Young students just starting out at Detroit Waldorf School likely don’t recognize how the work they engage in today will benefit them in the future. Yet the value of their experiences — one by one, year after year — accumulate and coalesce to create individuals who grow up to be emotionally intelligent, human-centered adults living meaningful lives.
“At Detroit Waldorf School, the teachers ground their own learning in contemplative practices,” says Linda Williams, Ph.D., eighth grade teacher at the independent PK-8 school in Detroit’s Indian Village neighborhood. “We are always thinking about our students and their families and their neighborhoods as supportive constellations. We hold these children with love and empathy, which makes our lessons relevant.”
Ideally, Waldorf students spend eight years with one teacher — Williams has taken a few cohorts from first through eighth grade — growing and building upon their learning year after year. As Waldorf teachers have high expectations for their students, it’s not uncommon for them to have similar expectations for themselves. “There is never a thought that a teacher won’t have this student next year, so there’s that recognition that a student’s development is very much dependent upon their teacher’s development as a person,” Williams explains.
Students at Detroit Waldorf School 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. This experiential and integrated approach to education engages the intellectual, physical, and emotional development of each student, providing them with the skills necessary to navigate their next steps.
Where creativity blossoms
As Detroit Waldorf is an independent school, teachers have the freedom to approach subjects from a variety of perspectives, bringing in diverse voices to cultivate global-minded individuals. “Once you unleash teachers and students and their families to discover as much as they can in as many different ways as they can, it creates a learning environment that really fosters creativity,” Williams says. Williams shares one parent’s reflection on how Waldorf students are producers. “And it’s true,” she says. “They want to be producers and not just consumers.”
In addition to handwork and music, students are encouraged to live comfortably within their own bodies. Through a movement-focused art called Eurythmy, students engage in brain-based learning. “There’s a big emphasis on experiencing and knowing through your body, and engaging in play for as long as we can. Our eighth graders especially love our outdoor classrooms. A playful mood reigns even as we investigate phenomena in physics, chemistry or biology,” Williams says.
Through foreign language, students gain more than a new language; they learn how to intuit another’s culture and way of thinking and being. In third grade, students learn to play violin, eventually selecting other instruments of their choosing. All fifth through eighth grade students play in the string orchestra or instrumental band. But Williams says she catches students simply expressing themselves musically, too. “They will pick up instruments or sing as duets and ensembles,” she says.
Upon graduation from Detroit Waldorf School, students pursue their passions in public or independent high schools such as Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School, Berkley High School Scholars Program, University Liggett School, The Roeper School, U of D Jesuit — and many others. Some students continue to follow the Waldorf curriculum at Rudolf Steiner High School of Ann Arbor. After high school, former Detroit Waldorf students head to a variety of higher learning institutions, from the more local University of Michigan and Wayne State, to NYU, Columbia and Harvard, as well as overseas.
Cultivating globally minded citizens
Graduates of Detroit Waldorf School go on to thrive in a variety of fields, including the arts, sciences, health and social services, and the humanities. They become responsible, empathetic citizens that possess critical thinking and problem-solving skills necessary to navigate the obstacles of our world. “Detroit Waldorf School alumni not only flourish in their careers, but as individuals,” says Rachel Ornstein, Director of Development at Detroit Waldorf School.
Detroit Waldorf School has been reconnecting with former students from the earliest graduating classes of the 1970s and 1980s, establishing a vast network of alumni from across the globe.
“It’s quite remarkable to hear a renowned surgeon talking at length about knitting and the benefits it brings to their cognitive abilities,” says Development Associate and current parent Andi Mahoney. “Also, the relationships our alumni have kept with their class teachers are unlike that at any traditional school. They really know each other and alumni consistently express their deep feelings for how much that student-teacher relationship meant to their developing years.”
Learning about their experiences and reflections illustrates how Detroit Waldorf School education fosters the development of free-thinking, moral and self-confident individuals.
The school encourages prospective families to engage with more information about Detroit Waldorf School at detroitwaldorf.org.