The Light of Aurora Shining for 30 Years!
Remembering our Past
As we celebrate AWS’s 30th anniversary, we recognize the amazing effort of our school’s founders and the dedication of the teachers, trustees, and parents who have kept the light of Aurora shining over the last three decades! On behalf of the many students whose lives have been touched, Thank You!
Stories from our Alumni
"I think the thing I value most from my time at AWS is the innate love of learning it gave me. From my earliest memories there in Ash Grove Kindergarten, we were always taught through experience and process, which was engaging, fun, and thought provoking. Never was there a feeling that I was forced to learn something (for no particular reason from a child's perspective), but rather a consistent backdrop of learning in everything we did. This gave me a subconscious drive to continue this process through life in a way I feel is unique to Waldorf education. It's led me to continuously pursue my intellectual dreams, ultimately leading me to my dream job working as a Hydrologist at Yosemite National Park. Now, I get to absorb new knowledge every day through the rivers, streams, forests, and ecosystems that I learned to appreciate long ago at AWS.
In this photo, from my May 1st snow survey trip, I am in the process of measuring how much water is in the snowpack, an important metric for downstream water users across the west who rely on mountain snowpack as a primary water source. It involves skiing into the Sierra Nevada wilderness for a duration of four days and measuring five different snow courses over a 50 mile trip.” Rachel Hallnan, class of 2007
“I'm probably not the best person to ask if you want to understand the overarching philosophical tenets of Waldorf education or Rudolf Steiner's personal beliefs on child development. What I can tell you is that I had an overwhelmingly positive experience during my ten years at Aurora Waldorf School, mainly thanks to Beth McNamara and so many other committed faculty, but also due simply to the amount of time we spent outdoors.
Rain. Snow. Mud. Sleet. To the creek. To the meadow. To the playing fields. Back to the creek. I'm sure we took our time outside for granted in those days, and credit to our teachers for truly living the motto that ‘there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.’ By the time we made our eighth-grade pilgrimage to Hawk Circle, I was hooked for life. I met my wife in Wyoming's Wind River Range and, after a brief detour as an attorney at a big firm in Boston, here I am playing outside again: this time in Vermont, with my own company, and a vision of cultivating appreciation for nature and self-reliance through outdoor education. I'm grateful to AWS for setting me on this path and for being the starting point for all of the life lessons I learned in the backcountry.” Peter Mandych, AWS class of 2005
It is always a delight to hear from our alumni about all the amazing adventures they are having in the world! So proud of Tess DeFlyer (class of 2007), who shared the following with us on Instagram: “Just unintentionally did a 4-hour cross country skiing day in Acadia National Park and thought to myself, ‘Mr. T would be so proud!’”
We honor Mr. Tunkey (aka Mr. T) for all he did for so many AWS students before his retirement last year. Mr. Tunkey not only was a founding trustee of AWS who developed the incredible movement program that has become internationally recognized among Waldorf Schools. He also taught gym, games, tumbling classes, coached sports and incorporated life-sports into the middle school curriculum. Clearly, Mr. T’s orienteering and cross country skiing classes had a lasting impact on Tess!
As Winter Faire 2022 plans are underway, alumna Maggie Warren (class of 2007) shares her memories of this special event. “Winter Faire was a day to celebrate the magical environment of Aurora Waldorf School; joining together to share the warmth and light of connection and good friendships even in the coldest part of winter. My favorite part of Winter Faire was always the enchanted castle and storytelling, and I never missed a chance to get a treasure from the Pocket lady!”
Following Maggie’s graduation from AWS, she attended East Aurora High School and then Brigham Young University in Utah, where she studied Special Education. She taught for Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind for four years and finished her certification in Deaf Education before getting married and starting her family. She has moved back to Western NY and now has two daughters enjoying the new Forest Parent-Tot program as second-generation students at AWS.
“During my time as a student at AWS, one of the many things I enjoyed was the celebration of festivals throughout the year. Whether it was singing beautiful songs while wandering through the dark forest with our lanterns on Martinmas, softly walking the awe-inspiring Spiral of Light while holding an apple bearing a lit candle, or creating an intricate weave while dancing around the maypole on May Day...each celebration carried a special energy and nourished our community's togetherness. I deeply appreciate my Waldorf education experience and I am so happy to now have the opportunity to create that space for others as an assistant in the Ash Grove Kindergarten.”
Claire holds a B.S. in Health Promotion, Community Health with an Integrative Health & Wellness Specialization from Daemen College. She works as an Assistant Teacher at AWS in Ash Grove Pre-K / Kindergarten.
“When we don’t have markers of time, we can lose our place a little bit. Something I noticed myself returning to this past year was finding rituals and practicing ways to mark time for myself. Seasonal rituals that come directly from Waldorf education and tradition. This was a part of my education that I took for granted before, but these ways of getting in tune with the cycles and seasons of nature have been one of my biggest tools this year to deal with the effects of needing to adapt my life and build resilience during wild times. They have allowed me to slow down and honor the seasons.” AWS alumna Kayla Czysz shares how she coped during COVID shut-down.
Kayla holds a Bachelor's in Community Mental Health from SUNY Buffalo, and a Master’s in Clinical Social Work from Portland State University. She works at a private practice in Buffalo specializing in holistic and integrative psychotherapy.
"Waldorf education emphasized experiential learning and creativity. My education at AWS was an act of creation and we expressed what we learned, our perception of the world and how it works, in our main lesson books. At AWS creativity was valued.
I also remember stories being a really big part of the curriculum and the sense of community. When I think back to the classroom, I think of it as a home, in terms of how I felt and the relationships I made there. I didn't have that same experience in high school."
AWS alum Harry Warren received BS degrees in Sociology, History, and Italian from Cornell University. Currently, Harry works for Epic, a healthcare software company based out of WI as an Application Executive where he directs multiple teams focused on the implementation of healthcare software.
"Woods walks made me feel at home in nature, and full of awe. I am positive that my devotion to understanding and protecting natural spaces goes back to those AWS walks, especially wading in Cazenovia Creek and exploring the hidden meadow on the way!
At some point I realized how lucky I was to walk through those woods every day, and that not every school was like ours. That’s a reflection from a place of privilege for sure. But it’s part of my commitment to increasing everyone’s access to open space.
Also, growing, preparing and sharing food from the garden at AWS is definitely where first ideas started about food bringing people together."
AWS alumna Susan Kornacki, MPH (Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins), has worked with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper & other environmental organizations in NYS. Currently she is a Food Security Programs Manager.
Highlights from 2021-22
The Fifth and Sixth Grade students were immersed in Ancient Greek history this year, from studying the geography of Ancient Greece and creating hand-drawn maps to listening to stories of the Greek Gods and Goddesses, singing songs dedicated to Apollo, and writing their own Greek odes. They learned the beautiful, graceful movements that traditional Olympians strove for in the original games. This year’s Olympiad featured javelin throw, long jump, discus throw, wrestling, and distance/dash running competitions. The students wore chitons they decorated with hand-sewn Greek designs. Each student demonstrated their personal best in beauty, truth, and strength!
This year’s May Festival was celebrated with guests and students all present at the same time! The Maypole and its colorful ribbons offer a hands-on experience of community building. Each individual’s contribution is essential, and social intelligence is honed in finding the rhythm of the dance together. As any of the students will tell you, there is a lot of fun and also hard work involved in creating the beautiful ribbon pattern as a group. The older students offered a dance from the folk dance culture of India and provided lovely music with Mr. Meyer and Ms. McKenney, from our new outdoor classroom/bandshell. Yay, May!
This spring our students in Grades 1- 8 participated in the annual AWS Circus, a movement and tumbling extravaganza! After many weeks of preparation and practice, students showcased zoo exercises (developmental movement patterns that resemble animals) and challenging tumbling activities requiring coordination and cooperation.
Additionally, acrobatics delighted the audience. In the background, students engaged in activities involving balance and skills such as juggling, plate spinning, and rolla bolla fun.
The grand finale was Grade 7/8 students being the bases for their Grade 1/2 buddies in a balancing act.
As the conflict in Ukraine worsened, Ash Grove Kindergarten teacher, Jill Quinn, shared the beauty of Ukrainian culture with her students through stories and puppet shows in her final days with the class. She also shared a display of her Ukrainian great-grandmother’s cross-stitch and lovely painted eggs.
At times we all feel helpless and uncertain about how to help when a war is underway on the other side of the world. Jill Quinn's class gesture was a subtle yet powerful way to honor Ukrainians and those Russian neighbors vehemently opposing this conflict and the many injustices of war. Let's continue uplifting our unique heritages and cultural traditions.
Candlemas, a precursor to Groundhog’s Day, is honored at AWS each year with the tradition of candle dipping. Early in February students experienced the slow process of creating a candle by repeatedly dipping a wick into melted beeswax and letting the wax harden between each dip. This activity instills patience and allows students to fully experience the entire process counteracting the prevalent instant gratification culture in our society. The result is beautiful handmade candles bringing light to AWS families.
Snowfall is such a gift for children! Fresh snow offers so many possibilities for playing, building, and exercising. As part of the place-based education offered at AWS, we allow our students to enjoy and benefit from the winter weather of WNY fully.
Unlike some schools with one winter fun day each year, our students benefit from daily recess and outdoor classes. Getting outside every day helps children connect with nature and prepares them to focus on their lessons when they return to the classroom.
Through a wide variety of winter activities, our student’s social, emotional, and physical needs are met as they experience collaboration, creative problem solving, healthy challenges, and joy-filled learning!
This year the Holiday Assembly highlighted the collaboration of three special subjects offered at AWS. All three awaken in the students the capacity to learn and become fluent in the following “Languages.”
World Languages - German - The introduction of any world language in the early years opens the ears and cultivates the ability to acquire other languages in the future. It helps one be more open to different cultures, ways of expression, and ways of thinking. Learning another language is a stepping stone to inner flexibility and global awareness.
The Language of Music - Music enriches, enlivens, and soothes the soul, no matter your background! The international language of music can pave the way for mutual understanding and celebrating the world’s diverse cultures.
The Language of Movement - Like music, movement and dance can be experienced by everyone! Eurythmy, the movement art taught in Waldorf Schools all over the world, seeks to make music and speech visible. It is a health-giving activity that brings deepening and balance to the academic curriculum.
The Indigenous Spirit Dancers visited AWS for a presentation about Haudenosaunee culture. Students were able to participate in social dances and learn about the significance of these dances to the Haudenosaunee. They also had the opportunity to ask the group questions about their regalia, culture, and aspects of everyday life.
We thank the Indigenous Spirit Dancers for a wonderful and enriching experience, as well as the DEI Committee who facilitated this event, and the donors to the DEI fund for making this event possible.
The AWS curriculum celebrates diversity in our humanity. Our students learn through authentic experiences, from stories to music, movement, and the arts. A prime example of this is the African Dance block taught as part of our middle school movement program.
For the last 20 years, Ms. Robin has been teaching African Dance to AWS middle school students with the help of drummer Mr. Alassane. The rhythm of the drum leads the movement and the song. The group of students and teachers begin to move and sing together in beautiful unison after weeks of practice. Conversations about culture fill the dance breaks making connections between oneself and others. African Dance is a meaningful and memorable learning experience for all.
Our students enjoyed the fall festival's celebration of courage and strength first with a eurythmy performance depicting Indra's battle with Vrtra the dragon, performed by Maria Ebersole and Vijayta Singuluri, a visiting eurythmy student teacher. Next, all students participated in an outdoor performance of the story of St. Michael conquering the dragon. This was followed by an all-school tug o’ war match. Such an exciting and energetic event!
Envisioning the Future Together
As we gather together in community our lives are enriched, ideas are shared, and imaginations of what is possible begin to form.
Efforts to lessen our environmental footprint at AWS were highlighted at the 2022 Artisan Auction with compostable tableware and an open paddle fundraising effort towards more energy efficient lighting for our classrooms.
The event was a lovely celebration of community and commitment to the future of AWS. Thank you to everyone who supported this event! Highlights from the evening can be seen here.Donations are still being accepted to the annual fund and the LED Lighting Upgrade Project.
Several Earth Day events were organized in April to help raise our collective awareness of the world around us.
The Owl Prowl involved a nocturnal hike through the school grounds and the surrounding West Falls Town Park, led by Buffalo Audubon Society Naturalist Tom Kerr. Participants searched for the Eastern Screech-owls that make their home in and around the park and learned about the habitat these owls need while they listened for their calls and looked for them flying through the night.
Additionally AWS community members gathered for a guided hike to the bottom of the Eternal Flame ravine to experience the unique 30-foot-high waterfall where a flame juts out from the rock within a small grotto behind the falls! Participants learned how to identify wild edibles and a scavenger hunt was held for children of all ages! The re-launch of the long-awaited and updated “Secret Places of WNY” hiking guidebook was celebrated with a chance to meet the authors and have books autographed!
Finally community members were invited to tune in and connect with our planet through a guided meditation focused on the earth and our collective consciousness around environmental care.
As part of the continued work on our Strategic Priorities, we have many initiatives focused on expanding environmental conservation and understanding. At the end of March, community members gathered virtually to hear a talk given by Kim Allsup on How to Prepare the Climate Healing Generation. Additionally, our Building, Operations, and Grounds committee began the process for AWS to become an Energy Star certified school.
The foundation of Waldorf education is healthy human relationships. As stated in the guiding Principles for Waldorf Schools, “The conscious development of human relationships fosters individual and community health.”
Teachers build relationships wholeheartedly with their students integrating their thinking, feeling, and action/will. In administration, healthy relationships foster generative listening to spark innovation, inspiration, and collaboration.
The decision to work towards this principle is ours. It is both a responsibility and a gift to engage with one another on an individual and community level. Cultivating a culture of community and compassion allows us to become better equipped to meet the future and fulfill our vision and mission.
We invite you to engage with our community. Visit our Community Events page to learn about upcoming events at AWS. Together we can realize a brighter future!
As we look to build a bridge to our future, we are pleased to present our finalized Strategic Priorities for the next five years. This document is the result of dedicated collaboration from all realms of the school and highlights the values based education found at AWS.
Opening Doors to a Brighter Future: Aurora Waldorf School Strategic Plan 2021-2026
Waldorf education, from its founding, has been a socially responsive movement. The AWS Strategic Planning Task Group recently developed a four-pillar approach to planning for AWS’s future that echoes this impulse:
Four Pillars of Commitment
- Prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in all realms
- Expand environmental and green initiatives
- Increase access and identify alternative funding strategies
- Strengthen identity and broaden reach
Work has begun on all four pillars and is well along in many respects. We welcome questions and comments and look forward to connecting with community members interested in helping us realize these exciting goals.
We can envision a brighter future by coming together to consciously create community! At the October Awakening Connections workshops, AWS parents, teachers, board members, and community members took part in reflective and artistic exercises. Guest presenter, Kathleen Bowen, created a safe space for authentic exchanges where the power of deep listening allowed for deeper connections among community members. Differences in perspectives and experiences were acknowledged and appreciated while recognizing shared values as a common thread weaved through our community.
Peaceful activism can take many forms from small actions to large demonstrations. People of all ages can participate and follow their own personal interests and passions while doing so!
On September 18th, AWS held a Meet the Author/Illustrator event in the new outdoor classroom, where Tanya Zabinski inspired parents and students with biographical stories of peaceful activists from all around the world with a book talk on her book: Peace, Love, Action! Then she led participants in a bookbinding craft, and discussed everyday actions that anyone can do to promote peace in our world.
Stories help us recognize our interconnectedness with one another and our world. As AWS was approaching its 30th year of educating students to change the world, a group of current and alumni parents felt moved to honor the incredible power that stories have brought to their children’s education by creating a Little Free Library, where stories can be shared with the wider community.
A Grand Opening was held on August 3rd, 2021 which included an outdoor Story & Craft Time enjoyed by parents and children from the surrounding community.