Charter school opens at former Whittier site

       Preparing to start its first year Aug. 19, Mountain Song Community School moved into the former Whittier school this month.

Leading Mountain Song Community School students in straw-bale planting are agriculture instructors Jeremy Tackett (far left) and Angelita Surage (right). Parent Greg Santisteven (far right) has just arrived with sons Noah, 7, and Tayo, 5.
Westside Pioneer photo

       It's already giving a new look to the old campus at 2904 W. Kiowa St, with a henhouse and garden in what used to be an overflow parking lot in the northwest corner.
       The overflow now can be seen in the District 11 K-6 charter school's enrollment, which will start the 2013-14 school year with about 200 students and waiting lists for grades 2-5, according to its director, Neah Douglas.
       Asked about this enrollment success, Douglas said it's because her school is a “unique offering that fills a niche” in local education. “It's what people have wanted for a a long time. It's quite a contrast to local schools ”
       The school uses the Waldorf style of teaching, which was first developed around 1920. The Waldorf intent “wasn't to inculcate in children any particular viewpoint or ideology, but rather to make them so healthy, strong, and inwardly free that they would become a kind of tonic for society as a whole,” the Mountain Song website states.
       Parents are encouraged to participate in their children's endeavors, especially in the younger years, and an emphasis is placed on how students relate to teachers, fellow students and what's being studied.

With the 112-year-old Whittier school building in the background, the developing agricultural setting of the site's new Mountain Song Community School takes shape - with the help of staff, parents and students - in a former campus parking lot. The circular area in the foreground is being dug out to create a goat grazing area.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Mountain Song has about 20 teachers, including those teaching grade levels, assistants and specialists in certain areas.
       Homeschoolers are also welcome, Douglas said. A program is offered once a week in grades 1-6.
       A feature of Waldorf is disdaining computers in the early grades. “If you put a young child in front of a computer screen, it's isolating the experience,” said Douglas, who has worked with the discipline in other communities for more than 10 years. She shared a news article showing that executives with Silicon Valley companies even send their kids to Waldorf schools.
       In keeping with Waldorf principles, agriculture will be a major Mountain Song focus. The school's website lists “agriculture arts” as a discipline in which all grades will participate.
       The agricultural instructor, Jeremy Tackett, is already on the job. Since Mountain Song's lease with District 11 started July 1, he has built a henhouse - nine chickens now laying six to seven eggs a day - and begun setting up the garden, which includes growing plants in straw bales infused with nutrients. Goats will also become part of the scene.
       “We're turning a parking lot into paradise,” summed up Tackett, who is aided by Angelita Surage, also the school's Spanish teacher.
       An informal event July 19 attracted a couple of dozen students and parents to the garden. They helped plant seedlings in the bales. During the school year, the kids will also be doing such chores as cleaning the henhouse, gathering the eggs and raking leaves for goat bedding, Tackett said.
       One of the parents, Greg Santisteven, brought his two sons, Noah, 7 (who will be in second grade), and Tayo, 5, who will be in kindergarten. They formerly attended the Ruth Washburn School, a Westside preschool that also emphasizes parent involvement.
       Since Washburn, Noah has been at Howbert Elementary. Santisteven said he has “nothing bad to say about Howbert, a traditional D-11 elementary in Pleasant Valley. He just prefers Mountain Song. “I felt that more life skills were needed,” he said. Overall, his impression is that the new charter has “a lot of heart,” he said. “It makes us want to be part of it.”
       Upcoming at Mountain Song will be an open house Sunday, Aug. 11 from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. The public is invited.

Westside Pioneer article