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Reviews of Trillium Waldorf School

Guelph, ON  |  Grades K - 8  |  Shortlist

 

Review by: Hanna Van Dijk-Alāč - Parent (Mar 10, 2022)

"Our school is small which is great because class sizes are lower."


Student Experience

The most enjoyable aspect of school for my daughter is visual arts classes which have been taught by a variety of instructors over the years. A wonderful discovery of the colour purple in her SK year was a highlight: she came home one day saying "mom blue and red make purple, look!" and then proceeded to show me the different purple values of the colour wheel. Instead of teaching the children that blue and red make purple, the students discover these colours on their own. Her love for creating beautiful pictures has not stopped. The second thing my daughter really enjoys at school is the outside playtime and outdoor excursions whether this be to the local farm for apple picking or feeding the ducks on the pond close to the school, or mucking about in the sandbox when she was younger and discovering gems, carefully placed there by the teachers ahead of time to add some mystery and magic to the day.


School Leadership

At our school, the leadership team leads by example and gets all 3 key "pillars" involved (parents, staff, teachers, board members, interested community members) by much discussion, meetings in person or over zoom, and yearly annual updates on the state of the school finances. The leadership team also has spring planning sessions and so much work behind the scenes. It's a supportive role, leading through service which is a beautiful example of what leadership can mean. It's been difficult during COVID to have everyone agree on mandates so leadership decided at that time to follow the local health guidelines and local school board restrictions (such as working in pods, having reduced class sizes, wearing masks inside the classroom, investing in HEPA filters for each room, and focusing in on outside activities where possible). This was an effective, efficient, and wise strategy. The health mandates for teachers and students alike followed a similar pattern as that of the surrounding community in which most parents work and live. It did cause some families to leave our school but the systematic, fair, clear, and straightforward manner how to handle the pandemic without it tearing the fabric of our school community apart was a beautiful thing to behold. Not easy but was executed well. We have faired remarkably well with this... It helps to have doctors and paramedics in this school health team which made the instructions easy to follow.


Teaching

The teachers are Trillium Waldorf love their calling, the students, and the curriculum. It's a rich, embedded curriculum that spans large historical stories which are developmentally appropriate for each grade level. In grade 3 the students learn the storyline of creation, taking care of the natural world, tackle creating a garden for the rest if the school, complete with sewing seeds to harvesting early in Grade 4, and take a 3 day overnight trip to a local farm in which they do chores: feed the chickens, bake bread, milk the cows and hold the barn kittens. The daily 2-hour main lesson in Grade 3 is studying the historical Israel/ Hebrews alongside the shelters they would have built for themselves. Each grade, in turn, studies a particular historical piece in-depth, always taught in context and with great elaborate ways of exploring the topics. Class trips and other subjects also support this main lesson/ historical review as much as possible so it's cohesive, subjects are meaningful and rich in details At the end of each year, a class play is performed. The play in Grade 8 is often Shakespeare or something related to the subject most recently studied. During the pandemic, the Grade 4 class performed a Norse myth play bus zoom which actually turned out really well. Teachers are resourceful, creative, and make the class topics hang together. At Waldorf, the grade 1 teacher travels with the class right up until Grade 8. They then take a sabbatical to learn from their 8 years just past. Upon return to the school, they take up and lead the children of a new grade 1 class. The curriculum is rich, unique, and should be studied by every parent considering this type of education because it's vastly different from the local public school curriculum. Staring more slowly at the younger grades and involving much movement, music, dance, and song, children at the Waldorf School are encouraged to feel strong in their bodies before doing the more academic work of writing and reading. So the introduction of writing and reading comes later but most students catch up to their public school peers by end of grade 3. The one downside of this approach to teaching is that learning disabilities such as ADHD, dyslexia, and nonverbal learning disabilities are often not caught in time. If your child is struggling, it's up to the parent to seek outside assessments which can be quite expensive and are often covered under the public school system. So if a child struggles in school it can be quite expensive.


Academics

The beauty of the school academic program lies at the heart of a carefully crafted and thought-through rich curriculum that couches all subjects and topics inside an overarching theme for the year. In grades 1-3, 4-6, and 7-8 each human developmental milestone, and experience are explored, and in-depth. The focus through the curriculum is on the entire child and his it her personal development. Much of the curriculum/ academic richness has already been explored in the previous question but with Waldorf, it's hard to tease these things out. Committed and creative teachers enrich the lives of their students by delving deep into the academic curriculum that is unique to Waldorf. Students are allowed to learn at their own pace but I have found by grade 4 there is a big jump into heavy writing and reading and the academic aspect of each course is heavier. By this grade, if a struggling student has not received the extra attention required and a plan be put in place on how this student will be accommodated, the student will fall behind. This is something I've witnessed over the years at Waldorf, in my daughter's grade as well as the older grade my son was in. Academic accommodations are new to most teachers at Waldorf and one area where the parents need to advocate for their student more than if they were in the public system with free EA support, for instance. However, most students do fair fine and excel, graduating by and large with higher academic scores compared to their public school peers and most often also 1-2 years ahead in mathematics.


Extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities are carefully planned according to what activity or sport might be appropriate developmentally speaking at a certain age group. In kindergarten, there's digging in the sandbox and walks, in SK skipping and longer nature hikes, in Grade 1 a lot of group work, jumping games, throwing games and learning to cross the midline (if this milestone is not yet integrated in some students). Grades 4 play soccer at recess, Grades 5 explore ancient Greek Olympic athletics since they study the Greeks that year and it ends in a 3 day Greek Olympics trip away to complete against another Waldorf School. Grade 6 does basketball and Grades 7,8 play soccer and hockey and continue with basketball should they wish. There is plenty of fun running around games created by the teachers and students alike. These games build physical strength but also help bond students together as a team/ class by promoting good sportsmanship. Instead of gym class, there is movement class and the opportunity to learn games and sports from other cultures, whatever is being studied at the time for that particular class. Class trips also form a big part of the school curriculum where each grade's trip fits into a theme of the curriculum. Each year there are local trips. The school also goes skiing in winter, hikes in spring, has festivals throughout the year, and has a robust creative leadership that makes school events meaningful and beautiful.


Students

Our school is small which is great because class sizes are lower. We have two kindergarten classes, and each KG group is capped at 18 students with 2 teachers each. In JK there is a morning program, healthy lunch, such as soups that the students help prepare, followed by an optional afternoon time if care and play. Even at the SK level, the curriculum is play-based. In grades one to eight the number of students is 15 on average, per class. At our school when there are more than 24 children enrolled in a particular grade, the school considers splitting the class so that the group of learners can still be small. This works really well as research has shown that a group of 12 students is ideal. However, this does not work well in a situation where many students might leave during a certain year leaving perhaps eight or as low as six students in a class. In years past we have had a class fold because it did not have enough students in it but this has not happened recently. teachers teach the students from an early age that they must work together and work out their own problems. they have circle times when there is a conflict that arises although from personal experience this does not happen soon enough. Conflict should be dealt with on the same day swiftly and quickly with the resolution and a plan in place for restoring the relationship that was broken. Often at our particular Waldorf School, it takes a few days to get the circle underway delaying the process of reconciliation. However overall because the students work together as a group so much since the early grades they really learn to bond together as a class and become one unit. They are also good at welcoming new students and making the new students feel part of their team. It is a beautiful thing to behold to watch the students deeply care for one another and treat them like brothers and sisters.


School Life

The overall quality of the school is high because of parents' involvement leader initiative and teacher's commitment. Both my son who had special needs and my daughter who is currently in grade six love going to school. They are inspired by their teachers daily they love learning and they love exploring new topics and themes. Their curriculum is meaningful deep and Rich and although might not explore every Avenue that a public school might offer them they delve deep into particular topics that are appropriate at each developmental level. The result of this is Happy students that explore topics when they are ready for them. The parents are involved and committed to the school community. This is partly due to the fact that it is tuition-based school so everyone is very invested in making it a successful experience for their particular son or daughter and the class as a whole. Parents often volunteer to go on trips and lend stability and fun to projects. the community comes together where everyone has a part to play in festivals and the yearly Spring Fair is always a great event.


Community

Parents of the Trillium Waldorf School are very involved in the school culture as much as they want to be. There are committees on which to serve trips that need chaperones, extra helping hands needed in the grade one handwork class we're 7-year-olds are learning how to knit, and parents are needed to help lead to the school as part of the tri pillar leadership format where parents are one of the pillars. We support each other by encouraging play dates among students, helping out when needed at festivals and events, enjoying each other's healthy cooking at potlucks, and hearing each other's opinions and concerns at class meetings and breakout groups. Every individual is heard and given a chance to state their views. During the pandemic, some of these meetings were online over zoom and many festivals had to be canceled. It was amazing to me how this lack of common community events did impact the school negatively. I think overall parents felt less connected to each other during the pandemic because there was less opportunity to get together. We all look forward to returning in full force to all of our festivals and having a fun Spring Fair.


School Location

Many parents in our particular School community moved to Guelph in order to have their children attend the Trillium Waldorf School. We on the other hand stumbled across the school which happens to be in our neighbourhood by accident. We're so thankful we happen to have bought a house that is within walking distance of the school that we did not realize was there until my son attended kindergarten. We have been fortunate that both our children could walk to school. Many other parents from Cambridge and Kitchener usually Drive half an hour each way to bring their children. There's also a bus service. In the North End of the city, the school is ideally located close to trails and the forest.




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