A Very Alternative Education

Drive down a dirt track into a peaceful Alpujarran valley amidst orange trees and olive groves and you will find the Órgiva Steiner school project. What began as a few parents coming together to create an alternative school has grown into an exciting and challenging alternative education project. There is a huge positive energy surrounding the project but it has not been without its teething problems. Kim Henry reports.

An ever growing international population of people are moving to the Alpujarras seeking an alternative lifestyle. It was only a matter of time before an alternative school was in demand. Despite many parents feeling strongly about their children integrating with the local community and learning Spanish, it is undeniable that a certain amount of bullying towards ‘foreign’ kids is still an issue within local schools.
These issues led to the creation of the ‘Escuela Libre’ about four years ago. The principle idea was to allow the children free expression and not to tie them to following a national curriculum. Naturally, even within this small group of parents there were many different beliefs and ideas on how best to achieve this vision. A few years and a few teachers later, the majority of parents voted for the school to become a Steiner-Waldorf project and amazingly enough that is exactly what is happening!
The Steiner-Waldorf Educational Movement was established in Germany over 80 years ago by visionary philanthropist Rudolph Steiner. There are now hundreds of schools worldwide. Emphasising spiritual growth as well as academic subjects, Steiner-Waldorf is often considered to be a radical alternative to mainstream education. The Orgiva school has five dedicated teachers who are working together with the parents to transform the ‘Escuela Libre’ into the first Waldorf-Steiner school in Andalucia and only the third in Spain. Not an easy task by anyone’s reckoning – many parents, many different ideas on how things should be done. The school recently underwent two weeks of intensive workshops entitled ‘Leadership, governance and planning for Steiner-Waldorf settings,’ with renowned course leader Jonathan Wolf-Philips. The workshop was designed to lay a foundation by which to effectively run the school.
In the midst of so much accomplishment the main problem seems to be that although parents voted for this change, there is a realisation that not everyone (if anyone?) had a clear picture of what becoming a Steiner school actually meant. Jackie Pearson, a qualified and experienced Steiner teacher now teaching the older children, explained to me: “A Steiner School is by no means a ‘free’ school. It is all about freedom within form but this is something different to being totally free. A Steiner school has a very clear structure which needs to be followed in order for the children to explore themselves and their learning capacities within a safe and ordered space.”
The project has four ‘yurt’ classrooms complete with wood burners, glass windows and lovely wooden floors. There are no plastic toys or concrete football pitches in this playground. Nurturing a natural setting and working with natural materials are integral to a Steiner way of educating. The idea is to develop a respect for oneself and as an extension, to one’s surrounding environment.
The project is in the process of buying the olive grove where the school yurts are currently sited, in order to ensure stability and continuity for the children. Whilst gaining this independence the school has also put itself under an immense amount of financial pressure. Responsibility for the running costs of the school and the purchase of the school land rests entirely with the voluntary association of parents.
The parents and teachers have set themselves a real challenge. “We have many, many things to achieve in order for our school to run smoothly but I have no doubt that we will succeed,” says one mother whose 2 children are new to the school, “ultimately we are all bound by the same thing: the love of our children, and despite some different ideas we are all on the same side.”
The school currently has 54 children from all over the world aged between 3 and 11 and there are many on a waiting list. It is primarily a Spanish speaking school but is without a doubt a culturally diverse project. One teacher is from Holland, one from France, one from Argentina, one from Spain and one from England and the children come from nationally mixed families world wide, including Spain.
If the parents and teachers can work together to meet the challenges, the future of the school is inspiring – a place where children of all nationalities are welcomed and nurtured to discover their uniqueness. 10-year-old Kaiya Bartholomew told me, “I love my school. It’s very beautiful. The teachers give everything a pretty touch.” Now not many kids said that about my school!
 
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