Remembrances by Donna Switzer
It was September 1986 when I first arrived in Nelson with my three young daughters. The Kootenay Valley School, located on Observatory Street, was our destination. Looking back it seems like a humble destination now; an old church with a two-window basement to house Kindergarten and a Grade 1/2 combination class, a large upstairs to house a Grade 3/4 combination class, and a postage-stamp size playground on a busy street corner.
At the time it seemed anything but humble, for it represented five years of hard work by an incredible group of people who had a vision to bring Waldorf Education to the Kootenays. It was also, for me, the place where I would join together with two other Waldorf trained colleagues (Jeff Feldman and Nancy Franco) to see if we could bring a Waldorf School to fruition.
It was at that tiny church on Observatory Street that our first "Ministry of Education" visit occurred. Kootenay Valley School was in its fourth year of operation, which meant that we could apply for Ministry funding. The great day arrived and our visitor (an ex-teacher and superintendent of schools himself) joined us for a day in the life of our school. He participated in the Grade 1 circle, listened to a Kindergarten story, watched a Grade 4 main lesson, and marveled at the girls and boys working on their knitting projects! At the end of the day he sat down with we three teachers and said, "This is a truly wonderful place! You are having at least as much fun as the children and I would love to give you Ministry funding, but ... you really should have some books in this school." It was true, there was hardly one in sight—after all, we were making the main lesson books weren't we? "And," he said, sadly shaking his head as he looked around our dark and crowded basement, "You really must find a new location. You can't receive funding in a place like this." Not long after this we received official notice that funding would be granted on the condition that a new building be found before May 30th. And so the search began.
And so we searched for a home for our school and nothing could we find. We had a date of May 30th and that day was fast approaching. If there was no building there would be no Ministry of Education funding, and with no funding we knew it would be almost impossible to go onward; the community of Nelson was so small and money was not flowing in the mid-80's. But... up on the hill on 10th street there was an empty university campus. David Thompson University had closed its doors but the buildings and playing fields stood there—perfect for our home we thought. Well, those who were controlling the building and searching for an occupant were unconvinced. They had other clients who were interested and no space for us. Well, the campus was (and is) owned by the city of Nelson, so we decided that an audience with City Council might get us some space. So, with shaking knees, I stood before the council and told them about our little school, which was part of the fastest growing independent education movement in the world. I told them that if we had a building to house our school that provincial funding would flow in and one day people would move to Nelson to put their children into the "Nelson Waldorf School."
To be continued ...
The Nelson Waldorf School is part of a growing community of schools that embrace the educational philosophy of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). The first Waldorf School was founded in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany by Emil Molt, the director of the Waldorf Astoria Company, out of his concern for the new generation of school children emerging from the devastation of the first World War.
If these children were to develop capacities that would allow them to transform society, they would need to be taught in a new way—one that addressed their essential humanity, that enhanced their concern for other people, and that fostered a sense of responsibility for the earth. They would need an education that went beyond dry, intellectual schooling, an education that would cultivate their artistic abilities and develop their practical skills, and above all, one that would nurture the capacities that would allow them to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Molt approached Rudolf Steiner to develop a form of education to meet those needs. Born in Austria and educated in Vienna, Steiner, already recognized as an editor of Goethe's scientific works, had become increasingly well known in Europe as an author and lecturer. In 1919, at Emil Molt's request, he developed a curriculum and trained the teachers for the first Waldorf School.
Waldorf education is based on a developmental approach, addressing the needs of the growing child. It strives to transform education into an art that educates the whole child—the head, the heart, and the hands. Its highest endeavour is to "develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives."
Because of its philosophical base and its innovative teaching methods, the original Waldorf School quickly grew, gaining international recognition and inspiring the establishment of new schools. There are now more than 1000 schools in over 25 countries. Many of over one hundred schools in North America are members of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA). Each school is an independent, self-governing entity.