On the Threshold: A parent’s thoughts on the 8th grade transition

Grade 8 in Grade 1


Grade 8 Class Photo

Written by Karin, parent of children in Grades 1, 4, & 8:

Many people at the school have waited with bated breath for the 8th grade parents to report back on the results of our high school searches this fall. Now that most of the acceptances are in, I can happily report that this class did very well out there. The 8th graders were accepted at a variety of schools, including their first choices. The schools ranged from magnet schools to Catholic schools to college prep schools. In talking with the other 8th grade parents, we still feel that we are in the middle of the process. We have to sort out finances and decide which schools among our options are the best fits for our children. It has been a fascinating and eye-opening process. And I freely admit that I found the high school flow chart so graciously provided by the Riverfront Times to be a helpful reference. I now understand more fully the ramifications of that well-known St. Louis question of where you went to high school.

As I set out on the process of finding a high school for my son, I encountered both the expected and the unexpected. As expected, many admissions directors had not heard of Waldorf Education. We parents went out into the unknown, both as advocates for our children and also for the school, not knowing how we would be received. We learned many lessons along the way, including timelines and requirements that we have fed back to the school. At the beginning, I was a bit nervous and thought I would have to sell the high schools on my child. What I found as I began to have conversations with the admissions directors was that most were very open to what our kids have learned. Their eyes lit up when you talked about multiple foreign languages, violin and other instruments, and other standard Waldorf school activities. Many of us brought along main lesson books to the schools. The admissions directors who took the time to look at them were often blown away. We got reactions from “why are you even here?” at a magnet school to astonishment and excitement at the artistry and depth of what they could show, and that didn’t even include what the class has been learning this year. At one school, the admissions director asked if he could share my son’s books with the director of curriculum. Both felt that he would do well there and be an asset at that school. We heard wonderful things about our children along the way. All of these things confirmed the power of the Waldorf curriculum. It was heady and exciting, and it left me feeling very confident in the kids’ ability to transition from our school to a more traditional high school.

Although the successes are exciting, they are just one small part of a much larger story. It is no accident that these kids did well, and it is a testament, not just to the kids and their teachers, but also to the hard work on the part of many people, especially their parents. And it wasn’t an easy journey. We encountered the death of our first teacher, excessive teasing, bullying, difficult family situations and learning disabilities, just to name a few. We didn’t get to experience the ideal of one teacher through 8 years. In fact, we had three different teachers, each one of whom brought marvelous gifts to the class. I am immensely grateful to Bryan Wessling, John Wilder and Steve Jent for shepherding these children over the 8 years, not to mention the many specialty teachers and volunteers. Along the way, the class parents came together as a cohesive group. To handle teasing and bullying, we worked hand-in-hand with the teacher, recognizing that this is a community problem. When we had parents who couldn’t make it to parent meetings at the school, we moved the meetings to their houses, so that everyone could be included. We committed, as a group, to this journey. That commitment required that we learn to be open and vulnerable to each other, to listen carefully and lovingly, to trust that we would be heard, even when the topics were difficult or scary. This took courage. We also found that if we parents could talk to one another openly about issues happening with and between the kids, we often shifted social dynamics in the class, just by that action alone. We would periodically check in with one another to see where we were. Were we still in this for the long haul? Did we have specific concerns? What could we do to make sure this happened for our children? Where could we bring our energies to make it work?

As I look back over the years, I am filled with both joy and sadness. It has been extraordinary, and I am already mourning the end of this era with these children and this group of parents, who have come to mean so much to me. It is a great gift to know that you have a group of people that will listen and support you through thick and thin, with whom you have built a high level of trust, to whom you can bring your concerns or confessions. The 8th graders are ready to go out into this new world. They are chomping at the bit to experience what high school has to offer. As close as they are as a group, it looks like they will all attend different high schools. They have the confidence to move out into that world, joyfully and freely. I, however, will need time to adjust to this new adventure.  For those of you looking at or already involved in the grades program at the school, I can only wish that you get to experience that same kind of closeness and the same sense of satisfaction at the end. I can’t promise that the road will be easy, but I can tell you that it is worth it.