REVIEW OF Waldorf Academy BY parent, Danielle Marcos
- Date of Review
May 29, 2020
Gr. Nursery/Toddler - 3
(4.5) Student Experience
My children love their teachers at Waldorf Academy: they are truly seen, understood, and valued. The teachers' depth of commitment is remarkable. Because they understand the kids so well, the teachers know how to help my children navigate their challenges with learning. The curriculum is experiential and arts-enriched, including music, handwork (knitting, sewing, woodworking), movement, theatre, and visual art. Art, theatre, and music aren't just taught by specialist teachers - they are woven through all the subjects, making the material engaging and inspiring. As my eldest son moves up through the grades, I am also learning that the Waldorf math and science curriculum is also very rigorous and in-depth. My two kids are very different so they appreciate different things about their school. My eldest loves experiential learning assignments, making ANYTHING, and outdoor education experiences. My youngest loves all the music and theatre, and anything math. Both really love their teachers.
(4) School Leadership
My first contact when I have any questions or problems is always my kids' class teachers. Over the years, I have found them to respond to my questions and problems promptly, and in a satisfying way. The teachers and I have a collaborative relationship in my children's education, where we respect and understand one another. I have also generally found the specialist teachers to be very attentive, responsive, and understanding. As a class rep for many years, I have seen first hand how much communication, effort, and intention goes into fostering a positive, supportive school community at Waldorf Academy. Miscommunication inevitably happens at times, but they always strive to resolve and improve. Speaking to school leadership, recently, the school recognized that the governance structure was not meeting our needs, and a governance review began. I think a change was needed in this area, and I am happy with the changes that have taken place to date. I think reviewing strengths and weaknesses, and making changes when needed are hallmarks of any healthy organization.
I am very happy with the quality of instruction at Waldorf Academy. The teachers I have worked with have all been extremely knowledgeable and passionate about what they teach. They consistently go above and beyond to deliver their curriculum to each student. This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the teachers have shown incredible flexibility in adapting their curriculum to remote learning. For example, in just a few days, the Practical Arts teacher delivered knitting project kits for all her students, delivered them to their homes, created a series of excellent knitting tutorial videos on YouTube, and now is watching the kids progress over Zoom. Fantastic! My children receive both the challenges and support they need to learn in a highly individualized and timely way. Case in point: my elder son was having difficulty reading to in Grade Two. His class teacher referred him to one of the Education Support teachers who identified that he was having problems with his eyes, including difficulties with tracking, accommodation, and laterality. The Education Support teacher referred us to a Developmental Optometrist (I had never heard of one before). The optometrist devised a series of eye exercises for my son. He did these exercises under the supervision of a vision therapist for five months. His eye problems have since resolved, and his reading and math skills have dramatically improved.
The academic program at Waldorf Academy is rooted in a deep understanding of child development and is enriched in music, theatre, and the arts. The latter subjects are not just taught separately by specialist teachers, they are also woven into all the core subjects including math, science, English, and French. This vitalizes the teaching of these subjects with imagination and creative energy. Before joining the school, I knew that Waldorf education was strong in the arts. Now that my son is traveling through grade school, I am pleased to see how rigorous the math and science curriculum is. Its both challenging and stimulating of deep thought. The academic culture that the school cultivates is a balanced one: math, music, theatre, language arts, visual art, outdoor education, handwork (including knitting, sewing, and woodworking), and emotional/interpersonal development are each given their place and importance. Teachers have a deep understanding of students and work with each one where they are in each subject. I know of several Waldorf Academy graduates that have gone on to excel in high school and university. I think the school well prepares its students for both their academic and professional careers. It also helps shape them into caring, responsible individuals with a life-long love of learning, and of the world.
Waldorf Academy definitely produces well-rounded students. As mentioned above, outdoor education, handwork, art, and music are emphasized as much as core academics. My son in grade school is encouraged to go deep in the areas that he enjoys AND to keep striving in the areas that he does not enjoy. To me, this is vitally important. Since my kids are still young (SK and grade three), I have not yet experienced the extracurricular sports side of the school. I do know, however, that there are competitive extracurricular sports offered for the upper grades.
The student body is small and generally tightly knit. Many of the students have been together for as long as they can remember, so they relate to one another and their teacher almost like a family would. There is also a lot of interconnection between the different classes, from K to Grade 8. Students in Grade 8 have 'buddies' in Grade 1 that they work with throughout the year. Same for Grade 7 and Grade 2, etc. I have often noticed and admired the older students looking out for the younger ones. I think the school's culture and practices promote this. The school community gathers regularly for festivals and events, so it often feels like an extended family or a small-town atmosphere, where folks know each other and help each other out. This has been particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, where parents were going above and beyond to help one another.
(4) School Life
I think the overall quality of student life at Waldorf Academy is great. My kids really enjoy going there because they are engaged by the curriculum, love their teachers, and enjoy participating in the social life of the school. Their social life is not just limited to their friends at recess, but also the life of the entire school community, which is cultivated through the weekly assemblies, seasonal festivals, performances, student presentations, and sports events. I recommend that prospective families attend some of the festivals at Waldorf Academy (Winter Fair, May Fair, Michaelmas Play, etc.) in order to get some insight into school life at Waldorf Academy. It would also be really valuable to attend the Grade 8 Projects or the Hero Projects, or one of the students plays, to get a sense of what students are capable of.
The life of the school community at Waldorf Academy relies heavily on parent involvement. Parents are the driving force behind the festivals including the Winter Fair, May Fair, Lantern Walk, and Michaelmas play. We make costumes and props, bake cookies, and make refreshments, organize crafts, and BBQs. Parents also often assist teachers in delivering certain parts of the curriculum such as gardening, cooking, or building project, depending on their interests, skills, and availability. Some parents volunteer on Community Council. Others work on the Board. Truly, Waldorf schools wouldn't work without dedicated, involved parents. Being a Waldorf parent can be demanding at times, but it is also highly rewarding to be such an active part of your child's learning and to be part of such a passionate, and supportive community.
(4) School Location
Waldorf Academy is located very close to the Dupont subway and is easily accessible by car, bike, and transit. The immediate surrounding area is quiet and residential, with a number of parks, and a ravine system nearby. Students regularly visit these natural spaces for outdoor play, and nature walks. Students also take regular trips off campus to participate in outdoor education at the PINE Program at Etienne Brule Park, and the High Park Nature Centre. Most recently, my older son participated in Stop Gap project, where they surveyed businesses on nearby Dupont Avenue to identify businesses in need of accessibility ramps. The kids measured their entryways and will be making and delivering ramps for them. Waldorf Academy definitely cultivates students' awareness of the natural and social environment that surrounds them.