Interviews

The Siskiyou School – Waldorf Education in Ashland, Open for Enrollment Interview with Aurilia McNamara – Administrator

How do we raise successful, healthy, and resilient children in an ever-changing world? With a post-pandemic reality upon us, it still may take several years to fully understand the full scope of impact this has played upon ourselves and children. In specific to our children, I spoke today with Siskiyou School administrator Aurilia McNamara, about the foundations of Waldorf education. We spoke about how Waldorf education meets the growing child and maturing adolescent academically, emotionally, and socially and supports young people in becoming global, resilient, educated, and kind citizens of the world. We looked at how the Siskiyou School is fulfilling this need within our community and beyond.

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

Thank you, Shields. I’m honored to have this time with you and to share something about the Siskiyou School with the community.

The Siskiyou School is now open for enrollment. Aurilia, will you please introduce us to the history of the Siskiyou School here in Ashland, Oregon?

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 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.”

Aurilia, the founding of Waldorf education goes back over one hundred years to a man named Rudolf Steiner, who was born in Austria. Waldorf education is now one of the largest independent school movements in the world. Will you please tell us more about the premise of Waldorf education?

Waldorf education was founded in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner. He founded the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany, for the children of the Waldorf Astoria factory workers. Today, there are over 1,000 Waldorf schools worldwide. You might be interested to know that I attended this very first Waldorf school from grade 3-12. I received an incredibly diverse and rich education there.

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

Waldorf education is as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago.

The Waldorf core curriculum meets children at each stage of their development, and as a school we continue to add and refine our programming to meet the specific needs of students of today. 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 in classes such as 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.

I love these examples you have listed. Aurilia, will you please talk more about the needs and considerations that parents are making?

All parents want to know their child is happy and safe at school and is engaged in learning. 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 to 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.

Aurilia, what is eurythmy?

The word is of Greek origin and means “beautiful, harmonious movement.” Most Waldorf schools offer this subject. I teach eurythmy to grades 1-4 at our school. We move together in circle to music or poems, being aware and supportive of each other’s movements. I always use the metaphor of “one sun, many rays.” The sun is only as strong as its rays, and what each ray does affects the whole. While using copper rods and balls, silks, bean bags, and such, we learn to move together and stay in sync; in a deep way, classes experience what is to work together. At the end of a eurythmy lesson, the feeling of quiet togetherness and unison is beautiful to behold and experience. The class is fun and nourishing.

At the school you are joined by many talented teachers who have helped shape and guide the culture of the Siskiyou School. Can you please say more about this?

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 each other and the students in a way that benefits the whole. Class teachers rely on the support of specialty teachers and subject teachers to deliver the curriculum. Each knows their part and together form a powerful circle around each class and indeed every student. Their commitment to the school and this education carried us through the Covid time, with no student falling behind. Our website offers a brief biography of each and we invite interested parents to visit us at www.siskiyouschool.org and to come see them teach on days when we offer school tours.

Post-Covid stress has been a very real issue for educators to deal with. How is your school working to support the mental health of your students?

Upholding a daily rhythm that supports the 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, please tell us about the Ohana program that is a unique part of the Siskiyou School.

The Ohana Program is our Educational Support Program for grades 2-5. Children with different learning profiles are supported in learning to write and read. Students needing that support attend the Ohana classes 4 periods a week, from 2nd through 5th grade, or as needed. The program is housed at “Glendale,” a quiet learning space that adjoins our central quad. This program has been very successful, and other schools have expressed interest in its innovative approach.

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, Sarah Lawrence, Vassar, 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.

As a parent, wouldn’t anyone want their child to be part of a community that celebrates childhood the way we do, provides such a safe space for the children to develop and discover their gifts, and offers imaginative and beautiful community events, such as class plays, fall and spring festivals, all-school assemblies with music and singing? If parents don’t know our school, our upcoming December 3rd Winter Faire is a great opportunity to get a feel for the community and environment. In addition to great food, wonderful opportunities for holiday shopping, children activities abound! A good time can be had by the whole family from 10am to closing time at 4:00pm!

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?

Thank you so much, Shields, for giving me this opportunity. It’s always my great joy and honor to talk about the Siskiyou School. If parents want to know more about our school, please join us for our next Open House Tour on Friday, December 9th at 2:00pm or call our Enrollment Coordinator, Kristin Beers, at 541-482-8223 to schedule a tour of the school. You can also join us for any of our parent enrichment events posted here to get a deeper sense and understanding of Waldorf education. We hope to see you at one of these events.

Learn More:

The Siskiyou School

631 Clay Street, Ashland, OR 97520

www.siskiyouschool.org

541-482-8223

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