Rudolf Steiner School New York City The First Waldorf School in North America
The Bulletin Summer 2014
2 THE BULLETIN Summer 2014
A SUMMER OF PROGRESS
The Bulletin Publication of Rudolf Steiner School
By Dr. William Macatee
We are pleased to receive ideas and submissions for consideration that relate to Steiner and Waldorf philosophy. We reserve the editorial rights, including the right to edit and decline materials that we believe are not ideal for The Bulletin.
“To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take real interest in the world.” -- Rudolf Steiner Over the past few months, I had the opportunity to witness the extraordinary talents and skills of the students and teachers from a unique perspective. Thrilled as I am by their openness and commitment to learning, I am even more amazed by their full participation in so many different activities – drama, chorus, orchestra, extended day programs, service projects, internships, painting, sculpting and fundraisers!
Guidelines for submissions: All submissions are due by the deadline, e-mailed to the Director of Marketing and Communications Brian Kaplan at bkaplan@steiner. edu. We will make every effort to include submissions.
I am happy to report that the parent community, working with the Development Office staff, is actively engaged in support of the good work of the Steiner school. In May, the generosity of the adult community was front and center at the school Gala. More than 240 friends of the school joined many faculty and staff members in an evening of entertainment, dancing and fun. Auction items ranged from the most wonderful student handwork I have ever seen to foreign destinations. Thank you to all who participated. May this exciting spirit of generosity continue to be exhibited as we move toward Steiner’s 100th anniversary.
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The work of the students and teachers and the generous support of parents, friends and old and new donors, points to a bright future for our great school. Believing in, and actively working to bring our future to life, is a collective enterprise requiring the cooperation and commitment of all community members. We look forward to your ongoing support.
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As we move forward into the summer with its warm and sultry days and nights, keep in mind the many successes of our past and plan for even greater successes in the future. Spread the word about our school to your friends and neighbors. Throughout the summer, our custodial staff will be busy with construction and painting projects, preparing the buildings for opening day in September. In the midst of all this activity, visitors who are interested in attending our program are always welcome. Stop in for a quick visit or call ahead for a scheduled tour and conversation. I look forward to seeing many of you throughout the summer, and for those of you I do not, I wish you a safe and enjoyable season.
To advertise, contact Brian Kaplan at the above e-mail address. All money received for advertising will be used for future marketing projects for the school that assist our students and their families, such as DVD reproduction.
The next issue of The Bulletin is scheduled for the week of Oct. 6
William D. Macatee, Ed.D Administrative Director
Submissions are due Sept. 12 Rudolf Steiner School Lower School Campus 15 East 79th Street New York, NY 10075 Upper School Campus 15 East 78th Street New York, NY 10075 212.535.2130 www.steiner.edu
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Letter from the Administrative Director Views From The Rose Ceremony Waldorf Blossoms in China / Tim Hoffmann High School Green Club & Green Initiatives Senior Class of 2014 Michael D’Aleo’s Scientific Intuition 7th grader Awarded Prestigious Honor for Story Jacket Required for May Day / Parent Council Waldorf Blossoms in China (continued) 6th Grade Creates Class Play in Spanish RSS Colleges & Universities for the Class of 2014
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VIEWS FROM THE ROSE CEREMONY
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Waldorf Blossoms in China
by Tim Hoffmann - 1st Grade Class Teacher
Reading Steiner in Beijing Most of us were surprised this past February when the New Yorker ran an article on Waldorf schools in China. That the movement there should gain such international attention suggested that indeed something big was happening and that we had better take note. What would the new, Chinese version of Rudolf Steiner’s educational impulse look like? I was intrigued, and the chance for a close-up look arrived almost immediately. Through a mutual friend my wife and I came in contact with the organizer of a teacher training center just outside Beijing. He needed someone to lecture for a few weeks in April and May. The topics were to include Steiner’s pedagogical principles in general and a brief introduction of teaching math and science in grades four through eight. The question of whether to accept such an offer was, as we say, a “no brainer.” Practical arrangements were easy. I gathered some materials: physics equipment, a few textbooks, my sons’ old main lesson books and geometric drawings. On April 4, I was off. The image I had of China was and still remains complex and a little confusing. I can’t really offer more than some broad generalizations. I feel sure that upon visiting a second time, many impressions would be turned inside out. I’ll give it a try anyway. The Village The Chunzhigu College training center is in a village to the northwest of Beijing. Take bus #346 for about an hour’s ride to the last stop and you’re there. The village lies at the edge of the beautiful Phoenix Mountain Range, and yes, the skies are often cerulean blue in April and May. Beijing’s smog only reaches out this far occasionally. In addition to the training center, there’s a young Waldorf school, nursery through third grade so far. (More on this later.) Next to the school there’s a bio-dynamic farm just getting started. The section of the mountain range that adjoins this area is part of a protected park. You pay to enter this park, about four dollars, and then you climb past a Buddhist temple high up to the top. This took me over four hours one Saturday morning. In short, this is a great place for the various Steiner-inspired initiatives to get going. The city is within reach, but you’re in the countryside. To be fair, though, before the image of a rustic idyll is too firmly instilled, the place is actually rather messy. There’s a haphazard quality to the architecture and landscaping; large, single storey industrial buildings stand vacant, weeds spring up, and trash is scattered. The peach orchards are well cared for --and heavily sprayed with herbicide—while other spaces are left to go to waste. Construction and demolition happen at an incredibly rapid pace. Everything is done in a hurry. Much of the new stuff, all chrome and polished marble, heralds the arrival of China’s new wealth. Spas, condos, conference centers mostly. The profit motive reigns supreme here in the People’s Socialist Republic; I’m not sure I got a sense of how long term consequences are taken into
account. But the desire to effect immediate change is commendable and I’m impressed with the energy. The College This sense of not wanting to waste any time also manifests in the Waldorf movement. Its rapid growth in China has not been seen anywhere else in the world. The first openings to choice in education which the regime is cautiously granting are being exploited. Parents are willing to make the financial sacrifice private schools require. But there’s no tradition of independent schools, and it seems everything goes. Who will ultimately be held responsible for a school’s success or failure? Is there a standard by which a Chinese Waldorf school may use the Waldorf brand name? What are the prospects for Waldorf school graduates in an incredibly competitive college admissions race? (Ian Johnson, by the way, addressed these questions very fairly in the New Yorker article, and if you’ve not yet read it, I recommend it.) The biggest question for me was very general: how to present Rudolf Steiner’s work? Should I assume this audience will be different from the American ones I know? Or would that just suggest cultural chauvinism on my part? I am, by now, convinced of the validity and efficacy of our teaching methods and of anthroposophy as a means of investigation. But I do wonder whether it suits a western mindset particularly. Steiner’s basic themes---the possibility of knowledge, of free will and individualism--these form the core of any anthroposophical study and I wonder how to incorporate them here in a culture which values communal striving. In the end we do end up focusing on pedagogical issues. Curriculum on the one hand, but more on Steiner’s descriptions of the growing child—let’s call it developmental psychology—in its threefold and fourfold manifestation. These inevitably lead to karma, reincarnation, evolution, and a host of other big topics. Such concepts, though, present no particular hurdles for this audience; Steiner’s language appears to be universal. I find this reassuring. It is also interesting to me that questions of religion never arise. Religion appears to play but a small role in Chinese cultural life. It is irrelevant in our work at the seminar. The easy coexistence of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism lacks any of the fundamentalist conflict we know over here. Thus it is easy to take up the study of anthroposophy without mentioning religion. (Even discussions of Christ avoid the religious element! This, sadly, is almost impossible in the West.) How refreshing this is. Some might point to Mao’s attempt during the
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Cultural Revolution to rid society of the “Four Olds” – old customs, old culture, old habits, and old ideas--as a liberating deed. But I’m not so sure. My sense is that there is a long tradition here of acknowledging spiritual realities without reference to religion. And that, I am imagining rather hopefully, should make Anthroposophy easier. The people I met are eager to learn everything they can about Steiner. The Chunzhigu center cycles through a number of European and American guest lecturers, and in turn we all present our material. At least initially, this is pretty much a one way communication; through a translator, of course, I am doing all the talking. The audience, polite and attentive, is always eager for more. In the first three weeks, I gave three or four lectures a day, to the same audience, on everything from the teaching of anatomy to geometry, math, and chemistry. I imagine this mammoth schedule to be harder on the audience than the presenter, but the students’ eagerness and willingness to listen never wane. When one presentation is finished a few minutes before the allotted time, I am asked to continue with more material. The idea of breaking early for tea doesn’t seem to occur. This is new to me. New also is the ubiquity of cameras. Not only is every session filmed for the center’s archives, the students, too, photograph everything that I write or sketch on the chalkboard. Thus everything is filed away, to be retrieved when needed. I get used to it, of course. But I also become more attentive to what I write. Who knows when I’ll confront it again? The challenge, I soon realize, is to encourage the students to become creative on their own, and so I arrange to teach another two weeks on different approaches to designing main lesson books. This is just the right topic, and it allows me to demand some independent work. And the results are often astonishing; the artwork is of a really high caliber. I think everyone is pleased with the achievement. By now, too, the ice has been broken, and we are working as a team. The participants in the seminar are wonderfully friendly. I am invited on trips to the various sites of interest on the weekends. The Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, museums, temples, even a trip to hot springs for a swim. When I ask if a bicycle might be borrowed, two appear the next day. And I am loaded down with gifts and souvenirs before departure. Meals are the highlight. It’s not the Chinese food we know of in restaurants here, except perhaps the Peking duck I had one day. Truth is, I’m not sure what was served much of the time. Often you sit around a big table. There’s a lazy Susan which is constantly replenished with all kinds of dishes. This rotates slowly and you take whatever looks good. My chopstick technique
is now half decent. Even with sizable objects such as a pig’s feet!! And to drink? Hot water. Indeed! There’s a genuine social inclusiveness at mealtimes, I find. The compound where I live and where the seminar takes place has about twenty dwellings, set in three straight rows, all white stucco. It is surrounded by a wall and two iron gates high enough to suggest a correctional facility. Although the units are small by western standards, whole families live in each one, and meals are often communal events. Children run in and out freely. I don’t think the doors are ever locked. It’s the ideal of an old-fashioned childhood: toys and entertainments are few, and the children are imaginative in creating their own pastimes. Found objects are easily put to use in games of fantasy. I love to watch them at play. These are the children who attend the local Waldorf school. I’m not entirely clear on what the arrangements are or how long they will be here. Usually the father has stayed in the hometown while mother and child (in most cases just the one, though some exceptions to the one-child policy are now being made) take up this temporary situation. I think about half of the mothers hope eventually to become teachers at the Waldorf school back home. They are at Chunzhigu only for the training. If I keep my promises to visit them all upon my return to China, I’ll be traveling all over the land, even into Tibet! The Waldorf School Most of my visits to the Waldorf school occur in the last two weeks of my stay in China. What’s most remarkable is how similar the experience here is to visits I’ve made to schools around the world. The children are boisterous and full of energy. They enjoy each other’s company and seem to be always at play. The oldest group here is the third grade. The youngest, barely three, are in a mixed age nurserykindergarten group. I spent at least one morning with each group. And, except for the language, I could really have been anywhere. The suburban Waldorf school I’d visited just weeks before in Titirangi in New Zealand and this Chinese school are cut of the same cloth. Quite remarkable how strong this “Waldorf ” identity has become, seeming to envelop regions as diverse as the old commonwealth and this burgeoning new China The biggest difference, of course, is the language. Six weeks in and I still don’t understand anything. I’ve gotten used to the different tonal quality, though, and I can sometimes interpret the emotional content. But no more. In the classroom teachers speak with the accustomed pedagogical demeanor. Rudolf Steiner’s morning verse is spoken, though it’s more melodic in Chinese. (Continued on P. 14)
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THE HIGH SCHOOL GREEN CLUB INITIATIVES: BY RUSSELL WILLIAMS, JILLIAN COUNTEY, CELESTE SINGH AND SASHA PINTO
he RSS Green Club actively worked every day making a small but significant difference through our recycling program, our gardening efforts, and our exploration of green initiatives local and worldwide. We are addressing more important projects than just these: we are setting an example of deliberate, sustainable intention that we hope will inspire others. Our goal is to make an impact, not just through recycling and gardening, but also by educating and involving people, starting with students.
The Green Club came into being three years ago thanks to the initiative of Steiner graduate Larissa Robinov’13. For the past two years, members have been diligently collecting recycled materials from every room in the high school. Every day after school, two members of the Green Club empty these bins and bring that day’s collected items to the Lower School for pickup by the Royal Waste Recycling service. Although the program in the high school started slowly, we have been persistent and encouraging, and this year, we have seen a significant increase in the amount of recyclables collected. As we proceed into the future, we hope to further reduce the amount of landfill waste generated in the Upper School, and to collect food scraps for compost. Recycling should be more than just a task— it should be a way of life. To further spark interest, every week we find an interesting newspaper article on a related topic and post it on the school bulletin board. Through modeling good stewardship of the environment, we hope all RSS students will themselves become more diligent and deliberate recyclers.
A second ongoing Green Club project at Rudolf Steiner School is our stewardship of the fifth floor terrace garden. Participants show an enthusiasm about the world of agriculture, and many of our Wednesday afternoon meetings are dedicated to observation and cultivation of our plantings. Our work with plants is year round, though in winter, our meetings tend to focus more on recycling, planning, and discussions of green initiatives in NYC and beyond. Early spring is the busiest gardening time as we start seeds indoors, repairing and constructing planters and rejuvenating the soil with compost. Ongoing work includes building trellises and cold frames (winter), transplanting seedlings after spring break, and incorporating leftover sprouts from the eleventh grade Botany Main Lesson. In the late spring and early fall, when our garden is relatively established, attention turns to weeding, watering, and harvesting.
Over the years, we have found that our gardening is an opportunity to reconnect with the processes and rhythms of nature – to integrate into our urban experience a little more of the “rural.” We also intend for the terrace garden to beautify the fifth floor, hence offering the community a dedicated green space that changes with each season. Our humble garden is not only for the purpose of environmental education, but is also a living experiment that the whole school can enjoy. A new initiative this year has been to schedule Green Club outings from time to time to better experience green ideas in action around the city. To educate ourselves, we have visited schools and gardens to see how various methods of ecological concepts work. In the fall, we visited the Brooklyn Waldorf School to learn about their beekeeping activities. We asked in depth questions about potential green spaces and projects in their school’s new building. This spring, we made a trip to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, which helped extend our knowledge of plant varieties and the different ecosystems they inhabit. From each place visited, we have received inspiration that we can use to better our own green efforts and awareness at RSS. In the fall, we plan on visiting the new Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in Sunset Park and some well-established community gardens in Manhattan. Our goals for the Green Club are myriad and ambitious. Keeping bees on the RSS roof perhaps tops the list – especially considering that in 1923, Rudolf Steiner himself predicted the dire state of the honeybee today! Unfortunately, it’s a project that is unlikely to happen at the 78th Street building without a major capital investment to rebuild and strengthen the roof. Less ambitious, but still very important goals, exist for the Green Club. We are investigating a light bulb initiative, “greening” the Lower School terrace with plantings, a green wall or a butterfly garden, arranging a cell phone and electronics recycling program, and visiting classrooms in the lower grades to talk about recycling, conservation, and what green means to the younger generation. Our ethical goal is to help our community become more conscientious about natural and human resources, and how they interrelate. We hope everyone will join us in supporting more sustainable ways of life, not only at school, but also at home.
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A SEASONED GREEN THUMB: ON BEHALF OF THE GREEN COMMITTEE ADULT GROUP
The Green Committee Adult Group has been active this year primarily with the implementation of a composting and recycling program for the Lower School. While we are not composting on- site, we are delighted to frequently provide composting material to the McEnroe Organic Farms in Millerton, NY. From the Early Childhood through the grades, all food related “waste” is collected, picked up and transported from school daily. We also provide recycling of paper, plastic, glass and metal materials in the cafeteria. With the assistance of the Maintenance Department, we are exploring green building materials for upcoming projects and renovations. The Cafeteria continues to explore local and sustainable food sources. One of our members collects used light bulbs and brings them to his hometown where they are recycled. As our dedicated Green Committee students said in their fabulous article, we have a group looking into the development of the Upper School Rooftop with the hope of one day paving the way for bees, gardens, solar energy panels, and hydroponics. We actively plan to find more ways to work with and support the High School Green Committee in their recycling efforts and education next school year.
We also hope to utilize our partnership with Terra Cycle, and host recyclable item drives (soon, you’ll receive information about the “Re-Wear” clothing swap for EC – 3rd grade throughout the next year. Along with our green student committee, we are dedicated to looking at environmental education and sustainability in our school and exploring ways to further involve our community. If you have any ideas or thoughts to share, or you would like to join our committee, please contact Chef Li. This committee is open to parents, faculty and staff. Tenth grade took its final class trip to Hawthorne Valley Farm in May. Activities to the biodynamic farm included working with animals, gardening and a six-mile hike.
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SCENES FROM COMMENCEMENT 2014
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SENIOR SLUMP.....NOT QUITE
The last month for most seniors is appropriately referred to as the senior slump. Steiner seniors (now alumni), however, are still shaking off cramped legs from the amount of running they did during their final month. Following several performances of the senior class play, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, which was directed by Mr. Anderson and Mrs. Venho, Steiner seniors embarked on ambitious two-week internships. Most seniors determined and secured their own internships, mainly in the greater New York area, with the exception of two, who worked in Hawthorne Valley, NY at the school’s biodynamic farm, while one student worked with a hedge fund in Connecticut. The internships varied from an art gallery, Mendel Fashion and shadowing a doctor to working with Bank Street School, a dog trainer, Brooklyn foundry, a documentary filmmaker and a dance school.
• Serena Ingram travelled to meetings with Chuck Smith, the parent of a 10th grader, who was working on a documentary film based on the life of Barbara Rubin. • Ibrahima Diane worked with the Steiner nursery students; he related that his most memorable observation was the gender differences between boys and girls. • Filip Koritysskiy shadowed Dr. Timothy Kennedy, a gastroenterology surgeon, watching several operations, mostly laparoscopic; the doctor explained every procedure. Upon their return from their internships, the seniors quickly departed for their class trip to Pawley’s Island in South Carolina for one week. During the trip, they experienced local history with trips to Charleston and to a slave mart and museum.
• Luca Eisen worked on an envelope design for the skin of a skyscraper; he will continue working for the design/architecture firm AJLP as a paid employee this summer.
They took a four-hour boat ride through old rice plantations, and came together for two-days of community service at Teach My People, an after-school program for students in grades one through 12 geared toward high-risk family situations. Their focus during the community service was on cleaning, organizing, painting murals and doing yard work these families.
• Austin Zola participated in management meetings for public companies; analysts shared research on industrial magnets, and he observed traders while pouring through financial news.
Evening meals were planned, shopped for, and prepared by the students in small groups. This was a beautiful culmination for a special senior class, leading up to a week of festivities and the student’s high school graduation.
Several students Shared reflections:
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The atom is the smallest unit of matter. Nothing is faster than the speed of light. Absolute zero is as cold as it gets. False, false and false, according to scientist and Waldorf educator Michael D’Aleo. High schoolers are often exposed to faulty preconceptions like those as they build their scientific knowledge, says Michael D’Aleo, a mechanical engineer and the founder of the Waldorf High School of Saratoga Springs, who spoke in the Upper School Assembly Room on May 12. But the key to real discovery, he argues, requires students to draw on perception, intuition and collaboration rather than a mere retelling of facts - and a Waldorf education is at the heart of this shift. D’Aleo worked in the engineering industry for seven years and holds 17 lighting-technology patents. He was chief of new product development at Lutron, a maker of lighting controls, before embarking on a teaching career. He is a co-founder of the Saratoga Experiential Natural Science Research Institute in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and has worked extensively with teachers on improving science education. D’Aleo, who lives in the Adirondacks, and will be collaborating with Steiner’s science faculty next year, credits many of his own technical inspiration to an ability to observe natural processes in the world around him. But too much standard-issue science education is built on rote memorization and the ingestion of ready-made concepts and observations, he says, rather than coming by knowledge more organically. Artists, he points out, have long had the freedom to draw on experience as they create. Writers and musicians do the same. And so should students in the sciences, he says. D’Aleo points to Leonardo da Vinci as the ultimate example of a scientist guided by intuition; his innate capacity to weave together disparate threads of science and math led to huge leaps of knowledge. The Renaissance inventor had “an incredible capacity to observe, to make relationships,” D’Aleo says. Most of da Vinci’s Codex Leicester, for which Bill Gates paid a record-breaking $30 million in 1994, is simply a series of observations: Why there are fossils on mountains, why the moon doesn’t shine as brightly as the sun, how water moves. In explaining his own fascination with Da Vinci, Gates previously told business magazine Fast Company,
M ichael D’A leo ’s S cientific I ntuition by
B rian K aplan
“It’s an inspiration that one person off on their own, with no feedback, without being told what was right or wrong - that he kept pushing himself. That he found knowledge itself to be the most beautiful thing.” That quest inspired D’Aleo’s career, too. “What interested me the most about engineering was this whole idea, this whole question, how do you develop a product that doesn’t exist?” he says. “Who invented the cell phone? Who invented the laptop computer? All these wireless technologies and devices have so many different technologies - where did somebody learn how to do this?” That work – and D’Aleo’s own research – grew from group efforts that combined individual knowledge to develop new creations. “This, to me, is the highest form of thinking,” he says. “Because it’s collaborative thinking. It’s no longer, ‘Am I right and are you wrong?’ It’s, ‘Am I right and are you also right?’”
Collaboration is in short supply, he notes. Congress is at a standstill. Nations can’t find peace. “This way of thinking is what everybody’s longing for,” D’Aleo says. It’s also what a Waldorf education delivers. “This is the most important quality that we can give anybody as they leave high school – regardless of what they do, whether it is college, working world or social relationships and developing friends and family,” he says. “That capacity to understand the other, find the truth or lack of it, and then be able to point exactly at aspects or consistency or inconsistency.” The elements of a Waldorf science education lead to the point where students can make these connections on their own. In high school, D’Aleo
says, students first learn to “come back to their senses” and trust their own perceptions. They ultimately progress to a point where they gain the skills in logic and pattern recognition that they can build their own interpretation of the world around them. “I urge students to think out of their own experiences in order to begin seeing through these things,” D’Aleo says. “The wrong approach is ‘they’ve given me the observations and the concept, so I believe it and let’s move on.’ It’s predicated on trust.” It’s why science lessons show the experiment not at the beginning, but the end. Students are first given a chance to work through the problem, and then see the demonstration that proves or disproves it. Seeing the results first absolves them of the need to draw the conclusions on their own. “Slowly the system becomes richer,” D’Aleo says. “It becomes less of a system and more of a cultivation of quality and originality.” D’Aleo emphasizes the paramount distinctions for growing a 21st Century program: Integrating cutting edge materials, remaining true to Waldorf pedagogy, and ensuring collaboration are all fundamentals. “Just because two thoughts don’t point at the same goal does not mean that one is wrong and one is right,” he says. “It may mean that they are pointing at different aspects. Letting go of your ideas and embracing other people’s ideas… that’s where we find the relevance to teaching.” How students are educated is shifting today. “Teaching human beings with their own thoughts, through their own experiences, through their own senses of perception, through their own connections in order to make various conceptual relationships while at the same time dissolving that thinking in an instant, and taking up the thought of somebody else that is completely different, is where thinking gets really interesting.” D’Aleo sets up even the youngest students to think along these lines, asking himself three questions before the beginning of every class: Where have they seen these phenomena before? Where might this knowledge be used? And why should they care? The goal is to build a personal connection to the world – to craft a story that personalizes the learning for the student. Eventually, they come to build the connections and relationships on their own. The thinking he’s hoping to inspire doesn’t come overnight. “This is not an easy way of thinking. This is not something that’s going to be particularly comfortable,” he says. Breaking barriers, though, never is. “The greatest obstacle to intuition,” D’Aleo says, “is what you already know.”
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Seventh grader Billie Koffman was honored for her fictional story, Years of Change, with the 7th & 8th Grade Prose award at The New York Society Library’s Twelfth Annual Young Writers Awards on May 20.
More than 250 writing entries were submitted for 12 award winners. Billie was the sole recipient in the 7th and 8th Grade Prose category.
7th Grader Billie Koffman Honored With Prestigious Writing Award
Years of Change was based on a writing assignment that the seventh grade was given in the beginning of the year by Language Arts teacher Rosemarie Hester. “The assignment was based on an Edward Hopper painting,” says Ms. Hester. “I asked the students to focus on setting, description, characterization, dialogue and the elements of storytelling. Billie condensed her story, which was even longer than the 1,500 words that she submitted to The Society Library.”
Edward Hopper painting was impetus for Billie’s story
When Billie learned about The Young Writers Awards, she knew that she had to apply, so she shortened the story to the required word count and submitted it in March. When she was informed in late April, she was beside herself with excitement. “When I received the phone call from The Society Library, I was beyond excited,” Billie exclaims with an ear-to-ear grin. “I like to write fiction because the writer can make the characters do what I want them to do. It allows the writer to use that wonderment a little more. This story was one of my favorite things that I wrote.” The ceremony was held at the NY Society Library, which is conveniently located one block from Rudolf Steiner School. There were 140 schools that participated and Billie was the only 7th grade student to receive this accolade. This award did not surprise Ms. Malon, 7th Grade Class Teacher. “Billie has always been a beautiful writer and prose has always come easily to her. In fourth grade, we wrote as if we were seagulls flying over Manhattan when the Dutch purchased the island.” Creative writing blocks typically begin in seventh grade, but Ms. Malon always incorporates monologue writing, poetry – to write as though the student is a flower or a Native American watching a boat arrive, envisioning how life will change.
April Pereyra (L), Billie Koffman, Rosemarie Hester (R) celebrate during the 12th Annual Young Writers Awards
“That is the best way for the students to learn,” says Ms. Malon. “The children play characters and then we write about it.” Creative writing has been a major factor in Ms. Malon’s class since third grade when the students were assigned a daily writing activity called, “Every day there is something to write about.” When the seventh graders reached the assignment called, Wish, Wonder and Surprise, their projection was changed from looking outward, to more introspection because that is when the students can appreciate perception and perspective.
examine something that they wouldn’t necessarily be thinking about now.” Perspective came through Billie’s Language Arts class with Ms. Hester. “When I learned that the seventh graders would begin their year with a block on perspective drawing, it seemed clear that in Language Arts we could grapple a bit with the parallel concepts of perspective and point of view in literature and writing,” says Ms. Hester. “The students read short stories written from surprising points of view and each created a story of his or her own based on a painting by Edward Hopper. In ‘Route 6, Eastham,’ the artist’s use of perspective and vanishing point, in combination with his narrative suggestions, provided a rich setting for the students’ imaginations while it also presented a marvelous way for the Language Arts class to travel with the Waldorf curricular spiral. Each student rose to the occasion. In Billie’s case, the experience allowed her talents to find a kind of “new home.” According to the Society Library, this year’s winning entries ranged from realistic fiction and fantasy to poetry and memoirs. Robert Quackenbush, who became emotional when discussing a story about dementia, told all of the student writers, “You’ve inspired me.” Carol Weston, who shared a working draft of her newest novel, advised participants to continuously revise their work to become a better writer. Edra Ziesk noted that to become a better writer, students should read everything—books, essays, articles, and even cereal boxes. Recognizing that she had written an emotional story, Billie kept improving her prose by editing it multiple times.
“I wrote for four days and came up with three versions,” the young essayist claims. “I love writing and I knew I wanted to do something using memories, so I immediately decided to use an older person, who “The students explored wishes through would have more memories to rely on.” fairytales because that is something we have been studying since first grade,” Several award recipients spoke about Ms. Malon reinforced. “Wonder was their work and shared the inspiration expressed through poetry. It is a good for their ideas. Hopeful young writtime for a seventh grader to acknowledge ers should visit the Society Library’s a sense of wonder because it is not nec- Young Writers Award page to read essarily what they are feeling at age 13. other winning entries from this year. Surprise was a monologue where they were asked to find surprise in themselves, [Editor’s Note: Prepare a cup of tea, something they didn’t think they could put your feet up and read Billie’s story, do. It was an opportunity for them to “Years of Change,” on the next page]
THE BULLETIN Summer 2014
Years of Change By Billie Koffman
Gray clouds scuttled across a lonely sky. Not a creature stirred, save a disheveled man struggling up a long, dark, winding path. Overgrown with grass and heather, the path was one of the few things that looked as it had seventy years before or at least that the woman gazing out at the mottled sky remembered. She was used to people walking along the road; in summer merry visitors strolled leisurely down it wearing fancy hats and surrounded by their multitude of children. But summer was over now, cold rain fell almost every day and visitors were scarce. Through the window the woman had seen over sixty years of change. It was no surprise to her when the man pulled a paintbrush from deep inside his coat and then a piece of canvas and began to paint the house across from hers. The woman who’s name was Kate had seen many artists come to paint the house. There was a sort of quiet dignity about it even she could see. The old stone chimneys, white washed walls and clusters of whispering pines seemed to hold secrets. Artists felt the house’s magic. No artist stayed long though. They left as soon as they could. There was a sort of strange familiarity about the house. “It was not that it was not beautiful, no that was not it” Kate had long ago decided for herself, “it was just that the house looked like it should be full of laughter and children the way it once was.” The house, after so many years, still made her sad. The memories she wanted to forget haunted her though that she hadn’t forgotten them was a good thing. She was eighty-seven years old and still remembered almost her entire life. Her mind was slipping, that she knew. Ten years ago she could have remembered her wedding perfectly. Today it was hazy, half forgotten and the man she had married, dead. But that was life she thought looking down at her wrinkled hands. Her hair was no longer reddish gold but white and wispy with age. Her children were either dead or far away and her husband buried behind the house under the old poplar tree. Kate stared at the white house with a slight smile. She had been a maid for the last family who had lived there. A sudden image of her as the timid seventeen-year-old girl she had been so long ago sent her laughing. “A maid like none she had ever had,” her mistress had said so many a time. Her mistress was the most selfless person she had ever met. As a widow with one child she adored, her old mistress had inherited the house from a distant relative, and though she had complained endlessly about it, Kate knew the woman had cherished it. Kate allowed herself to sink back into her memories, closing her eyes and letting go. Golden clouds descended through the sky, bringing with them the chilly wind of a late November twilight. A thin layer of cold snow lay over the ground and bare branches. A young woman aged seventeen years and named Kathryn Strim marched up a small hill following a tiny set of footprints leading to a day dreaming boy sitting under an icy bush. “Nathaniel!” she called. The boy looked up. “Kate,” he smiled. “What are you doing here?” “I’d like to know the same of you, young man,” demanded Kate. “Oh,” said the boy looking sad. “I wanted to ask the squirrels if they had seen papa. You know, some animals see things you and I don’t, but there were no squirrels.” “Nathaniel” said Kate, tucking him in a blanket and hurrying down the hill “Don’t talk such nonsense. Your mother was heartbroken. This is the fourth time you’ve run away. You must not do it again, understand?” “I like being alone,” said Nathaniel “but if it will please you, I won’t do it again.” He wriggled out of her arms. Dropping to the icy ground, he smiled up at her, slid his chubby hand into hers, and led her down the hill. Days turned to weeks. Snow fell harder every day and Kate’s memory, no longer sharp, blurred together like the view out of a moving car. It was December, Kate gave birth to twins. Their dimpled smiles were the only light for Kate in the dark stormy winter that seemed endless. That month Kate, her husband and the twins moved into the house across the street from the white house. But every morning after feeding her own children, Kate, dressed in red
woolen flannels, would hurry across the dark road and into the warm white house where her mistress and Nathaniel waited. The white house was always filled with maids and cooks, stable boys and occasionally the old lighthouse keeper. Merry talk and old stories were passed around the fireside. But the talk could not distract them for long from the cold. It seeped in from the floor cracks; crept through the heavily bolted shutters and bit its way through even the warmest room. Germs spread like wild fire and before the first of January over a quarter of the staff was sick with pneumonia as was Kate’s mistress and little Nathaniel. The winter of 1947-1948 was a cold one. Many people died, most from pneumonia. Some people went outside and were lost in blizzards; others too poor to be able to afford heat froze. As winter progressed though Nathaniel and his mother slowly grew stronger. Early in February, Nathaniel begged the old lighthouse keeper to take him to the sea. Nathaniel’s mother forbade him. “I won’t let the sea have you and your father,” she mumbled to herself holding his golden head in her hands. But Nathaniel was determined. Every day he begged his mother, Kate or the old lighthouse keeper. “I want to see the frozen waves,” he would say. One night Kate’s mistress dismissed her early. “It’s going to get quite stormy. Why don’t you get home?” she had said. So Kate had said goodbye to Nathaniel and went home. She had eaten dinner with her family, tucked her sons into bed and sat peacefully with her husband by the fire. That night the rain fell in torrents turning the path into mud and making the ocean froth in the wind. Inside her house Kate heard the ocean waves roaring. Suddenly there was a pounding upon the door. Kate’s husband rose from his chair and opened the door. Outside stood the cook. The big woman’s face, usually so jolly, was swollen with tears. “Oh, Kate,” she said “something’s happened at the house.” Kate’s face went as white as chalk; she grabbed her shawl from the wooden rocker and hurried after the cook. Inside the white house, Kate ran into the living room. Dozens of people were gathered around the lighthouse keeper and in his arms he carried Nathaniel. The old man then told them the story-the story that would change Kate’s life forever. “It had been a normal night. The winds were strong, that was true, but the lighthouse built high above the tossing waves was sturdy. He had just finished his dinner when he thought he saw a little figure walking down the path to the sea. The old man’s eyes were going and lately he had been seeing things that were not there. But nevertheless, he slipped his wooden chair out from the table, took up the glowing lantern and strode to the door. Outside, the old man had bent against the wind making the perilous journey down the steep rocky cliff path to a stony outcrop below. There he saw the boy he loved so much reach out to touch the waves. Even before Nathaniel fell, the old man had known what was to happen. Nathaniel had leaned out too far and like a stone he dropped off the cliff and into the fury of waves below. When the old man had found him, it had been too late.” Nathaniel was buried behind the old house in a small silver box. “Ashes,” Kate had thought. That was all that was left of the little boy she had loved. Her mistress moved away and the rest of the staff left for other cities and other towns, far away from the sorrow of a boy’s life cut short. Kate did smile after the funeral but there was something in her smile that was gone and never replaced. Kate had other children. She grew older and her hair turned gray. Her children grew up and moved away. When Kate was seventy, her husband died but she survived in her little green house in a town with no electricity. She did not need the glamour of the huge cities that her children lived in. She simply lived, day-by-day. As Kate awoke with tears dried on her face, she turned to look across the street, the artist rose to his feet and before the first drops of rain, he was over the hill and gone.
THE BULLETIN Summer 2014 13
Jacket Required for May Day 2014 By Sam Sutton / Parent Council President
and toppling music stands. Once the ribbons had been attached, the pole was carefully raised up and stood tall (give or take a slight bend at the top). What followed was truly a magical and joyful experience for all! Cindi Clark guided the children and adults through the dancing, accompanied by recorders and violins. For two hours, the children were enthralled and intent in their journey around the pole wrapping the ribbons as they danced.
Strong winds with a significant chance for rain was the forecast for our first May Day Event. We briefly considered relocating the May 4th event indoors, but in true Steiner spirit, we forged ahead and held it outside, rain or shine, determining that rain gear and boots work well with picnics. As families entered the park and walked the path to the top of Great Hill, there was immediately an air of excitement. The pole was arriving in pieces and families were making their way to the meeting point carrying bags and pulling wagons. Children dressed in white, anticipating something, but not quite sure yet what it would be since it was the first May Day Celebration for most of these young children.
As if it was on purpose, all of a sudden, the sun shone and the faculty, friends and families from nursery through the grades shared this traditional moment with laughter and a great sense of community and connection. We had only just managed to clear everything away when the heavens opened and a storm blew in – thunder, lightening and all. It was truly a dramatic end to a lovely afternoon.
Dan Goldstein and Svein Berg busily got to the tricky task of putting up the pole while the children made flower crowns and families spread out their picnic blankets. The wind turned out to be quite a challenge, not only for the pole, but also for the group of musicians who struggled to contain flapping music
Huge thanks to Olga Berg, who was the motivating force behind this event, and to all the other parents, faculty and friends who helped to make this happen.
Support the Annual Fund by June 30 Please Visit www.steiner.edu/giving
THE BULLETIN Summer 2014
Waldorf Blossoms in China Continued from P. 5
Songs are all in exotic modes. Spoken, or recited poetry is something I miss in these lessons. (The monotone of our English recitation must sound rather dead to the Chinese ear.) But the rest of main lesson unfolds much as you’d expect elsewhere with counting games, story time and work in main lesson books. world have to learn to read and write. Or, as we say, to be ontologically correct, to write and read. But reading characters is nothing like reading words formed by 26 letters. Our children here learn the principles of word-making and then, more or less from one day to the next, they can read. There is a definite break from the preliterate to the literate period of life, a before and after if you will. Now imagine that you are never really going to read in our sense of the word. Instead, you will learn to recognize characters. Not just 26. No. Thousands of them will have to be committed to memory. This process of memorization will begin in first grade and will continue throughout your time in school. Typically, first graders learn about 150 characters. Second graders add another 300. And so on. So, yes, of course they are learning to “read,” but this is a different activity than here in the West. From my very first encounter with this system, I’m inclined to think that early introduction to the characters –even in kindergarten—would not be as dubious an undertaking as would early reading here. But that is really a neophyte’s reaction. What I really like about the character system is that even the modern signs which are more abstract than their forebears still have an image quality to them. When you look at characters, you are looking at pictures. A lot of pictures! Basically, I’m amazed at how much these students can commit to memory.
with large “letters” drawn in crayon and then moved to color pencil. The pen and ink calligraphy that is so beautiful remains, if I understood correctly, for the later grades.
Once they move on to typing, there’s a new challenge. All of the keyboards I saw have the western alphabet. The pinyin system of representing words suffices to bring up various Chinese characters—sort of like the auto-suggest function on your smartphone. So, before all too long, students must also learn our alphabet. (I never did figure out how this worked before computer technology.) I’m left with the distinct sense that this is a rather cumbersome system. The Vietnamese have switched to using a version of the western alphabet, and I wonder when that might happen here. No one I met had enthusiasm for it, though. The two early childhood groups that I visited were delightful. As mentioned, these are mixed-age groups with a range from three to six years. At this particular school the program is truly play-based. There are no books in the rooms that I saw. But the spaces are beautifully designed; all the materials are thoughtfully chosen. The teachers guide their charges with the familiar, sung voice. It all sounds quite natural in Chinese! Unlike here in the city, the children have easy access to the outdoors, and in fact the day begins with playtime outside. Children play freely at the usual imaginative games. The younger ones stick to themselves of course while the six year olds already show the team mentality. If I tune out the language at this moment of observation, I really could be anywhere, I think. Except perhaps for the pee bucket. The teachers are wonderfully practical I find. In the play area two buckets are strategically placed. One for the girls and one for the boys. When the need arises, they saunter over to relieve themselves. No one pays any attention. The boys, I notice, do take particular delight here. I saw four of them standing around the bucket comparing their aim. The one who could stand furthest from the receptacle and still hit the mark reigned supreme. Conversations with teachers at the school, whether formal Q&A at faculty meetings or impromptu, tended to focus on student discipline. Well, the lack of it. How do you advise colleagues on how to improve behavior? I’m not sure I was of much help here. I could only assure them that we, too, struggle at times. Other questions center on governance, finance, academic standards…all items you’d find on our own agendas.
The students in the grades all show remarkable skill in copying from the chalkboard. The work is very beautiful. Third graders wrote a text of approximately 200 characters at the end of one main lesson. I’m in no position to judge the quality of their work, but it certainly looked good. Like our students at RSS, they had started in first grade
My one regret is that I wasn’t able to observe any of the kung fu or tai chi classes. This will be a priority should I return. The attention and focus in these lessons is reportedly quite exceptional. Why? One wonders. And, if so, then how does one transfer it to other classes? I hope to find out about this next time.
THE BULLETIN Summer 2014 15
Greater Beijing During my six weeks in China I have several opportunities to explore Beijing. It’s a vast city, set out in a perfectly square grid on the plains. It’s easy to get around on the brand new subway system. All signage is in English as well as Chinese. It costs about 32 cents per ride. It’s also really clean and quiet. There are TV screens on the platforms where you wait, rarely more than five minutes from my experiences. There are also TV screens in the cars. And even, get this, outside the cars on the walls of the tunnels. These screens must be several hundred meters long. The image is programmed in such a way that it stays opposite the same window. So, as you’re hurtling along, you can watch an ad for what I think were business schools, Chinese banks, and, with Prince Harry, David Beckham, and Yao Ming as spokesmen, a wildlife fund of some sort. The whole thing is a bit of a waste, though. Almost everyone around me on these trains is absorbed in his or her own miniature screen with the usual array of video games, texts, and movies being played. This was the first time I saw someone wearing the new Google Glasses. There’s no telling what he was looking at. The hour’s ride on the bus away from the city and out to our village takes you back in time. It’s a bit of a relief after a long day to return to the slower tempo out here. After just a few weeks it does start to feel like coming home. In my trips into the city I hit all the recommended spots. Temples, palaces, markets, parks, hutongs, and galleries. (I skipped the shopping.) The day we went to the Great Wall it rained. It was still packed, though, and I can’t imagine what a sunny Saturday afternoon would have been like. In fact, the crowds are everywhere. There are lots and lots of people. You get used to being herded along. Security checks are everywhere. Fear of terrorist acts ever present.
Not that people like to talk about politics. I don’t know why, but I could not engage anyone in discussion about the regime. The focus seems to be on getting ahead and making it in the new economy. What might interest me as a guest--- workers’ rights, or environmental protection, or foreign policy for instance---these topics are avoided. Since the days of forced political participation and enthusiasm for socialist doctrine, people have withdrawn from debate. I have no idea what the news media are saying or whether the regime’s views are publicly challenged. This is a shame. I know the debate is happening somewhere, and I’m frustrated not to be able to read about it. I feel certain that if the country is to fulfill its promise, a new kind of civic engagement will be needed. If I allow myself in conclusion here to be hopeful, I can imagine that the movement for independence in education might be a kind of leaven. The slow devolution of the unitary state must be encouraged, bit by bit. A successful experience with school choice might encourage a broader debate about public responsibility and rights. Of course, there’s a long way to go, and perhaps I’m just dreaming. Our work in Waldorf education— worldwide—can effect change, though. Every effort is worthwhile. I’m grateful to be able to help out.
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Sixth Grade Sets Bar High for Class Play in Spanish By Brian Kaplan
During the summer, class teachers spend a great deal of time planning what they’re going to do the following year. The sixth grade play happens in January. This past year, class teacher Lucy Schneider chose against focusing on the Middle Ages or late Roman history because the students would not have reached that part of their studies by that point. “Since our play was near Groundhog’s Day and Candlemas, the day where housewives traditionally go to check on candle supplies,” says Ms. Schneider, “and it was the turning point between Epiphany and the onset of Easter, when the sun comes back, I thought of an Aztec play that I had done many years ago with the lower grades, and decided to try it again, emphasizing Aztec culture even more.” From there, Ms. Schneider decided to take the play’s focus even more toward Mexico, and do the production entirely in Spanish – a first for Steiner of this magnitude, and with such a young age. She wrote to Maria Creamer, Lower School Spanish teacher, who was in Colombia, and asked if she would be willing to do this. Señora Creamer was very excited to take on this challenging and new project. Ms. Schneider contacted her colleague Olivia Nunez, the Director of Community Engagement at the Go Project, a New York City based organization that works with children who are underserved by public schools in NYC, about finding somebody to translate the play.
“He seeks the help of a bird, which is popular in Aztec civilization, and during his journey, he frees a serpent, which is in the clutches of an evil three-headed sorcerer, with the assistance of an eagle, a mountain lion and an antelope. He receives the encouragement of the tribe elders, and wanders from star to star until he gets to the highest one, and hangs the sun in the sky.” The sixth graders began working on the play in Spanish class. “I told them the story and why they would be performing this production in Spanish, which was a great undertaking,” says Ms. Schneider. “With languages, children need to be immersed in order to become fluent. Even after several years of taking languages, practicing a few times per week, the students generally are a bit monotone. So it dawned on me, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to put them in a play where they would act and speak with conviction and enunciate their Spanish even more?’” “I started working on reading and pronunciation, making sure each child knew what he or she was saying in November,” says Señora Creamer. Mr. Spade wrote the music and Ms. Venho was essential for costumes, lighting and direction. Parents came and painted the sets. Several parents contributed on weekends, finishing the stage, a typical Steiner team effort. Several Spanish-speaking students from different classes
The book was originally from an Australian play, but it required significant rewriting to be translated into Spanish. Ms. Schneider wrote a prologue for the audience to introduce the characters, and Señora Creamer shared the story with the lower grades and added a song, so they had a better understanding of its meaning.
were so impressed that they insisted more than just two sixth graders spoke Spanish as their native tongue.
The story revolves around an Aztec man with five sons. It involved the end of the Mayan calendar, which was interesting because of all the recent discussion about the predictions for the end of the world. The legend goes that the Mayans would build a new temple on top of the old temple and they would have this renewal of the sun.
Another important take away was that the students learned to improvise. When one student took ill, two others memorized that child’s lines and delivered them flawlessly, a challenging tactic that is really appreciated in Spanish.
The young hero of the book, Chico Vaneg, offers to journey to the stars, where he would gather a piece of light from each star, the ancestors, that he would place on his shield and hang in the sky. “He is asked to sacrifice his life,” Ms. Schneider says.
“It was assumed that we had eight or nine fluent children in the class,” Ms. Schneider proudly proclaims. “It was very exciting for them, and for all of their teachers, too.”
“The appreciation that I have for Ms. Schneider is tremendous,” Señora Creamer elaborated. “What we produced for the parents and all of the students in the school was truly amazing and collaborative! I invited parents with children in other classes who speak Spanish fluently at home to see this play, and they could not believe their ears. They were extremely impressed.”
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ENJOY YOUR SUMMER AND MAKE IT A REWARDING TIME We look forward to seeing the children’s bright and cheerful smiles in September and hope your family has a prosperous summer. Please bring back stories to share with the community for the October issue of The Bulletin (due date: Sept. 12). Over the summer, we will implement several new communication programs that we are eager to share with you. Warm, but not humid, regards to you and your family. All the very best! Brian Kaplan Director of Marketing and Communications Rudolf Steiner School The First Waldorf School in North America