward, they wanted an alternative education for their children, and started a Waldorf School in a house on North Oakwood Terrace in 1983.
As they began to add grade levels – the current school welcomes nursery school-age children through eighth graders and also offers Friday morning programs for parents with babies – the school moved first to another location in the village before finding a larger space in a former public school building in Tillson. Attendance was good at first, but the location proved to be too remote. “They were close to closing the school at that time, but some parents and teachers did not want to give up on the school,” says Jaeckel. “They felt the real value in Waldorf education, especially for our area. So when the present building at 16 South Chestnut Street became available, it was purchased and renovated.”
Mountain Laurel Waldorf School is run by the faculty and administration of the school, collectively known as “The College.” The College creates mandate groups that work in collaboration with the board to focus on specific areas.
Jaeckel first came to Mountain Laurel around the time of the transition from the Tillson location to its current home, seeking educational opportunities for her youngest child. With a background in opera and visual arts administration, Jaeckel was asked to be co-administrator with Charles Noble before becoming administrator on her own more than 20 years ago. Her late husband, Klaus, was an integral part of the school for many years and a huge support in every way, she says, contributing through his background as an engineer as well as his wide-ranging knowledge in many areas.
Mountain Laurel is part of a worldwide association of 1,227 accredited Waldorf schools in Europe, North and South America, Central America, Africa and Asia. (There are 70 Waldorf schools in China alone, says Jaeckel; the first one opened in Chengdu with 500 students.) Celebrating their 100th anniversary this year, Waldorf Schools form the largest private school movement in the world, she adds, “and growing by leaps and bounds.”
Waldorf education provides a strong foundation in literature, foreign language, history, geography, music, fine and practical arts, mathematics, and science, imparted through a unique approach.
The early childhood program highlights the importance of imitation, imagination and play during the first seven years of life. Students are guided through domestic, practical and artistic activities in a secure, home-like environment, experiencing storytelling and free play with natural toys and a range of activities that build confidence and skills for future academic success and for life.
The class teacher stays with the same class of children through eight years of elementary school, teaching all the main subjects. This allows the teacher time to really get to know the children, and the child finds stability and continuing guidance in working with the same class teacher and being with the same students.
One of the things that really stands out about a Waldorf education, says Jaeckel, is the uniqueness of its focus on how and when the child is taught rather than what they are taught. The benefits of attending a Waldorf school were brought home recently when the school hosted a 20th anniversary reunion for 1998 graduates and the former students were clearly “happily living their passions,” she notes, “whether that was in neuroscience, computer science, farming or parenting. A Waldorf education aims to balance head, heart and hands. And it really enables a student to find their own true vocation, to transform their ideals into actions, and to do so with passion.”
More information about Mountain Laurel Waldorf School is available by calling (845) 255-0033 or visit mountainlaurel.org.
Mountain Laurel Waldorf School will host their annual on Friday, April 27 from 6-10 p.m. The evening will include live music, contra dancing with caller, dinner, drinks and a silent auction. During the three weeks leading up to the gala, the school website will include a link to the online auction with more than 100 items and experiences to bid on. All proceeds from the gala and auction go to a specific initiative each year.
According to Patty Jacobson, chair of the gala committee, the goal for this year is to reinstate the eurythmy program at the school. Eurythmy is an expressive movement art that dates back to the early 20th century, she explains, primarily a performance art but also used in education, especially in Waldorf schools. The gestures in eurythmy relate to the sounds and rhythms of speech, to tones and rhythms of music and to “soul experiences” such as joy and sorrow. Once the fundamental repertoire elements are learned, they can be composed into free artistic expressions through movement, and help build important skills that allow for the growth of a successful individual: collaboration, creativity, confidence, cultural awareness, empathy and critical thinking.
A portion of proceeds are also given back to the community every year, Jacobson adds, so a percentage of the funds raised through the gala and auction will also be given to Hasbrouck Park, which the school uses every day. ++