We are celebrating 35 years of Susquehanna Waldorf School this year! In honor of our 35th anniversary, we’re interviewing members of our community to share why they love SWS. Alum Parent, Jon Darby, sat down to talk with us about his time as a parent at SWS.

On Time at SWS…

So we have two children, Elliott and Abram, both of them have been at SWS in various capacities at different times. Abram graduated from 8th grade in 2019. He’s a junior in high school now. 

We were introduced to the school early on when we moved from Maryland back to Pennsylvania. We were looking for schooling options for our kids that weren’t the standard. We came to Susquehanna Waldorf and fell in love immediately. Our first encounter at SWS was parking in the parking lot, getting out of our cars, and literally hearing children singing coming out of the windows. It almost didn’t feel real. My school experience was very different from that. And I was like, “Wow, is this a real thing?” So that was really magical. We walked in here and between the imagery, the colors, the people, the singing, there was really no going back from there.

When our kids started here, my daughter was in kindergarten and my son joined Miss Jackie’s parent/child class. Because my wife was teaching, I was the one who took him to parent/child every week so I felt like I was getting an education in the process. I mean, I don’t think I was, I definitely was. It changed the kind of father I was and it changed my whole parenting style.

We stayed through early childhood and, largely because of finances, we decided to homeschool for a few years. Around the time my son was heading into 5th grade, he was missing that social side of school. He was at SWS in kindergarten and early childhood, so he had these friends he stayed in touch with. So he seamlessly floated back into 5th grade at SWS, already knowing half of the class that he was joining. It was almost like he had never left and it was really an amazing experience. So he was there 5th through 8th and graduated in 8th grade with Ms. McIntyre.

Why Waldorf?

Initially, it was really the heavy emphasis that we saw being placed on music, art, and nature. And the natural rhythms and really focusing on the way children actually develop. I found out that Waldorf was looking at how brain development happens in children. How children will naturally start to read at ages 5-9 and that’s normal. Whereas in a public school, if your child isn’t reading really well by 1st grade, then they’re sectioned off into the slow kid track. It’s not honoring the children. 

Seeing that Waldorf was really putting the emphasis on the natural rhythms of the child, the natural rhythms of the year seasonally, the heavy concentration on nature, there’s art everywhere, obviously, getting out of the car and hearing music, it really felt like a much more holistic system than my personal schooling experience in the public school system.

I saw Waldorf as a structure designed to reconnect, and build relationships with the seasons and the land. It’s the complete antithesis and antidote to what the dominant culture is offering. 

Experience as a Parent at SWS

Miss Jackie was our parent/child teacher and one of my main first introductions to Waldorf. She totally changed the way I parent. I was pretty young. I had good intentions but had never really spent time with small children. So, like everybody, I was modeling and mimicking my own childhood and how I was parented, and despite having wonderful parents, it was very discipline based and that was all I knew. That’s what I was expecting I’d do as a parent and so I was able to see this completely different paradigm in Miss Jackie’s classroom. It’s hard for me to really put it into words, but we were honoring the child but also redirecting the child. Like, when a child is doing something they shouldn’t be doing, rather than yelling “No, don’t do that,” it’s, “Let’s redirect you over here.” The more I began to understand how their little brains work, it made so much more sense.

Not only were the children there but the parents were there and I got to speak to other parents and talk about challenges and what’s working. And it was me, the dad in the room, with 5 other moms and that was a cool dynamic. I was in charge of removing spiders from the room if they showed up. I got to see the emphasis on the handwork and the story time and how the children really reacted to these simple stories with little puppets. It really was an enchanting and magical way to see a child progress.

The one thing that has always struck me. It struck me when my children were young with Miss Linda. It equally struck me with Ms. McIntyre when we went to the parent/teacher conferences, is to have a teacher talk about your child (I get choked up just talking about it) talk about your child and who they are and have it be so accurate. “How does this woman know my child as well as I do?” It was always really stunning to me. Her ability to read the children and understand who they are and what they need and to really see them. Trying to meet them where they were and push them further. For me, that’s been, more than anything else, that’s the thing that’s always hit me the hardest that I can’t talk about without getting choked up. That kind of connection to your children, and I don’t know if that’d be possible without the teacher following them through the schooling years, but at the same time Abram came back in 5th grade and within that same year she was so in tune with our child and it was really amazing. 

I remember when we met with Miss Linda and Abram was in her class for the first time and, I don’t remember exactly how she worded it but, she said she was first and foremost an advocate for our child. And she said it in a way that was almost like, let’s talk but just be clear, I’m not here for you. He comes first. And I’m going to hold that ahead of what you want. That was really amazing too. To really feel that. 

Impacts of Waldorf Education on Children

With Abram, I feel like he came out of Waldorf as a super confident kid and really knowing who he is. Like I’ve never been worried about him with peer pressure and getting into stuff with kids he shouldn’t be because he came out of Waldorf with such a strong sense of self that’s not really shiftable for him, at least not from a peer group. He’s super smart and super deep thinking and I really feel like that has a lot to do with the way that Waldorf educates kids.

It’s funny because he kind of grumbles about Waldorf a bit. “I didn’t get this or that” and I hear other teenagers feel the same way but I also feel like he knows better than that. I feel like he would absolutely not be who he is if he went through the public school system. He has a strong sense of the world and he cares about stuff. He’s a super smart kid and has done extremely well at Lancaster Mennonite. 

The other thing that I think is amazing watching him with his peers is that he’s still connected with all the kids he graduated with from SWS. They all just planned a trip to Philly. They all took the train down and spent the day in Philadelphia. I hardly know anyone I went to high school with. I never made friend connections like that. To see him keeping in touch with those people, how he considers them family, that speaks volumes to me about how the classes are organized and run. I think having the teacher hold the children in reverence, treating each one like an individual, and essentially modeling that behavior, helps them do that for each other. There is no pecking order that gets handed down from above that can happen in other situations. 

I have no doubt he’ll come around in his early 20s and be like “Wow, Waldorf made me who I am and it was amazing.” 

What Makes SWS Special?

First and foremost, the actual human beings that are there doing the work. So many people that we hold in such high regard we know through this school. Not only our friend circles but the teachers, Ms McIntyre, Miss Jackie, Miss Linda, the staff. So many people we’ve encountered and have been along on this journey with us are amazing people. So it’s an amazing community. Probably secondly, is the proximity to the Susquehanna River. Having the kids be able to walk down to the river and really get to know the river. That river to me is super important. Having that as a backdrop to the school is a pretty powerful source of energy and inspiration and love.