Motivated students and families from around the world look for immersive experiences at American high schools where they can learn English, absorb American culture, and prepare for post-secondary education at English-speaking institutions. As the Waldorf movement continues to grow around the world, some international parents are looking for a Waldorf high school experience when their own country doesn’t have a program established. At the same time, there are international families who have never known about Waldorf education, but appreciate the liberal arts curriculum, community feeling, and host-family experience the Rudolf Steiner High School offers. Over the past 18 years, 75 international students have found their way to Steiner High school and have emerged with skills and relationships that have prepared them for their next steps in life.
Mary Zeng (’21) deeply appreciates her experience here. What was important to her, and her family, was to find a school that assisted her learning English along with broad academic coursework. Thanks to our smaller classes, she was able to form supportive relationships with her teachers that continue today. Her immersion in American culture with a Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor high school family both dramatically increased her acquisition of English and gave her a caring environment to navigate her high school years. She sees the relationships she built with classmates, her host family, and the wider Ann Arbor community, as her home-base in America as she attends University of Massachusetts - Amherst.
When Vivian Wang’s (’17) parents were trying to find an American high school for her to attend, they were looking for a good experience both with an English-speaking family - so she could learn the language and culture - and an academic setting that appreciated both the sciences and the arts. Vivian’s host family had a 1-year-old child and they loved getting to know Vivian and helping her study for classes and learn English. She continues to stay in touch with them and they even helped her move to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech. Vivian also appreciated the strong relationships she had with her teachers, where she was encouraged to ask questions and be proactive in her learning.
For Irene Zhang (’21), two of the reasons she came to RSSAA were to continue studying at a place that was more artistically oriented, and finding a home-life experience in a city that was safe. In Ann Arbor, she lived with a Chinese-American family who had small children and she had a marvelous experience. She became a part of their family, and they treasured the opportunity to learn from her. She looks forward to visiting them during breaks from her studies at Tufts University.
The host-family experience is just as rewarding as the educational. For many, the international student becomes a part of the family, participating in their customs, meals, and celebrations. Irene’s host mother, Bing Li, found the hosting experience wonderful for her family with two young children. During the pandemic, they got to spend even more time with Irene and she truly became part of their family. High school families enjoy a peer-to-peer experience that can enhance the high school years for their own student as well as their guest student. Some past host families are looking forward to hosting another international student when the opportunity arises.
The city of Ann Arbor is attractive to many international students because of its safety, a large international community (especially for Asian students) and being within the vicinity of the University of Michigan. For a teenager, Ann Arbor provided outlets beyond school to connect with others. Mary took tennis lessons at a local club and explored the various teen locales in the region. Irene attended UM football games with friends and immersed herself in artistic experiences. Learning soccer was exciting for Vivian, and she found the coach very helpful and her teammates welcoming. Students also can participate in a variety of after-school clubs, like Model United Nations, that connect them in new ways to their American classmates.
International students at RSSAA also form bonds with each other as they take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, led by skilled ESL teachers who become a reliable support-system to complete their academic coursework. For some students, these teachers become a sounding-board for other questions or concerns they have during the school year.
Our international students have found a well-balanced program at RSSAA that brings the warmth of a family experience while undertaking an American high school education. For international students and host families alike, an impactful, life-changing experience can happen, and relationships are created that can continue years after graduation!
If you're interested in learning more about how you can help create an amazing experience for an international student, please reach out to Sian Owen-Cruise at email@example.com.
A beautiful experiment: 17 high school seniors, 5 teachers, and Venice, the floating city. Ms. Efimova, our high school art teacher, had the original idea, an “art trip…with sketchbooks.” After nearly a year of preparation, our plane left Detroit Metro Airport for Venice. It was March, 2001. Twenty trips later, the Italian Journey has become a cherished tradition for the seniors at Rudolf Steiner High School. Spring arrives in Italy, and our Italian friends wait impatiently for us to arrive. They deeply appreciate our students’ joyful laughter, heartfelt curiosity about Italy, thoughtfulness, kindness, singing, and gorgeous drawings. One of our guides has said, “No one on earth travels like this school”. It is true. We are not tourists at all, but thinkers and artists open to the possibility of surprising transformations. In a way, the experiment continues, with amazing results year after year.
No one on earth travels like this school.
Venice, Florence, and Rome are our three muses now, with, when possible, the sweet addition of Orvieto, Lucca, Fiesole, Verona, or Vatican City. We begin in Venice. It is impossible to imagine this most improbable of cities until we sit in the rocking boat which takes us to the main islands of Venice. Arriving by sea has been the custom for about 1500 years. We disembark and the students gasp. “It is unreal!” “The buildings are older than a forest!” “There are no cars, and I hear just the water!” “It is a dream.” The changing colors and the continual movement of the water are mesmerizing, “quasi una fantasia”, almost like a fantasy. That’s the tempo marking for Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”. If you cannot fly to Venice right this moment, try listening to that well-known piece. It will comfort you! This is the city married to the sea, but also the city where Galileo demonstrated his telescope for the Doge from the top of the bell tower. Optics and acoustics. A Scientific Revolution on the way.
Quasi una fantasia.
Water gives way to solid ground. We arrive in Florence, a city of prose and poetry, individualism and competition, science and art, dark buildings and sun-drenched courtyards. An Italian proverb states that spring has arrived “when you can step on nine daisies at once.” At the convent that has been our home in Florence these many years, we are greeted by both the nuns, and the garden daisies. Within moments, our students are weaving garlands for their hair. Then to sketch Michelangelo’s “David”! We walk in his footsteps, and Dante’s, and Brunelleschi’s, and Leonardo’s and again, Galileo’s. Academic lessons happens in tiny bursts. Here is the corner where Michelangelo and Leonardo argued, there is Dante’s street, that’s where Botticelli burned his paintings (fortunately not all of them). The intrigue, the excitement, the stupendous discoveries of Renaissance Florentines continue to resound. The cast of characters has changed, but the stage sets are all still there.
Grand Finale! Urbs Aeterna: The Eternal City. Rome! The scale is immense. The architecture, in ruins or intact, is magnificent, the vistas are glorious. Mosaic, paint, marble, bronze, gold, and ancient, perfect, concrete compete for our attention. Archeological work is everywhere. After all, 80% of Rome is still buried underground, and someone must dig it up! This city is modern and ancient and medieval and Renaissance and Baroque all at once. How can we make sense of it? Our beloved guide weaves a tapestry of stories while we walk together. She does it so wonderfully that sometimes we cry. Her stories are timed to our steps through the streets. It is her unique form of choreography. Genius, truly. We are enriched and at home. She has given us the keys to the city.
Our Italian Journey comes to a close for another year. Almost 450 students and teachers have traveled to Italy with Rudolf Steiner High School. Every single one has left an imprint. All have strong memories, sketchbooks and a connection with the world and each other that cannot be created in the classroom alone. We're honored to be able to offer this unique experience to our students and grateful to all who have been a part of it. Grazie Mille! Deepest thanks to all who have made this beautiful idea an even more beautiful reality!
(We'd like to express our regret to the classes of 2020 and 2021 who, due to the pandemic, were unable to experience Italy in this way.)
The 12th grade Italy trip has been a fixture at our high school since 2001. That's 20 years of incoming students looking forward to it before they ever set foot on our campus! Our high school Humanities and Art departments are in charge of this experience, which focuses on Art and Art History.
Despite the trepidation we all felt in planning for this trip during the ongoing pandemic, after two years without it we felt more sure than ever about the value of this capstone experience to our senior students, and we charged ahead. It took many months to plan and we had multiple scares with the vagaries of the flight and tour schedules, the worry over possible loss of accommodations due to COVID, and the additional work of verifying and collecting vaccination information and ongoing COVID testing for all students and chaperones, but everything fell into place. Before departing, students had a week and a half of intense preparation where they learned in-depth history and the curriculum context of the places they would visit, as well as some Italian phrases. They also had some time to practice live sketching. The careful planning of the trip - both curricularly and logistically - paved the way for a smooth and enriching experience for all the students.
The trip was seven nights: three in Venice, two in Florence, and two in Rome. Students visited important art and historical sites and were required to capture their trip via drawings and written reflections in their sketchbooks.
Upon their return, each student highlighted a meaningful Italy moment during an all-school assembly, including:
- Being outside of the USA for the first time and experiencing all the differences and surprises
- Going on group night walks in Venice and seeing the difference between the busy day time and serene night time
- Experiencing St. Peters Basilica at the Vatican
- Seeing everything we learned in Art History class up close
- The many androgynous-looking statues beautifully displayed in The Uffizi
- Climbing up the Campanile (belltower) in Florence and seeing how beautiful the city looks
- Walking in the footsteps of the many great artists we learned about in school
- Seeing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus in real life
- Touring the Roman Forum with our guide, Francesca, and reliving ancient Rome
- The restaurants, convents, and hotels where our school has long standing relationships
We are thrilled that the students were able to have these experiences after the disappointment of the canceled trips in 2020 and 2021. The Italy trip, like all of our school trips, is an opportunity for growth unlike what most students have in their day-to-day classes and extracurricular activities. Our class of 2022 students jumped at the chance to experience another culture, to see different ways of conducting daily life, and to consider a different, and much longer, sense of time through the history around them. Our wish is that they continue to lean in to the curiosity they have developed in high school so that they can keep learning and growing.
Join us for an in-depth look at the trip itself in our next Look A Little Deeper blog post!
Becoming a Eurythmist
I am Colombian by birth and moved to Michigan with my family at the age of seven. It may surprise you to read that I am a proud alumna of Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor (class of 2004). It is without a doubt the greatest gift of my life that I had the privilege of receiving a Waldorf Education in Ann Arbor. I attended RSSAA starting in the fourth grade. For nearly a decade after graduating from our high school I worked as a freelance musician composing, recording, organizing tours and performing internationally. During my travels across North and South America as well as Europe, I always made a point of visiting as many Waldorf schools as I could.
In my late twenties, I decided to become a Waldorf teacher and found my way to specializing in eurythmy. Since I had studied German as part of RSSAA's rich and broad curriculum, it was no problem for me to complete my four-year eurythmy training in a beautiful school in NW Switzerland, after which I received a master’s degree in Pedagogical Eurythmy from a university in Stuttgart, Germany. Destiny then brought me and my talented Israeli husband (Yoni Paz, full-time humanities teacher at our high school) right back here to Ann Arbor where it is a joy to continue discovering and deepening my love of Waldorf Education. I couldn’t have imagined a more dynamic and rewarding career than this—becoming a eurythmy teacher!
What is Eurythmy?
I ask myself this question all the time. The word “eurythmy” comes from Greek and literally means “beautiful or harmonious movement”. Whether you have had the opportunity to see a live eurythmy performance, taken part in a class, or have never even heard the word before, you may be surprised to learn that this very special movement art form is just in its infancy! Rudolf Steiner and a young German woman by the name of Lory Maier-Smits (a lively 18-year-old who loved gymnastics and dance) started developing eurythmy together in 1911. Thus, we are just entering the second century of eurythmy’s existence. It is slowly blossoming in many forms across the globe.
Today, there are several different applications of eurythmy that have been developed. This was Rudolf Steiner’s hope! He told the early eurythmists that as they helped develop eurythmy they were all planting seeds that wished to sprout and take many forms for serving and inspiring humanity in the future. The main branches of eurythmy alive and in practice currently are:
- Artistic Eurythmy: performed by professional troupes internationally such as New York’s Eurythmy Spring Valley Ensemble: http://www.eurythmy.org/photo-gallery/
- Therapeutic Eurythmy: an unique and effective therapy modality that is practiced in hospitals, clinics, special education centers, schools and private medical offices in many different countries as a form of treatment for a wide variety of conditions including cancer, depression, digestive issues, teeth and vision corrections, and much more. Here is a link to a helpful article: Spoken and Unspoken Gems of Eurythmy Therapy Dale Robinson, Eurythmy Therapist
- Eurythmy in the Workplace and as a Social Art: an application of eurythmy created to enhance productivity, efficiency, awareness, focus, creativity, resilience, communication strategies, team-building and many other skills for individuals and organizations in professional work environments. https://www.leonorerussell.com/eurythmy/
- Pedagogical Eurythmy: eurythmy specialized in supporting the healthy development and learning processes of children and adolescents at Waldorf Schools all around the world.
I will give a brief picture of pedagogical eurythmy from my perspective. Eurythmy lessons at school are a jewel of the Waldorf curriculum. Ideally, all Waldorf students - from preschool through 12th grade - would have eurythmy every week, all year long (though this is hard to achieve as the number of Waldorf schools far exceeds the number of trained eurythmists!). These lessons are a time when each student gets to be engaged directly and holistically through graceful, meaningful movement to music, poetry, stories, and geometry.
Eurythmy is often defined as “visible speech and visible music”. There are specific arm, leg, head, and full body gestures that express the different sounds of language, aspects of grammar, and parts of music (tones, chords, intervals, rests, etc.). Waldorf students get to learn many of these gestures along with ways of expressing language and music through group choreographies and exercises.
Eurythmy teachers strive to weave the different aspects of their lessons together in artistic and developmentally appropriate ways. The goal is always to support each child’s physical, soul, and spiritual growth in ways that are healthy and inspiring. On the physical level, they learn new gross and fine motor skills, to strengthen their sense of balance, coordination, and agility. Their souls are touched and expanded by the social and creative nature of the eurythmical activities. As they deepen and refine their awareness of and relationships to music and language, the students are provided with opportunities to experience some of the most beautiful forms of human expression we are capable of—ones that define our very human essence, that raise us to our divine spark.
A strong, basic pedagogical eurythmy curriculum for each of the grades has been developed across many countries, in many languages, and is constantly being expanded. It is often referred to as “the heart” of a Waldorf school, as it has a unique and potent ability to harmonize classes on many levels (socially as well as academically). Having eurythmy throughout the years provides students with an orientation in space and time that they create in themselves. This is empowering—it brings a sense of confidence and security in the world.
Eurythmy lessons are meant to be fun, but they are also hard work! For some students it is among the favorite subjects during the week. Other students may complain about eurythmy or claim they dislike it in varying phases of their time at school. This is especially common during adolescence when many are going through great physical changes that can cause them to experience movement as more physically cumbersome than before, while their sense of being watched or feeling exposed is also heightened.
I think both the enjoyment and the struggles students of all ages experience while doing eurythmy arise because eurythmy is very demanding. It can be extremely challenging to refine one’s physical coordination, spatial awareness, musicality, and connection to language SIMULTANEOUSLY! Not to mention, it requires students to work on all of these skills individually as well as collaboratively and cooperatively as part of a group. All of this is precisely what we eurythmy teachers require our students to do and it is a tall order. It is always my hope that each student and each class as a group will be pushed to their growing edge through their eurythmy lessons with me, which I expect to come with its awkward moments as well as well-earned experiences of satisfaction and joy.
In some Waldorf schools in Europe, high school students are required to dedicate a whole semester’s eurythmy lesson time to choreographing, costuming, and performing a eurythmy solo (using all the skills they learned in the years leading up to this) in order to graduate! There are also wonderful traditions in many countries of having older classes create colorful, musical eurythmy performances of fairy or folk tales for the children in younger grades and for school families. I look forward to creating eurythmy traditions of these kinds at our school with time.
Eurythmy at Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor
A unique aspect of our eurythmy program at RSSAA is a growing number of collaborations between me and the high school main lesson teachers. We have designed eurythmy lessons as an enhancement of the science and humanities main lesson curriculum for our 9th-12th graders. These eurythmy-main lesson collaborations have taken place in blocks such as Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Astronomy, Embryology, Zoology and Evolution, Botany and Insects, Art History, Parzival, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Projective Geometry. My goal has been to provide our high school students with ways of artistically and physically moving key elements of their academic subjects. In other words, I strive to translate some of the quintessential aspects of the academic material they study into eurythmy forms and exercises to provide visual, kinesthetic, and collaborative modes of diving into their course material. This has proven itself to be a fun and successful new development of our high school and I am very excited to continue expanding it with my talented colleagues. My master’s thesis describes some of these collaborations and I am hopeful that a book version of it will be published sometime in 2022.
I welcome your questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and look forward to gradually growing a robust and unique eurythmy program at Rudolf Steiner School of Ann Arbor over the years to come!