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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

January 10, 2014 at 5:00 AM

New Waldorf school embraces nature, not STEM

A rendering of the new campus of Seattle Waldorf High School at Magnuson Park. Photo courtesy Seattle Waldorf High School.

A rendering of the new campus of Seattle Waldorf High School at Magnuson Park. Image courtesy Seattle Waldorf High School.

At a time when many educators are racing to beef up instruction in science, technology, engineering and math (otherwise known as STEM), an elite high school that largely eschews high-tech is preparing for an ambitious expansion.

The anticipated site: a 320-acre, city-owned campus in Magnuson Park with wetlands and gardens, where students at the Seattle Waldorf High School will learn partly by digging into dirt, rather than tapping on keyboards.

Based on the pedagogy of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf schools are known internationally for their small class sizes, hands-on learning and an emphasis on movement and nature. All of that might be easy to wave off in a tech-and-test-obsessed education landscape, yet Seattle’s Waldorf high school is preparing to expand by 25 percent, from 80 to 100 students.

“Actually, what we’re doing couldn’t be more timely or relevant in terms of what we know about how the brain works, and the importance of mitigating the impact of technology on students,” said Head of Administration Tracy Bennett.

Indeed, among the more surprising facts about the school’s approach is the endorsement of its high-tech parent corps. The chief technology officer at eBay sends his children to a Waldorf school in Silicon Valley, as do some employees of Google, Apple and Yahoo. Seattle has seen a similar pattern, according to Director of Admissions Meg Petty.

In Seattle, despite a $5 million annual budget, the expanded school – set to leave its current digs on Queen Anne and open at Magnuson in August – will not offer students a library with banks of sleek computers. More likely: bound volumes of Shakespeare. In geometry, kids might be molding clay into a cone and then dissecting it, rather than modeling shapes on a computer screen.

“It’s not that Waldorf schools are anti-technology – certainly our high school students use technology in their personal lives, like any teenager,” Petty said.

“But in the classroom, we really want to focus on giving students more engagement than sitting down at a keyboard and Googling. They’re encouraged to use the library and discern what a primary source is. So that learning is a little more personal for them and, I would say, a little more authentic.”

Comments | More in News | Topics: waldorf school

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