(Editor's note: April 12th, 2014 is the 25th anniversary of the founding of HVWS)
Have you ever experienced a “Eureka” moment – the kind where a light blazes forth in your soul?
The conception of the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School, the moment that resulted in its founding, was like that.
In January 1988 I was working as an editor and living in New Milford with my husband, Shrdlu Ashe, and my nine-month-old son Elliott. Through my work for a non-profit called Global Education Associates, I saw that Columbia University Teachers’ College was sponsoring a symposium on Waldorf education. Some of my old teachers from the Rudolf Steiner School were among the speakers, and I thought it would be fun to meet up with them 17 years after graduating.
Though I was aware that my K-12 Waldorf education had profoundly influenced me, I hadn’t thought much about it in years. So I was not really prepared for what happened. Seated in the front row, I listened as the journey through the Waldorf grades was explained by Betty Staley (now president of Rudolf Steiner College). As Betty described how the curriculum recapitulates the development of human consciousness, I found myself recognizing and reliving my own journey through the grades. Things I hadn’t thought of in years came flooding back: the beauty, the color, the stories and music, the adventure, the depth, the meaningfulness of my Waldorf experience. I was thrilled by the elegant design of it all, the richness and potency of the curriculum. Out of the blue, the thought dawned in me: “I need to do this! I need to start a Waldorf school for my own child.”
Almost as soon as the idea lit up my mind, I squelched it with a hundred reasons. I lived in rural Connecticut, which already had plenty of private schools; I could never do such a thing alone; I had no idea what to do or how to do it; etc. My husband had known me as a Steiner high school student and was in favor of the idea; my friends were encouraging. But it took me another whole year to gather the courage to take action. I finally wrote a letter to the local papers, which was printed in February 1989. It stated that a group of parents was considering starting “a Waldorf (alternative) school,” and to contact me if interested.
On April 12, 1989, a sunny spring evening, Shrdlu and I hosted the first meeting in our living room. Ten or twelve people came: friends, interested neighbors, curious parents of toddlers. As we introduced ourselves and spoke together, our thoughts and intentions wove into a sort of invisible nest. We were creating a place for our Waldorf initiative to incarnate, to come into existence in our minds, hearts, and wills. We left the meeting with the “Eureka” flame burning within us. Now that it had been shared, it had become real.
Then began the work of creating an earthly home in which the spirit of the school could alight. A growing group of parents met biweekly at the Quaker Meetinghouse to plan a Parent-Child class, which was to be the school’s first incarnation. Included in that group were our current Educational Support teacher, Tricia Bennett-Bigham, and her husband Keith; our current Board secretary, Laura Selleck, and her husband Bill Hill; and our Handwork teacher, Carol Reznikoff, and her husband Alex.
On January 12, 1990 – nine months to the day after that first April meeting – Star Meadow, the Parent-Child class, opened with 13 two- and three-year-olds in my parents’ barn, down the hill from our house. Our school was born! It spent another year in the barn; then for the next ten years it moved periodically, living in several places before eventually coming to rest in its present location in Newtown.
Many graduates of that inaugural class, now in their mid-twenties, are still in touch with us. I’m always happy and amazed to hear about their diverse, creative adventures in the world. In fact, one student so far (Rachel Ladasky) has decided to close the circle and is now a nursery teacher at the Denver Waldorf School! Since those early days, scores of children have enjoyed the gift of a Waldorf education at Connecticut’s only Waldorf school; as they grow up, we will be interested to hear how it lives and manifests in them, perhaps to emerge one day in a similar “Eureka” moment. Keep us posted, alumni!