By WSNO Enrollment Director Margaret Runyon
I recently had the long-awaited pleasure of interviewing Veronica and Cristina Scurova, the grandmother and mother of Katherine Scurov in Jasmine Kindergarten. When along with Katherine’s father, Stanislav Gherman, the family first visited WSNO two years ago, I was impressed to learn that Veronica was one of the co-founders of the Waldorf School in Moldova, where Cristina and Stan were among the pioneering students. I sat down with Veronica and Cristina over beignets and coffee in City Park. Cristina kindly served as translator.
A former Soviet Republic, Moldova gained its independence in 1991. The country’s peaceful, hospitable culture is a reflection of the landscape - gently rolling hills and fertile plain, nestled between Ukraine to the north and east, and Romania to the south and west. The economy is primarily agricultural, with a strong tradition of organic farming – which Veronica says yields “the very tastiest fruits!” This would include grapes, as Moldova is a major wine producer, and is home to the world’s largest wine cellar. The Moldovan language is nearly indistinguishable from Romanian, and uses the Latin alphabet. Both Russian and Moldovan are spoken, and the country’s schools offer instruction through both languages.
A Look Back
Early in their marriage, with degrees in early childhood education and electrical engineering, respectively, Veronica and her husband (Cristina’s father) were transferred to Ukraine. Cristina and her brother were born in Ukraine, but nine years later the Soviet Union crumbled. Facing economic uncertainty, the family returned to Moldova in 1988, where the agricultural economy ensured that the family would at least be fed.
With the fall of the “Iron Curtain,” Waldorf education was expanding rapidly into Eastern Europe, and the Movement was challenged to meet the growing demand for teachers. In 1989 Veronica, who by that time was a leading early childhood educator in the State system, won a scholarship to study Waldorf pedagogy. She and two colleagues travelled to study at the newly established teacher training center in Bucharest, Romania. Having had no previous experience of Waldorf, Veronica was struck by what she encountered in this new approach, much of which stood in direct contrast to what she and her Moldovan colleagues had been taught. In the Waldorf education, Veronica found what she had been missing in the “traditional” classroom setting. “I realized this is what I was searching for all my life.”
Veronica and her colleagues returned to Moldova with intention to open a Waldorf School in 1991, but they were immediately confronted with the challenge of how to establish a private school. Private education had been unknown in the Soviet bloc, and in an economy struggling to find its footing after the breakup of the USSR, hardly any family could scrape together money for tuition.
The resourceful would-be Waldorf teachers negotiated with the State to open a public Steiner school: Liceul Teoretic Waldorf in Moldova’s capital city, Chișinău. They won approval from the Education Ministry, who gave special dispensation to form a Parent Association within the public school (previously unheard of!) to help support aspects of the Waldorf curriculum that were not publicly funded, like musical instruments. The Parent Association initially collected a small monthly fee, but has grown into a vital fundraising arm of the school, organizing seasonal festivals and bazaars. Parent Association funds now support not only programming in the school, but teacher training and parent education, as well.
To recruit families to the school, the founding teachers advertised an informational conference on Waldorf education, which drew eager parents from all over the city and beyond. At that moment, Veronica says, “It was our good fortune that so many people were ready for something new. Waldorf came to our country when we really needed it.”
In fact, demand outstripped space in the fledging school. “There were so many children, we had to say, ‘No’.” This was difficult, but a waiting list was established; and the school has been full, with a waiting list, ever since.
The Education Ministry offered them use of a beautiful large building with spacious grounds bordered by woodlands; and Liceul Teoretic Waldorf moved there in 1992, with two Kindergartens and two First Grade classes (Cristina was one of those first First Graders!) – over 100 children total. Nearly thirty years later, Liceul Teoretic Waldorf now serves about 600 students – K through Baccalaureate.
Parent education was essential at the beginning, as no one was familiar with Waldorf pedagogy, and programming for parents has remained an important feature of LTW’s culture. Initially, Waldorf “experts” travelled from Germany to work with the parents in Chișinău, but as Veronica’s confidence and experience grew, she soon was leading parent education efforts, as well as training new teachers joining the school.
The success of Liceul Teoretic Waldorf caught the attention of Moldova’s State Education Ministers and Inspectors, who were taken by the “magic” they experienced on official visits. Teachers from other schools also wanted to find out about Waldorf pedagogy, so Veronica found herself offering lectures and workshops to outsiders involved in all levels of education from around the country. Thanks to these efforts, Veronica can proudly claim, “Now everyone in Moldova knows about Waldorf!”
Despite its popularity and national reputation, Liceul Teoretic remains Moldova’s sole Waldorf School. The thriving school has outgrown their building, and the State has given them a 100-year lease on a sports field adjoining the original property, where a new building, housing classrooms, an art studio, and conference hall is under construction.
In addition to training courses onsite, some teachers at Liceul Teoretic Waldorf still travel to attend training in Bucharest or Germany; and there is collaboration and exchange with programs with countries as far away as Denmark.
Being a public school does entail compromises, but Liceul Teoretic has worked to maintain the integrity of its Waldorf program. While the school’s curriculum more closely resembles that of traditional public schools from fourth grade on, LTW students learn two languages, musical instruments, handwork, eurythmy, and Moldovan folk dance. Standardized testing starts in Grade 4, and LTW’s students consistently score well. Grades are required (on a numeric scale of 1-10), starting in Grade 8. Cristina actually remembers this fondly from her own high school days at LTW. “It was like a big competition between students. We all wanted 10. If you got a 9, it was ‘No, I need a 10!’”
Moldovan Waldorf graduates have attended universities all over the world. (A classmate of Cristina’s won a presidential scholarship in medicine.) Alumni have gone on to be leaders in all professions. Veronica is tremendously proud of the school, and declares her love of Waldorf unabashedly: “It was “what she had been searching for all of her life.”
I was interested to hear how this family, so deeply connected to Waldorf education in Moldova, had come to New Orleans.
Stanislav and Cristina met at Liceul Teoretic Waldorf in High School. They went to different universities, after completing their bachelor’s degree they decided to move to United States. They had two children and started a family business together (home-staging for real estate); so, Veronica, still teaching and mentoring fulltime, would come to help over her summer break. Through time, it was clear that Cristina and Stan needed year-round assistance. At that point, Veronica moved to New Orleans to care for her granddaughters.
Though she’s now over 5000 miles away from Chișinău, Veronica still stays in close touch with her colleagues and mentees in Moldova, too, and they rely on her wisdom. (It was interesting to learn that LTW is also grappling with how to open in the midst of pandemic.)
It was truly an honor to spend time with this national leader in Waldorf education, and just as Veronica is proud of Liceul Teoretic Waldorf, we are proud and honored to have the Scurov-Gherman family at Waldorf School of New Orleans.