By Janis Fontaine
Read the full article on The Coastal Star
Sea Star Initiative, a private school that follows the structure, philosophies and curriculum established by German educator Rudolf Steiner, is tucked away in central Boca Raton. About 75 children attend the Waldorf school, which emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning. Teachers use art, music and expressive movement to enhance teaching.
The goals sound modern.
“We are preparing children to be conceptual thinkers whose self-understanding, compassion, expressiveness and creative problem-solving skills equip them to take on life to its fullest potential while providing an antidote to violence, alienation and cynicism,” according to the school’s website, www.whywaldorfworks.org.
The school’s fresh focus is catching on. Waldorf is among the fastest-growing independent school movements in the world, with more than 1,000 schools in more than 60 countries. New schools are opening all the time, driven by parental demand.
Sea Star was founded in 2006 by local parents who wanted to provide a holistic education for their children. Waldorf schools are not directed by a principal or headmaster, but rather by two main groups: the teachers and the parental board of trustees. At Sea Star, the board has eight members; six are parents and two are teachers.
Administrator Vera Swift said Waldorf schools have been popular in Silicon Valley and New York City for years, but are just now catching on in Florida. Because the schools are governed by parents, they must have parents who are deeply committed to the program and willing to serve on the board.
Colleen Paul-Hus, 32, of Gulf Stream, joined the board in January. Her four children attend Sea Star.
“My role is development liaison, and I am on the site committee to help find a permanent home for our school,” she said. The school is leasing its current location.
But Paul-Hus is also a sort of self-appointed PR rep for Sea Star. She loves to tell anyone who is interested about the school. “I truly enjoy standing up and speaking to everyone about how Waldorf education has impacted our family life.”
In April, she and her husband, Richard, hosted a farm-to-table dinner for more than 50 parents and friends of the Sea Star Initiative. She invited 10 local farmers to meet parents and teachers before serving them a gourmet meal prepared by celebrity chef Cindy Barbieri, the author of Paleo Italian Cooking and a frequent guest on The Dr. Oz Show.
Paul-Hus is a “clean food” supporter who grows much of the family’s food in the home garden she started when she was pregnant with Max, their first child. Now their little garden produces so much, Paul-Hus donates it to the school to sell at the weekly bake sale. They also have about 50 fruit-bearing trees, six chickens, and an indoor beehive, specially built so kids can observe the progress of worker bees.
Crops include Okinawan and malabar spinach, hoja santa (a Mexican herb), strawberries, golden berries, tomatoes, pigeon pea, sweet potatoes, peppers, rosemary, tarragon, mint, comfrey and marigolds.
“We also have two papaya trees, 10 mango trees, two fig trees, and more than 30 sea grape trees,” she said. “Did you know you can eat sea grapes? We make jam from the grapes.
“I also have a soursop tree, two miracle fruit trees, six banana trees, passion fruit and many native plants around the pool.”
The Waldorf curriculum embraces gardening and growing your own food, as part of being self-sufficient.
Swift, who has been at the school for 10 years, says she discovered Steiner’s philosophy about 30 years ago when someone asked her to translate a document from German to Portuguese.
“It was a revelation,” she said. “I started looking into it and it changed the way I looked at education.” The biggest difference, she said, is that “there is a joy in learning here that is absent in many schools.”
Keeping kids engaged is not the challenge. Because the curriculum is focused on the student and individualized, doing what engages the student becomes the goal. The school provides the access and structure the child needs to explore his or her curiosity in a variety of ways.
“We are able to keep that love and joy of education and the kids do well as a result,” Swift said. “I feel bad when I hear about a child who doesn’t like school.”
Classes are small — there are only 75 students in the whole school, early childhood through eighth grade. Teachers are top-shelf. Most teachers have graduate degrees and special training in the Waldorf methods.
Paul-Hus says she’s constantly surprised by the questions her children ask her. Lincoln recently asked, “Mom, why are we here?”
That kind of thinking, she says, is inspired and encouraged by the Waldorf system.
One thing they don’t ask? “Where does our food come from?”
They already know.