High School Happenings at The Denver Waldorf School

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Developing the Vestibular Sense

Children love to play. They swing, spin, somersault, and move every way they can. This isn’t just coincidence that when we allow the space and freedom to play, children will gravitate towards these experiences. These movements and activities all work to strengthen their vestibular sense- the balance sense.

This vestibular sense tells us where we are in relation to the earth and its gravity. The vestibular sensory organs – the semicircular canals – are located in the inner ear. Movement of the head in any and all directions stimulates the fluid in these chambers, informing our brains of our body position in relation to all that is around us. As children are able to move about, engaging their vestibular sense, they are developing and strengthening this ever important sense of balance.

However, it has to do with even more though than just balance. As our own Nancy Blanning and Laurie Clark have noted in their article Strengthening the Foundational Senses of the Young Child, “The importance of this sense of balance cannot be overemphasized. It is a unifying element in the whole system and seems to prime the entire nervous system to function properly.” The healthy development of the foundational senses in the young child serves as the strong roots for all higher level learning- both in childhood and throughout life. As Nancy and Laurie have noted, “When the foundational senses are functioning well, the child has pleasure and joy in being within his/her body. He moves in a balanced, coordinated, integrated way. He is eager to explore the world and new sensory experiences, and is not timid. The child is well-balanced, both literally and metaphorically.”

Our daily activities during our time together at The Denver Waldorf School aim to strengthen the vestibular sense, and all of our primary senses. The emphasis on the importance of free play, the movement and rhythmic games incorporated into our learning, and the exploration of nature and the outdoors, no matter the weather, are all intentional building blocks to giving our children a strong foundation for their healthy development.

 


2020-2021 Reopening Plan: August 13, 2020 Town Hall- WATCH VIDEO

Date: August 13, 2020
Time: 6-7:30 pm
Location: Zoom or live stream

Denver Waldorf School hosted a virtual Town Hall with School Director Kelly Church and Dream Team Faculty Panel about our plans for reopening for the 2020-2021 school year.

Video Recording

For those who couldn’t attend live, enjoy our zoom recording below.


Range

Artwork by Class of 2020 graduate Bryn Creager

How do we ensure that our children, our students, are prepared to succeed in a rapidly evolving world? That question inspires Waldorf educators across the world.

In response to this question, parents are often fed a persistent message: If you want your child to succeed in an endeavor later in life, then you must specialize early in life. Be it sports, music, art or literature, the ticket to adulthood success is childhood grit and singular focus—or so we are told.

In the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein explores whether intense early specialization benefits children and adults alike. He finds that early specialization is the outlier, not the norm, when it comes to producing elite talents into adulthood.

After a deep-dive into a growing body of research, Range reveals that the most successful musicians, athletes, scholars and entrepreneurs have embraced and benefited from a range of interests and activities during their youth. When it comes to athletics, for example, Epstein finds:

“Eventual elites typically devote less time early on to deliberate practice in the activity in which they will eventually become experts. Instead, they undergo what researchers call a ‘sampling period.’ They play a variety of sports, usually in an unstructured or lightly structured environment; they gain a range of physical proficiencies from which they can draw; they learn about their abilities and proclivities; and only later do they focus in and ramp up technical practice in one area.”

These findings are also reflected in Kim John Payne’s book Beyond Winning: Parenting in a Toxic Sports Environment. As in Range, he finds that the most successful adult athletes benefited immeasurably from childhood free-play and thus avoided the onset of teenage sports burnout brought on by too much intense work too soon.

And it’s not just sports. Range chronicles business leaders who succeeded because of their diverse experiences and interests, not in spite of them; musicians like Yo-Yo Ma who played several instruments before settling upon his famed cello; and artists like Van Gogh who found a true calling later in life. What we need in this ever-changing world, Range asserts, is “people who start broad and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives while they progress.”

Waldorf education has always understood this critical truth. Offering a liberal arts K-12 curriculum, Waldorf education challenges its students to embrace, learn and grow from multiple disciplines—from literature to math and science to arts to theater to athletics to music and beyond. Art is integrated into our main lessons, each student is encouraged to participate in our sports teams—there are no cuts or tryouts, each grade works together to produce a play, we join our musical natures in orchestra. Our students are pushed to explore this “sampling period” in the development of their whole selves.

As students progress at The Denver Waldorf School, they may gravitate toward a more singular focus. For example, for their senior projects, students may intensely focus on a single endeavor—such as pursuing a pilot’s license, researching homelessness in Denver and producing a podcast, or training to become an Emergency Medical Technician. Whatever they choose to focus on, they never shy away from embracing a broad range of talents, skills and interests.

Through this liberal arts education, our students are not just prepared for college; they are prepared to make meaningful and deep contributions to the world — well beyond their first job.

A Waldorf education is the first step in this journey. In a world that will change many times over after they graduate, our students build a solid foundation to meet the challenges and opportunities for all of their days ahead.

In a word, they have range.


DWS Commitment to Anti-Racism

Artwork created with love by our high school art teacher, Kimberly Martin, along with her two daughters (and DWS alumnae) Bella and Tallulah

We at The Denver Waldorf School continue to be deeply saddened and outraged at the tragic and violent death of George Floyd. As a school founded on principles of love and humanity, these actions of brutality strike against our very mission. We recognize that if we do not stand up against systemic racism that faces the Black community, then we too are complicit in oppression.

It is our responsibility to bear witness to what is happening in the world, to elevate the voices of marginalized people, to change the course of inequities, and to break down structural prejudice in all forms where it exists, particularly in our own school
community.

We have much more work to do and here are some examples of steps we are taking and have taken toward greater diversity and inclusion at DWS.

We have worked to grow The Denver Waldorf School’s diverse student body during the past five years from 16% identifying as people of color to 25%. Our next goal is to grow classrooms whose diversity invites many perspectives from several backgrounds, minimizing the risk of tokenization. We do this by continuing to grow our Diversity Scholarship, broadening our outreach efforts, and working to ensure that DWS is a welcoming, safe space.

The Denver Waldorf School’s inherently multicultural curriculum has broadened and deepened to be ever more inclusive of diverse stories and perspectives. We have brought diverse community members in and together through our festivals and celebrations we are working to make our festival life even more inclusive, honoring all people. These same efforts are being taken up on a national level for the greater Waldorf education movement, in particular teacher training institutes. We strive to grow increasingly welcoming and affirming and we, as individuals involved with the school, are working to deepen our personal understanding and be better witnesses of the experiences of people from different backgrounds than our own.

As staff and teachers, we participate in trainings on cultural competence, examining privilege and dismantling oppression. We also strive to help our students recognize and counter white supremacy and oppression, developing positive identities through conversations with their teachers as well as with guests, most recently the Flobots.

Our Diversity and Inclusivity Committee helps shepherd this work throughout the school. Together we reflect, envision, and act to shape The Denver Waldorf School as a place where families, faculty, and staff of all backgrounds feel welcomed and valued. Part of our work as a committee is studying together. This year we read Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum. This book helped us better understand racial identity development as it unfolds in Black children, children of color, and White children and our role as parents and educators.

This summer, Diversity and Inclusivity member Vernon Dewey invites all DWS community members who are interested to join him in reading and discussing White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, a book previously read by the committee. This book is particularly helpful for White people in understanding White privilege in order to better engage in social change. You may email him at vernondewey@denverwaldorf.org. Magally Luna will also be leading a Healing Justice Circle for any DWS People of Color wanting support during this time. You may email her at magallyluna@denverwaldorf.org.

We also recommend the following:

How to talk to children about racism and violence: resources for teachers, parents and guardians

Anti-racism Resources for White People: a compilation of resources for white people and parents to deepen our work in anti-racism

Array Now: Started by Ava DuVernay, director of Now They See Us, this is a compilation of African American independent films – an array of stories and voices.

Teaching Tolerance: Teaching about race, racism, and police violence

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice: Curated by Medium and updated regularly.

Thank you to our community for joining us in elevating our commitment to social justice and renewal.

In Solidarity,

The Denver Waldorf School


Town Hall: June 1, 2020 - WATCH VIDEO

Date: June 1, 2020
Time: 6-7pm
Location: Zoom or live stream

Denver Waldorf School hosted its 2nd virtual Town Hall with School Director Kelly Church and Dream Team Faculty Panel about our plans for next year and to celebrate this school year.

Video Recording

For those who couldn’t attend live, enjoy our zoom recording below.


Denver Waldorf Teacher Spotlight - David Johnson

When students at The Denver Waldorf School are asked what they love about their education, they often comment that they treasure close relationships with teachers. DWS students are full of gratitude to be surrounded by caring, dedicated and inspiring teachers.

Our Teacher Spotlight series highlights a teacher each month, and this month, let’s get to know David Johnson. David has been a shining light in our community for almost 20 years and has decided to retire at the end of this school year. What an understatement it is to say that we wish him well and that he will be dearly missed.

What grades and subjects do you teach?

I teach high school drama, both technical work (sets and lighting) and direction. I assist and teach the lower grades for the technical aspects of their plays.

What is your educational background?

I have a BA in Theatre and Radio/Television from Ashland College (now Ashland University) in Ashland, Ohio.

What were the next stops on your journey prior to coming to The Denver Waldorf School?

I spent 15 years working in summer stock theatre, regional theatre, Broadway and Off-Broadway scene shops and theatres. I did regional tours throughout Michigan and New York state. I toured around the world with New York-based dance companies. I spent 14 years working for an educational foundation in upstate New York. I spent 10 years working on Rudolf Steiner’s Mystery Dramas in Spring Valley, New York. I also started a small theatre group with parents and alumni at the Green Meadow Waldorf School.

How many years have you taught at The Denver Waldorf School?

I started teaching at the beginning of the 2002-03 school year.

What drew you to the Waldorf curriculum?

I am a lifer. I attended the Rudolf Steiner School in New York for 7th- 9th grades, High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire for 10th grade, and Die Freie Waldorf Schule in Stuttgart, Germany for 11th and 12th Grades. My three children attended the Green Meadow Waldorf School.

What is your teaching philosophy and approach?

My philosophy of teaching drama in high school is to give the students an exposure to another form of art. All art forms that are in a Waldorf school curriculum engage the imagination and allow a student to express her or himself. In the fine arts, such as clay, painting, woodwork, copper work, etc. the hand is engaged, working in coordination with the eye. This hand/eye coordination coupled with the imagination is vital. In drama, the whole body is in use. The limbs are moving, the ear is listening, the lungs and jaw are speaking. The soul is interacting with the characters and with the story that is being told. In drama, not only does the student have to be one with the character, but with all the other characters on stage at the same time, and also the ones waiting in the wings. This helps the student grow into themselves as they witness what a playwright wishes to express and to grow in relation with the rest of the world.

The Waldorf philosophy of education focuses on the whole child. What does this mean to you?

Just what the statement says: the WHOLE child. Of course, we have to define the whole child. The child is an incarnated being that brings to the world strengths and weaknesses that need to be encouraged and supported as they grow to be whole adults. The Waldorf curriculum is built around the progressive inner development that a child experiences, starting in early childhood and running through 12th grade in high school. The education should be diverse and complete enough that the student will leave school with the fundamental inner and outer tools, ready to enter the greater world to explore and do what ever she or he wants to pursue, in freedom. The education is not just college prep, nor is it just a basic ABCs education. It should educate the thinking, feeling, and willing, i. e. the WHOLE child, in equal parts, delivered at the appropriate times.

What makes The Denver Waldorf School unique?

Traditionally, the main lesson is taught with one and a half to two hours devoted to a subject for three to four weeks. After the time is up, teachers and students move on to a new subject. The moving away from a subject, even for a full year, allows the subject to rest and “live” within the child’s thinking. This is where ideas can live deep in the child, forming concepts that can then be perceived later. It is not unlike breathing. This is how most American Waldorf schools do this. DWS does this also with afternoon track classes, what other Waldorf schools call skills classes. The students are allowed to breath in the art classes and then they are “let go” and given the opportunity to grow within the students.

DWS is collecting comments about the the impact of David’s teaching career – if you have a thought or a story to share, please email communicate@denverwaldorf.org.

Many heartfelt thanks to David for his dedication to the growth of our students.


The Denver Waldorf School Remote Learning Video

A peek into our curriculum and remote learning. We never imagined that our school would have to — temporarily — close its physical doors. Classrooms, the festival hall, the playground, the gymnasium — filled with the sound of happy and enthusiastic children — are now silent. But we are not silent. We are adaptive. We are creative. We are resilient. We are The Denver Waldorf School.


Bringing Waldorf into the Home

There’s no time like the present to revisit the wisdom shared by two DWS moms, Clair Boswell and Bridget Hand, on how to bring Waldorf into home life. During our September parent council meeting, they presented many ideas for establishing an in and out breathing rhythm throughout the day and through the seasons. Establishing a rhythm in our homes gives a sense of security and provides for healthy activity for our children. With suggestions for practical activities and resources to connect as a family and with nature, their presentation is worth revisiting below.

Waldorf in the Home Handout
Audio Recording of Presentation of Waldorf in the Home


Waldorf Window Stars

Truth, beauty and goodness are core tenets of Waldorf education. We surround ourselves with wonder and beauty to awaken our spirits and inspire our learning. During this time of social distancing in the world all around us, now more than ever, we need to lean into the beauty of our everyday life to connect us as human beings. There is a movement to display rainbows- which symbolize peace and serenity, hope and promise- in our windows at home to bring light and connection to all who walk by. Waldorf window stars have long been a favorite way to brighten our classrooms and homes, and in rainbow colors, we love how they contribute to the optimism of this movement. This is an activity that can be shared easily with little hands to bring happiness to our homes and community! Below we share this simple Waldorf window star tutorial with your families.

Materials

– kite paper
– glue stick or glue
– scissors or paper cutter (if you need to resize your kite paper)

Instructions

– Step 1. Resize your kite paper if needed. The paper we used was 6.3″ x 6.3″, and we cut into quarters so that we could make smaller stars to fit our window space.
– Step 2. Arrange your prepared pieces of paper into the order that you want your star points to be- you will have eight points, so you need eight pieces of paper!

– Step 3. Fold your first square in half

– Step 4. With your paper still folded in half, fold in half again

– Step 5. Open up your paper completely, and then fold one corner into the middle

– Step 6. Repeat step 5 with each remaining corner

– Step 7. Fold in two sides so they meet in a straight line at the center

– Step 8. Repeat steps 3 through 7 for remaining papers

– Step 9. Begin gluing your star points together

– Step 10. Continue working around your star, gluing each at the center

– Step 11. Make sure your star is dry, and then hang in your window to spread beauty, light and love!