The first Waldorf school opened in 1919 with the essential goal of teaching students in such a way that they would have the capacity for creative thinking that would enable them, as adults, to imagine innovative solutions to the world's challenges. Now there are close to 2,000 Waldorf schools worldwide.
In the U.S. there are approximately 50 public Waldorf schools, only three of which are high schools. Credo is unique among American high schools using the Waldorf curriculum in that it will eventually be the largest. This will give us greater flexibility, more resources that enable more program offerings, and more social opportunities for students. We project building gradually from our initial 43 students in 2011 to ultimate full enrollment of 640 students; in 2014-15 we have 140 students in grades nine through twelve. We currently have one Morning Lesson cohort per grade level.
Each grade has a pair of teachers, male and female, who will remain with the class as their class guides, leading the students on autumn Adventure Learning excursions and teaching weekly Social Sustainability classes. When Credo is a relatively large high school of 640 students, the organization of students into Morning Lesson cohorts with cohort guides will establish a smaller "family unit" within the school.
Throughout the day beyond Morning Lesson, students mix in track classes with other students of their grade level, and sometimes with students from other grades as well. Foreign language, movement, music and some math classes, for example, may be organized according to student learning levels rather than grade level.
We believe that this model offers students the familiar comforts of being part of a committed social unit guided by two teachers who will come to know them quite well, supporting them not unlike a grade school class teacher. Throughout the bulk of the day, the students will mix with a varied population of other students, offering the expansive social opportunities that adolescents desire.
Developmental Approach to High School Education
Many parents are familiar with the holistic nature of Waldorf education, aware that the pedagogy intentionally addresses students’ heads, hearts and hands—or thinking, feeling and willing—in a developmentally appropriate way. There is a general understanding of this in the early grades, where parents appreciate our play-based kindergarten and the gentle introduction of academics. What parents are less apt to understand is that the Waldorf developmental approach continues throughout the rigorous academics of middle school and high school as well. When a Waldorf eighth grader expresses that he is "tired of Waldorf education," he is expressing, in a developmentally appropriate way, that he is ready to complete the "feeling focused" approach to Waldorf education in the grade school. Waldorf high school is significantly different from the grades in that, for the first time in the curriculum, the approach is "thinking focused." High school students are now addressed as intellectual beings, ready for direct intellectual instruction.
In the early years of a child’s life, birth through age seven, learning is accessed primarily through the body. Through action, movement, physical experimentation and imitation, the young child familiarizes himself with his surroundings, touching and tasting just about everything and imitating older siblings and adults. Knowing this, Waldorf educators create kindergartens that are active places of creative play led by teachers who are wholly worthy of imitation. First grade teachers put significant emphasis on circle activities; knitting is introduced. At this stage of development children learn primarily through their wills, or the hands.
Feeling: The Grades
From the ages of seven through fourteen, the child learns primarily through a feeling connecting to the lesson content. Feelings are accessed through the beauty of classrooms, the focus on the arts, music and imagination. The storytelling within lessons in a Waldorf grade school is designed to be intentionally imaginative in order to inspire an emotional response to the material—which engages student interest and retention of information. The grade school students’ approach to learning is qualitative; they learn through their hearts.
Thinking: High School
The ages fourteen through twenty-one mark the development of the neocortex, or the “new brain,” which is involved in higher functions such as sensory perception, spatial reasoning, language and conscious thought. The young adult is now physically ready for new levels of abstract and analytical thinking and a more advanced degree of self-awareness. Quantitative learning begins. Because of the previous eight years’ foundation of feeling-based instruction, we can now encourage skeptical analytical consideration without risking cynicism.
Development within High School
As stated above, in the Waldorf educational model we don’t concentrate our teaching directly to the thinking aspect of the student until high school. Within high school, we recognize that young adults are still continuing to develop. A senior, for example, has considerably more capacity to comprehend more complex science than a freshman; consequently each of the sciences is taught in each of the four years, allowing teachers to deliver deeper and more sophisticated content as the students' capacities to understand continue to develop. In contrast, mainstream high schools devote each of the four years' focuses to a particular science.