Diversity at CWS
Educators at the Chicago Waldorf School recognize the value of including a variety of cultures, experiences, opinions and life stories in each classroom. Lessons balance personal experiences with global perspectives to better educate students and prepare them to be active citizens and leaders for the future. In every subject there is an effort to authentically reflect the lived experience of students and to introduce things that are less familiar in a respectful way. This variety is an essential part of educating the whole human being.
In 2013, the Chicago Waldorf School became affiliated with The National SEED Project that is administered from Wellesley College. The project--"SEED" stands for Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity--was founded by renowned scholar Peggy McIntosh (author of Unpacking the White Knapsack); it trains teachers and administrators to facilitate faculty-led diversity and equity work. To date, almost 70% of CWS faculty and staff have been trained in year-long SEED seminars, and as of the fall of 2015 we have begun to offer parent seminars as well.
Chicago Waldorf School is also fortunate to have a wide array of cultures, races, economic backgrounds, religious affiliations, gender identities, and sexual orientations represented in the makeup of our faculty, staff, parents and students. We value this multiplicity in our families and students and we collaborate with diverse communities in Chicago and around the world to enrich our educational and social environment and to actively engage in the city and in the world in which we live.
In the Classroom
Waldorf education began almost 100 years ago in Northern Europe. The Chicago Waldorf School is proud of its position in a large diverse urban setting that allows it to further develop an American curriculum that meets the modern student with rigor, relevance, and cultural awareness. Waldorf education strives to bring students a richer view of the world and a deeper connection to others.
We strongly believe that inclusion of diversity throughout the learning experience strengthens all subject areas. Through the Waldorf method of teaching, students hear stories about heroes and courageous people from around the world. Whether it is building models of the shelters of indigenous people in the 3rd grade, learning phonics through tales from Jamaica, China and Russia, or studying the heroes of recent history—like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.—the curriculum provides our students and families the opportunity to learn about and appreciate contributions from men and women from all cultures and walks of life. Waldorf education is heavily experiential. Our attention to diversity and inclusion is not only experienced in terms of curriculum content, but also in terms of action. Teachers integrate different learning styles into lesson plans, modify physical activities for various body types and are sensitive to the range of abilities in each class. Activity groups always integrate genders, and assumptions are not made about sexual identity. Use of language is approached with sensitivity to respect the private beliefs of students and families present in the school. Classroom decoration and school festivals and events honor and celebrate a diversity of cultural experience and expressions.
Our students also actively engage with the world, with people of other cultures in local and distant geographies through the many collaborative relationships the school maintains with community groups, agencies and programs. This principle of active engagement with the world is developed throughout all the grades and leads to a culmination emphasized in the high school where students have the independence and agency to participate in regularly structured community service projects as well as in cultural immersion field trips, the foreign exchange program and in other projects.
Waldorf schools enjoy a vibrant expression of cultures that includes the full community especially in the many school festivals. These festivals are wide in scope, celebratory of the larger human experience and seek to honor particular cultures. Diversity is celebrated both in the classroom and in the community via festivals such as the May Fair, Christmas plays, Martin Luther King, Jr. Assembly, Day of the Dead, Shabbat, and Earth Day celebrations among others.
Engaging the world and its diversity of ideas, cultures and issues is a powerful tool that helps students develop a greater sense of their purpose in it. Engaged students are more likely to care about people with whom—and comprehend issues with which—they have a personal connection. This yields actively motivated, life-long learners engaged in a culture of participation and action. Many of our alumni continue this pursuit of active collaboration; many undertake work as social activists, leaders and volunteers (both personally and professionally) in advocacy work and in community-based work. Our alumni engage in work, study, and travel outside the U.S. They reflect that their education has given them a respect for difference and has empowered them with the tools to intimately connect with diverse peoples and perspectives to engage in meaningful work in the global community.