Kellyann Rodriguez’s daughter, Sofia, recently turned 15 and she’s a freshman in high school. By all accounts, Sofia is well-rounded socially, emotionally and academically — and Rodriguez credits Detroit Waldorf School.
After just a few months in high school, Sofia could see for herself the gift of a Detroit Waldorf School (DWS) education and she thanked her parents for their sacrifices, Rodriguez says.
As a public school teacher, Rodriguez never thought she could afford to send her daughter to a tuition-based school like DWS. She was thrilled to learn about the school’s Accessible Tuition Program on the school’s website, and applied, hoping for the best.
“When Sofia started at Waldorf, my husband and I had a small printing business which didn’t always provide consistent income. I was a new teacher, not making a lot of money,” Rodriguez says. “But I applied for the Accessible Tuition Program and put it out there in the world. Was it meant to be?”
Bringing Detroit Waldorf within reach
“From day one,” says Rodriguez, “the school let our family know they wanted to work with us financially. We knew that the school treasured Sofia just as much as we treasured the school. It was not about filling a seat, but about helping us as much as they could so Sofia could be part of the DWS community,” she explains.
As Sofia became acquainted with her new school as a kindergarten student, Rodriguez recognized the unique and joyful Waldorf approach to education. “It’s completely different from a public school environment,” she says.
Rodriguez admired the age-appropriate, play-based approach with “social skills building, not academics, in the kindergarten classroom. They learned to follow routines, enjoy traditions, and learn to play and get along with everyone,” she says.
Notably, Sofia’s teachers demonstrated that they really knew her as an individual. “I could tell when I attended my parent meetings, they knew my daughter,” Rodriguez says. “Her teachers knew her academically, physically, mentally and socially — they could speak to the whole child. I appreciated that and that they were looking for her developmental milestones.”
As a special education teacher, Rodriguez knows that developmental delays and differences can affect a child’s ability to learn, so she was impressed by the teachers’ knowledge of the interplay between body and mind. “Even in my master’s program, we were never taught to look at how a child sits or how they use their body to grab for things,” she says.
Nurturing the whole child
As Sofia grew, Rodriguez always took time to observe what she was learning — and how. She says she was always pleasantly surprised by the environment at DWS for the unique way it nurtured her daughter’s intellect.
“One day in first grade, I went in to observe class and I had my teacher mentality. The class teacher had allowed the students to push their desks together and put their chairs on top. They climbed inside and all I could think was ‘Oh my gosh. We don’t allow that!’” she says. “But what they were doing was aligned with a story about a sailing ship. In their play, they reinvented this ship and it was so cool to see.”
Students at DWS are nurtured holistically. The robust curriculum includes rigorous academics as well as artistic and practical experiences, all of which are appropriate to the age of each child. Foreign language is introduced in first grade, with students learning both Spanish and German. And in third grade, students learn to play violin, eventually selecting other instruments of their choosing. The curriculum is also rich with fine and practical arts, as well as the performing arts.
“The first time Sofia was in a class play on stage, I was like ‘Who is this child?’ She’s chatty at home, quiet at school, but all the kids had such confidence and they supported each other,” she says. “By the time she was in sixth, seventh and eighth grade, she really knew how to engage in conversations and knew how to talk to adults. That was really good to see.”
Cultivating independence and community
Once the students advance into the upper grades at DWS, their responsibilities also grow. Everything from running the school’s recycling program and helping facilitate the school’s festivals, to mentoring first graders in reading and performing public service. This responsibility creates empathetic and independent individuals ready to navigate their next steps and be engaged members of their communities as young adults.
DWS is also dedicated to creating an abundant community life for students and their families. It’s an inclusive environment where everyone benefits and everyone belongs, says Rodriguez. And by serving diverse families from all over metropolitan Detroit, students are prepared for a global world where they can feel at home anywhere.
Parents and families have opportunities to participate in their child’s educational experience. “We attended field trips, class plays, and volunteered in the classroom,” Rodriguez recalls. “We were all working toward the same goal of modeling for our kids what it’s like to be responsible and respectful human beings. Through these shared experiences, all the families got to know each other, and were a part of our children growing up together.”
Rodriguez says Sofia benefited from the sense of community at DWS, too.
“All the kids were like brothers and sisters, with no one left out. There is a real sense of community,” she says. For Sofia, this translated into comfort, confidence and a love of learning.
Learn more about Detroit Waldorf School’s unique PK-8 educational community. See if the Accessible Tuition Scholarship Program is right for your family. Visit detroitwaldorf.org.