Lao Tzu once said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For me, it began with a single handshake. No matter the weather, my day at Housatonic Valley Waldorf School started the same way. I got off the bus and headed straight towards the playground. With the clanging of an old-fashioned metal bell, my classmates and I gathered outside the door and scrambled into a line. We filed one by one past Mrs. Beardsley, looked her in the eye, and wished her good morning with a handshake.
This Waldorf education frowned upon tests and grades, instead concentrating on the learning process. I studied Ancient Rome for two weeks, and the main focus of all classes was history. I wrote about Julius Caesar, I painted watercolors of the aqueducts, sang music from the time period and learned about the German perspective of the Romans in German class. We drew pictures in our lesson books of famous sculptures and, of course, marched around the playground every morning. "Left, left, left right left," Mrs. Beardsley, an army veteran, would repeat. "Halt! Forward face! At ease!" One day, as we stood in line, our feet hips'-width apart, facing our teacher, Quinn burst out, "I'm freezing! Can we go inside now?" Mrs. Beardsley responded, "The Romans didn't stop marching when it got cold. You should have worn a hat."
My world changed when I shook Mrs. Beardsley's hand for the last time at graduation. My class and I marched down the aisles to her commands as we had so many mornings before. I was sad to leave my teacher and classmates but eager to transition from the alternative Waldorf School to a traditional public school. Once, May 1st meant flower crowns, warm sun, swirling ribbons and maypole dances, but now, spring means a pep rally with flipping cheerleaders, artificial lights and a roaring crowd. Once, I had a class called Eurythmy where I would express the words of poems and music through my motions. Now, the most movement I do at school is lunging for a basketball in gym class. Once, a piece of paper meant blue paint, which stank like sulfur when I opened it and the smell diffused across the classroom and lingered on my hands. As I painted, I'd notice the texture of the wet paper as I wicked off the excess water, the way the colors bled into each other, never allowing me to create harsh lines or definite shapes with my brush. Now, every project is accompanied by a piece of paper that gives an end goal. It's filled with boxes, each stating a different standard. Words like "shows clear understanding" and "follows the given format" are placed inside, along with a point value.
I have come to appreciate both the practicality of grades and the philosophy of creating simply for the experience. I don't mind bubbling in answers on a Scantron sheet because the feeling of receiving an A on a test is wonderful, and rubrics set clear expectations for me to strive to exceed. But I can tell you what fables I was told in first grade after molding the characters of stories such as The Bremen Town Musicians out of beeswax and I can describe the terrain of Africa after having drawn pictures of the grasslands in seventh grade. By focusing on the process itself and not just the final product, we can make learning permanent.
I envision myself at high school graduation, overwhelmed with gratitude for all the people who have made my education worthwhile: Mrs. Beardsley and my high school teachers, who gave me different perspectives and who worked with me to ensure my success. Names are read off a list and I start the long anticipated walk. As I reach out my arm, I know that I will be forever searching for a place that believes in handshakes.
Rachel was a member of the National Honor Society, graduated at the top of her class at Newtown High School. In addition to being a leader academically, Rachel worked tirelessly for Best Buddies, a national organization and the largest club at NHS, which advocates for students with developmental disabilities. She also volunteered with Ability Beyond for the past 3 years. Rachel was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from Best Buddies Connecticut. She has also received the William Honan Award for academic achievement and service, the Smith College book award for service and academic achievement, the Rotary Club Student of the month from the Math Department, and the President's Volunteer Service Award.
Rachel attends Quinnipiac University as part of a highly selective, accelerated Doctor of Physical Therapy Program with a dual degree in Athletic Training. Only 16 students are accepted annually into this one of a kind program. She is a Trustees Scholarship recipient.