REVIEW OF Waldorf Academy BY parent, Michael Bernstein
- Date of Review
May 22, 2020
Gr. Nursery/Toddler - JK
(5) Student Experience
My son feels seen and cared for the way a family member would care for him. His individual needs, concerns, strengths, challenges, and many questions are all lovingly attended to by the staff. He loves the exposure to all the different facets of nature - the outdoors, the seasons, the festivals and rituals that are a part of the school. He also enjoys all of the artwork - the hand knitting, the painting, the woodwork, and much more. He also enjoys the rhythm of the school from the songs they sing to enter the school, to circle time, the puppet shows, the stories of the seasons, the different colors representing the different days. He has even brought some of those traditions into our home and we are all happier for it.
(5) School Leadership
The administration knows every child in the school - not just by name, but they can tell you details about them. What they are strong in, what they need to learn, what their parent's names are. It's a true community at this school and that's true of everyone who works there - from the school leadership to the teachers to the parents. The administration is a key part of the experience for the children as they support the faculty to continue their own learning journey, plan festivals and events that reinforce the education and make many efforts to reinforce a sense of community. Many of the members of the administration have also had their kids go through the school.
The teachers are so committed and generous with their time. They treat the kids so lovingly, giving each- special, individualized care and coaching. Sometimes I am in disbelief of their dedication to our child and how much they seem to truly love him. And amidst their loving and gentle way, they also find a way to enforce the rules, to teach the children to be more independent, to handle difficult situations, and to practice new skills. I honestly couldn't imagine having our son anywhere else after seeing the way the school staff operates the Waldorf Academy. The teachers are so committed to their craft. Every week, they hold a teacher's circle where they talk about developmental concepts, the Waldorf philosophy, the challenges that they are facing in their own teaching. Many of the teachers have been at the school for decades. Our current teacher has served the school for more than 20 years. They are true believers in the philosophy of the school and you can see that in how they carry themselves, not just with the children but in every interaction.
The academic program is holistic. It aims to develop the whole child and, in doing so, goes well beyond traditional academics to include the creative, social, physical, and spiritual aspects of the children as well. To be clear, the academics is very strong and children go on to very successful careers in a wide array of disciplines. But they also learn how to develop as people, not just students. The kids in Grade 6, 7, and 8 can have a conversation with you as if you were talking to another adult. They are mature, self-confident but humble, and outward-focused. Children make their own textbooks, reinforcing their learning and allowing them to be creative in how to present the information. They build things, they use song and drama to bring concepts to life.
Yes, there are many different opportunities. There are a variety of sports - basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc. There are artistic opportunities - music, drama, etc. And there are many opportunities to explore nature. There's also lots of community service. In fact, it is a requirement in each grade. Plus, there is an annual camping trip that many of the parents across the school go on together. This is just scraping the surface - there's plenty of options!
The student body is a true community of caring kids and involved parents. The school is about 100 students from grades 1 to 8 so only about 12-15 students per grade. Everyone knows each other and there are no cliques or bullies or anything silly like that. The students form bonds that aren't as common in other schools because there is only 1 class per grade. And many grades have had the same teacher for 3-4 years or even more. So the class almost becomes like an extended family. The older students are also expected to help mentor younger pupils. Grade 8 students volunteer in the Grade 1 classroom and the Grade 7s read to the Grade 2s. And so on and so forth. The lack of technology or cell phones also keeps the kids grounded.
(5) School Life
My child absolutely LOVES the school, loves his teachers, loves the environment and his friends. This is a true community that looks after and cares for each other. My son spends so much time learning about nature as he is outside for long stretches throughout the day. He gets healthy snacks - not junk food or sweets. He learns new songs and watches new puppet shows every week. He loves the school trips that they've started to take. This year, they went on a field trip to Evergreen Brickworks to explore nature and the different wildlife that live there. He also went to High Park where he made bird feeders and walked on several of the trails. I feel like my son is developing in a way that's true to him and who he is, and yet he is also learning all the things you'd expect at his age.
This is a true community where parents, faculty, and staff are all working in partnership to set the direction of the school and to solve problems as they arise. The parents are not just welcome to be involved, they are at the heart of the school. The Community Council is extremely active - there are probably a quarter of the parents who are involved on a monthly basis. When input is needed on an important school issue, parents all engage and respond. A recent survey about the governance of the school saw 30 responses in a 48 hour period to a very long questionnaire. The Board is also made up almost exclusively of parents who volunteer hundreds of hours throughout the year to help the school flourish. Many events like the Winter Fair involve hundreds of hours of parent time to create artwork, plan song and dance, bake treats, transform the entire school and then set it back up again in time for Monday's classes.
(4.5) School Location
For a school in downtown Toronto, the setting does a fairly good job of seeming serene and in nature. It is quiet in the back playgrounds. And the school takes frequent trips to a nearby ravine, and makes use of the grounds of Casa Loma and Spadina House. The students do venture out frequently with their teachers but do not roam off school grounds unattended.