The Upper Valley Waldorf School Expands
The Upper Valley Waldorf School (UVWS) on Bluff Road in Quechee is in the midst of a major construction project. “We were bursting at the seams,” says Administrative Director Christine Scherding. For a while, the compression into too little space will be worse before it gets better. The school practiced squeezing its over 150 students into less space at the tail end of last year. “We juggled to make space,” says Christine, describing the loss of two classrooms as the construction began. “We got everyone tucked in, but it was kind of tight.” She agrees that the project is mostly an adventure for the children, and adds, “We can be flexible, as long as we know it’s temporary.”
When it opens (in November per current plans) the school’s new building will provide four classrooms. The project is also smoothing the way for the future addition of an auditorium, with site preparation and moving of some utilities. “When the auditorium is built, the school hopes to offer it to other organizations and groups. It will be an asset to the community, which we think is great. We know from our own experience trying to find space – our present auditorium is very small – that there’s nowhere in the area with a good medium-sized auditorium,” says Christine. The fundraising for the project is going well. The goal is to raise $2.5 million; as of mid-July over $2.41 million has been paid or pledged, with two-thirds of current families donating. The school has no plans to add grades, but the additional space will allow more room for the many offerings of the Waldorf curriculum.
Part of the current building project involves reinforcing and updating the original main building at the school, which dates back to 1921. It was built as the Quechee Grammar School, on land donated by James French Dewey. (He actually hailed from Montpelier, but he had married Emily Strong – “probably a distant cousin” says Carol Dewey Davidson, mother of Quechee Times publisher Jen McMillen. Carol began attending the school, which housed grades one through six in four classrooms with a small auditorium in the middle, in the late 1940s. She recalls roller-skating in the auditorium in the winter. While some of the details are shrouded in mystery, Carol says that her grandfather donated the land for the school because he had a son and a nephew of school age. Later her two children went there. The building closed in 1994 – for a while. UVWS, begun in a church basement in 1991, moved into the Grammar School building in 1996, with 40 students in grades K through 3.
Waldorf Education Waldorf Education is the brainchild of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian born in 1861. His interests ranged across various topics including philosophy, spiritual development, biodynamic farming, and education. He believed that children need first to learn to be at home in a supportive physical world, learning to move and use their bodies, then adding social and creative skills, and developing critical thinking and empathy as they traverse their teen years. An interesting feature of the system is that a teacher is expected to stay with a group of children from first through eighth grade, so that children and their families can develop especially deep bonds and understanding with the teacher, who can advance social development and fit curriculum to individual students out of an unusually complete knowledge.
Waldorf Education is the fastest growing independent school movement in the world. The presence of UVWS has influenced families to move to the area, according to trustee and parent Amy Morel, who chairs the Capital Campaign committee. The school has families from 11 different countries. “I didn’t anticipate how much I’d love meeting families from a wider area,” Amy says. “We live in Barnard, which is kind of on the periphery of the Upper Valley;” at UVWS she meets families from more towns than she would in any public school. Playing on local recreation teams gives UVWS families a thorough connection to area communities. “Independent schools are strengthening to a community whether you go there or not,” maintains Amy. She points to the ArtisTree Center in South Pomfret, with its range of classes in art, music, and theater (for starters). “There are tons of Waldorf kids there.”
UVWS adults are quick to point out that the curriculum covers everything a regular public school provides. Science and grammar, math and languages are all thoroughly covered. The emphasis on crafts, art, and music does not mean Waldorf education is a purely play and dream experience. Because the children are given the opportunity to grow in many directions they are well equipped to enter any field. UVWS graduates have gone to West Point, and become engineers at Amazon.
Amy sees the Upper Valley as forging an artisanal identity around crafts and food. As a sculptor and a farmer she may be prejudiced, but thriving local markets and arts organizations support her point. UVWS offers children an education that opens a very real world. For example, there is woodworking for all beginning in fifth grade. “Look at the nature of carving a spoon,” says Amy. “There is no googling, no shortcuts.” Like building a quarter-million expansion, it requires planning, patience, and perseverance.