It has been a whirlwind of activity on Abbot Hill for the last few weeks! There were celebratory graduation events and activities, followed by an intense week of professional development for teaching and administrative staff, topped off by our much-anticipated High Mowing Alumni/ae Weekend. Now, with the broad expanse of summer before us, I have a moment to reflect on all of these activities and the accomplishments of the year.
Congratulations to the Graduating Class of 2013!
It has been an honor and a privilege to spend the past two years at High Mowing with this year’s extraordinary graduating class. Although they have moved on, a powerful image expressed by this class at various pre-graduation events and ceremonies remains: the students often referred to High Mowing School, and the Spirit of High Mowing, as a wonderful “parent” who provided a safe, fertile learning environment, imbued with unconditional love, surrounded by a solid safety net (or “rules” as they called it!), resulting in the richest possible learning, self-development and transformational experiences for them. It is a wonderful vision, which will keep those of us that remain behind on task. And for that, we thank them!
At the Baccalaureate service, Bruce Darby spoke of this class as possessing incredible potential and capacity for love and transformation, which certainly resonates with my experience of them. The world desperately needs people with these capacities. And as Mr. Darby indicated, they have much work to do! Fortunately, they are well equipped with a diverse range of interests, gifts and skills, as evidenced by the impressive list of college and university acceptances and plans they have for the future. I wish them all Godspeed on their journeys. We will miss them greatly.
What do all successful Waldorf schools have in common?
A mere week after Commencement, during Alumni/ae Weekend, the David Blackmer dedication ceremony took place, As I sat in my chair at the end of the dedication, I felt a firm, friendly hand squeeze my shoulder from behind. I turned around and was delighted and thrilled to see Chris Schaefer, my past teacher and mentor from Sunbridge College, where many years ago I completed the Non-Profit Administration and Community Development program. Chris is an alumnus of High Mowing School and normally his busy personal and professional schedule does not allow time for him to come to Alumni/ae Weekend, but this year he was able to attend! I enjoyed a long visit with Chris and his wife, Signe — also one of my teachers at Sunbridge. I heard about their recent work in China, helping with the rapidly expanding number of Waldorf initiatives and schools there, and about Chris’ most recent book, Partnerships of Hope: Building Waldorf School Communities. His book describes our unique worldwide educational movement, a movement as culturally diverse as the many countries in which it thrives. I shared with him the advancements at High Mowing School over the past two years.
Ever the consummate teacher, Chris shared with me the results of a recent study, conducted by one of his students, which asked the question “What is it that all successful Waldorf schools have in common?” He told me that successful schools do three things: they focus on the quality of the pedagogy and teaching, they offer something to the broader community, and they ensure the teachers, administrators and support staff understand the school’s finances. When I later reflected on these wise words, I realized that at High Mowing School we have initiated processes in all three of these areas. The bar at High Mowing School is rising, and we can proudly include ourselves in the ranks of successful Waldorf schools! During this weekend, I heard from visiting alumni/ae that the school has never looked better. It was gratifying to hear that they experience such positivity here on the hill.
High Mowing: “…a place where people of all ages, from across the world, and down the street, can come together…”
Our annual Alumni/ae Weekend event is certainly one way we offer something back to the community — specifically to our alumni/ae. But, as a result of our intention to purchase and conserve 105 acres of Frye Farm, there is so much more on our horizon that we are planning. At the Alumni Association meeting, Kathy Boss, HMS Director of Community & Resource Development, and Brad Miller, HMS Farmer and Horticulture Teacher, described future possibilities for program development, which include not only curricular and extracurricular programs for the students, but also possibilities for the involvement of our surrounding community. The soon to be acquired property contains portions of four of Wilton’s seven wellhead protection areas, plus local recreational trails and frontage along the Souhegan River. The plan also involves the conservation of an additional 54 acres of land already owned by High Mowing. The Monadnock Ledger Transcript recently published an article on the pending purchase.
The plan to acquire this land has sparked a proposal, recently approved by the HMS Board of Trustees, to study the feasibility of growing our educational programs, and integrating and involving students in collaborative research, innovation, and experimentation in the areas of sustainable agriculture, forestry and land use. Also, at the heart of the proposal “is the desire to create a place where people of all ages, from across the world, and down the street, can come together and connect directly and compassionately with nature and her gifts.” We will soon hear more about High Mowing School’s plans — as a result of the land acquisition — to enrich offerings to students as well as to increase opportunities for the participation and involvement of the surrounding community.
Future Planning: Next Year and Beyond
Hand in hand with plans for community development and as part of the long range planning process is the ongoing development of our curriculum — a process in which the faculty, students and trustees have been engaged for the past year. Many meetings, conversations, surveys, research, and open space planning have resulted in a new vision, mission, statement of values and objectives for developing High Mowing School. In preparation for the next steps in this process – identifying priorities and developing strategies to realize these objectives – there was a rich envisioning session at the end of our professional development week, which was attended by trustees, and teaching and administrative staff. We began with the question, “What will High Mowing look like in 10 years?” The collective imagination was inspiring! Along with many other exciting images, our vision included an outdoor amphitheater, and indoor recreational and performing arts facilities, with students participating in a diverse array of curricular and extracurricular activities. These ranged from a student-run farm selling fresh and preserved produce and products, to horseback riding, exploration of trails through the forested land, and yoga and meditation in a Zen garden. We envisioned year-round student-use of our campus, through summer camps and a Gap Year program, with students accommodated in combined faculty-student family-style clustered housing. Our imaginations glimpsed indoor and outdoor classrooms with all students engaged in courses that provided multi-sensory, multi-modal approaches to learning. And of course we envisioned a long waiting list, with potential students eagerly anticipating the news that a spot had opened up for them!
Meanwhile, in the near future, a pedagogical task group has been selected to work over the summer with consultant Helen-Ann Ireland on future program and curriculum development beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. However, plans are also in the works for program and curriculum enrichment for next year. For example, a pilot academic program with a unique approach to learning will be launched – you can read about it in High Notes in the article A Quest for Knowledge. Next year we will also have a movement (PE), athletics and outdoor education program director. Peter Sheen will be joining our faculty to teach movement education classes, and will also begin working on the design and development of a comprehensive movement, athletics and outdoor education program. He will work with Dale Dintaman and the Residential Life faculty to create, implement and oversee a movement and outdoor activities program for all students — with particular attention to the boarding students on weekends.
The math and science teachers are developing our four-year curriculum scope and sequence, which identifies the knowledge and skills every student must demonstrate before graduating from HMS. The entire department is also looking at how to integrate horticulture activities and programming into the overall science program. The Humanities Department has reviewed our grade 9 and 10 integrated English programs and clarified the overall goals — with an emphasis on writing instruction. English teachers worked together with main lesson teachers in several sessions during professional days to plan the curriculum – and this collaborative work will continue in the fall. The department is also looking at the World Languages program and how to integrate the international exchange program into the World Language curriculum. The Arts Department is engaged in conversations to define overall aims for their Department, and more specific aims and objectives for sub-departments and programs. The music program is currently under review by the music teachers and the Pedagogical Leadership Circle. The ESL-International Student Program, designed and piloted this year by Bev Boyer, has been highly successful, After a comprehensive review, there will be some changes to the program to improve the quality of the experience for ESL/international students. In addition, changes for next year have been made to the International Student Admissions protocol to implement a more rigorous process of admitting ESL students — so their success is ensured and the positive social experience and culture of all HMS students is preserved.
Student Life and Support Services will be strengthened next year with changes to the counseling programs. Andrea Badger, College and Life Path Counselor will be available on a full time basis, and we are launching a pilot Wellness Counseling Program. There will also be increased human resources in the library. In addition, the student Community Work, and Advisee Programs are under revision with the intention of creating more effective programs.
HMS block classes have always included the visual arts. During professional days, the science, math and humanities teachers began planning and collaborating with the arts teachers, to include even more integration into the block lessons for next year — such as sculpting and other practical arts, eurythmy and music. The faculty is also working to create opportunities for juniors and seniors to focus on a concentration area of their choosing (with adult guidance) in order to develop a deeper relationship to a topic and create an individual path to graduation. These focus areas might include the Naturalist program, the arts, horticulture, writing, science, math or something of particular interest to the student. The faculty is re-affirming their commitment to a ‘wholeness of experience’ from morning to night by developing a comprehensive Community Life Curriculum. This will ensure what happens during the academic day is fully supported and integrated into all aspects of the life of all of our students.
High Mowing has a rich program of humanities, math, science, world languages, fine, practical and performing arts, diverse movement education and individual interest electives — all immersed in and surrounded by nature — and there is no intention to change this as we begin work identifying priorities and developing strategies for the future beyond next year! However, many educational scholars are calling for a focus on preparing students with 21st century skills. In order to stay current with the needs of the times, High Mowing faculty have been identifying the skills that will be demanded of students after they graduate from high school. This past year we have been reviewing the programs and re-examining the goals of the curriculum at High Mowing School and defining and refining what already serves the students well. As a modern Waldorf high school, we firmly believe that through many different approaches to learning our students develop capacities which give them flexibility in life.
Some of the role models (besides Rudolf Steiner) who will inspire the work of future planning are giants like Howard Gardner and his multiple intelligences theory and theory for teaching for understanding, Daniel Goleman and his popularizing of the work on emotional intelligences, Wiggins and McTighe and their work on backward design, and Marzano for his cutting edge work with rubrics and scores for assessing student work. All of these people put the teacher-student-content relationship at the center of an excellent program. This is a marker for High Mowing as well. What puts High Mowing on the cutting edge of delivering curriculum is that it has always had these theories in practice. It is the intention of the planning group to refine this work.
The entire faculty and staff at High Mowing School are working hard to consciously and intentionally manifest our vision:
At High Mowing School we recognize and nurture the highest potential in each person. We are a community where students discover who they are and develop the capacity for living fully into the future as it unfolds for them. We aspire to be a model for Waldorf education in the 21st century, and a catalyst for positive change in the world. Our graduates are confident, innovative leaders in diverse pursuits, reaching their goals and contributing to a sustainable, compassionate and peaceful future.
It is inspiring work to be part of an educational movement with such potential for current and future generations. One look at the Class of 2013 reminds us of why we are here. The whirlwind of activity on Abbot Hill, which has passed for the moment, is far from dormant. It is simply gathering momentum. You can feel the energy in the air. It’s time to breathe deeply and move forward.
This blog post is part of the Summer 2013 High Notes newsletter.