The nature-oriented Waldorf education approach has spurred controversy elsewhere, as Waldorf schools typically don’t teach reading until second or third grade and tend to shun computers and technology. But Waldorf students’ academic achievement is significantly above average, multiple scholarly studies have shown.
The Syringa Mountain School in Hailey won’t postpone reading and math instruction, said school administrator Mary Gervase.
“But rather, we approach it differently by teaching these in a way that is appropriate for our children’s development,” Gervase wrote in an email.
In kindergarten, for instance, children will develop language skills through methods such as storytelling, puppetry, songs and poetry.
Students will learn math through daily activities such as cooking and animal care, she said.
The school will de-emphasize technology, though, in accordance with the classic Waldorf approach.
That’s because “we’re trying to develop our children’s imagination,” Gervase said.
“We’re not anti-technology, but we do like to delay it until later years,” said Laurie Wertich, Syringa’s board secretary.
Waldorf Education and Charter School Requirements
Nonetheless, all public schools, including Syringa, must meet state testing and technology requirements. That means students still must take the state’s standardized tests on a computer, beginning in third grade. And third grade is when Syringa students will begin using computers.
The students will start learning Spanish in first grade, and they’ll have the same teacher from first through their all their years at the school.
Promoters decided to pursue a charter Waldorf school after learning that The Mountain School, a small private Waldorf school in nearby Bellevue, will close at the end of the school year. A group of community members worked to keep Waldorf education in Blaine County, Wertich said.
The Idaho Public Charter School Commission approved the new school in August.
Syringa Mountain School will provide something unique, said Michelle Taylor, school choice coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education.
“It truly is an innovative model,” she said.
Said Gervase: “It’s just really fascinating to see that more and more families are requesting this kind of school choice in a public school setting.”
Syringa’s six-member school board hired Gervase, a longtime educator and consultant with a Ph.D. who worked eight years as assistant superintendent for the Blaine County School District.
Gervase, who started with Syringa Nov. 1, said her years with the county district “inspired me to help parents bring this school into realization because I just see how unique it is and how much of the current research is supporting methodology that Waldorf schools are using.”
Syringa already has about 100 students enrolled, including nearly all children from The Mountain School.
The goal is 165 students. But if Syringa Mountain School doesn’t reach capacity, it will open to students in other counties. The enrollment deadline is Feb. 3.
Eventually, school officials plan to add sixth through eighth grades. One grade level will be added each year until 2017.