Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Little School that Could

   Many of us in the homebirthing community embrace alternative education for our young ones.   If we folks are conscious about choosing how and where we give birth, it  makes sense that we will also  consider how to school our young.  Waldorf education, homeschooling, and unschooling are some examples of these kinds of choices.  My first daughter was born in Santa Cruz, California, and when she was a wee nursling tucked in my sling, I saw Rahima Baldwin speak about Waldorf education and the young child.   It was music to my ears - an approach to education that seemed like homebirth midwifery for the child's mind and heart!   Rahima Baldwin, by the way, had been a foremother of American homebirth midwifery and wrote Special Delivery, a classic homebirth book .  Then she became a Waldorf educator, and her book You Are Your Child's First Teacher is one I recommend to new parents.  I knew what I wanted for my children.
    Waldorf education weaves art, music, handwork such as knitting and crochet, reverence for nature, and movement into reading and math.  Waldorf classrooms are softly colorful, lessons are poetic, all materials are natural such as wood or wool with NO plastic, and all the children sing and learn music, including string instruments starting in third grade.  "Accept the children with reverence, educate them with love, send them forth in freedom"  says Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf founder.  All subjects are introduced when developmentally appropriate, and the wonder and magic of childhood is nourished and left intact.  
   We moved to Chico in 2002 when Clarabel was two.  Lo, and behold, Chico had a fledging Waldorf Charter School!  Charter means public and tuition free, not private.  Open to everyone, by lottery.  The school was tiny, just one kindergarten class, but it would grow by one class each year until it was K-8.  Clarabel started kindergarten there when it was K-2.  There were about 50 students.  Over the next several years the school slowy grew and blossomed into a beautiful community of families and teachers.  We moved three times as we grew.  The final move was last year into a closed-down Blue Shield Call Center that was built to look like an Ivy League campus on the outside, and was an ugly cavern on the inside.    We transformed it into a beautiful school, tore up the asphalt parking lot,  and built a playground with our own hands.  Then we had to double our school size in one year to fill and pay for this giant new space. Now we had 350 kids, and a year of growing pains as we adjusted to so much change. 
      Then, this year, we almost lost our charter.  I won't get into the details of the politics that led to this, but our charter was denied renewel by our original authorizing agency.  So we wrote a new charter and took it to the Chico Unified school board for approval.  Over the last several months we have worked hard to raise community awareness about our school, align our curriculum more closely to the standardized tests that are considered the "bottom line" to determine a school's success, and waited to see if our school would stay open.   Last night, the board voted.  After two hours of tense discussion, it was looking pretty bleak.   The first motion of the vote was to CLOSE the school!   It was quickly seconded.  Then, by a miracle, one board member stood up and talked to her peers about looking beyond test scores, to other aspects of what an education is.  She moved to give us our charter, and the motion was carried, three to two.  It was incredibly emotional.  Teachers, parents, children, all crying together with joy and relief that our blessed school would stay open.  It felt like that moment of relief when we finally meet a baby, after a long, complicated labor.  Bravo Blue Oak School, a beautiful, joy-filled school for our children, now for many years to come!

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