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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Does anyone have any children attending this school?
We visited yesterday and it was very strange. We love the democratic school philosophy but maybe it's a whole different ball game when put into practice. There were some great children sewing, cooking, working on computers, watching movies, quietly eating lunch and just otherwise keeping themselves busy. For the most part, the chidren were impressive.

But I decided that the school isn't a good fit for my son. And it's only because of three children? Is that fair? Should I not be judging the school based on the behavior of a few children? Or do all children reflect upon the school?

Here's what happened. We arrived and met a few staff members and then sat down to talk to Stephanie. Her 4 year old son Nicky came over and dove into her lap to nurse. Then he saw that Nadia was playing with a toy that belonged to him. He stood over her and announced MINE. She offered to play with him. He didn't want to. So his mother suggested he put his toy in the office so others would know not to play with it.
While he was in the office, Stephanie pulled out some legos for the kids. Nadia and Skanda got really involved in playing and made little trains with animals and all sorts of things. Skanda got up for a minute to walk around the room.
When he came back, Nicky and two other boys were there. They picked up some of the things he had constructed and began to disassemble them. They even started throwing legos around the room. These are students of the school ages 4,5,6. Skanda asserted himself and said he was using those and he needed them. The boys argued with him and said they wanted them and the pieces he used went to something else and they were going to put them there. Skanda started raising his voice saying "But I was building with those and I still need to use them!" Stephanie looked over and asked the boys if they needed help. I thought that was a strange response since all the boys were having an issue, not just the three students. And it seemed to me that the three students were ganging up on my son. Offering to help them without offering to help the situation made it seem like she was validating the boys behavior. Skanda finally just grabbed the legos back and the boys left.
Later, the kids all went to play outside. Dimitrius and I were standing in the foyer talking to a different staff member while Skanda was playing with the three boys from earlier. Dimitrius happened to glance outside and see them playing in this tire structure. Skanda climbed under a tire and Nicky climbed over. His foot dangled in Skanda's face so Skanda swatted it out of the way. When he climbed out, Nicky ran up to him and let out a stream of cussing and tried to punch him. Skanda ran away but Nicky chased him and grabbed his shirt and just started punching him in the head and face (this part, I saw). No staff members of the school saw it.
Skanda came crying over to us and the other two boys had this scared look on their faces and kept saying "I didn't do it!" Dimitrius told them he knew they didn't and gave Skanda a hug and told him that he was sorry the boy hurt him. The staff member we were talking to asked what happened and we said Nicky punched Skanda in the face and head. Her response was "Ohhhh it was Nicky." As if they have this problem with him often. She peeked out and yelled out a general "Don't forget the rules boys" to everyone and Nicky sort of skulked behind the tire structure for a while.

Stephanie came over to us and tried wrapping up the visit (she was completely unaware of what transpired on the playground with her son) by letting me know that my kids left a mess of the legos and asking that I clean it up before I leave. Even THAT rubbed me the wrong way because 1. my kids weren't the only ones who made a mess of the legos 2. earlier, we had discussed how the children are responsible for cleaning up their own messes and 3. I was most certainly not planning to leave without cleaning up after myself and my family - my diaper bag, baby car seat and other things were still sitting on the floor next to the legos.

I went back into the room with the legos and started picking them up. Stephanie was sitting on the couch and Nicky came up to her and told her that Skanda had pushed him and he wanted Skanda to be written up for it. Stephanie just patted his head and told him not to worry because Skanda didn't know the rules yet. I felt like butting in and saying "And you DO know the rules, Nicky. So YOU should be written up for punching a visitor in the face." But of course I didn't say anything since it's not my school. I just felt like she was placating him and trying to make him feel better for being pushed rather than standing back and just listening without judging the situation (since she had no idea what happened and neither did any of the staff since they don't seem to pay attention to much of anything.)

Back to the playground on our way out. This big teenager is walking around cussing at all these little kids. This one boy is reminding him that you're not supposed to cuss around little ones. And this other boy (one of the three who were playing with Skanda) is walking around with a gun made out of legos and telling people he's shooting them in the head and they're dead.

Would you send your kid there? http://www.clearwaterschool.com/
 

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I don't know anything about the school and my dd's only 2.5 but from what you described, no, I would not send her there. If I observed these things upon visiting a school for a first time, I don't think I'd go back. The little tiffs over toys are one thing, your son getting punched is a whole other story. I would want to be assured that my child would be physically safe at school, especially one I was PAYING for. Maybe my view of how a school "should" be is a bit naive but all that you've described would bother me enough not to place my child in that school.

Best of luck with your decision.

Jill
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
They assured me that physical harm was never allowed and the procedure was to write up those who did it and then they would have a meeting and discuss it and the children would make agreements. But the problem was that no one saw it but us.

The violence bothered me but it was more the schools' response that bothered me more. I've been to playgroups where kids get in fights. I used to get in fights when I was a child. So it happens. But I also don't want my son to be victimized
 

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I am a teacher and have worked in both private and public schools, in alternative and conservative settings. What you described is out of control. Stephanie is letting her child act very badly and it will only get worse as he gets older. Perhaps she knows this and wants him in an alternative setting so that he will not have to deal with as many rules. I have experienced parents who put their children in alternative settings when they perceive a threat in the more conservative schools. They want to avoid having to make any decisions that might hurt their child's feelings, like holding them responsible for their actions. Of course, most private and alternative school parents are not like this, but there are a few.

I would not only not send my children to this school but I would call the administrator and tell him/her what happened with Stephanie and Nicky and tell them why you are not sending your children there. Or, write a letter. They need to know that Stephanie and her child are creating issues. There is a huge difference between making responsible choices and irresponsible ones and every child needs to learn this.

By the way, have you looked into the Seattle Waldorf School? It is right near Clearwater, in the hills above Meadowbrook playground. I've heard good things about them and have been to that playground with dd and seen their kindergarten teachers in action. They seem very loving and the kids well behaved and happy. My dd's only two but I am considering Seattle Waldorf for her when she gets to be K age.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thanks for the letter suggestion, Kathy. I think that is a good one. We were about 80% sure we wanted to enroll our son in that school before we visited it. So I wasn't sure if my reaction to a playground tiff was overblown or not.

I actually was hoping to find a school closer to where I live. I'm in the north end of SeaTac. There is a school in West Seattle that I was interested in finding more about but I forget the name of it. They have play days on Saturday for toddlers so I'm going to try to start attending them to get a feel for the school.

When I lived in Hawaii, I took my little ones to a playgroup at the Waldorf school which was run by one of the school's teachers. I really liked it. I wasn't totally happy with the dogmatic way some of the staff were into the school, but that's a personal issue and not really an education issue. I liked the school and the way things were done there, just didn't like the cliquish and almost religious attitude of some of the people. I felt that it wasn't open to different personalities enough and that's why we were more drawn to the Sudbury model. But it seems the Sudbury model allows for personalities who are harmful to dominate the atmosphere. Or maybe that's just the way that THIS school applied the model.

We are looking to buy a house this summer so maybe we'll move based on which school we choose.
 

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Thank you so much for posting about this. I will *stop* mentioning that school to people I know looking for a child-led environment.

I have drooled over that school for a long time, but from what you describe I would NOT let my kids go there (we can't afford it, so have never checked it out). Now I feel better.

I'm sorry it went so badly and poor Skanda!
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Well, I didn't really mean to turn people off of the school. I was wondering how this fits into the scheme of the school or if it was just an unfortunate incident that none of the staff were around at the time. You know, hoping there was some sort of excuse or explanation and this was some sort of freaky isolated incident. I would worry about my child being hurt and picked on constantly because he couldn't figure out how to stop them on his own. Four is kind of young to be all on your own in the world


But then again, there was another family looking at the school and the boy was 9 and he was having a great time and I bet he'll do really well in the school.

Editing to add that we can't afford it either. We were getting the grandparents to pay. :LOL
 

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hi there everyone. I've come late to the discussion, so I'm hoping you'll still check in and see a different perspective. My dd and I spent most Fridays at Clearwater the first year they did preschool playdays. It was definitely an eye-opening experience. The preschool playdays have changed now because everyone there decided it was pretty disruptive to have visitors every Friday. Which I understand, but I think that you get a much different impression after being there for weeks at a time instead of just one visit.

So, my experience with Clearwater...upfront I will say that I loved it there, and so did my daughter. We will be moving back to Seattle in the fall and plan on sending her for a visiting week to see if it is still a good fit, since the last time we were there was when she was 3 (she is now 6 and her younger brother is almost 3!). We moved for my dh's job before she could attend.

One of my biggest concerns was similar to yours, kavamamakava. My daughter is often the one who will concede in a fight. I was worried that she would be walked on or bullied. And any sudbury school staff member is not going to interfere unless the children request it. But after watching a lot of conflict resolution in action there, I feel like it is the best place ever for a child being really heard. (also you can check out this article, starting on the first page, written by Stephanie: http://www.clearwaterschool.com/scho.../Bull_1004.pdf)

Quote:
I was wondering how this fits into the scheme of the school or if it was just an unfortunate incident that none of the staff were around at the time. You know, hoping there was some sort of excuse or explanation and this was some sort of freaky isolated incident. I would worry about my child being hurt and picked on constantly because he couldn't figure out how to stop them on his own. Four is kind of young to be all on your own in the world
I believe that if you had said something to the staff about the problem they would have discussed it and helped resolve the situation. I'm not sure what happened with the other staff member that you were talking about:

Quote:
The staff member we were talking to asked what happened and we said Nicky punched Skanda in the face and head. Her response was "Ohhhh it was Nicky." As if they have this problem with him often. She peeked out and yelled out a general "Don't forget the rules boys" to everyone and Nicky sort of skulked behind the tire structure for a while.
I think you might be jumping the gun a bit to say that they have a problem with Nicky often. I think that if you had questioned her you might have clarified this.

I'm actually getting kind of frustrated with myself trying to figure out how to respond.
Any Sudbury model school is very different from anything "normal". It is a true democracy. Which means that each person is heard, but first they have to speak up. That can take some getting used to. I got to know several staff members fairly well, and I feel I can say that they truly do their best to not make any assumptions. So, while it may seem obvious to you that Skanda was being picked on, without any of you saying something they are not going to intervene. And when they do intervene they are not going to instantly provide a solution, they are going to facilitate the children coming up with a solution. You said:

Quote:
They assured me that physical harm was never allowed and the procedure was to write up those who did it and then they would have a meeting and discuss it and the children would make agreements. But the problem was that no one saw it but us.

The violence bothered me but it was more the schools' response that bothered me more. I've been to playgroups where kids get in fights. I used to get in fights when I was a child. So it happens. But I also don't want my son to be victimized
I am confident that if Skanda was there for a while (a day? two?) he would speak up for himself. Sometimes when your parents are around you assume that they will fix things, especially if that is usually the case. When you are in a fight and your parents aren't there, when you see that other kids are being listened to by someone, you will want your side to be heard too.

As for the Lego clean-up, I think that they are sensitive to that because clean up is one of the main frustrations at a freeschool. I remember having conversations about it while I was there....no one (in life!) ever wants to clean up their messes, and the kids can get pretty creative in finding ways to avoid it.
Since no one there really knows you, she probably was just making sure that you remembered to clean up, I don't think it was meant as a character slight.

It is hard to wrap your head around how things work there, it took me several visits to grok it. I think the hardest thing for Clearwater/Sudbury parents to do is really truly trust their kids. You have to commit to them doing things on their own and in their own time. I know that that will be my dh's and my own most difficult problem with sending our kids to Clearwater. I recommend reading the school newsletters on the Clearwater site, reading some of the books written by the Sudbury Valley School (I got most of them from the Seattle public library), and most importantly, talking with Stephanie and some other staff members at the school, even getting the phone numbers/emails of other parents to talk to. I don't think you should write an upset letter, I think you should write a letter/email that starts a dialogue. I've never had any staff member at the school turn down a discussion. Clearwater might not be the prettiest school, but it is the most genuine, imo.

Anyhow, I'd be happy to talk more about it if you would like, either here or via pm's.
Good luck with your school search! Oh, and the school in West Seattle might have been The Community School. You should also check out The Attic (in Woodinville, maybe too far away), The Little School (think in Bellevue), and there are some good public charter schools around Seattle, too. I don't personally care for Waldorf schools, for the reasons you stated about the playgroup you attended, in addition to the fact that they have a set plan for how the kids will develop. I am a much bigger fan of following your own path through life. That said, I do have a friend who sends her son to Waldorf in Seattle and she seems fine with it (if you would like I can ask if she would email with you). Take care!

namaste,
cloudspinning
 

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I just had to drop in when I saw The Little School mentioned. I attended the school as a child and it was absolutely wonderful!!! I am sure much has changed and have no clue how much it costs, but my experiences there were fabulous
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Just the person I was hoping would see my thread, cloudspinning. I know that a democratic school is a complete paradigm shift from what most people think of as "school". That's why I was hoping to have a discussion or dialogue with others who know about this type of school.
I was thinking of emailing the school as a way of opening dialogue and learning more about the school. I could tell the kids were a bit weirded out by having visitors. Maybe I would need to visit a few more times to get an idea of things. It just really seemed that Nicky was being territorial and mean. I was told that bullying type of behavior and other negative things that are against the rules don't go unchecked because others in the community won't put up with them. But I didn't really see anyone objecting to the behavior going on.
 
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