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Group proposes charter school that would use Waldorf approach

The Waldorf approach to education has long been seen as an alternative to the high-stakes tests that have become increasingly prominent in public schools.

For years, the Waldorf approach has largely been confined to private schools. But over the past decade, a growing number of traditional public and charter schools across the country have begun adopting the Waldorf approach.

That trend is reaching Buffalo, where a group of parents, educators and others are hoping to start a Waldorf-inspired charter school that they have named the Wisteria Charter School.

As part of the charter application process, the founders are required to hold public meetings to provide information and seek input.

The public meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. today in the Niagara Branch Library, 280 Porter Ave.; 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Merriweather Library, 1324 Jefferson Ave.; 5:30 p.m. Friday in Allen Hall on the University at Buffalo's South Campus; and 4 p.m. Saturday in the Crane Branch Library, 633 Elmwood Ave.

Waldorf schools emphasize educating the "whole child," incorporating the arts into every school day and allowing children to develop academically at a slower pace than in many schools. Reading instruction is generally delayed in comparison with traditional schools, while children are encouraged to do plenty of imaginative play.

The schools integrate outdoor experiences and emphasize respect for nature. Hands-on work is central to lessons. Children learn math skills as they learn to knit, for instance.

"It's all about not teaching to a test but rather having students understand the thought process, making connections between the world around them," said one of the founders, Allita Steward.

"Public schools have been synonymous with testing," said another founder, a career educator. "That has become the problem with education. Where do we draw the line? What is our goal? Is our goal to help create students who can work positively and feel affirmed on a regular basis and feel they have something to contribute to life, or is our goal to have students pass the test?

"What's inspiring about Waldorf education is that the focus is on the child -- the child is the curriculum."

If they get state approval for a charter, the founders hope to open their doors in September 2012 for children in kindergarten and the first few elementary grades. They are still working out details of their plans, Steward said, and have not yet identified a location for the school.

The founders say they are confident they will be able to incorporate much of the Waldorf approach while still meeting the state and federal standards that are measured through assessments.

"Tests won't be an issue. Our students will be logical and critical enough thinkers that they could ace a test," Steward said. "It just really doesn't foster any critical-thinking skills when you're teaching to some almighty test instead of dealing with people."

More information about plans for the proposed school is available at www.wisteriacharterschool.org.

e-mail: mpasciak@buffnews.com

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