Daily life in the Bay Area on the cusp of summer break has been undeniably disrupted, and families across the city and both the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges have taken up the mantle of workplace and classroom. Students of all ages all over the country have been learning, applying, and graduating virtually for over two months now, and the city’s Waldorf school is no exception. Newspapers and news stations are rife with articles about SAT scores and college apps and prom and virtual college graduation, but what about the younger kids, kids who are just beginning their formal education, only to have their learning objectives compromised? San Francisco Waldorf School’s kindergarten teacher Allison Carroll is doing something about it.
On a Thursday morning in May, weeks out from the expected end of the Waldorf semester, Carroll has a full itinerary. Kindergarteners collaborate on the construction of small, functional wooden boats, for one, a literal and metaphorical send-off. “My dream is to sail all these boats in Golden Gate Park,” Carroll muses. Since the transition to remote and virtual learning and the closure of the school campuses on March 13, shelter in place orders have left both educators and parents in unprecedented positions to provide stability for children at a crucial stage of development.
A Davis native, Carroll’s higher education took her all over the world, from Ireland to Scotland to Colorado state and back, pursuing degrees in Medieval Studies and Higher Education Administration. Before finding her calling at Waldorf, Carroll worked in education at the university level with international students and their families as an International Student Advisor and Manager of Graduate Student Family Housing.It would be her own college experience that planted the seeds.
“I had come home from UC San Diego and was in line at the Davis Food Co-op when I saw watercolor paintings from the Davis Waldorf School hanging by the check-out. I had a visceral reaction that ‘whatever they are doing at this school, they did not do at mine.’”
Many years later, moving back to California after some time in Boston with a young child of her own, Carroll and San Francisco Waldorf School crossed paths.
“Going on a tour, I saw how teachers worked collectively. The whole person was being developed: head, heart and hands. We came in for the kindergarten interview and I had that epiphany moment. It unlocked a deep part of myself. This is always what I wanted to do.”
This “Renaissance education,” as Carroll refers to it, at the kindergarten level focuses heavily on tactile and sensorial experiences. Remotely, the kindergarten team have customized learning plans for families and have been coordinating weekly curriculum kits for pick up by families as well as regular parent phone conference sessions to support learning objectives. They work closely with the nursery and parent child class teams, who provide similar distance learning support.
“Children are incarnating into their bodies; their essence is growing into their bodies. It’s about a consistent rhythm.” Throughout the school year, Carroll and her fellow teachers employ gardening, movement, song, hiking trips, artistic activities, collaboration, cooking and a myriad of other skills to prepare their students for the next milestone of first grade. Consistency in the midst of a pandemic seems lofty, but not at all impossible. Waldorf teachers, in addition to regular parent and child check-ins, provide weekly curriculum-guided support via the school’s online platform, MySFWS, as well as weekly emails and phone calls, working hand in hand with parents.
“We really had no idea how long it would go on, no one expected it to go on this long.”
Allison Carroll is also what she called a “mother teacher,” and both of her children went through and graduated from Waldorf and are now both of college age. Both have also returned home since shelter in place began, from Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Carroll believes their ability to cope is linked to the values instilled at the school, of being “flexible.”
Under normal circumstances, the end of the semester is for introducing new families, transitioning into summer and preparing students for their next year. Plans for fall are still unclear, but “summer camp is on. We need to have shelter in place lifted. That’s being planned for.”
Coronavirus in the United States has created innumerable obstacles across personal, professional and educational lives, but Carroll’s optimism is her most valuable asset: it is palpable.
“Despite these moments when I wake up with the weight of the world, I have a very deep trust that all will be well. I know that everything we’ve done together has led to this moment. Everyone is in this for the families and children.”
For Allison Carroll, it’s onto the next thing, a home visit for a student’s birthday, complete with a handmade gift, crown and a card to be given at a distance.