Learning during the pandemic has been a challenge for many Pasadena students. Perhaps your own young scholar is finding it harder and harder to stay motivated, or is feeling less than connected to his Zoommates.
Eight months into the Coronavirus pandemic, the Pasadena Waldorf School has acclimated comfortably into a balance of online and in-person learning with a few dozen kindergarten through second grade students on the 5-acre Mariposa Street campus in Altadena on any given day. Another small number of Preschool students are at the school’s McComb campus on Mendocino Street a few blocks away.
Third grade through 12th grade students are learning from home. But, in visiting the campus recently, the sense of community was still palpable.
On a quiet, sunny Friday morning, Movement teacher Jeffrey Bernstein is sitting at his piano in an empty classroom, leading a group of young students through an online music and movement class. The Waldorf School instructor and director of the Pasadena Master Chorale, plays an ascending scale, as he directs the students to stretch their arms toward the sky.
Then, playing a descending scale, he explains that this may make them feel “smaller” or quieter. It’s part of what he calls, “Foundations of Eurythmy, ” a way of learning and appreciating how music and movement can work together.
Elsewhere, 5th Grade class teacher Phaedra Cheydleur is setting up her desk for a new class. As with all the other teachers and instructors at Pasadena Waldorf, the setup includes two cameras connected to her laptop, allowing her to switch between seeing her students, and directing their view to either her face and chalkboard or her ongoing work on her actual desktop or lesson books.
Meanwhile, “pods” of students run and play on the outdoor play equipment, or gather at the picnic benches for a snack, all while masked or wearing face shields. The small groups of students present under the school’s waiver means that the school currently has far less than its allowed 25% campus capacity.
The Pasadena Waldorf School is currently conducting Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Learning for students in Grades 3-12. For its Early Childhood programs (Preschool and Kindergarten), PWS is holding preschool at their McComb Mendocino campus, with kindergarten classes at their Machris Mariposa campus under the Department of Public Welfare, in order to run in-person Early Childhood Care, at school, from those students needing to continue with BTC Learning at home. For grades 1-2 the school has a waiver from LA County to offer a hybrid of in-person and at-home learning.
The historic five-acre campus property was originally built by the Scripps family—known for numerous philanthropic and commercial ventures, ranging from newspapers to marine labs—in the 1930s, on a street then known as “Millionaire’s Row.” They later sold the property to the Kellogg family, another iconic American name.
The Waldorf School moved onto the property in the early 80s, after starting in a La Canada church basement with seven students, after the Mariposa Street property was bought using a gift from Los Angeles philanthropist Paquita Lick Machris.
The school is part of an independent school movement founded in Stuttgart , Germany in 1919.
In fact, three-quarters of the Waldorf schools today are located in Europe. In the English-speaking world, there are about 200 schools in the United States, 70 in Australia and New Zealand, 40 in Great Britain, and 30 in Canada; there are also many schools in New Zealand and South Africa. Students of Pasadena Waldorf High School can also spend an academic quarter attending Waldorf Schools in other countries in the school’s foreign exchange program.
The schools base their curriculums on what they describe as “developmental learning,” in which students are essentially taught subjects at the pace they best learn based on their age and stage of development.
And creating a vibrant campus with few students present creates its own challenges.
The traditional school holiday event, for example, will be online, but engaging. As Erin Şemin, Pedagogical Administrator, explained,
“Because we work developmentally, the children at different ages are studying different aspects of (the holidays).”
Şemin continued, “So one of the things third grade does as a human cultural story is to read the Old Testament stories because it’s this picture of humanity, trying to find their way in the world. It mirrors the stage of emotional development for the child of that age. At the same time, sixth graders are studying Roman history, where other well-known holiday stories or influences come from.”
Other classes are studying Middle Eastern history, while still others study Indian history allowing a rich picture of how the history and culture of different areas connect into the yearly round of festivals and holidays.
“So,” Şemin continued, “over the course of 12 years, a child would get to drop into each of these cultural stories. And then, when we’re working as a whole school, we aim our festivals at the universal. All of our celebrations at this time of year focus on that universal human theme.”
And with students retaining their same class teacher and a stable group of subject teachers for most of their Waldorf years, from primary to high school, the sense of community is imbued in the students, whether interacting with teachers on a hike, a music lesson or lab, or viewing them on a laptop screen for a year.
The feeling of togetherness is clearly still there.
The Pasadena Waldorf School is at 209 East Mariposa Street, Altadena, and 536 East Mendocino Street, Altadena. (626) 794-9564. www.pasadenawaldorf.org.