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The transformative power of Waldorf Education

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The graduates, while Class 8 was singing the School Hymn.

(Being absent from the parents meeting for Toni’s graduation, I was volunteered to give the Parents’ Response. I said these words in the simple and intimate ceremony this morning with the lovely accompaniment of bamboo swaying and birds chirping in the background, and also with parents, teachers and students sniffing from crying because of the raw and heartfelt messages given by the graduates and teachers alike. Let me share it with you here.)

It would be hard to articulate here the experience of the parents of Mayba and Joy because nobody could really fully capture other people’s journey.  So while I will also share what little I know of their experience, I will focus more on what my family has been through and why we believe of the transformative power of Waldorf Education.

We have known about this school for some time, as some of its founders are dear friends even before we moved to Iloilo. But we became really aware of it when we needed it. Our son Toni, then turning 13, was advanced in his studies for two years due to acceleration in preschool because he was already a reader at age two. At 12, he was already showing signs of stress and school fatigue. He just finished third year in high school and would be entering the senior year. I was in a panic of thinking he would be in college at 14, knowing of the rat race in universities these days.

It was actually Toni’s dad who first thought of transferring him to Gamot Cogon. And it was a leap of faith on our part to decide to move to Iloilo for Toni to have a chance at a holistic and healing education, as we know of the Waldorf system being implemented here. Toni’s brothers are already grown up and have jobs. His sister is fiercely independent, and having worked part time as a Waldorf School assistant, knew that we made the right decision. They fully supported our decision, although it would mean that they would be left on their own in Cebu.

And so with only our clothes and (books!), Toni, his dad, and I transferred to Iloilo. Most of you already know the story of Toni’s first few months here, which I wrote about in the newsletter Grassroots. At that time we already saw some changes in Toni that we were happy about. Even if they were his first acts of defiance to an old system that he left, like wearing shorts and slippers to school, not having a haircut, and not combing his hair. This was because in his old ‘international’ school, he had to wear a blazer, necktie, and leather shoes, in which he had to take an elevator to reach his air-conditioned classroom at the 8th floor.

While Mayba and Joy’s parents were shocked seeing the Gamot Cogon campus nestled in the forest when they moved here, we were so happy Toni would be studying in a school in a natural setting, where he could freely run and climb trees.

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Toni with his message of thanks, especially for saving him from graduating from high school at age 14. Photo by Dr. Rudy Palacios Grino.

Toni has always been left-brained, being always better in Science, Math, and Languages. His physical abilities were not as developed, and being cerebral, he shunned sports and the arts. In this school, we saw before our eyes how Toni struggled with handworks and games, while not having any difficulty understanding academic content. His thinking skills were developed so early, that the feeling aspect of his being has been overtaken, and his willing was so badly damaged  that he is still struggling to heal it until now.

On the other hand, Mayba’s and Joy’s parents were seeing changes in their children, both becoming more articulate and confident, having more interest in reading and even engaging matured  and intellectual people.  Joy and Mayba started seeing a limitless future for themselves, their potentialities and capabilities have been opened up for them allowing them to see that they could achieve their dreams, being empowered with the knowledge, skills and  disposition needed.

Toni’s dad and I had a few Parent-Teacher Conferences outside of the regular ones, as proven by the pink slips Ms Anna showed, but that was because we know his teachers cared for his overall development. I do not discount the love and care of Toni’s teachers in his previous school. I know they love him just as much. It’s just that the system they were in did not allow them to express that love in ways that would fully benefit the child.

Our four years here were beautifully memorable. We saw Toni doing better with his hand works, and starting to enjoy sports. He has taken interest in playing the guitar and chose to play classical pieces instead of popular ones. He even started the Music Club here, can you believe that? For his senior project, he worked on electronic music, for which he composed a digital piece without any help from any of us, not even his musician sister. He made better artworks, and had deeper friendships and became a big brother to the younger ones. He has become more relaxed and no longer the grumpy old young man that he was before he started here.

We also saw how Mayba and Joy were improving at that time, and felt proud of all of their achievements, as if they were our daughters too. Mayba’s senior project on Empathy and Joy’s on protecting the environment of her hometown Igbaras opened our eyes to the bright future that these young people will help make happen.

As Joy, Mayba, and Toni were changing before our eyes, we were changing too. As parents we became more engaged, and wanted to be active part of the school community. We volunteered for various tasks. I was once an after-school monitor, and I mentored for a senior project last year, while Toni’s dad taught yoga to students. We attended meetings and study circles, and made friends with teachers, fellow parents, and students themselves.

Toni’s dad joked that we were only paying for Toni’s education, but we were actually being educated ourselves as parents, and for free! We became less controlling and more allowing, less pushing and more enabling. We were unlearning the old ways with which we raised our older children.

We were suddenly part of a larger family who cared for all the children in school, not just for our own to excel and beat all the others. Because Waldorf education is not about competition but cooperation, not about beating others but trying to achieve one’s better self, not about honors and accolades but working to achieve one’s full potentials.

When half of his classmates decided to go straight to college, we never doubted in our minds that we wanted Toni to graduate from here, even if it meant he would graduate with only two others, from a school with no textbooks and exams, no medals and trophies. The small class was not perfect, but they were authentic, and thus it was a perfect journey which made them strong and ready for the future.

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Photo by  Dr Rudy Palacios Grino.

Lastly, we saw and felt the transformative power of Waldorf education in the life of Joy, Mayba, and Toni, and in us as parents, as well as our own little family. For all of these, we thank Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Waldorf system of education, the founders of the Gamot Cogon Waldorf School, all the teachers, fellow parents, and students for being part of the wonderful years spent here. Thank you all.

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Off to college (or gap year) you go, bunso!

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