ONE OF THE BENEFITS of being editor-in-chief is that every now and then I get to sneak my children onto the cover of the magazine. That little guy with his arm hanging out of the bus window on this month’s cover? He’s my 8-year-old, Willam, along with half of his third-grade class at Portland Village School. PVS is the latest addition to this city’s growing number (29 in all) of charters, alternative schools under contract with Portland Public Schools that offer an educational experience different from the standard PPS model. As the city’s first Waldorf public school, PVS adheres to a curriculum that was developed in 1919 by Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who believed education should mimic the rhythms of the natural world. Thus, children learn their ABCs by walking the letters on the floor; on Fridays, the math lesson might be measuring out ingredients in a crock pot of soup that will become the day’s lunch. Last year, as a kindergartner at Buckman Elementary, my daughter, Lucah, practiced hand-eye coordination by pointing and clicking a mouse in the school’s computer lab; this year as a first grader at PVS (which discourages childhood exposure to television and computers), she’s knitting braids with her fingers using organic wool spun by a Waldorf-certified “handwork” teacher. (In his third-grade handwork class, Willam, a reformed Legomaniac, is crocheting himself a hat.)
The decision to wrench Willam and Lucah away from their friends at Buckman (one of the best schools in the district) was an agonizing one, but my wife and I both felt the Waldorf model offered a more perfect fit, more in line with our values as parents and the learning styles of our children. Having this kind of choice (not to mention free tuition) keeps parents like us loyal to Portland Public Schools; in fact, it’s what attracts us in the first place. (Thirty-six percent of those enrolled at PVS transferred from private schools.)
Over the summer, my wife and I spent many weekends working alongside more than 100 other adults and children to transform a building vacated by a Catholic high school (which, ironically, relocated to a vacant public school building in the neighborhood), painting bland cinderblock with pastels, replacing lockers with wooden benches and cubbies, and naturescaping an asphalt playground. The woodworker father of my daughter’s “bestest” friend made 115 solid pine desks. Each child—with help from a parent—sanded, oiled and assembled the desk that would be his or hers for as many as eight years.
“We created a community,” says principal Tom Klein, who left as administrator of Cedarwood School to run PVS. “Every morning, I love to walk down the hallway and look into the classrooms and see the kids involved and happy, hear them singing, smell the baking bread. It’s a work of the future. We’re building the future, year after year.”
Child after child. In school after school listed in our data tables in Progress Report.