It was a gray afternoon with a biting wind chill, and the window I peered out of was fogged with condensation. I was loitering in a very busy coffee shop, awkwardly moving around when I felt I was standing in one place for too long, waiting for a table. It was quite a scene in the bustling cafe with a range of folks: high schoolers pouring over textbooks and pumpkin spice lattes, babies squealing displeasure to the universe, a potential first date complete with overly-loud laughter, and a petite elderly woman engrossed in her salad. You could tell that this shop in a tiny San Francisco neighborhood served their coffee with a side of strong community.
How fitting, then, to meet Charlotte Halifax there. Since graduating from Oberlin College this spring, Charlotte has been working on the ground in her San Francisco community: advocating for local control over corporate influence, working for Dean Preston in District 5, and supporting immigration law firms in the city. This drive to get involved in a big way in her community originated with her experience at San Francisco Waldorf High School. "Because our teachers cared about our health and our environment," Charlotte says, "that definitely influenced me to also care [about my community]."
For many families, the Waldorf education experience begins in early childhood programs, building years of kinship with staff, faculty, and classmates. However, for the Halifax family, their introduction didn't come until later. While making high school decisions in her last year at San Francisco Day School, Charlotte considered her brother John's first two years at the high school (he graduated in 2013). She recalls hearing about curriculum that was unique and exciting, like brewing beer for Chemistry and spending significant time on art and music.
Charlotte decided to apply, despite not knowing anyone else there. She called it a "leap of faith" to choose to attend San Francisco Waldorf High School. "At first it was intimidating, because it always is when you start a new school, workplace, or any [new] situation, but that was pretty easily dispelled because people in the Waldorf community are really nice. There's a broader sense of how to do well, and the community is really strong. I feel like I will always have the Waldorf community."
Charlotte built strong foundational relationships with friends and classmates who continue to be an active part of her life after graduating high school in 2015. These meaningful relationships also included teachers, something Charlotte believes is unique to San Francisco Waldorf High School because of its emphasis on human connection. Small classroom sizes facilitated these bonds, and as a result the advice she received from faculty held weight in her consideration for the future. Charlotte attributes her decision to visit Oberlin College to Mr. David Weber, who teaches Humanities and Music. "Mr. Weber talked to me and said I should look at Oberlin because [his] son went there and it's a really good school. It's engaging, it's political, and [his son] really enjoyed it," Charlotte recalls. Her mother was shocked when Charlotte told her she wanted to visit the small liberal arts school in Ohio. "My mom told me there's no way I'd want to [live in] Ohio, but I told her we were going because Mr. Weber told me to," Charlotte relays with a smile.
It's a good thing she listened to Mr. Weber because Charlotte's experience at Oberlin College was foundational to her work now. Going to a school with deep roots in radical politics inspired Charlotte to become involved in matters that are important to her. The conviction of people's ethics at Oberlin felt familiar to those at the high school, and their influence bolstered Charlotte's confidence to be on the ground for local issues.
The jump to college from high school can be a challenging one, but Charlotte expressed gratitude for how the unique philosophy of the high school prepared her for college in a way that went beyond GPAs. "What Waldorf taught me that a lot of people I met at college didn't have was critical thinking skills. I can go into a new [experience] and adapt to it even if I didn't master it in high school already. That was a really big advantage."
The critical thinking Charlotte honed at the high school contributed to her interest in activism. "People at Waldorf have this critical thinking [style] where we're willing to question authority," she says. The passion both her high school and college peers gave to community causes and social justice inspired Charlotte's work on Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign in 2016 as well as her recent work with the Dean Preston campaign, local immigration law, and the activist group San Franciscans for Local Control, Not Telecom. Most of this work originated from connections Charlotte made at the high school.
Whether it was the variety integral to the curriculum, connections she made with peers and teachers, or physical challenges during rigorous outdoor education trips — some of Charlotte's most treasured memories — Charlotte feels incredibly lucky to have the educational experience she gained in high school. When asked what advice she would give to high school students on their journey to a fulfilling future, Charlotte had this to say: "Have a good time and take advantage of everything San Francisco Waldorf High School can offer. Find things you care about, that you really enjoy, and just do them."
By Brianna Gerard, Alumni Coordinator