The language learning process at our school has a lot of parallels with the Slow Food Movement. Great ingredients, seasonal produce, love, and appropriate time to prepare and cook are all hallmarks of an outstanding dish. A similar, thoughtful, well-paced approach leads to similarly outstanding results when teaching a language.
The aim of our World Languages program is to not only help students learn to communicate in a language other than English, but also to help them become familiar with and feel comfortable in a different culture and way of life. Rather than offering just a taste of the language, students are invited to a banquet of listening and speaking, songs and stories, art, recitations, movement and games. Classes are immersive and frequent, with four language lessons each week. In PreK-Grade 7, the students alternate between Spanish and German throughout the year, giving them a base in both languages and cultures. In Grades 8-12, students can choose which language they’d prefer to develop a stronger proficiency in and focus exclusively on that language. These are the ingredients that form the base of our language program.
Up to Grade 3, languages are taught entirely orally and auditorily, with reading and writing in Spanish and German introduced in Grade 4. Much like a child only hears and speaks their native language before learning to read and write it, allowing students the time for oral and auditory development of the languages before introducing reading and writing is a developmentally-appropriate approach to language learning. This “seasonal” approach helps to ensure students are prepared for and excited about the next level of learning.
Like the garnish that enhances the presentation of a dish, the beauty of the language is an important factor in our teaching. Through the inclusion of cultural experiences, history, music, and art, Spanish and German learning is enhanced. The teachers plan the subject matter in a way that invites children to open their hearts to the new language and fall in love with the culture as well as the words. This leads many students to pursue a first-hand taste of the culture and language in a native-speaking country through our high school exchange program.
Similar to crafting an amazing dish to share with those you love, our great teachers, eager students, and an age-appropriate, consistently-building approach is a recipe for creating a love of and respect for the languages and cultures that we are proud to share with our school community through our World Languages program.
A long-time favorite in our school community and sold in our school store, Weleda products are on the cutting edge of regenerative farming and social responsibility, as well as being popular in the celebrity crowd. Here's a little history of the products, the mission of the company and its ties to Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education.
Calendulas look like daisies, smell like marigolds and possess powerful phytochemicals that can mend skin. At a garden in Schwäbisch Gmünd, Germany, Astrid Sprenger’s blond bob and turquoise pendant swung in the sun as she picked the fiery orange flowers by hand.
“It’s one of the only plants you can put on open wounds,” she said.
Dr. Sprenger, 56, who holds a Ph.D. in agricultural science from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, is a head gardener at Weleda, a Swiss company perhaps best known for its ultrarich Skin Food cream. Sold in parrot green tubes, the moisturizer costs $12.49 an ounce.
Though Skin Food has gone by that name only since around 2010, its formula dates to 1926. In addition to extracts of calendula, it also contains concentrated forms of chamomile and wild pansy, as well as sunflower seed and sweet almond oils and beeswax.
The Skin Food line has expanded to include Skin Food Light, a less dense version of the original cream, along with a lotion and body and lip butters. According to Swati Gupta, Weleda’s head of e-commerce in North America, in 2020, the company sold a Skin Food product every five seconds. Weleda is developing new Skin Food cosmetics, including some for the face, with plans to debut them next year.
Farm to Tube
The plants used to make Skin Food and Weleda’s other products are grown worldwide. In Schwäbisch Gmünd, the 50-acre plot that Dr. Sprenger oversees runs wild-ish with some 260 species that include stonecrop and mistletoe. It is one of eight gardens owned by the company, which is based in Arlesheim, Switzerland, and sources from an additional 50 partner growers.
Occupying some 60,000 total acres, the web of gardens, which spans five continents, is roughly 70 times the size of Central Park.
Last year, Weleda achieved B Corp certification, meaning its operations meet certain social and environmental criteria. It is also certified by the Union for Ethical BioTrade, which sets best practices for sourcing ingredients.
The gardens it owns are certified by Demeter, an organization that maintains the standards for the agricultural practice known as biodynamic farming, which Dr. Sprenger compared to regenerative farming — an organic method that focuses on soil health and forgoes elements of industrialized agriculture such as synthetic chemicals — but “on a higher level.”
The practice demands strict standards for biodiversity and soil fertility; at Weleda’s gardens, topsoil is not tilled and crops are both rotated and intercropped, or grown together in the same plot, with three to 10 other species. Another tenet of biodynamic farming is composting. “It’s not like poo,” Dr. Sprenger said as she plunged a trowel into a dark mound that disgorged bugs and a heady herbal odor. “It’s nice!”
The compost she was sifting through contained homeopathic additives, or preparations, made from fermented plants including yarrow and valerian. Preparations are also a requirement of biodynamic farming, and others are sprayed directly onto soil or crops. One, called horn manure, does include excrement. It is made by packing cow dung into cow horns that are buried underground for the winter and dug up in the spring; the dung is then extracted from the horns, swirled into rainwater at body temperature and flicked at the soil with a brush, not unlike how a priest sprinkles holy water.
Some growers see preparations as magic potions of sorts, claiming they sensitize soil to cosmic rhythms. Followers of what’s known as the biodynamic calendar sow, plant and reap crops based on the positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars. (While not necessary for Demeter certification, some of Weleda’s gardens operate this way, but not the one in Schwäbisch Gmünd.)
More demonstrable benefits of the preparations, Dr. Sprenger said, include fungus control, increased microbial diversity, nitrogen stabilization and the ability for soil to sequester larger amounts of carbon.
Calendulas grown in Schwäbisch Gmünd are used to produce Weleda’s Comforting Cream Bath cleanser for babies. “In high season, we encourage our office employees to help with the harvest,” Dr. Sprenger said.
Those used in its Skin Food products are farmed biodynamically near Frankfurt and transported to a lab in Schwäbisch Gmünd, just five minutes by foot from the garden, where they are heated in sunflower-seed oil at around 155 degrees Fahrenheit, cooled and pressed into a concentrate that is then incorporated into various formulas.
Weleda’s first gardens, in Switzerland and Germany, were in operation at the time it was formed in 1921 by Ita Wegman, a physician, and Rudolf Steiner, a New Age philosopher who two years earlier opened the first Waldorf, or Steiner, school. Then known as Futurum AG, it has since inception produced pharmaceutical as well as cosmetic products (only the cosmetics are sold in the United States).
Both the company and the school were influenced by the spiritual science movement anthroposophy. Also founded by Steiner, its adherents believe that everything in nature is interconnected. Before he died in 1925, Steiner gave a series of lectures on alternative agricultural techniques, which laid the groundwork for what later became known as biodynamic farming, said Peter Staudenmaier, an associate professor of history at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Steiner and his followers wanted “to heal the earth,” said Dr. Staudenmaier, who specializes in the political history of environmentalism. “Their mission was to regenerate the soils that had been abused and despoiled by industrial processes,” he added.
Steiner’s thinking about agriculture continues to inform that of the company he co-founded, which in 1928 was renamed Weleda in a nod to Veleda, a Germanic priestess and healer who lived during the first century A.D.
“One of the most important things that we as a society can do to combat the effects of climate change is more regenerative agriculture,” Rob Keen, the chief executive of Weleda in North America, said.
“Select Steiner teachings are not reflective of Weleda’s guiding principles upon which we were founded more than 100 years ago and by which we continue to be guided today,” he added.
By 1931, five years after it introduced what would one day be called Skin Food, Weleda had opened an arm in the United States. Ahead of and during World War II, the company conducted business with the Nazi Party in Germany. It later made an effort to reconcile with this period in its history by issuing an apology to Holocaust survivors and opening its archives for academic research. Dr. Staudenmaier explored the Nazis’ connections to Weleda and other biodynamic growers in a 2013 research article. “Like any historian, I do wish that a company like Weleda would pay more attention to the complexities in its own history,” he said.
Domestically, its products were mainly sold at independent pharmacies and health food stores until 1984, when the grocer Whole Foods began to stock them.
According to Ameena Meer, who formerly worked as a creative director for Weleda in North America, Skin Food started to become more widely popular in 2017, around the time that consumers began to seek products that promised “dewy, glowy, glassy, glazed” complexions. The next year, Ms. Meer developed a marketing campaign to modernize Weleda in the United States, where she said it had a reputation as being old-fashioned.
Both the campaign and the renewed interest in Skin Food helped to usher in a “cool comeback” for Weleda, said Ms. Meer, 59, who lives in Los Angeles and now works as a wellness consultant and psychic. Major retailers that currently sell its products include Amazon, Target and, as of last year, Walgreens and CVS.
Food for Thought
“It’s thick,” Morgan Jerkins, a writer in New York, said of Skin Food.
“I feel like if I wear Weleda Skin Food, I’m going to be OK if I walk to the subway in February. I feel like it’s going to put up a fight.” Since she started using the product, Ms. Jerkins, 30, added that she has not had a need for foundation.
Skin Food also has fans in celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Sharon Stone. “I always have it in my set bag,” said Fiona Stiles, a makeup artist in Los Angeles who works with famous clients. “It’s so humectant!”
Ms. Stiles, 51, has carried the cream in her kit for 15 years. She particularly likes to use Skin Food as a topper, applying it with her palms onto the apples of clients’ cheeks for “a very even highlight.”
The product smells citrusy and, vaguely, of vanilla and bell pepper. “I imagine that people who love Campari, Ricola cough drops and the fragrance Bistro Waters, by the perfumer D.S. & Durga, tend to gravitate toward its scent,” said Porochista Khakpour, a writer in Los Angeles. Ms. Khakpour, 44, first discovered Skin Food more than a decade ago, in Berlin. “It’s deservedly iconic,” she added. “If someone is carrying it, I think they’re in the know.”
This year, Weleda promoted the Skin Food product line as part of a campaign to raise awareness of its agricultural practices. Called Save Earth’s Skin, it features the model Arizona Muse, 33, as its face. Ms. Muse, who lives in Ibiza, is also the founder of Dirt, an organization that funds biodynamic farming projects.
As a child, Ms. Muse attended Waldorf schools in Santa Fe, N.M., and Tucson, Ariz. She credits her interest in agriculture to her mother, who introduced her to Steiner’s anthroposophy movement, from which biodynamic farming was born.
“This is such a deeply protective approach,” Ms. Muse said of the method.
In the Save Earth’s Skin campaign, she compares soil to human skin, encouraging a twist on the golden rule: Do unto the planet’s dirt as you would your own epidermis.
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.
Honoring and celebrating are wonderful ways to teach children about the diversity that makes our world such an amazing place. Part of our school's commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and justice is to ensure that our curriculum, classroom activities and celebrations include a wide range of diverse and inclusive topics, and one way we do this is by connecting to monthly observances that are held in the wider culture of the United States. Diversity, equity, inclusion and justice work is brought to the students in the everyday classroom, but in addition, the monthly observances give teachers - from Early Childhood through High School - a touch point to making sure specific topics are being offered to our students. Here are just a few examples of monthly observances we share:
Hispanic (or Lantinx) Heritage Month – September 15-October 15
Our high school students studied and presented on artist Frida Kahlo. Our Early Childhood Lending Library increased their stock of books about Latinx/Hispanic heritage and culture. Teachers read these books in class with the children and the children can take them home to read. It is important for children to have books in which they can see a reflection of themselves as well as a window into the world of another. Check out our Early Childhood Lending Library Catalog. Many of these books are in our Lending Library and almost all of them can be found in the public library.
Disability Awareness Month – October
So much of what Early Childhood aged children learn is from their environment and through play. We expanded our toy collection in honor of Disability Awareness Month to include inclusive and diverse dolls. Children can now play and care for dolls of all skin tones who have glasses, Down syndrome, a port-a-cath and asthma among others.
Native American/Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month – November
Our Grade Five class honored indigenous peoples as part of their daily blessing. Grade Three raised over $6,000 in a fundraiser for Lakota Waldorf School, our sister school on the Oglala Sioux reservation in South Dakota. And, our Early Childhood explored stories of local peoples and planned a visit by indigenous storyteller, Genot Picor, for an active presentation of story and movement about the peoples of the Great Lakes region.
Black History Month – February
Professor Peter Boykin presented at the High School about his family history which included the dismissal of his African American great-great-grandfather from West Point Military Academy after being wrongfully accused of staging his own assault. A book on the subject, Assault at West Point, was later made into a movie and a special ceremony at the White House with former-President Clinton, honoring Johnson Chestnut Whittaker and returning his bible, where he had kept his journal and which had been held by the government as evidence. The students were very engaged during his presentation and were eager to talk about what they could do personally to continue to strive for equality. We will be inviting Mr. Boykin to return to speak more about his family history and the future strive for equality during Black History Month.
We're proud of the long-standing efforts of our school community to recognize and honor all people. We look forward to honoring these months as well as others throughout this year and in future years, and we invite you to participate and share your thoughts, suggestions and celebrations with us!
· March - Women's History Month
· April – Earth and Ecology Month
· May - Asian Pacific Heritage Month
· June - Pride Month