by Bill Batson
“We try to connect the head, hand and heart of our students,” said Vicki Larson, the communications director at Green Meadow Waldorf School, as we walked through their campus on Hungry Hollow Road. This organizing principle was inspired by Rudolf Steiner, who created his first school in Stuttgart, Germany 100 years ago next year. His philosophy animates everything at Green Meadow, from the unspoiled setting, to the architecture of the buildings to the organization of both classrooms and lessons.
My conversation with Vicki explored outdoor classrooms, maker-space curriculums, and the universal inclusion of visual and performing arts. For those unfamiliar with Green Meadow, upcoming after-school programs open to the public and a fall crafts fair provide opportunities to visit this educational oasis in Chestnut Ridge.
When was Green Meadow founded?
In 1950, as a Kindergarten and a Lower School. We added a high school in 1972 and our first high-school class graduated in 1976.
What is the philosophy behind Waldorf Education?
Nearly 100 years ago, in 1919, Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner worked with factory owner Emil Molt at Molt’s request, to create the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany. The goal, on the heels of the Great War, was to educate children to be clear-thinking, compassionate, and conscientious adults that could look at the world in complex ways rather than descend into world war. Steiner achieved this through creating a pedagogy that centered around reverence for, and deep observation of, how we as human beings naturally develop.
The essence of Waldorf Education is founded on the understanding that every child goes through three distinct phases of development:
Infancy and Early Childhood (0-7)
Middle Childhood (7-14)
Each of these stages requires a different approach in order to meet and engage the intellectual, physical, emotional, and social needs of the growing child.
What is the significance of your location? I hear you have some very fascinating neighbors?
We are lucky to be located on Hungry Hollow Road, a beautiful, tree-lined stretch of road that still feels rural in this very suburban county. Our neighbors, all like-minded institutions working to transform the world, are the Pfeiffer Center, a biodynamic gardening institute; the Fellowship Community, an innovative intergenerational elder-care facility that also includes the historic Duryea Farm; the Fiber Craft Studio, where you can take a “Sheep to Shawl” workshop and learn traditional fiber arts; Sunbridge Institute, which trains Waldorf teachers and offers educational workshops and conferences that are open to the public; Eurythmy Spring Valley, a teacher-training program for those interested in the movement art of eurythmy (taught in most Waldorf schools); and Threefold Educational Center, which offers classes and conferences and includes the fabulous Threefold Café, also open to the public and offering fresh, delicious meals that often incorporate Pfeiffer Center produce.
Describe some curriculum content for your high-schoolers?
Waldorf Education is based on three pillars: goodness, beauty, and truth. In the High School, we help students discover truth, in the world and in themselves. Our academic curriculum in the High School is inspired by opportunities in the arts, music, drama, movement, and real-world experiences.
One of the most unique things about our High School is that each year is centered around a specific question:
The 9th grade question is “What?”
In 9th grade, students are questioning the world around them with an interest in the dynamics of change. With this in mind, the Waldorf curriculum introduces the study of historical revolutions, thermodynamics, and anatomy.
The 10th grade question is “How?”
By 10th grade, the students develop a more harmonious worldview, revealed in questions such as “How do the processes of the world bring contrasts into balance?” The 10th grade students study balance and harmony as they manifest in mechanics, poetry, and ancient cultures.
The 11th Grade Question is “Why?”
Between 10th and 11th grades, the student embarks on what will be a lifelong quest for knowledge of self and others. Students encounter the tales of Parzival and Hamlet. In the sciences, students learn about the physics of electromagnetic fields.
The 12th Grade Questions is “Who am I?”
As seniors, students explore the nature of existence through such sources as American transcendentalism, Russian literature, evolutionary theory, and modern history. Internships and independent senior projects reflect the students’ emerging individuality.
What are some practices that you would find only at Green Meadow?
Green Meadow Waldorf
For the first time in their nearly 70-year history, Green Meadow Waldorf School is offering after-school classes, open to the public. Through this after-school program, Green Meadow hopes to out farther into our local communities, and better serve public-school students, homeschoolers and un-schoolers, and children from other independent schools.
All classes take place on their 11-acre wooded campus in Chestnut Ridge. Courses are run by teachers, parents, and friends of our school and are designed to offer students opportunities to stretch their minds and bodies while they develop new skills and friendships. Fourteen classes this year include:
- Circus Arts
- Culinary Arts
- Fiber Craft
- KEVA Planks: The Making of an Architect!
- Making Herbal Remedies and Products
- Textile Design and Sewing
- Theater Arts
The deadline for Cycle 2 registration is October 24.
Saturday, October 13 from 10am-4pm.
The Fall Fair is more than 40 years old and draws about 3000 visitors to our campus every October. A beloved event, it features curated vendors of handmade toys, jewelry, clothing, maple syrup, honey, and much more; children’s activities like pumpkin carving, tree climbing, candle dipping, face painting, a hayride, and caramel apples; puppet shows and live music, and fresh, organic food on the grill.
Parking and admission are free and activity tickets are $1.
Main Lesson: Each day at Green Meadow begins with “main lesson,” a period of one hour and 40 minutes in which a given academic subject is studied intensively, in a block that last three to four weeks, allowing for an in-depth study and integration of the material.
Students are presented with concepts and skills in language arts, math, science, and social studies. The concepts introduced to the students reflect where they are in their development and grow increasingly more sophisticated and rigorous as they mature. Integrating art with all academic work develops new ways of thinking and working, as the students literally take the work into their own hands. Our students experience a deep investment in their learning as they create their main lesson books with compositions, observations, illustrations, and diagrams of their studies.
The Class Teacher often guides students through several years, potentially remaining a cohort’s class teacher for multiple grades. This long-term relationship benefits by seeing the children through a continuity of development, creating established routines, and providing stability for the students as they develop and transform. Class Teachers are supported by a constellation of expert subject teachers who share in shepherding the class through the years. Classes of students grow together from 1st through 12th Grades and form strong, familial bonds. These threads of relationship form a social and human foundation from which the education grows.
No standardized tests or Common Core: Green Meadow believes that time in school should be a process of discovery, not time spent learning to take a test. Since GMWS is an independent school, we do not administer standardized tests or adhere to the Common Core curriculum. High School students do, however, take the SAT and/or ACT as part of the college admissions process.
Freedom from digital classrooms: Green Meadow’s media policy asks students to be media-free through age 11, and the school gradually introduces electronic media in the middle school and high school. We believe that students need to understand and have a relationship to the physical world before they enter the digital world. Rather than being a hindrance, studies of Waldorf grads show that this is actually advantage later in life, with more Waldorf grads entering the sciences than their non-Waldorf peers.
Lastly there is Eurthmy. Eurthmy movement art is unique to Waldorf schools that builds spatial awareness, flexibility, strength, and grace.
The Waldorf curriculum, infused with the arts and interpreted by us: Class plays in every grade (1-8, plus 10th and 12th), two languages beginning in 1st grade, instrument lessons required from 3rd-12th grades.
Describe the philosophy of the architecture of the buildings and classrooms?
Beauty is everywhere in a Waldorf School. Rudolf Steiner had many ideas about architecture, including rounded corners in the Early Childhood classrooms and lazured walls (lazure is a form of painting) for a soft look, with depth of color. Our buildings were designed in alignment with Steiner’s principles, by architect Walter Leicht, and are unique and beautiful. They feature lots of windows to let in natural light, and are arranged on campus to create a village-like feel that stimulates community.
What’s an outdoor classroom?
Our outdoor classroom is a platform in a wooded area by a stream, built with students’ help, with a top for shelter on rainy or snowy days, allowing students the de-stressing experience of studying outdoors.
What is a day in the life of a forest preschooler?
As in all our Early Childhood programs, the Forest Preschool students follow a morning rhythm that includes creative play, circle time, chores, and snack. They may also play in the stream, make a fire in the fire pit they helped construct (and maybe roast their food over the fire), go for a hike, or work in the garden.
What are some of the challenges facing young people that Green Meadow helps address?
Nyack Sketch Log Artist and Writer
Teaching Activism and Civics at Green meadow
On Wednesday, May 1, I will be joining the faculty of the after-school program at Green Meadow to share some of my experiences as a labor, community, political and cultural organizer with children interested in joining or already engaged in social justice.
I will use film, music, literature, art, documents and social media to explore how through history, young people continue to play a leadership role in the expansion of human liberty.
Content includes the exploits of a 27 year-old who led a boycott that changed the world (Martin Luther King), students in Soweto, South Africa that brought the Apartheid government to its knees and more recent example of student activism from Ferguson to Parkland.
Contact BillBason at email@example.com to enroll.
Digital addiction: Our media policy helps students enter the viral world when they are mature enough to handle it, and offers them a foundation in the real world that helps them balance the complexities of life in the digital age.
Abstraction, alienation, and fear of failure: Green Meadow’s experiential, hands-on, “makerspace” curriculum helps students stay grounded, confident, curious, and joyful. By allowing them to do many things—some of which they master and some which they do not, they learn that they can “fail” and survive, they learn where their gifts are and where their challenges lie, and they learn to support and be supported by others.
Stress, anxiety, and competition: The daily and yearly rhythm of life at Green Meadow allows students to breathe, literally and metaphorically. Our outdoor classroom, wilderness trips, and campus setting on 11 wooded acres help students spend time in nature (which is a proven antidote to stress and anxiety). Our curriculum and pedagogy (way of teaching) highlight collaboration, enabling students to feel connected rather than competitive.
What are some of the challenges facing independent schools?
Independent school admissions are declining nationally, as lower birth rates in some regions and economic and political uncertainty make a commitment to tuition a difficult proposition for many families.
We also have a long way to go toward equity and inclusion in most independent schools. Even in schools where there are reasonably high percentages of underserved kids or kids whose families have not traditionally been in independent schools, research shows that inclusion is a goal that is still unmet.
What is the forest school?
Our children benefit from a rich variety of outdoor spaces. Rain or shine, our students in the new Forest Preschool spend most or all of their day outdoors, developing strong, healthy bodies and expanding their sensory experiences. Depending on the time of year, children sled down snowy hills, climb rocks, follow the stream, and balance on fallen trees. Munching on autumn apples in the orchard or tasting a maple tree’s sweet water in late winter foster a lifelong respect for the earth and a deep appreciation for nature’s bounty, and build the foundation for future academic learning.
Where do your graduates go?
Our graduates are prepared to go wherever they like. They tend to seek out schools where they can continue to pursue a well-rounded education, where a balanced life will be respected and encouraged. Our Class of 2018 went to the following schools: Bard College, Bennington College, Berklee College of Music, Bucknell University, Fashion Institute of Technology, Hampshire College, , Lafayette College, Stony Brook
Green Meadow Waldorf School
307 Hungry Hollow Rd.
Chestnut Ridge, NY 10977