“If you’ve had the experience of binding a book, knitting a sock, playing a recorder, then you feel that you can build a rocket ship — or learn a software program you’ve never touched. It’s not bravado, just a quiet confidence. There is nothing you can’t do. Why couldn’t you? Why couldn’t anybody?”

–Peter Nitze, Waldorf and Harvard graduate and Director of an aerospace company

Our 12th Grade Students: Bobby, Tony, Glacier, Connor, and Olivia

Spending a few minutes with our remarkable 12th grade students is a wonderful reminder of the core vision for Waldorf Education: namely, to educate unique individuals who will leave our school eager and able to make real differences in the world. This vision is embedded not only in the deep and deliberate pedagogy throughout the grades, but increasingly, as students move up into high school, also in the relationships that students form with their teachers. Indeed, one of the great strengths of Waldorf high school education is the exchange between teacher and student, a dynamic relationship that encompasses discussion, dialogue and growth and all the challenges and possibilities therein. Bobby Favorite, who plans to go into engineering after he graduates, notes, “We rely on relationships between teachers and students. When there is an issue, we talk with each other.” The High School Student Council, which represents the voice of the high school student body and works collaboratively with the teachers to affect change in their education and school policy, is just one venue where “issues” are talked out.

The focus on student-teacher relationships reflects the deep respect that Waldorf Education has for the wisdom and individuality of each student. Tony Renzema, who is planning to attend college says: “Our teachers have a high value for the students’ independence.” This independence is also supported in the broad curriculum where students are encouraged to find individual paths through the material. Glacier Raymond, who for the time being intends to continue her service on the family farm, suspects that growing independence has to do with the classes themselves. “PWS offers a variety of classes that give students the opportunities to make choices later,” she says. As Connor World notes, the small class sizes at PWS enhance these opportunities, empowering students to find their own, unique paths into the future.

Students like Olivia Soter, who took advantage of the opportunity to participate in a foreign exchange, experience this sense of empowerment in a more dramatic fashion still. As she notes, “My time in Germany as an exchange student gave me the experience of being a global citizen and meeting new people.” Building on this experience, Olivia will be taking a gap year following graduation to work on organic farms in Europe.

But even as they work on relationship building in the context of their studies, students are always (and, as they get older, increasingly) bringing those experiences to bear in ways large and small on the outside world. Service to the larger community in every form is an integral part of our high schoolers’ experience: working on local farms, helping in soup kitchens, collecting trash. As they serve, students are able to gain a deeper understanding of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses and possibilities. By the time they reach graduation, they are confident and excited about the prospect of affecting change in their own, individual ways.

Perhaps Tony Renzema says it best. “I want to live my life not just by fitting in but by being different and making a difference.”

It was Rudolf Steiner’s vision to educate the whole child, to empower them to go out into the world and make a real difference. As he noted, “Our highest endeavor must be to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives.”

We are proud to have this vision being realized each and every day here at Portland Waldorf School. And your contribution to this year’s Community Development Campaign will help us continue to empower our students to affect meaningful change in the world.

 

When approached by the news media and asked the question, “What did Waldorf Education do for you?” Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg replied, “It encouraged me to always strive to become a better human being.”