By Loreth Beswetherick
A group of 10 parents sat on small kiddie chairs in the Horstman Room at Myrtle Philip elementary school while the Grade 2s graduated next door, having completed another year of public schooling.
The parents were there Wednesday evening last week to discuss establishing an alternative school, most likely Waldorf, in Whistler by September.
Michelle Kirkegaard, a teacher initially with the Calgary board of education, handed out balls of softened beeswax to each parent. She explained the Waldorf education philosophy while the parents kneaded the wax into mini sculptures.
The beeswax is a technique Waldorf teachers use with children during their circle time. It helps them focus and communicate and the balls are handed out while the teacher sings a rhyme.
Kirkegaard recently moved from Denver, where her six-year daughter, Kyle, attended a Waldorf school and Kirkegaard gained Waldorf teaching experience.
To say she was happy with the Denver Waldorf experience is an understatement, said Kirkegaard. She said the Myrtle Philip school is overcrowded. "And there is no other alternative besides public school."
Kirkegaard noted Howe Sound School district superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick has been encouraging parents to home school with the electronic-bus system to alleviate crowding. "I went to the home school meetings," Kirkegaard said. But what she heard parents saying was they would love to be in a home school situation, however, they still need to be connected to the community.
"Or else they need to work. A lot of people need dual incomes to live here. It’s a huge factor," said Kirkegaard. "You have parents who really want some sort of hands-on approach to their child’s education and to be involved at some level but at the same time they are getting pulled by being able to afford to live here... what are the options?"
Kirkegaard feels starting with a pre-school/kindergarten and a Grade 1 Waldorf-style class is the answer for many parents and the feedback she has been getting is positive, she said.
"I think the district itself could support a move like this because they are going to ease the load on the school."
Kirkegaard spoke with Fitzpatrick about the concept this week. "He said he would support us. He said parents need choices."
Kirkegaard said there is also a possibility a Waldorf class could be incorporated in the new Whistler elementary school. It was Fitzpatrick who pointed out a Montessori class had been incorporated under the roof of a school in Prince George and the Francophone program is a system within a system.
The group also has support from Myrtle Philip principal Bob Daly. "He said marketing-wise he would support us," said Kirkegaard
Her next step was to inform the Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council of the vision.
"It’s hard in a community like this. I don’t want people to think we think they are not doing a great job. Myrtle Philip is a great school but it is not the same teaching. I want this type of education for my daughter."
She said the Waldorf system of education incorporates the mind, body and soul. "The vision is to receive the child in reverence, educate him in love and let him go in freedom," said Kirkegaard. "So you have these real self-thinkers going out into the world. The idea is not just to learn in our heads."
She said learning the alphabet and how to count to 10 is not pushed in the early classes the same way as it is in public school. "They learn how to do handiwork, bake bread, and knit — knitting is mathematical — things that keep the imagination going. Those kinds of things my daughter learned when she was three," said Kirkegaard. "Students who come out of Waldorf schools are being asked to come to colleges. They are a unique type of student."
Subsequent to the meeting last week, the parent group has put together an action-plan to build a foundation and gather support. Their goal is ambitious — to get a school off the ground in the next nine weeks so classes can start for their children Sept. 7.
The plan includes researching venues, special requirements like licensing and identify classroom equipment needs. A financing committee is organizing non-profit society status, researching what funding the district can provide, looking at private support and grants and preparing a budget.
An enrolment committee will place notices in spots where children and parents gather and work on media coverage. Waldorf teachers have already expressed an interest in coming to teach in Whistler and the group is also contacting the Waldorf teachers college in Nelson.
Kirkegaard said between 18 and 25 children are needed for a kindergarten class and about 20 for Grade 1. "I don’t think numbers or teachers will be a problem... I think its going to be the space." She said the goal is to make the schooling affordable "to absolutely everyone. There is enough exclusivity in Whistler. We need something that can embrace the community and the school district as well... and maybe the timing is right because the (elementary) school is so large."
Parents who want more information can contact Kirkegaard at 905-6846.