Rainbow Community School

In searching for “holistic schools” it can be a bit of a challenge at times. The higher power of the Google search bar doesn’t tend to register this term in a way that leads to helpful results. This tag is not always clearly defined or even recognized as a specific designation that k-12 schools identify as. However, the Rainbow Community School in Asheville, NC does identify as a holistic school, and will even pop up in the results if you enter it into that all-mighty search bar. In countless ways, Rainbow exemplifies and can serve as a role model for what holistic education entails. From their philosophy and spirit, to their curriculum and routines, the school has a highly developed understanding of what it means to provide a holistic education for children K-8. Camden and I had the privilege of meeting with West Willmore, the admissions and development director for the school, who provided us with a tour of the school and insight into what the Rainbow School is all about.

There are many facets to what the school does and how they have developed themselves over the years. For example, they host the “More than Mindfulness” Conference, as part of the Rainbow Institute, which invites holistic educators to visit the school, attend workshops, and inspire ways of integrating mindful practices into education. I had the pleasure of attending this workshop in 2018 and not only found great wisdom from the incredible speakers and workshop facilitators, but also the chance to observe two classes engaging in a sacred Rainbow practice called “Centering.” From kindergarten through 8th grade, the students will take around 30 minutes each morning to sit together in a circle and participate in a variety of practices that invite spiritual reverence, mindfulness, and awareness. 
Entrance to Omega Middle School

When we asked West about what some of these practices might entail, she described the importance of the breath and how many teachers will help students become aware of their breath as a means to better understand themselves and find a calm and centered presence. The classrooms were setup with centering in mind as each room had an open space where centering could take place. Some had a large rug, while others had meditation cushions to sit on. One might worry that the students would get bored or lose interest in centering as they go through the years, but West explained that teachers keep things fresh and engaging by asking students to lead centering themselves, or invite outside guests to lead a session. It is so encouraging to see Rainbow’s dedication to centering and the spiritual aspect of our being. Spirituality is often overlooked in the cultivation of the whole being, especially in educational settings, and it is clearly a sign of a holistic school when the spiritual being is acknowledged and nourished.

This leads to another component of Rainbow that makes it an exemplary model for holistic education. In addition to the spiritual, Rainbow is passionate about recognizing the many layers of our whole being through their Seven Domains Model
We are multi-faceted creatures with a range of complex emotions, deep connections to the natural world, seekers of the mystery, with an innate need to create, to share, to understand & to be understood. It is the Holistic view that recognizes this concept and the Holistic Education model that seeks its implementation- for the  enrichment of the “whole” learner.” (rainbowcommunityschool.org)

The seven domains provide a framework for bringing this holistic concept into the classroom. They are integrated into the curriculum and regularly used as guideposts for developing a balanced approach to teaching and learning. They are also used to help teachers better understand their students and themselves while supporting their growth across the seven domains. Teachers are keenly aware of their students and are not afraid to adjust lesson plans based on the needs and gifts of their students. There is a balance of structure and support provided by the curriculum and the seven domains, as well as the creative freedom to extend beyond that structure in a whole-hearted effort to best serve the students. 

To observe a school and get a sense for who they are, we can certainly look to more concrete aspects such as the curriculum, guiding principles, or classroom design. However, what is often most telling and intriguing are the more subtle elements that quietly reveal themselves. During our visit to Rainbow, there was one story that West shared with us that helped reveal this deeper essence. As we walked around outside the lower school classrooms, she told us the story of how the playground came into being. She described how the process of building the playground involved the school’s groundskeeper, Max, who West described as a “wise elder.” Max envisioned the design for the playground along with the students and invited them to have a voice in what it would look like. He would speak with the students in a nurturing and supportive manner that encouraged them to help create different elements of the playground. A school is essentially a small community, everyone in that community should be valued and recognized as playing an important role in the holistic development of all community members. 

To conclude our meeting with West, she offered us a beautiful gesture to convey the essence of the Rainbow Community School. She expressed how one of the most treasured gifts of the school was the loving community that it provided. Therefore, her gesture was a hug in which she wrapped her arms fully around herself and closed her eyes. In that moment, we could feel the embrace through her gesture and the deep feeling of love and support that the rainbow community provided. It was a transcendental moment, the hug was a full-bodied reminder to return to the heart center. As our time together ended, West headed off to a teacher gathering as it was the first day back for most teachers. From the car, Camden and I caught a glimpse of the teachers forming a circle in the yard and commencing their time together. It was clear in that moment that the school and teachers were living and breathing the essence of what they bring to the classroom. 

We want to extend our deep gratitude to West for spending time with us and helping us to gain insight into the bright light of Rainbow. To hear her insights, be in the presence of teachers, and walk through their sacred space is a true gift.

And thank you to Cleo, co-tour guide!

One thought on “Rainbow Community School

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s