Continuing a tradition of over 40 years of Waldorf education in Southern Oregon, the Siskiyou School is a thriving community. Now in its 12th year, the school is an established, highly respected educational presence in the Rogue Valley. It is renowned for its comprehensive Waldorf program, its recognition of the importance of the arts and play in elementary education, and wholesome child development. The Siskiyou School has an active and committed parent community. They have graduated over 200 students with notable academic success into their high school and college years.
In today’s interview, we speak with Katie LaCroix, Director of Development and Aurilia McNamara, Administrator.
Hi, Katie and Aurilia, thank you, and welcome to LocalsGuide.
Will you please give us a brief introduction to Waldorf education and its role in the modern day world?
Founded 100 years ago by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education is one of the fastest growing school movements in the world. Steiner was able to see then what modern science is now proving: mental, emotional, and physical development in children happens in stages and a wise curriculum addresses those important periods of growth in different ways. For example, in early childhood, a child’s brain develops primarily through play, which is why official academics, like reading and math, begin in first grade in Waldorf schools and not earlier. Through the grades, the curriculum includes stories and academic elements that are resonant with the children’s development and make it feel deeply relevant to them. There is quite a bit more to it than that, of course!
Can you articulate a role or mission that The Siskiyou School seeks to facilitate?
Our first graders learn a simple verse which kind of sums it up: “What the Heart knows is good and true, the Head can plan, and the Hands can do!” Children learn through doing, through feeling, and through thinking. Siskiyou School teachers, like all Waldorf teachers, are always looking to engage not just their students minds but also their hearts and hands. Every subject is brought in different ways to give children a chance to fully develop all three of these capacities within themselves. Sometimes Waldorf is called three-fold learning.
Last June, the Rogue Valley’s valedictorians included five Siskiyou School alumni.
Yes! When alumni gathered last June with Siskiyou School faculty and staff to reconnect just as they were about to graduate high school, we were proud to learn that we had five valedictorians in the group: Gabi Livni, Hesperus di Properzio, and Katie Crocker (AHS), Ruby Johnson (South Medford High School), and Rowan Lovich (St. Mary’s). This is inspiring and affirming, for sure, and hearing from all of the students about their adventures ahead was even more exciting. Several students were entering into year-abroad programs and others were headed to colleges around the country. It was impressive hearing from them and heartwarming to laugh together over their childhood memories of making fairy houses in the bushes and playing in the creek!
Of course, the individual students and their families are the primary cause. But, those students and their families will also credit the Siskiyou School. Our teachers see each child deeply and nurture the student at a mind and heart level. The education is an allowing of each individual to blossom by discovering his or her gifts, while also encouraging whole child development through academics, music, art, movement, and a lot of fun. Typically, these students enter high school well-prepared. They are ready to write essays, speak in front of a group and with adults, think critically, and communicate. Most importantly, they are open-hearted and open-minded.
How is The Siskiyou School continuing to expand to meet the needs of the students?
Though Steiner’s vision is surprisingly on point even now, we do our best to ensure that the school is serving children of today. The faculty are always asking themselves: are we meeting the needs of our students? Through this ongoing inquiry, programs have been added over the years to supplement the core Waldorf curriculum. Our Middle School Fridays Program offers electives to 6th – 8th grade students in everything from yoga and dancing to coding and cooking. The integration of targeted group instruction for reading and math has ensured that all our lower school students have a solid foundation in the core skills and experience themselves as successful academically. Our dual foreign language program, which offers immersive learning in Chinese and Spanish, opens all our students to two cultures and the love of language! Most recently, we have added a middle school computer program designed to ensure computer literacy for our graduates and a health and wellness program focused on social and emotional health and communication.
What has allowed for The Siskiyou School to continue to grow and support our community?
Most of our parents get their introduction to Waldorf when they are looking for a preschool for their young child and enroll their child in one of the dozen exceptional Waldorf early childhood programs in our valley. Once parents have experienced the benefits of Waldorf for their child in preschool and kindergarten, they naturally are curious about what the Siskiyou School can offer in the elementary years. Once they enroll at the Siskiyou School the loyalty of parents comes because they feel their children are being well met at an academic, emotional, and social level, and this gives them enormous peace of mind. We receive testimonials from parents all the time about how worthwhile they feel their investment was. Parents who enroll their children from non-Waldorf kindergartens or schools are thrilled to see their children adjust quickly to the new offerings and experience a new joy in learning.
Yes, well, once you’ve experienced it for one child, it is hard not to keep going!
The arts play a huge role in the day-to-day lives of the children at The Siskiyou School.
In service of whole child development to which we are committed, arts and practical activities are indeed interwoven with our rigorous academic program from first through eighth grade. Every day in the first part of the day, which we call Main Lesson, children in first through eighth draw and write to create their own textbooks. Weekly classes in painting, movement, games, music, handwork, woodwork, and gardening help develop the children’s will and resilience and ensure all students graduate with exposure and facility with all these skills. By eighth grade, all students have learned to play the recorder, played on a guitar or a ukulele, spent a few weeks doing African drumming, practiced ballroom dancing, and discovered themselves as actors, as well. Each year each grade has a theater block during which they prepare a play to perform for the public and all the children of the school. The Siskiyou School seeks to foster in students a sense that they can do anything!
Parents usually first want to know that their child will be ready for high school. How is the transition and will their child be academically ready? Statistics and stories provide evidence over and over again that our graduates have a record of success, that they are well-equipped academically, as well as socially and emotionally, to navigate high school. And the high schools love having Siskiyou School kids in class, from what we hear!
Another frequent question is around tuition. Our school doesn’t receive funding from the state or the federal government, so we charge tuition and do fundraising to pay our teachers and develop programming. The fact that we are privately funded gives us the advantage of having great flexibility with our programming curriculum. For parents who need financial aid, we have a tuition assistance program.
Tell us about some of the many events and traditions that are celebrated at the Siskiyou School.
The Siskiyou School is a school of celebrations, and we love sharing our school with the community!
We have both community-wide and in-house events throughout the year. WinterFaire is our largest community-wide festival held on our campus each November. Our Parent Education Series and Auction also draw in the community. In-house celebrations allow the children to live into the seasonal rhythms of the year. We start around Equinox with Michaelmas, a celebration of the harvest and of change of season from fall to winter, and we end with a May Day Festival celebrating spring and featuring a school-wide Virginia Reel. Service is also one of the school’s core values, and we do outreach as a community throughout the year with events such as our Thanksgiving Food Drive, our Holiday Angel Program, Clay Street Park Cleanups, and Singing Valentines (personally delivered singing telegrams!).
Coming up on March 10th is your annual fundraising silent auction.
Yes! It is in just a few days. This is one of the rare moments for parents and their friends to get together without children as a school. It is also a lot of fun and the community is invited! The highlights of the evening are the class projects, usually stunning pieces of art created by each class. It is a night of fundraising with silent and live auctions, but the focus is definitely on a good party with games, live and DJ music, dancing, and other surprises. Also, the price can’t be beat for a night out–$25 for delicious food by Karen Amarotico and wine donated by Trium and South Stage Cellars. The party is at the Ashland Elks Lodge on March 10th from 6-11, then we meet up at Taqueria Picaro for an after party! Our theme is The Big Night Out–Island Style, so grab some flip flops, and join us!
Do you have any final thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
Yes, please visit our website and come visit our school, too! Call the office to find out when our next parent tour is. Also, if you are interested in attending the auction, tickets are available on our website.
Thank you for letting us share a little bit about The Siskiyou School with you today!
The Siskiyou School
631 Clay Street, Ashland