At Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor, our teachers spend their summers recharging and renewing their skills with support from our Annual Fund and grants.
After a full school year of teaching, many of our faculty join groups of Waldorf teachers across North America in professional development around the subjects they will cover in the next grade level. The class that teacher Anna Kamitses has been with since Grade 1 will begin Grade 5 this fall. She has found the professional development in Waldorf education indispensable. Every summer, with support from our Annual Fund, she attends Waldorf teacher training where she learns lessons and techniques from veteran Waldorf teachers and a cohort of twenty other teachers in her grade level. She brings that experience and richness to the classroom every day.
Through a designated gift, several of our teachers participate in year-long professional development through the Southeast Michigan Stewardship Coalition (SEMIS) that approaches curriculum through place-based education - an immersive approach to learning that empowers students to act as environmental stewards, caring for themselves, their peers, and the land and community where they live. Calisa Tucker, whose has taken two classes from Grade 1 through Grade 8 and whose current students will be third-graders, has led this approach for many years and brought the school garden and composting back to life this year. High school teacher, Ms. Amrine, implemented place-based education as she created the Grade 9 American History block that explored our Pontiac Trail neighborhood through the Native American tribes that lived here, the Underground Railroad houses in our neighborhood, and the famous poets from our region.
A grant from the Mahle Foundation in Germany has covered the costs of six part-time employees to attend an introductory series to Waldorf high school teaching along with supporting new foreign language teachers, and high school math and physics. Nathan Corliss, who is a high school administrative assistant and has taught high school drama and math, said after participating in the first sessions, “Coming from a public school background, I have felt more at home teaching at the Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor than anywhere else. As I learn more about Waldorf education, the reasons for that initial feeling of belonging are becoming more tangible. This course has introduced new ways of teaching and new ways of thinking that I am excited to pursue for years to come.”
Summer courses and professional development in innovative curriculum and approaches are ways our Annual Fund drive and grants make a lasting impact in our school. This summer renewal is also at the heart of the experiences our students have in the classroom as our teachers share inspiration and guidance from a freshly updated perspective, making sure our curriculum is relevant and alive through each year of a student's time with us.
From an Idea, to a Vision, to a Legacy: How Our HS Garden Came Into Existence...
Longtime science and math faculty members, Erica Choberka and Gary Banks, have been pining for a new garden on our high school campus for many years. Their 2015 idea for a spot near Pontiac Trail was eventually abandoned, leaving each of them to continue their gardening away from school and during our annual 9th grade Farm Trip. The addition to the high school building in 2018 changed the campus landscape and then the pandemic in 2020 sparked an idea: what if the students, who could not go on the Farm Trip because of the pandemic, could instead build a garden themselves along the southern wall of the new high school addition? The location was ideal because it gets plenty of sun, has natural drainage, and the huge wall provides wind protection and traps warmth.
Mr. Banks enlisted the help of students and staff during the summer of 2020 to prepare the space for incoming 10th graders to have a meaningful, hands-on experience after having had their 9th grade Farm Trip canceled.
Starting in late August, Gary led fourteen 10th graders in completing the following jobs together:
- Building the fence
- Laying all the weed blocking material and cardboard for the beds
- Moving 12 cubic yards of compost and 6 cubic yards of bark mulch
- Building the gates from kits
- Putting in the edging for the pollinator garden border
- Building the compost bins
In September, led by parent Lauren Hunt, the 7th and 8th grade students built an herb garden spiral and put some plastic structures over the greens beds.
They also brought in a load of animal manure for the compost and built the cold frames. These students then planted two beds of garlic and radishes, and filled the rest of the beds with various mixes of cover crops to begin the process of transforming the new compost into productive garden beds.
Arugula, spinach, lettuce, beets, and tatsoi were all planted in September and flourished throughout the winter. In the spring, other grades in the school also became heavily involved with the new garden.
Students in the 11th grade Horticulture elective planted tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, potatoes, herbs, onions, celery, and lettuce.
11th graders also formed the High School Garden Club, open to all high school students, to gather for weeding and harvesting.
In the spring of 2021, the 9th grade got to attend their Farm Trip and spent a week at the Community Farm in Ann Arbor and then returned to school to spend several days working in the garden.
Mr. Banks noticed the students had developed a strong work ethic and teambuilding skills which led them to complete additional garden projects back at school.
Each of the tasks outlined above was completed because the faculty held their belief in the students’ will and abilities. These pandemic-year students used their heads, hearts and hands to create a lasting legacy on our high school campus. The garden is more than a project or an experience or a school trip. The garden is a living, breathing laboratory for all current and future students to come to study botany, horticulture, nutrition, food justice, climate change, the seasons, environmental science, teamwork, project management, patience, communication, the power of will, and the inspiration that comes with learning to love the abundance of nature.