The Siskiyou School Enriching Education With Arts & Wellness

How do we raise successful, healthy, and resilient children in an ever-changing world? To explore this question, I spoke today with Siskiyou School administrator Aurilia McNamara about Waldorf education and how it meets the growing child and maturing adolescent. We discussed the school’s attention to social-emotional wellbeing of its students, integration of the arts, and encouragement of hands-on learning and direct instruction to foster well-balanced, well-rounded children who meet the world with enthusiasm.

Hi Aurilia, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today and welcome back to LocalsGuide.

Hi Shields. Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk with you again and share about the Siskiyou School.

Aurilia, please introduce us to the history of the Siskiyou School.

The Siskiyou School was founded in 2006. At that time, with the help of very dedicated parents, teachers and board members, the property of the former Clay Street Church at 631 Clay Street here in Ashland was bought, and beautiful new classroom buildings, designed by the local architect Carlos Delgado, were built. The school grew quickly, and by 2010 all eight grades were fully enrolled with a total of 180 students, supported by a group of very creative and inspired teachers and staff of about 20. Our mission statement is as follows: “To cultivate the intellectual, imaginative, artistic and individual gifts in each student within a community that honors childhood, practices compassion, values diversity, and inspires a passion for learning and service.”

Please tell us about the founding of Waldorf education. It’s over 100 years old!

Yes! Waldorf education was founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, at the request of the owner of the Waldorf Astoria factory in Stuttgart, Germany. The owner wanted a school for the children of his factory workers, and a few months later Steiner brought him his vision for a revolutionary kind of school. That first ‘Waldorf’ school became the model for all those that followed. I myself grew up in Stuttgart and feel grateful that I got to attend that very first Waldorf school, from grade 3rd-12th! I received an incredibly diverse and rich education there!

What was the impulse behind Steiner’s vision?

Steiner’s goal was to create a form of education that would both prepare young people to meet the world they were stepping into but also to equip them with the will and qualities to make it better. The education was designed to cultivate qualities of empathy, creativity, resourcefulness, open-mindedness, self-reliance, independence and flexibility of thought. It is amazing to realize that the form Steiner brought over 100 years ago is still so relevant that the Waldorf school movement is the fastest growing school movement in the world, with over 1000 schools in 90 countries worldwide.

How does the Siskiyou School work to connect the past with the future and thus meet the needs of modern-day children and families?

Waldorf education is as relevant today as it was then because the curriculum meets children at each stage of their development, and those developmental stages are still the same! Of course, we – and all Waldorf schools – refine programming as needed to meet the specific needs of students of today, but Steiner’s wisdom about child development is still the foundational inspiration for all Waldorf teachers worldwide. The Siskiyou School provides a well-balanced education, with academics of the highest standards, exposure and experiences to practical and fine arts, and a lot of attention to the social and emotional wellbeing of individual students and classes as a whole. Our graduates emerge with an excellent foundation in math, science, language arts, literature, history, geography, Spanish and Mandarin.

Additionally, they develop a whole range of other lifelong skills through the classes they take in 1st through 8th in handwork, woodwork, music, gardening, PE, theater, painting, drawing and much more. Through class circles and our 1-8 wellness curriculum, Siskiyou School teachers continually tend to the social and emotional wellbeing of the students.

Children of this time need to feel connection. They need to feel seen, deeply known and heard and acknowledged for their individual gifts. Our teachers do just that. With the intimate, warm and safe feel in each classroom and the fact that the core curriculum teacher stays with their students for at least 3-4 years, the children develop a strong feeling of belonging. Most students stay with the school from 1st-8th grade.

Aurilia, will you please talk more about the needs and considerations that parents are making when deciding to choose Waldorf Education for their children?

All parents want to know their child is happy and safe at school, developing friendships, connected and excited about their learning, and provided the opportunity to have their gifts seen. We pride ourselves in knowing that every day we endeavor to protect childhood through play, imagination and delivering curricula through stories that speak to the children and where the children see themselves reflected. We also support low screen and media exposure as this helps the growing child develop and live fully into their own imagination. One of our parents once said: “One of the great moments of our day is dropping off our daughter at school, knowing she’s heading into a world where curiosity is celebrated, excellence fostered, and dignity championed.”

Aurilia, can you please speak to the benefits of Waldorf Education as a whole?

I like to use the example of a tree: If the roots are nourished, watered and cared for from early on, the tree will grow strong and develop a beautiful canopy and live in its full glory for many, many years. So too for a child. Waldorf education nourishes the head, heart and hands. Our students receive a broad classical foundation in the arts and sciences, giving them context for understanding themselves and the world while inspiring their curiosity for all subsequent learning. Social/emotional intelligence, daily rhythm, ritual, and form provide a container for each child. Project-based learning encourages the strengthening of the will in completing work from start to finish in a creative and grounded way. All these skills serve the students throughout life. I credit my Waldorf education to the fact that all my life I have felt I can pick up just about anything and make something out of it. The education develops a child’s capacities and fosters lifelong resourcefulness of mind, hands, and heart.

The Siskiyou School emphasizes less technology and more focused technology use in middle school. Can you elaborate on this approach?

Our campus is a phone-free zone for our students. Students who have a phone need to have it turned off when entering campus and can turn it back on for use after leaving campus at the end of the day. This enables the students to sit together during recess and play chess, poker, basketball, four square, and other games and to talk and walk together and connect on a daily basis without the interruption or distraction of phones. The policy supports the development of lifelong relationships among students. In the middle school years we allocate time for the “computer program.” Students start and complete a typing program and learn computer basics, including formatting essays and preparing Powerpoint or Google Slides presentations. In middle school, while they frequently type their essays, they always maintain their cursive and calligraphy writing through their main lesson book entries. They are well prepared for high school.

Your students are guided by a team of teachers who work closely together to bring the full curriculum and support the students. What are the different roles?

Yes, we are so fortunate in having an incredibly gifted, strong and dedicated faculty! Some teachers have been here since the beginning and helped found the school; others have joined more recently. Together, they form a vibrant team, supporting the school, each other, and the students in a way that benefits the whole.

Class teachers bring the core Waldorf main lesson curriculum to their particular class, hold the relationship with the parents, and serve as class holders. Specialty teachers bring subjects such as handwork, woodwork, music, PE, gardening, theater, Spanish and Mandarin to grades 1-8. Subject teachers bring core skills such as math, language arts, and literature. Additionally we have outside specialists come in to bring aspects of special programs such as the Wellness Program and the Middle School Friday program.

Together all these teachers form a powerful circle around each class and indeed every student. Our website offers a brief biography of each and we invite interested parents to visit us at and to come see them teach during our monthly school tours.

How does the Siskiyou School support the social-emotional health and well-being of its students?

Upholding a daily rhythm that supports the social-emotional and mental health of our students has always been integral to our school schedule and program design. We always give a lot of attention to balancing the children’s energies and giving them the “breathing space” they need to be at their best throughout the day; we could say that breathing is a core part of the Waldorf curriculum!

All classes start their day with a morning walk or outside play, jumping rope. Three good recesses are offered every day for children to run, play, and breathe fresh air. Ample time is also given for the children to eat their snacks and lunches and socialize among themselves. Teachers break up lessons with movement activities when students need that stretch or break. Quiet times are scheduled for teachers to read a book aloud so that the children can rest and just drop into listening. Daily classroom activities such as singing, instrument playing, painting, drawing, knitting also quickly help calm the mind and relax the children. (Easy remedies!) In grades 1-8 frequent trust circles allow students to talk about their feelings and come to agreements. Our middle schoolers get extra time on mental-health related matters as they navigate adolescence. They receive instruction in matters related to stress, wellbeing, and healthy relationships and choices, supported by presentations from professionals in the context of our Wellness Program. Strong, open communication between parents and teachers is essential to this ongoing work.

Aurilia, what are the biggest considerations for parents when deciding to enroll in the Siskiyou School?

Giving this education to children is a gift for life, a gift of such high value! It impacts a child’s entire life, as Waldorf alumni readily testify. Being part of a private school always means quite a bit of involvement on the part of parents, which in turn creates a strong community fabric that envelops the children and creates lifelong memories and friendships. Our tuition is at the lower end of most private schools. We offer tuition assistance to ensure that all who want this education have a chance at it. We encourage parents to ask about this opportunity.

Many of your student alumni have gone on to lead very happy and successful lives. Please say more.

Once graduated, our students move on to AHS or St. Mary’s. Many of them finish with high grades or even as valedictorians. Most attend college, either in state or out of state, at places such as the University of Oregon, OSU, Portland State University, Oregon Institute of Technology, Lewis and Clark, Reed, the University of Washington, UCLA, USC, Harvard, Yale, Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, Bard, Columbia, NYU, American University, George Washington University, etc. The gifts of Waldorf education carry them forward into their lives with a sense of “anything is possible.”

Finally, please talk about the Siskiyou School community.

The sense of community among parents of the school is strong! Community among parents of the school is cultivated through the many class and community events during the year, including parent nights, school assemblies, festivals, class plays, parent teas and enrichment evenings. Parents across the grades also get to know one another when all join to help at community-wide events such as the annual Winter Faire and Auction. The sense of class community is fostered by the sharing that takes place at class meetings throughout the year, participation in class field trips, class picnics and celebrations.

How does the Siskiyou School engage with the larger community?

As a school, we also welcome opportunities to participate in town-wide community events and offer service as we can. Fostering a sense of service in our students is part of the ethos of the school and engaging in those service moments awakens in the students’ awareness of the larger community we are part of. On Earth Day we give away seed bombs and sell mason bee houses our students build in woodworking. At the 4th of July celebration we host a booth that offers information for parents and peppermint lemons for children! Our Thanksgiving food drive for the Food Bank is an all school effort! Our 2nd graders started a pen pal program with the seniors at the Manor in Medford and are bursting at the seams with excitement about their upcoming field trip to the Manor where they will meet their pen pals and share a performance they have been preparing. As proud stewards of Clay Street Park, our middle schoolers work on park and area cleanup a few times a year. We welcome all these opportunities for outreach.

Aurilia, thank you so much for speaking with us today. What are the next steps parents should take if wanting to learn more about the Siskiyou School?

Please go to our website for more information, and if interested in our school, contact Kristin Beers at for more information. We have open enrollment and most classes have a spot open. We’d love to show you our school!

Learn More:

The Siskiyou School

631 Clay Street, Ashland


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