Phil Fertey is a believer in Waldorf education.
Fertey previously worked at the Nelson Waldorf School for seven years while his daughter attended. When she aged out, the family moved to Vancouver so she could continue at a Waldorf high school where Fertey also worked.
Eight years later Fertey returned to Nelson to take over as the school’s education director in 2018. He thinks the draw Waldorf had for his family is the same as it is for other parents.
“It’s the sense of deep respect that the teachers have for all the children and the mutual respect that exists between the teachers themselves and the teachers and the students,” said Fertey.
“Just really being able to form those connections with the families and with the students. I think [it’s] that sense of community and deep caring.”
Fertey was cutting cake last Friday as the school, located just outside Nelson city limits on Highway 6, celebrated 100 years of Waldorf education.
The alternative approach to schooling began in 1919 after factory owner Emil Molt approached Rudolf Steiner about creating a school for his worker’s children in Stuttgart, Germany.
As the First World War ended, Molt wanted to educate students in a way that would discourage participation in wars when they grew to adulthood.
“There was a sense that something needs to happen so that there can be a sort of social renewal, so that such a war would never repeat itself,” said Fertey.
Waldorf schools now exist all over the world. In Nelson, a school opened in 1984 before moving to its current campus in 1990 after an anonymous donor gifted 33 acres on the former Silver King ski hill site.
The local Waldorf campus hosts preschool, Kindergarten and Grades 1 to 8 with about 140 grade students and 15-to-17 teachers. Fertey said the school is in the middle of adding an archery range and hopes to install its own beehive next spring.
Although it exists outside the public school system, Fertey said Waldorf education runs parallel to what other schools teach in everything but its pedagogy.
“One of the misconceptions is that it’s an arts school. In fact, arts is a big part of every subject. Art is used when we’re teaching math, chemistry, physics. There’s an artistic element that’s woven in every academic subject.”
When the games and cake were finished, Grade 4 to 7 students left on a bus to participate in the climate change strike.
Social awareness, it turns out, is just as important to Waldorf students now as it was 100 years ago.