Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access Coordinator Waldorf Early Childhood Association of Northern America (WECAN)
Alice Birney School is one of the oldest existing public Waldorf programs in the United States. Located in Sacramento, CA, Alice Birney’s pre-k and kindergarten students spend their days immersed in carefully constructed environments that encourage creativity and nurture learning. For example, students gain practical experience in the kitchen and learn about bees and pollination while tasting locally made honey. Alice Birney is a prime example of what Ideal Learning providers do: develop the whole child—intellectually, socially, emotionally, and morally—through personalized learning.
Derived from the early 20th-century philosophy of world-renowned artist and scientist Rudolf Steiner, the principles of Waldorf education focus on how best to achieve a child’s potential. Learning through play and other hands-on experiences in music, dance, theater, and literature are hallmarks of Waldorf schools.
Learning through experience is complemented by another Ideal Learning principle: the role of the teacher as a guide and co-constructor of knowledge. At Waldorf schools, students have a “class teacher” who stays with them for eight years, giving students the opportunity to build trust and strong relationships with their teacher and fellow classmates over the better part of a decade. This continuity allows students to focus on reaching their full intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual potential, without the setbacks associated with annual teacher and instructional changes. It also emphasizes the importance of community relationships, collaboration, and equity.
The Waldorf commitment to equity goes hand-in-hand with access. Public Waldorf programs, like Alice Birney, offer families and students of all backgrounds the experience of a high-quality, developmental education without the cost of tuition. Alice Birney provides exactly the type of early childhood experiences that parents want for their children, and the school is in high demand, with a 100-person waitlist for pre-k and kindergarten.
At Alice Birney, parents have a very active presence in education, reflecting the commitment Ideal Learning providers have to working in partnership with parents. Parents volunteer in reading groups on weekdays and in the garden on weekends, as well as host fundraisers to support Waldorf specialty programs. Furthermore, they sometimes teach classes in their particular areas of interest, like handwork, multicultural folkdance, and expressive movement.
Ultimately, parents, teachers, and children form a collaborative relationship that guides the student toward being a fully engaged, wholly developed citizen of the world. At Alice Birney, Waldorf education culminates in eighth-grade service projects that are chosen by the class teacher, students, and parents together. The 2018 graduating class project was dedicated to serving the homeless in the Sacramento area. In previous years, students have selected projects such as using their handwork skills to sew items for care packages to ship to Kenya.
Alice Birney is proof that the ideal learning every child needs can be brought to all children, regardless of socioeconomic status. While many Waldorf programs are private, there are large-scale efforts underway to expand these programs into the public sector to bring greater options, opportunities, and success to children who would otherwise have no access to transformative early learning. Today, Alice Birney children experience learning that activates their interests, abilities, and talents to build knowledge, know-how, and confidence. We can and must make Ideal Learning real for all children.