The Denver Waldorf High School offers a liberal arts education, consciously aimed to nurture and encourage adolescent ideals. The high school experience aims to balance the students’ academic needs with their longing to find meaning in the world.
At the start of each day, movement helps spark students’ circulation and bring them together. They then engage in a long, uninterrupted seminar (referred to as main lesson in elementary and middle school) to activate their minds, followed by music and elective classes to spark emotional expression. Music classes and elective courses promote the development of healthy emotional expression through creation.
Regarding music, all high school students participate in chorus, with the option to participate in either music ensemble or orchestra until their senior year. Students new to DWS and who have not played their instrument before are strongly encouraged to take private lessons.
Students apply what they’ve learned theoretically to scenarios in the real world. For example, a study of soil composition could be applied to a chemistry lesson on acids and bases, as well as a close reading of The Grapes of Wrath, and a course in black-and-white photography in which they learn to develop their own film.
Our goal is to expose our high school students to academic wealth, and demonstrate to them that all knowledge is valuable to encourage their pursuit of wisdom throughout life.
The high school curriculum revisits themes and subjects periodically to strengthen functional knowledge. Students cultivate their ability to think critically, organize ideas and information, and clearly present thoughts through an academically challenging mix of math, English, humanities, physics, life sciences, chemistry, world language, practical, industrial and fine arts, chorus, orchestra, drama, and physical education.
At the end of each block, students revisit the subject, in some cases capturing what they’ve learned by creating their own portfolio. We learn best by teaching. These lesson books give our students the opportunity to solidify the knowledge they’ve gained while exploring their ideal communication mediums, giving them a more complete understanding of themselves and their relationship with knowledge.
Our students leave The Denver Waldorf School knowing who they are, what success means to them, and how to achieve it. They leave with the motivation and the confidence to achieve. From ninth through twelfth grade, a new image of the adult develops in the young person’s mind and becomes their ideal. Truthfulness, thoughtfulness, self-possession, consideration, strong-mindedness, warm-heartedness — these are the qualities our students learn to hold as their ideal.
Our highly dedicated high school educators infuse their curriculum with their own extraordinary passion for learning and educating. Students enjoy lessons crafted by masters in their fields.
All of our teachers are well qualified, bringing knowledge and education gathered from all over the world to share with our students in a learning environment optimized to promoting personal and academic development in high school students.
Denver Waldorf high school students do not use textbooks in their courses. Instead, teachers bring lessons to life through lecture, discussion, music, literature, poetry and art. At the end of each four-week block, students create their own main lesson books, which are a compilation of all they learned during the block. Main lesson books combine art, writing, diagramming, and other forms of communication to collectively demonstrate the subject in a bound portfolio.
The high school curriculum aims to support a wide range of learning styles. For those students who require additional written material to support their learning, teachers may provide lecture notes and/or additional reading and resources.
Our high school students engage in fine, practical and industrial art classes that meet one hour every afternoon in four-week blocks. These elective courses are designed to support the developmental needs of students at each grade level. Additionally students may elect to delve deeper into art through elective courses offered throughout the year.
The Arts Director selects fine art classes each year for each grade level. These could include Black and White Drawing, Pastel Drawing and Printmaking in ninth grade; Casting Light and Shadow, Black and White Design, Drawing and Portraiture with Oil Pastels, and Black and White Photography in tenth grade; Expressive Portraiture and Collage in eleventh grade; and Oil Painting in twelfth grade. Practical Arts include Clay Modeling, Basketry, Calligraphy, Stained Glass, Bookbinding, Copperwork, Woodwork, Stone Carving and Blacksmithing.
Industrial arts are infused into the science and math curriculum. Each physics main lesson is paired with an industrial arts lab in the afternoon where students learn scientific concepts by engaging in hands-on projects. Students learn fabrication skills in working safely with hand tools, welders, power tools, and bench-mounted tools. They engage with materials from metals and plastics to wood and electronics.
Drama, painting, music, drawing, modeling, etc., are integrated into the entire academic curriculum, including mathematics and the sciences. The Waldorf method of education through the arts awakens imagination and creative powers, bringing vitality and wholeness to learning. No other educational movement gives such a central role to the arts as does Waldorf education.
In high school, as students develop their individuality, theater introduces them to the investigation of individuals within the context of a complex theme. Each high school class rehearses a play for two four-week blocks and performs for the full school community. Additionally, students may elect to explore theater again during the year through elective courses. In ninth grade, students take on short, one-act plays. The character development is short, but students begin to understand individual characteristics of the internal human being. In tenth through twelfth grade, students take on plays featuring characters that present the opportunity to wrestle with their opposite, highlight themselves, or mirror themselves, giving them a chance to gaze into their own souls.
We also take our students to see Shakespeare’s plays at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. With this wealth of theater, the students develop a well-rounded theatrical life that examines the human and technical aspects of the world they live in. They begin to see how internal and external life fit together.
Our students also participate in a group music class of their choosing three times per week for the full school year. Students may choose among chorus, orchestra, or music ensemble to commit to for a school year. The chorus performs a wide selection of vocal pieces that span time periods and cultures. The orchestra performs classical and modern pieces, and the music ensemble brings to life folk music from around the world. Students are encouraged to stick with one music group throughout their four years of high school in order to develop their skills within a working group. Our music teachers bring lessons in rhythm, note reading, and timing to the students. Students who have not previously played their instrument are strongly encouraged to take private lessons. Each music class performs throughout the year.
The primary world language taught in high school is Spanish, Levels 1-5. Students who have a strong interest to study an alternate world language may request an independent study option. Our students are required to take two years of a world language. Beyond that, they may elect to take levels 4 and 5 Spanish, which offer an academically rigorous option for students eager to study language and advance their skills.
Our world language curriculum is designed to inspire students to meet others from different cultures with genuine interest and spark the development new neural networks through the study of language. Advanced levels of Spanish go beyond this to prepare students for immersion experiences or college studies. Fluency is developed in varying degrees for each individual, but most often is only achieved through immersion.
High school science courses are designed to provide a fundamental literacy in each subject. Our high school students are encouraged to come to their own conclusions regarding the application of scientific knowledge through discussions carefully facilitated by the instructor.
In high school, there is also a conscious effort made to provide a combination of kinesthetic and visual experiences through laboratories, field trips, and experiments. These complement discussions and lectures. The physics curriculum is paired with hands-on labs in industrial arts. Nothing deepens science learning as much as building projects that involve problem solving and working with tools while utilizing scientific concepts.
The high school math program has two major components. One is the main lesson, in which math teachers introduce key concepts in a developmentally appropriate and colorful way. This main lesson is also where our students explore topics in quantitatively and geometric depth with use of applied algebra. High school math main lessons include conic sections, combinatorics and probability in ninth grade; sequences, series and trigonometry in tenth grade; projective geometry, functions and analytic geometry in eleventh grade; and calculus I and calculus II in twelfth grade.
The other component of mathematics in high school is the afternoon class. In these, new topics are also introduced, but improving students’ skills is the primary purpose. This includes constant review as familiar skills and concepts are applied in ever new contexts. These classes include: linear equations and quadratic equations in ninth grade; exponents, logarithms and periodic functions in tenth grade; linear systems and complex numbers in eleventh grade; and polynomials, rational functions, calculus, chaos, personal finance and statistics in twelfth grade.
In high school, our students travel through Greece and Rome to medieval history, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Age of Exploration, up to the present day in great depth. In ninth grade, our students grapple with polarities. During this first year of high school, our students examine history through various forms of revolution.
Tenth grade brings a deepening ability for analysis. Sophomores examine ancient history from a critical and analytical perspective. Our students compare and contrast what is happening globally throughout time to what occurred in their own country, including the American Constitution and the Civil War. Civil rights history compares the situation of black Americans in the 19th and 20th centuries. The biographies of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., help the students deeply study similarities and differences in revolutionary thought.
In eleventh grade our students examine the rise of Christianity and Islam, philosophers and theologians, political history, and knighthood and chivalry.
In twelfth grade, our students are prepared to synthesize earlier topics of study and see their relation to the magnificent sweep of the 20th and 21st centuries’ history. Students learn about modern art, the eras before, during and after World War I, World War II, Vietnam, and the period of their own lifetimes. Topics include the areas of science, philosophy, politics, economic systems, cultural upheaval, race relations, military weapons and tactics, world peace efforts and more.
The language arts curriculum aims to develop students’ ability to communicate clearly through different styles and for different audiences.
Ultimately, the curriculum teaches students to be flexible with language, with a nuanced understanding of how to correctly utilize grammatical and structural rules, and then again how to break those rules with intention. Students are exposed to many styles of writing throughout high school, including research, opinion, journalism, poetry, short story, plays, analysis, etc., with the purpose of helping them develop an appreciation for language. By graduation, students develop the capacities to wrestle with complex concepts and articulate them clearly on paper.
Students participate in movement-based classes weekly, often involving team sports at the neighborhood park. The number of classes in the week varies for each student, but range from two to four.
The Denver Waldorf School is a member of the Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSAA), and participates in inter-scholastic competition on a 1-A level. After-school sports are open to all students, without try-outs. A serious commitment to practices and games is expected.
After-school sports include co-ed cross country, girls volleyball, girls basketball, boys basketball, and co-ed Ultimate Frisbee. Students may also participate on local area high school teams for sports that are not offered at DWS. Each year, our high school students participate on soccer, baseball, field hockey, lacrosse, football, and swimming teams.
As twelfth graders stand on the edge of adulthood, they long for independence even though they are still unsure of their place in the world. The Senior Project is designed to help students begin to bridge this gap, preparing them for college studies and professional work in the world. Students must design a project that forces them to pursue a new area of interest or something that will stretch their abilities, mentally, physically, and/or emotionally.
Individual projects are approved by the high school faculty and supported by an adult mentor who is an expert in the chosen field. The project scope is equivalent to one main lesson block, or about eighty hours of work, and typically extends over many months of the school year. The project culminates in a formal presentation of learning to the full school community.
Denver Waldorf High School students have the opportunity to participate in a global exchange program with other Waldorf schools internationally. We provide students with an understanding of different beliefs and ways of being in the world. Through the opportunity provided to high school students to study abroad at other Waldorf schools, and through the experience of welcoming visiting students from such countries as Israel, Switzerland, Brazil, Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Germany, Argentina, Peru, Spain, France, the Netherlands and Russia, we provide a comprehensive view of humankind.
Our curriculum also emphasizes multicultural stories. We expose students to a variety of spiritual traditions and have confidence that in our essential nature, human beings are alike, part of a global humanity. Compassion and respect develop for what might first appear as “other.”
For more information on The Denver Waldorf High School Cultural Exchange Program, please contact Lydia Fiser, High School Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Service-learning is an integral part of the high school experience. Teenagers have a desire to be respected as valuable members of their community. Curriculum-based service-learning opportunities provide this in a very real-world way for students. Additionally, these opportunities work to empower students, helping them come into themselves a little bit more each year, until ultimately in their senior year, students feel capable and eager to step out into the world on their own.
Each school year begins with a service-learning trip for the entire high school. This trip focuses on environmental stewardship and community building. Each school year ends with a service-learning trip specific to the needs of each grade.
In ninth grade, students begin to explore their larger communities beyond their class and school. Throughout the year, main lesson teachers take the ninth grade class out to explore different areas of Denver and Colorado as it relates to the curriculum. For example, during the geology main lesson, students go to Red Rocks in Morrison, CO, and during Multicultural History, students take a trip to the Museo de las Americas. The students often use public transportation in order to better get to know their city and how to move through it. At the end of the year, the ninth grade participates in a service week, often involving work with gardening and building in support of various community initiatives.
In the way that students were introduced to new communities in ninth grade, sophomores are now introduced to how a community can work together. Students spend a week working on a biodynamic farm in Nebraska, learning about the rhythms of nature, and soil and plant biology to complement their Acids and Bases main lesson.
Juniors often question why the world is the way it is. In this vein, their service-learning trip involves looking at Native American history and why these communities struggle with poverty, suicide and disease. Students spend a week working with the Lakota Waldorf School on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, making repairs and improvements to the kindergarten and learning about Lakota history, culture and language.
By their senior year, students have now ventured out into communities beyond those close to home. They’ve come to understand how people can work together in community, and grappled with questions of inequality. During this final year of high school, students spend two weeks engaging with the question of how they can fit into the world. Each year, the high school faculty selects a trip specific to the class composition in order to provide the best experience for students to be able to seek out this question. No matter the location, senior trips focus on connecting with the rhythms of nature and engaging together with a world culture. The class community steps out into the world together, empowering each individually for his or her next step out into the world beyond high school. Past senior classes have engaged in service-learning trips in Alaska, Costa Rica, Peru, Kentucky, Australia, and Texas. Last year’s class worked and lived on the Yorkin Indigenous Reserve in Costa Rica with the BriBri tribe to for two weeks, planting spring crops and learning about the postcolonial history of the area.
The high school service-learning class trips help students stand out to colleges and universities as they recognize that service helps to foster the development of a sense of caring for others and a wider world view.
In addition to service-learning class trips, students are strongly encouraged to engage in community service on their own. For each 30 hours of community service per school year, students can earn up to two additional credits on their transcript for the year. This can be an individualized way of earning credit toward graduation while engaging in the community. Students have participated in community service opportunities at places, such as The Denver Zoo, Metro Caring, The Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the Colfax Community Network, Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado, and the National Sports Center for the Disabled.
As with service-learning, community service can help a student stand out on college and university applications.
In emphasizing the powers of observation and description, ninth-grade courses seek to answer questions that focus on what: “What is the world like?” As ninth graders begin to experience their own thinking and individuality, and as their former certainties are called into question by the chaotic buffeting of puberty, they need confidence in the physical grounding of their existence. Ninth grade studies include organic chemistry, geometry, and earth science. Students also study history through art, becoming aware of evolutions in architecture, depictions of nature, and portrayals of the human form over the centuries.
Tenth-grade courses emphasize the powers of comparison, discrimination, and judgment. By tenth grade, adolescents attain a more harmonious inner life, and are better suited to ask how: “How do the processes of the world bring contrasts into balance?” Tenth-graders study mechanics, with its laws of balanced forces and motions. They also study Euclidian proofs and the elements of poetry that have evolved in the English language. In history, tenth-graders turn their attention to ancient cultures and an appreciation for the evolution of consciousness that began in ancient times and culminated in the epitome of harmony and form represented by ancient Greece.
An important change occurs between tenth and eleventh grades as adolescents turn to their individual internal worlds. Eleventh grade courses emphasize the powers of analysis and the ability to discern meaning and purpose. The student now embarks on a lifelong quest for knowledge of self and others. The central question that underlies the offerings this year is why? This year introduces the stories of Parzival and Hamlet and examines the philosophy of Descartes. In the sciences, the physics of electromagnetic fields exemplify the possibility of knowing that which cannot be perceived directly.
Twelfth grade nurtures the powers of synthesis and a capacity for comprehending the evolution of the human being and the natural world. The twelfth grade confronts questions of who: “Who am I?” and “Who are you?” Twelfth-graders explore a range of ontological concerns through studies of American transcendentalism, Goethe’s Faust, evolutionary theory, and modern economic history. Independent senior projects reflect the emerging individuality of each student and incorporate personal research and service, culminating in an artistic, oral and written presentation.