The eagle is back! Last year at exactly this time, I was witness to a baldheaded eagle ravaging our hen house. And now one year later, he has returned, observed from the main building’s third floor windows, circling the High Mowing fields in all his glory, perhaps looking for the chickens. For me, the return of the eagle (coincidently, on the anniversary of my father’s birth) has personal significance related to my father’s death three years ago. My beloved father, a Native American Cree, was on his death bed surrounded by family in our summer retreat cabin on a lagoon by the Eagle River in Western Canada. For three days and three nights a baldheaded eagle kept vigil in a giant pine tree at the end of the lagoon. The eagle remained in that tree until my father passed —at that moment the eagle took flight, transporting my dad’s spirit back to whence he came, to join his spirit ancestors. It was at this time, just after my father’s death, that I made the decision to come to High Mowing—it seems the eagle accompanied me here to the land of the baldheaded eagle—and I welcome his regular visits (although I would ask that he leaves our chickens alone!).
Growth and Change at High Mowing
According to some of my fellow Native Americans, the eagle is a spiritual messenger and, as a totem, represents spiritual and personal growth. Our High Mowing eagle is certainly revisiting at a time of growth. In June 2013 I wrote about the faculty’s anticipated summer work on future program and curriculum development and enrichment.This work has continued, with the entire January 2014 professional development week focused on future planning. High Mowing School, the first and only Waldorf boarding high school on the continent, has always been ahead of its time, with a curriculum intended to address the learning and developmental needs of the contemporary adolescent; our ultimate goal is to meet the ever-changing needs of adolescents in in a rapidly changing 21st century world. We have a commitment to continuously modernize the way we educate with immersive, integrated, multi-disciplinary blocks of experience-based learning taking place in classrooms, in studios AND in nature. This is possible by utilizing our horticulture, naturalist, and performing, practical and fine arts programs as pillar programs, out of and in which opportunities for critical thinking and self-directed activity are mediated by a richly nourished imagination and feeling life.
A New Schedule Format for 2014-2015
In a shift towards manifesting this goal of modernizing the way we educate, and as part of planning for 2014-2015, a revision and redesign of next year’s schedule is almost complete. The new schedule will have the afternoon track classes arranged in two- to four-week block periods, enabling the students to immerse themselves in one subject every day for an extended period. The format of the morning track classes will remain as it is this year in order to allow for scheduling of those courses, such as Mathematics and World Languages, requiring yearlong systematic instruction and regular practice of course content. As we continue to envision and redesign the program beyond next year, you will see more structured yet self-directed learning opportunities, multiple paths to graduation, and more choice for grades 11 and 12, all embedded in the core curriculum.
Multidisciplinary, Immersive, Experiential Pilot Programs
Much of our programming already embraces and utilizes the described principles and approaches, all of which promote creative literacy—something that is at the very heart of Waldorf education. In addition, we have also launched—or plan to launch—several inspirational programs intentionally taking the objectives to another level.
This year we are piloting The Quest Program, which offers qualified seniors an opportunity to fully immerse and engage, and to develop expertise and mastery, in a self-chosen area of learning. The students chose an area of learning about which they are passionate and they study it and learn through the lenses of the various disciplines of Social Science, Math, Science, and Arts, for example. They study and research independently, and come together with the rest of the group to teach each other what they are learning. Current Quest students have chosen topics such as The History of Personal Trainers, Loki: The Trickster in the Literature of Various Cultures, The Role of a Doula in Childbirth, and Healing Modalities. At this point the students have looked at their individual topics through the Social Science lens, and they have just started to study them through the lens of Mathematics; for example, in the case of the topic of Healing Modalities, the student is studying music therapy, and the role of the mathematical concept of harmonies in the therapy. The full program format includes a comprehensive orientation, periods for question development, research and presentations in various disciplines, and an individual or collaborative endeavor, facilitated and guided by teachers and/or community guides.
Proposed Primitive Skills/Wilderness Survival Right-of-Passage Naturalist Trimester
Next fall we are considering piloting a new version of our existing Naturalist Trimester, a program which is unique to High Mowing. The Primitive Skills/Wilderness Survival Naturalist Trimester, intended for interested juniors and seniors, is being designed and will be taught by a team of six to eight specialist teachers with a broad range of expertise. Our seasoned Naturalist teacher, Keith Badger, describes this trimester experience, in gritty terms, as a “Rite-of-Passage experience within a wilderness setting where the students, by coming to their own inner relationship to questions of higher meaning, and by putting themselves into rituals of attention and respect, bake themselves in the oven, until their whole being is cooked, matured, and transformed." During the trimester the students will experience a range of complementary and supportive content, including Art studies, Geography, including Human Geography and Economics, History, Life Science, Philosophy, Practical Projects, and Social Skills—all integrated into the Right-of-Passage primitive skills intensive. According to Badger, the students will have the opportunity to “develop real transferable skills, especially those learned from manual, practical experiences, toward cognitive development which would truly nourish their body, soul, and spirit as they prepare themselves for their adult human journey”.
Grade 9 Earth Science Long-Block
Next fall we will pilot a new program which has been modelled on a compressed version that took place this fall during the Grade Nine Geology Block. The ninth grade students' orientation and inauguration into high school begins with a four-week integrated, multidisciplinary Earth Science Long-Block, an exploratory program that includes Science, Math, Art, English, and Movement (Eurythmy). This block will be collaboratively taught by a team of five teachers, starting on the orientation trip, and continuing when they return, taking place all day, every day, for the first four weeks of school.
These pilot programs reflect a new approach to delivering the curriculum, perhaps providing a taste of things to come, and paving the way for ease of implementation of a 21st century approach to delivering education at High Mowing School in the future. Ultimately, the teachers will continue to work on the task of redefining the future programs at High Mowing, as they codify what we what we currently do, define what we want a High Mowing graduate to gain from four years here, identify the gaps and overlaps, and then engage in backwards design to create new programs and enriched curriculum.
The Cabin and Non-Violent Communication
The students are also continuously pushing us towards the future, demanding that we truly meet them. Last week The Cabin, a student-run organization whose focus is to promote peace, hosted and led an all-school non-violent communication workshop, an example of this kind of positive push from the student. Adults and students spent the day together, learning how to be better and authentic communicators. There is talk of this push from the students continuing, perhaps even until we have a fully developed social- and personal-skills curriculum that intentionally develops communication, collaboration, conflict resolution, and consent decision-making expertise to augment their success as learners in other areas. What an exciting thought!
This is a snapshot of High Mowing today, not much different in essence than the one described many years ago by our founder, Mrs. Emmet:It lies off the beaten track, but not too far. It is on the top of a hill, but not too high. The mowing slopes to a dark pine woods with the blue hills glimpsed beyond at the edge of sight. (. . .) Not too far, not too high--but high enough for breadth of view and far enough for perspective on a busy world and a frantic struggle to get somewhere. Far enough and high enough to lead to a finding of values and goals, enhanced by the beauty of nature and the swing of the sun, moon and stars over the endless quiet of the hills. A structure founded on the inspiration given by Rudolf Steiner as he built a school for modern youth at Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919. This is High Mowin