The second annual AWS Alumni Panel, moderated by Brooke McAdam ‘01, welcomed panelists Tatiana Robinson ‘02, Hope VanDerwater ‘13, and Tage Hoeg ‘16. They spoke openly about the ways they had grown as students at AWS, how prepared they had felt for high school and their lives beyond, and how they have come to appreciate their educational foundations in the years since graduation.
The conversation about the panelists’ various strengths and struggles highlighted the breadth of the education offered at AWS. Whereas Hope excelled in reading, Brooke felt challenged in drawing and handwriting. Tage, who never felt strongest in math, flourished as an athlete. That Waldorf education treats each of these subjects with equal seriousness allows students to build not only confidence, but also humility. When they feel both supported in their individual achievements and propelled toward their personal challenges, students come to see failure not as something to fear or avoid, but as an essential ingredient for growth. And there were several examples given of how AWS students learn to transform their struggles into successes through perseverance. After admitting that German had been a weak subject for her at AWS, Tatiana explained that she went on to major in languages in college, in part to prove that she could.
The open Q&A session touched on topics of technology and choosing career paths, which brought into focus how Waldorf education asks students to think like content creators, not consumers. Being active participants in shaping the trajectory of their own lives is something AWS students take for granted. “It was the water we were all swimming in,” Brooke said at one point.
It was just one of a number of observations about what the panelists felt sets their grade school experiences apart from those of their peers. “I often hear ‘I wish I went to a school like that,’” one panelist said, to vigorous nods from the others. That door may not be as closed as you think. As one parent remarked at the start of the Envision 2020 session: “This isn’t just where our children go to school. It’s where we go to school.”
Indeed, the next element of the day’s events was conceived in part in response to a request received during November’s community meeting that the school provide “parent education giving language to the values that are active at AWS.”
Board of Trustees president Johannes Aubrecht kicked off the Envision 2020 session through a recorded video message, apologizing that he couldn’t be there in person. He revealed the purpose of adding this special event to the calendar by declaring that we, as a community, will seek to double our school’s enrollment by the school year starting in 2020. He stressed that achieving this goal will require the involvement of the entire community and will be an ongoing process. Two follow-up sessions are already being planned for later this year and will provide opportunities to engage further around this goal.
Other Board members Jim Anderson, chair of Finance, and Brooke McAdam, chair of Enrollment & Marketing, then stepped up to provide further context. Jim presented a sample plan to illustrate how increased enrollment at many levels will allow us to make investments that will strengthen the school for the future, from increased teacher training to a dedicated endowment to a green roof. Brooke compared the recent downward trend in enrollment to the school’s historical numbers and the area average to illustrate why the Board believes that this trend is reversible. She enumerated some of the traditional marketing initiatives her committee is undertaking, but stressed that our greatest success has always come through word of mouth. She noted that the school’s highest levels of enrollment have always come when the community has been most active and engaged in the process.
With the goal set and the context given, Board member René Krist came forward to lead the small-group engagement exercise which would comprise the rest of the session. The groups were invited to discuss, amongst themselves, topics such as what forces we see at work in our society, and what qualities we feel our students will need in order to successfully navigate these forces. Ideas were jotted down on colorful post-it notes, collected on the walls, and documented for future reference. Ultimately each group was asked to share their top three concepts for each category with everyone. This was a beautiful way to verbalize and visualize the values that live within our community. Though some common themes emerged -- uneasiness about the instability of our rapidly changing world, belief that trust and resilience will be important for the future -- some members also pushed back against prevailing narratives and urged us all to channel optimism and question our own thinking. This combination of forces -- one drawing us together around common values, the other pushing us to look for what’s missing -- is what makes a community.
The Board felt it was important to kick off the Envision 2020 initiative with these community conversations so that our solutions can spring from fertile ground. We are seeking to double our enrollment to strengthen the school not just as a business, but also as a place that gives these values and this community a home.
To conclude, all groups were asked to come together and start channeling our discussions into action. Everyone was invited to help sort a list of ideas (gathered at brainstorming sessions during the previous community meeting) according to their potential impact and resource investment. This allowed suggestions such as “Every parent writes a Google review,” “Provide a remote open house option,” and “Use raffle sales to talk about AWS with new people” to rise to the top quadrant indicating high impact and low investment. The hope was that, through these discussions and exercises, we would all start to see the path toward and open our wills to our shared future.
All are invited to contact Brooke McAdam and Vicky Lucca, Admissions Coordinator, to take action to further prioritize and enact the ideas generated as part of the session. Vicky’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org and she can be reached by phone at 655-2029. Brooke can be reached at email@example.com.
Planning and setting a date for the next enrollment event is now underway.