Santa Fe Waldorf School

On our drive into Santa Fe, we had the chance to experience our first real change in landscape. The terrain was flat and expansive as we made our way through Arkansas and Oklahoma, and the foliage became progressively more barren. Upon our approach into Santa Fe, I was in awe of the adobe homes and buildings. Even the Walgreens and commercial businesses were constructed in the adobe style. The culture and atmosphere of Santa Fe made it seem as if we had landed in a different country. As the scenery and culture across the US changed, so did the schools. The Santa Fe Waldorf School is unique to the other Waldorf Schools that we have visited and just as inspiring. Although they carry out a Waldorf curriculum, their setting, teachers, and school design make it their own. 

Upon arrival, we were warmly greeted by Kate Pavuk, the admissions and development coordinator for the school. Her enthusiasm and joy in sharing about SFWS was palpable. She shared with us that later that day the school was having a workshop with a guest speaker called, “The Compassionate Campus.” Kate was so excited to join this session and it was refreshing to see that the school was offering such nourishing and enjoyable opportunities for teacher development. The ability for teachers, and the school as a whole, to continue to learn, adapt, and grow in new ways mirrors the educational process of the students. For example, we discussed with Kate the possibility of classes cooking for themselves, a new venture for SFWS, but something Camden and I did with our students at Roong Aroon School in Thailand. Kate, as well as some other teachers, were interested in starting such a project and open to inviting new ways of learning into their school. These innovations are often challenging and seem daunting at first glance, but inevitably provide for freshness and excitement for students and teachers alike.  

As we walked through the school, which ranged from Pre-K through 12th grade, we munched on purple and yellow tomatoes (yes, purple!) growing in their garden, overheard the sounds of children playing a movement game (“tall as a tree, wide as an oak, small as a seed), and felt the hot Santa Fe sun beating down on us. The classrooms were uniquely designed to accommodate the regions climate and many contained large tubes of water that helped to regulate the temperature. They have a special outdoor space for hand dying fiber and using natural dyes, such as red from the locally sourced cochineal plant. In our brief chat with their handwork teacher, we learned that the students study how to do the colcha stitch, a traditional embroidery stich native to New Mexico. There was an undoubtable influence of the land and the culture on the educational experience of the students. 

Their indoor spaces were also intimately connected to nature and had large windows and a door to the outside. The ascetics of the school were enchanting and enticing. In kindergarten, the children were welcomed to naptime with individual “forts” to take rest in, while the older students had beautifully designed spaces designated for music, handcrafts, and woodworking. Inspiration was everywhere, but it was subtle, in that it invited curiosity and creativity, rather than a bombardment of excess simulation. Simply stated, the school felt like a place you would want to spend time and be.

In chatting with Kate, we received some inspiration of our own, some lovely reminders of how the embodied presence of the teacher supports the holistic growth of the students. She shared with us how in the school, teachers don’t simply read from a text book, in a way, they become the textbook. If the class is to study Joan of Arc, a teacher will read in detail about this historical figure, come to deeply understand and connect with the material on their own, and then bring it to life for their students in the form of oral stories. It is not to say that the content is the most important aspect, rather, as Kate described, it is the ability of the teacher to “cover a certain kind of consciousness.” The material is simply a means to uncover a deeper journey. As the students move through an understanding of history, they are essentially learning how to be human in conjunction with their own individual growth and development. Learning how to be human… What a fascinating journey indeed!

The projects and programs that transpire at the school are also worth sharing as they speak to the deeper roots and philosophy of the school. In the woodworking space we saw the marionette project that the 7th and 8th graders take part in each year. As 7th graders they craft the marionette by carving and shaping the wooden structure of the puppet. In 8th grade, they complete the project by designing and making the clothing. Finally, the 8th graders will put their hand-made marionettes center stage as they preform a show for the younger students. The idea that a single project could spans the course of two years invites an interesting concept for us to consider. We often think about projects that can be completed in a term, or at most, by the end of the school year. In daily life outside of school, we typically find that most of our endeavors rarely fit into such short and neat spans of time. It was so interesting to me that at SFWS, they allow time for a project to evolve over the course of two years. It makes me wonder what we miss out on when we place too much emphasis on age, grade level, or time bound projects. What potential for learning is possibly if we are brave enough to look beyond these markers and see life and learning as a continuously flowing stream, rather than a tap that can get turned on and off at will?

As always, I feel there is so much more to share about this incredible place of holistic teaching and learning. I feel so grateful that Camden and I have had the opportunity to visit these schools. Seeing and being at the schools in person, along with meeting the wonderful educators at each location, inspires us beyond what I feel my words can express. We want to extend a special thank you to Kate for her insightful tour. The gesture that she shared with us was one that was alive each and everyday on their campus, a statue of two children moving together joyfully, hand-in-hand. She also mentioned that a gesture from the school would be one of the head, heart, and hands… a key philosophical focus of Waldorf education. 

Water cylinders help regulate temperature

Naptime fort

Woodwork Shop

Outdoor space for hand-dying

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