Making the decision to invest in your child’s education can often mean making sacrifices. Finding peace with this decision can be a complicated path to follow at times that requires a leap of faith, trusting your instincts as a parent. Learn how one MWS family came to find their place at Minnesota Waldorf School.
Chellie Orluck’s family are coming from Crystal/Robbinsdale area just North of Minneapolis. They landed at MWS in the Fall of 2021, when their eldest was entering Grade 3. They hope to have their two younger children join the school as well for their grades education. For right now, they are a part of a small, holistic and Waldorf-inspired program at home with Chellie, who is a professional early childhood educator and her teaching partner, Ashley, another MWS parent and close family friend. Steve is a high school German teacher working in a public, suburban Highschool just south of Minneapolis.
What brought your family to the Minnesota Waldorf School?
Our school journey has been an unexpected one to be sure.
When our oldest was born Chellie was working in a local, urban school as an early childhood development and literacy coach. She had spent over a decade teaching in this large elementary school, which served families of highly diverse backgrounds in socio-economics, race and ethnicity within a magnet-program of International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program. Despite always seeing the transition to school being a seamless adjustment of coming to school, this grew to be a fainter and fainter ideal. Pressure for academic achievement for children was pushing further and further down, driving all decisions. Even though intentions were altruistic, efforts to close “the opportunity gap,” as it was then known, were narrowing curriculum and taking natural and supportive practice of early childhood hostage. Advocacy for play, outdoor exploration, movement and joy, responding to children as WHOLE people, became a full-time position without an audience at nearly every level within the system Chellie worked.
It was while on maternity leave with our second child, Chellie was able to have the space and place to return to her truest passions and natural calling – observation of young children in free, open-ended and supported play. The small heart-tug to find something more aligned to all she had studied about child development and guiding childhood with love, trust and wonder grew into a strong conviction. She began working to care for young children full-time at home and as an outdoor Early Childhood Family Educator. We also decided we wanted a school that nurtured children as whole people, with the right to play (especially outdoors) and capable of contributing to the goodness of humanity as children and throughout their entire lives.
We set to work finding an alternative choice. We toured and studied and talked to so. Many. Schools. We really tried to focus on our public school options – seeking experiences reflective of our diverse neighborhood and beautiful world. But we were waitlisted for programs considering the arts, language other than English, or social justice. One day while lamenting with a friend who was also a teacher, the friend said, “Have you heard of Waldorf? Our neighbors go there and I think they love it.” Things changed from that moment onward.
Touring Waldorf led to the first reorganization of our lives. We enthusiastically enrolled our eldest in the outdoor Kindergarten program with confidence that this was perhaps the healthiest and most holistic place he could experience life at school. We knew he was being nurtured into becoming the best version of himself by spending countless hours stomping through puddles, hearing stories of squirrels and oak trees, turning snowballs and long branches into epic and memorable baseball games with genuine, creative, and kind teachers and friends. He was learning social skills and developing emotional maturity. He was not only allowed to be five and free, it was expected.
But, we also wavered and spent many sleepless nights wondering about our decision to try an independent school – could we sustain this? What about the privilege and exclusive nature of an independent school? Was this right? What about “delayed” academics – what would learning to read, write, and compute actually look like? How was this school choice equitable? Was it? Is it?
We studied a lot that kindergarten year. We went to festivals and parent meetings and met with teachers. We saw our son thrive, we felt his spirit and self unfolding, and found a community where children were honored and childhood itself was revered. We felt at “home” in the Waldorf niche. We enrolled our son in the grades program, thrilled with the idea that he would have one highly trusted teacher who followed and supported his development from year to year, more time outside than any other school we had found, a fully integrated curriculum and a small, intimate community.
The first year of COVID left us with very little choice. Time for rearrangement #2. With both of us working as teachers with so much unpredictability in schools and three children under the age of seven needing care if we had to teach, we decided to homeschool.
It was a year full. Full of fear. Full of joy. Full of family. Full of slowness. Full of learning. Full of frustration. Full. It was necessary and the best thing for us. For one year.
We were not a long term homeschool family. Our eldest needed social experiences beyond his younger siblings to grow into his best self.
Again, we went into school decision mode and turn our lives upside down time. Somehow the spring brought Ashley and Chellie together with a decision to pursue starting a small program together inspired by our time at Waldorf schools and attempts at Waldorf homeschool. We considered returning to learning in person again at Minnesota Waldorf School. Somehow stepping foot on the campus and meeting with the teacher our son would join turned into an even more perfect fit for us in this new time. Some of the biggest influences were the open and honest conversations we were able to have about how the school, and his potential teacher in particular, was advocating for Antiracist work, social justice and restorative circles. “We aren’t where we should or want to be. But we are working. We are in the work.”
We continue to wrestle with the same questions we had when our eldest was in Kindergarten. Most significantly we wrestle with how we might make this unique and wonderful educational choice, a greater choice for more children. We dare dream that all children deserve it, and we regret that only those more privileged in our society may find it accessible.
At the same time, we rest well knowing he is being genuinely loved and well-educated not for education’s sake but for life. He is learning to read and write and compute. He is also learning another language, violin, circus arts, chess, baking, drawing, life skills, practical skills, and most important how to be with others. Most importantly he is practicing how to seek the truth, find beauty, and know what is good. It’s not extra, it’s part of every day’s experience. What an extraordinary gift.