Walking into Edward Simmons’ classroom at Running River School, a visitor will likely notice one thing above all else: His chalkboard is beautiful.
“A big part of Waldorf schools are the aesthetic quality of the chalkboard,” Simmons said, making minor alterations to a chalk picture of a family deciding how best to divide up toys among the children. The image, Simmons explained, was used to teach math concepts to his eight third- and fourth-grade students.
“We teach math through art, and play, and story,” Simmons added, gesturing to the meticulously rendered drawing. “This is pretty much what we do every day.”
Though not part of Sedona-Oak Creek School District, Running River School rents out two rooms on the district office grounds. A private, tuition-funded and Waldorf-inspired school, it has two teachers — both of whom began this year — and 16 students in the first, second, third and fourth grades.
Simmons, a native Briton, became interested in alternative education models after getting his degree in public school English education and living in Africa.
“I saw what a child’s education meant to the whole community,” Simmons said of his time educating children in AIDS orphanages in Nairobi, Kenya, and elsewhere. “I saw all of these things I could contribute to, but I thought, ‘What better way than to give something to the next generation?’”
Back in England, and then in the United States, Simmons saw the deficiencies in the educational system. Due to the pressure placed on even the youngest students to perform via testing, he noted, students were not developing to their potential.
“I saw how our educational system was failing,” Simmons said. “Students grow up confused and anxious …. I was looking for something else.”
While teaching at an alternative school in Nashville, Simmons discovered Waldorf education. Founded by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, Waldorf education accentuates imagination in teaching, using the whole body and mind to instruct students.
“I was blow away,” Simmons said. “It requires an all-around, holistic understanding of the child. We allow them to grow naturally, designing our curriculum around them rather than the other way around …. It’s the education I wish I’d had.”
According to Simmons, as a Waldorf-inspired school, Running River School does not adhere strictly to the Waldorf philosophy. Instead, the inspiration allows the school’s two teachers to take the best of what Waldorf schools offer and strike out in new directions.
Though growing, Running River School experiences many of the same challenges larger schools face, as well as problems common to small schools everywhere. Preserving a multiplicity of options for parents, Simmons insisted, is important.
“Small schools like these need the support of the community,” Simmons said. “We’re in uncertain times right now …. I think this school is needed here. It reflects the community in a really amazing way.”
Simmons is at work on a book, “Write the World,” which he hopes will help children connect with nature via a curriculum of writing activities.
For more information on Running River School, visit runningriverschool.org or call 301-3232.
|School Co-founder Runs in Marathon|
|On Saturday, Feb. 4, at 9 a.m., Nathan Hansen, 42, will commence on a journey he’s been preparing for over four years — the 12th annual Sedona Marathon.
Hansen hasn’t been training for the marathon that long, but he has been seeking a fun way to raise money for Running River School, his nonprofit Waldorf-inspired grade school.
“Two birds, one stone,” Hansen stated in a press release, thinking of how he decided that running a marathon might be a successful fundraiser. “I’ve always wanted to run a marathon, but never found the time necessary to dedicate to the training needed. Now, I’ve found a reason that eliminates all the excuses I’ve ever used. Raising money for Running River School, my kids’ school, provides me all the motivation I need.”
Hansen said that the director of Running River School and his wife, Guadalupe Pollock, was scrolling through Facebook a couple weeks ago when she mentioned running the marathon. According to Hansen, his wife almost dared him to run the distance, knowing full well allowing only three weeks to train was virtually impossible.
“I don’t think she thought I’d do it,” Hansen stated. “But when we toyed with the idea of raising money for the school at the same time, that joke took shape and became a reality. We set a goal of $100 per mile in order to reach over $2,600. A few hours after setting up the GoFundMe page, I set out on my first run. I’ve been plagued with the idea of what the last 10 miles are going to feel like ever since.”
Hansen reports that his fundraising has surpassed his goal, and his running is on par with a solid finish. However, though the fundraising and bucket list of running a marathon will have proven successful, Hansen’s main impetus is neither of the two.
“The biggest reason I’ve been focused on crossing the finish line isn’t for the school or myself,” Hansen stated. “It’s to prove to my children that setting goals is a worthwhile habit. If it weren’t for goals and people supporting each other’s goals, as it’s been with so many of my friends recommending gear, suggesting diet and strategy, and offering body work, I’d be limping at mile three, crawling at four. Without goals and loving people who respect those goals, there’s nowhere to aim and no one to steady the focus. This one is for my kids.”
Hansen is one of hundreds running for a cause during the 12th annual Sedona Marathon. Support him and others by cheering them on Saturday, Feb. 4, as thousands run through the red rocks.
Running River School, a Waldorf-inspired 501(c)(3) independent grade school, sprang from a group of parents desiring to create a place where parents and teachers work together to offer children hands-on, integrative educational opportunities that support the whole child. An extensive art program, outdoor opportunities, life skills such as gardening, cooking and handwork, as well as field trips go hand-in-hand with traditional academic subjects to create a comprehensive model for excellence.