"Let me be clear about where Waldorf School of New Orleans stands on the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement," says Head of School Joseph Peychaud. "Not only are we in support of the movement, we are continuing to identify and employ meaningful ways of becoming agents of change."
Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf Education, emphasized the importance of broadening students' world view and stressed the open, multi-cultural ideal that promotes a healthy future. That is why Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have always been part of what we strive for as a school, but we don't always hit the mark. Like many private schools, getting our enrollment to reflect the rich ethnic and cultural tapestry of our city has been a challenge. However, we were making progress. Before being shutdown by the pandemic, WSNO families represented 21 different nationalities, nearly 30% of our students came from families of color, and 18% were African American. The work before us now is to climb to that level again and ultimately surpass it.
We are also working to diversify our faculty and staff because we know how important it is for children to have role models from all walks of life. We want perspectives from different backgrounds so that we can be a better school that truly reaches more children at the deepest levels.
"Discussion is great, but it's important to implement," says Interim Faculty Co-Chair, Librarian Lesley Rubenstein.
Here are all the ways we're working to actively address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Waldorf School of New Orleans.
Mission, Vision, and Values
Our Strategic Planning Committee began working to refresh our mission, vision, and values at the end of last school year. This work helps guide every decision we make. While diversity has long been a priority for us, we are working to envision more specifically what this work means for us as a school and what it looks like in a practical sense.
Last year's Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) conference featured Social Justice, Diversity, and Equity as its theme. All Waldorf schools recognize the need to continue to work on these issues. That's why we at Waldorf School of New Orleans are taking a hard look at the curriculum we bring into our own classrooms.
"Each of us has gone to our own realms, taken new ideas, and implemented them," says Ms. Lesley. "It's in the songs we bring or the biographies, the festivals we celebrate. We want to make sure we're meeting the students with intention."
We have always invited speakers from the community into our classrooms. They represent all walks of life and are experts in their field. They share their knowledge on various subjects, depending on the curriculum that's being covered at a given time.
We also celebrate festivals and holidays in our classroom from around the world, visit Mosques and other culturally significant places, and invite a wide variety of guest speakers to engage with the students.
Grades 7 / 8 Teacher Ms. Nelson was asked to present her original curriculum on Asian History at a national conference for Waldorf Schools.
Ms. Lesley, who founded our library and built it from the ground up, has had her eyes on creating access to diverse materials. She has been asked by Waldorf schools from across the country to share her book lists, which are recognized for their attention to diversity.
"The reason why I've always been adamant that we diversify the [library] is because I want for everyone to see themselves in the books. But I also think it's important for children to see other cultures and ways of living. It is important for the entire community."
Last year our faculty focused on Gender Equity as a focus of study. This year, they have partnered with Equity and Diversity Expert Camille Hazeur, who will lead them through a yearlong study of Social Justice. "Ms. Hazeur began working with issues of equity early in her professional career after observing how race, class, gender, ethnicity and other issues of difference affected teaching and learning. Inspired by her interest in helping people negotiate differences, she applied for and won an award from the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to develop A CHANGE MODEL©, a long-term group facilitation program that provides faculty, staff and/or students with the opportunity to confront problems and forge solutions inherent in diverse communities."
The Pathways Project
We are working to develop Pathways as a means of diversifying faculty and staff from within our school. This program aims to remove one of the biggest barriers to hiring people of color in our Waldorf school: Exposure. By creating a path of mentorship and support, we are facilitating a way for interested educators to learn and absorb Waldorf Education firsthand, putting them on track to lead a classroom of their own.
We work to make Waldorf Education accessible to as many families as possible. That's why, as a part of delivering our mission, we offer a robust tuition assistance program. At Waldorf School of New Orleans, 40% of students receive some form of tuition assistance or scholarship. During the pandemic, we've created a tuition relief fund designed to support families so that we can continue to work with their children.
St Rose Scholarship Program
We created the St. Rose Scholarship program specifically help diversify our student body as well as reach out to families in our new Mid City neighborhood. So far, three students from the Seventh War/ Treme-Lafitte neighborhoods have joined our school as St. Rose Scholars.
Moving our Main Campus to the Seventh Ward, along Bayou Road, has provided both the space and location for us to more readily connect with more families of color.
Outreach: Partnering With Our Neighbors & the Community
We have reached out to, attended meetings and, in some instances, joined Associations for the surrounding neighborhoods: Esplanade Ridge Treme, Historic Faubourg Treme, Desaix, Fairgrounds, Faubourg St John, Gentilly. We are also a charter member of the Bayou Rd Business Association.
We work to have a regular presence at fairs and festivals including Urban League School Expo, Treme Fest, Palmer Park Arts Market, Parenting Center School Fair, and Zoo-to-Do Kids
We have reached out to Childcare Centers in our Neighborhood, in hopes of establishing referral relationships including visits to Wilcox Academy and Rainbow Academy.
If you have ideas for how we can broaden our work with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, please reach out to Interim Grades Chair Lesley Rubenstein. We love hearing new ideas.