The Waldorf way

Charter school organizers emphasize method of learning through arts, nature

Teachers Jon Rizzo and Ashley Crawford lead children in a song before story time at River Canyon School, a private preschool/kindergarten that uses the Waldorf Method of instruction emphasizing learning through the arts and nature. A local group is looking into starting a public charter school that would use Waldorf methods.



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Teachers Jon Rizzo and Ashley Crawford lead children in a song before story time at River Canyon School, a private preschool/kindergarten that uses the Waldorf Method of instruction emphasizing learning through the arts and nature. A local group is looking into starting a public charter school that would use Waldorf methods.

This isn’t about the right or wrong way to educate children. It’s just a different way.

A local group of people are exploring the possibility of opening a Waldorf Method-inspired public charter school for kindergarten through eighth grade as soon as the 2013–14 school year.

The Waldorf Method, which started in 1919 in Germany, approaches academics through the arts and nature.

Those involved with the Grand Junction Art Based Charter School Initiative think that adapting some of the Waldorf methods for use in a public charter school setting would be an effective alternative for parents who want their children educated more through the arts and personal discovery than from textbooks.

And in an academic world impacted by regulatory testing and funding cuts to the arts, a Waldorf-inspired charter school would give educators more latitude in instruction. Since the school would be a charter, it would be accessible to everyone.

“We think this type of education would be popular with a lot of people,” said Patrick Ebel, one of the primary organizers of the local initiative and a father of two.

Ebel, who taught sixth grade for eight years, including four at Bookcliff Middle School, thinks Waldorf “is the answer to education” because the method is geared toward a child’s developmental stages.

For example, kindergartners in a Waldorf school play, sing, listen to oral stories and act them out to encourage creativity and confidence, said Jon Rizzo, who teaches at River Canyon School, a private Waldorf-inspired preschool/kindergarten that opened several years ago in the basement of Koinonia Church, 730 25 Road.

“The first seven years are formative times for a child,” Rizzo said. “They are not only creating who they are, essentially they are learning how to work with each other. It’s a young children’s job to learn how things work and move and make friends before we need to jump into their intellect.”

Unfortunately, there is no local Waldorf school for River Canyon School students to go after graduating from kindergarten, and remedying that situation is part of the impetus for the initiative, Ebel said.

Because the Waldorf Method may be such a foreign concept, and raise more than a few questions about its academic merits, the Grand Junction Art Based Charter School Initiative will host a meeting 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, at Koinonia Church.

The public is welcome to attend the meeting and participate in the dialogue that will happen as the group continues to figure out the best way to incorporate the Waldorf Method into a charter school setting.

The Grand Junction Art Based Charter School Initiative also has a Facebook wall where questions can be posted and information exchanged.

Sarah Shrader, a River Canyon School Board member, loves the education her children received at River Canyon, but also appreciates the education her eldest are getting at Scenic Elementary School.

Shrader said the Waldorf-inspired charter school would be most valuable because it would give parents, particularly parents of middle schoolers, another choice when searching for the best way to educate their children.

Shrader, who has a master’s degree in education, was introduced to Waldorf as a 24-year-old teacher in Arizona.

“I fell in love with the Waldorf education,” she said. “I think it’s really intuitive. One of the things that made me fall in love, was they teach everything through the arts and the outdoors ... Waldorf is appropriate to the physical and emotional development of a child.”

She recognized that an outsider may see a Waldorf-inspired education as lacking the academic rigor considered imperative for an American child to compete in today’s technologically intelligent world. But that is not the case, she said.

The way children learn — she assured parents that their children will learn —  in a Waldorf-inspired school is just different from the traditional school setting. Students use the arts, oral stories and nontraditional methods to discover how and why things work instead of memorizing facts and figures from a textbook. 

“There is so much art and such a rich base of literacy,” she said. “We can’t really measure it.”

To learn about the Waldorf Method go to waldorfanswers.org or whywaldorfworks.org, which is run by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.



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