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Waldorf students learn the meaning of Olympic spirit

Olympians judged on ‘truth’ and ‘beauty’

When Peggy Vogler, president of the board of directors of Whistler’s Alta Lake School, says a Waldorf education is based on experiential learning, she’s not exaggerating. Learning about ancient Greece? Why not participate in an ancient Greek Olympiad?

Dressed in white tunics, that is exactly what nine Grade 5 students from the Alta Lake School spent the weekend of June 1-2 doing. The 10 and 11 year olds were part of a group of 101 participants from as far away as the Sunshine Coast and Idaho, taking part in the Pacific Northwest Olympiad in Nelson, B.C.

Waldorf Olympiads are held every year throughout the world as part of the Grade 5 curriculum’s focus on ancient Greek mythology and culture.

The Alta Lake School students did not compete as a school but were grouped with other participants into eight different "city states", such as Athens, Troy, Corinth and Thebes. Each team explored what their city-state represented in ancient times and each was led by a king and a queen.

"The kids were pretty nervous at the thought of being separated from their classmates; there was lots of anxiety as we made the long trip out there," laughs Vogler, who also participated as Queen of Troy. "But they slept together and ate together and competed together. By the end of the games they knew each other very well and were exchanging e-mail addresses before they left."

In keeping with the ancient times, the athletes were judged not just on "truth" (how fast, how far) but on "beauty:" how the athletes held themselves in competition, how graceful they were and how technically well they executed their discipline.

"The beauty aspect of the event had a tremendous impact on the kids," commented Vogler. "Each child got to truly experience what it was like to live in those times. The ancient Greeks valued beauty above all else. They all wore white tunics and every athlete tried their best. Every effort was applauded and cheered. Knowing the judges were looking for how sportsman-like they behaved, even in the face of adversity, was an amazing lesson. It was very moving at times."

The children participated in the ancient pentathlon, which included five events: discus, javelin, sprinting, wrestling, and long jump. At the end of the competition the city states raced each other in a running relay.

To train for the discus and javelin events the Alta Lake School enlisted the help of 89-year-old Senior Games enthusiast Jim Murray. More than just a coach, Murray treated the kids to lessons about the history of the Olympics as well as to the occasional war story.

"It was an incredible experience for the kids to have the help of Mr. Murray," said Michelle Kirkegaard, the Grade 5 teacher. "His love of the sport and his life experiences taught the kids so much. They especially loved his stories of going off to war as a young man."

The Alta Lake School students who competed in Nelson were: Jonathan Vogler, Kyle Kirkegaard, Cele Smith, Jefferson Smith, Hanna van Mook, Max Edwards, Tanisha Annett, Sierra Manuel, and Bobby Bunbury. Special recognition goes to Jonathan Vogler, Beauty Champion in Javelin; Kyle Kirkegaard, Truth Champion in Sprint; Cele Smith, Truth Champion in Discus; Hannah van Mook, Beauty Finalist in Javelin and Discus; Max Edwards, Truth Finalist in Discus; and Bobby Bunbury, Beauty Finalist in Sprint and Long Jump.

After the Alta Lake School’s first Olympic experience, the students are excited to think that one-day they might be able to host a Waldorf Olympiad in Whistler. Perhaps 2010 might be a good year.