PHOENIX – The Desert Marigold School is unlike any school you’ve probably ever seen.
The 12-acre campus is an oasis in the desert. Looking more like an agricultural commune than a school, students can be found working crops in a large garden or tending to livestock in a barnyard area. Waterfowl float carelessly on the surface of a pond while more children play jump rope nearby.
This charter school subscribes to the Waldorf Method, a unique way of teaching children that began in Germany in the early 1900’s.
“We really bring about the development of the whole child,” explained the school’s administrative director Charles Burkham.
To accomplish that, the school sets itself apart in a number of ways.
-Students are surrounded by the natural world
-Lessons are reinforced through physical activity and games
-Children write their own “textbooks” on academic subjects
-Children stay with the same teacher until high school
-Students are encouraged to be curious and confident
For a better idea of how the curriculum works, Burkham gave us an example.
“Let’s say the students are learning their multiplication tables,” he said. “they may go outside and use a jump rope to demonstrate the concept.”
When The List visited Burkham’s school, we observed children in the garden as they took notes on the vegetables that were growing. Their teacher was giving them a science lesson.
Inside a classroom, students were reciting their school’s song, which is a custom that often signifies the beginning of the school day. There was a notable absence of technology in the room. There were no computers, smart boards or televisions.
“We don’t introduce technology until it is age appropriate,” explained Burkham.
Indeed, technology is introduced but typically at the high school level. It is gradually phased in as the children grow older.
“We often have our students designing computers and writing programs when they are in high school,” said Burkham.
We asked an associate professor of education at Arizona State University for his take on the Waldorf Method.
“It’s not being driven by standards, by textbooks and curricula,” explained Michael Kelley. It’s being driven in part by the human nature to want to know.”
Every Waldorf school must meet the same standards as every other school, but parents say the environment is better.
“They have their deadlines, they have their homework assignments but it doesn’t seem as stressful,” said one mother. “They [the students] want to do their best, they want to be successful and feel good about themselves.”
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America, the organization that supports and advocates for such schools in North America, boasts 160 schools across the continent, many of them in the United States.
While not for everybody, Professor Kelley says the schools might be a good fit for certain types of children, especially for those who have a hard time with standardized tests and rigid learning environments.
If you plan to change your child’s school, Kelley suggests doing two things:
-Do your research
-Visit the school
“The schools should allow you and your child to visit them,” said Kelley. “You should insist on sitting in on the classes to get a good feel for the environment.”