When it comes to home education, there are basically two camps. In one camp sit the families who decide from the beginning (or perhaps early along the way) that they will home educate throughout their kids’ childhoods. The other camp, the one in which we wave our flag, takes it year by year. After a LOT of (sometimes agonizing) contemplation, local research, and analysis we decided to take the plunge and enroll the boys in a new charter school here. Since our district is gradually creeping towards a year round schedule, they dove into this new venture last week. Although it seems like we will have to adjust to shorter summers, we are looking forward to having multiple breaks throughout the year: a four day school week, Fall Break, a week long break in February, Spring Break, and the other typical holidays observed by public schools like MLK Day. I also have to remind myself that the long summers we enjoyed in my childhood are really based on an old system when kids spent summers helping their families with harvesting. That doesn’t usually happen these days!
Juniper Ridge Community School is a publicly funded Waldorf school that is attempting to merge the best of alternative education with state requirements. Out of a huge panel of applicants, the Steering Committee selected eight grades teachers for K-6. Most are public school teachers who are fed up with the “system” but who are passionate about true education. A few others are long time certified Waldorf teachers. Each year, the school plans to add a grade and hopefully eventually become a K-12 institution. As the founder of the school said during the Opening Ceremonies last week, its a school for kids and the entire focus is to meet each child where he or she is at and walk with them through their development and academic education. The school intends to honor the individuality of every child. And, instead of being an additional course, the arts are primary at Juniper Ridge and used as vehicles through which traditional academics are taught. The kids also engage in “specials” classes like Spanish, string instruments (grades 4-6), recorder (grades 4-6), pentatonic flute (1-2 grade), and handwork (fiber arts such as finger knitting, knitting, crochet, and felting as well as woodworking). There is also a Games class where they learn those long lost old fashioned group games that employ rhymes and cooperative play.
Class size at Juniper Ridge is very appealing. Blake’s fourth grade class has only 19 kids and Austin’s second grade class has 23. The enrollment cap for each grade over kindy is 23 students. Also, the boys will get to loop with these wonderful and nurturing teachers. That means kids stay with their teacher from first through fifth grade. Which is another reason the Hiring Committee was so very selective. They found some very talented and committed men and women for this school. Because, let’s be honest. Looping with a mediocre teacher just isn’t going to work well for anyone involved. In addition, it goes without saying that parent involvement is going to be integral to the school’s success. We are looking forward to forming some great friendships with the teachers and other families as we all take this journey together!
Can I just say that the first day of school was almost magical? The Opening Ceremonies were in the morning and intended as a welcome to the kids and their families. The staff and board of Directors were introduced, the principal told the children a fairy tale (he told it in a very animated storyteller type fashion…..it wasn’t read!), the staff sang the children a song they had composed, and the teachers welcomed each child with a fresh flower (grown locally, by the way). The school is very “grassroots” which essentially means there is little to no extra money, so some other parents and I were responsible for “decorating” a church auditorium for the occasion. We did our best to transform it from a neon youth room to something more aesthetically “natural” . Our task was to create something out of nothing. All we had was donated newsprint paper, tempera paint, gift wrap tissue paper, coffee filters, glitter, sheets from Goodwill, hay bales, and fresh flowers from families and the community garden here. All in all, it was executed well and, coupled with the atmosphere of love and support from the teachers and parents, the kids felt quite welcome. My sweet and talented brother in law (who just happened to be visiting!) also agreed to play the piano as background music and that in itself just made the morning even more beautiful and special!