Charting a course to creativity, self-knowledge | September 13, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 13, 2013

Charting a course to creativity, self-knowledge

Waldorf School of the Peninsula marks 30 years with documentary film

by Chris Kenrick

Blazing an educational path with tools like wooden toys, modeling wax and gathered leaves rather than classroom Smartboards, the Waldorf School of the Peninsula kicks off its 30th anniversary celebrations this fall.

The school, one of more than 1,000 worldwide based on the humanistic educational philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, has grown to a pre-K-12 enrollment of 312 students, but it's been a long ride.

Launched in Redwood City in 1984, Waldorf School of the Peninsula had six different homes in its early years — including, briefly, in Palo Alto.

It's now comfortably settled in Los Altos with a long-term lease on its K-8 campus and low-cost option to buy.

A high school, which graduated its first student — one girl — in 2010, is six miles away in Mountain View. The high school has grown to 64 students and amassed a respectable list of college acceptances.

For parents like Mary Jane DiPiero, who was seeking creative alternatives to the traditional classroom, Waldorf "seemed just what I'd been looking for."

DePiero, whose daughter was in first grade the year the school opened, has maintained ties to the school through its history as a founding parent and later a teacher and administrator.

"For the first years there was no track record, no personal experience about whether it really worked or not," she recalled in an interview.

"Now we have a lovely track record. What we say about a child who graduates is that they have a sense of who they are as human beings, that they have a real interest in learning and that they are courageous about trying new things because they're used to doing all sorts of things.

"They know they can do art, science, sports — they're adventurous."

Waldorf families will celebrate the school's 30-year track record Sept. 20 with a public showing of "Preparing for Life," a documentary about the school.

"A lot of people have this idea that Waldorf is not very strong in math and sciences," a physics teacher said in the film, going on to dispute the notion.

That concern also was addressed in a 2011 front-page New York Times article highlighting the apparent contradiction of Silicon Valley executives sending their kids to a school that discourages the use of computers among children.

"There were people at first who felt like they couldn't quite be pure enough at Waldorf, and that's true, because technology early on (in elementary years) is really discouraged still," DiPiero said.

But, she said, Steiner did not prescribe a rigid curriculum, rather encouraging people to "look at the time you're living in, the place you're living in and the student you see in front of you and make your curriculum accordingly."

In the case of Silicon Valley, she said, "If you think about the children who are in front of you and the time and place, our place included technology big time, so you couldn't really build a little enclave where it didn't happen.

"But there's a real priority in nourishing creativity and the idea that you can do it on your own, in your own way and in your own head rather than having to have a computer or television set fill you up. You can motivate yourself, be imaginative with your own resources."

Though technology is kept out of elementary school classrooms, Waldorf parents struggle, like others, over television, iPhones and the like.

"There's an ethic in the school that it's discouraged, but our school has never been rigid in that sense," DiPiero said.

In the recent launch of its high school, Waldorf consulted with Stanford University senior lecturer Denise Clark Pope to find a "meaningful evaluation system that didn't focus on grades."

The high school adopted a grading system because of college admissions, "but we really de-emphasized (grades) and went to a lot of trouble that they didn't see their grades at the beginning, and then only upon request when they got ready to apply to colleges," DiPiero said.

"It was elaborate how we tried to give grades but not emphasize the grades. I think it's turned out to work. We've had three graduating classes and even when we've emphasized the need to follow your own path, they see they can get into great schools.

"Even if you don't go to Smith — I'm not going to say Harvard because we haven't had anybody go to Harvard yet — your values are in the right place."

Waldorf School of the Peninsula will hold a public showing of the documentary "Preparing for Life" at its anniversary celebration on Friday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. in Smithwick Auditorium at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Janet Dunwoody
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2013 at 3:07 pm

My son went to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula in middle school and he just graduated from Harvard Law School - so we may check the Harvard box somewhat I think!

Like this comment
Posted by Gary Gechlik
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 15, 2013 at 8:53 am

Waldorf does a great job. They have a philosophy and a set of ethical principles. They hold sincere artistic expression to be of high value. Steiner was a brilliant architect, and Waldorf contributes to the diversity of educaton.

Like this comment
Posted by Katharina Woodman
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Before WSP had their own high school, graduates from the 8th grade there attended a number of elite colleges, including Stanford, Pomona, Brown, UCSD.

Like this comment
Posted by teachermom
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Who needs scripted teaching that produces robots? Thank goodness for schools like Waldorf. I would make a mint right now if I opened up a Humanities charter school. Teachers like myself are tired of scripted teaching to textbooks or for testing companies - AP College Board, CAHSEE, STAR,...Two of my great teaching friends have jumped ship ten years early due to the meetings, standards that change every few years, the dull, mandated script. Teachers having little say in curriculum. Common Core allows only 75% fiction. Informational texts rule the day. I have had it with Dr. Denise Pope too. Is she the only authority? Why is she always paraded out? I guess Dr. Pope must be the pope since no one else in CA education is every quoted as an authority. Public education in CA was so much better and freer than when I got my credential over 20 years ago. Teachers had a say, could be creative, and pass it on to your kid.

Like this comment
Posted by College Terrace Mom
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 23, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Our daughter went to The Waldorf School of the Peninsula and graduated from the high school. We are very pleased with her experience, which is serving her well at college in Boston.

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