The Sycamore School in Malibu, Opening September 2015

Sycamore School Logo 

THE SYCAMORE SCHOOL SET TO OPEN SEPTEMBER 2015 IN MALIBU

 Revolutionary Independent Elementary School Starts with 20 Students Ages 6-8

 

The Sycamore School, an independent elementary school featuring a curriculum rooted in collaboration, innovation, and learning through play and creativity, opens in Malibu on September 1, 2015 for 20 children ages 6-8. Sycamore is the realization of Los Angeles-based Catalyst Education’s vision and philosophy. Catalyst was formed with the belief that education can look different and a desire to change the discussion about what learning can be. Its three founders, Tedd Wakeman, AJ Webster and Christy Durham, comprise the leadership team at Sycamore and bring their distinctive approach to learning and their extensive experience to their roles as its founding teachers and administrators.

 

“We are very excited to bring an alternative option for elementary education to Malibu families,” said Tedd Wakeman, Sycamore School. “The world we live in now demands a different approach to education. Students need a learning experience that is continuous, future-focused and engagement based. We’re giving them just that on this beautiful campus.” Sycamore is located on 3504 Las Flores Canyon Road, in the area formerly occupied by New Roads Middle School. Two school buildings, filled with natural light, are surrounded by trees, grass and green flora, which also serve as learning spaces. On campus, there’s an idea lab, maker space, adventure room (with a soaring ceiling and mobile furniture so kids can create their own learning environment), tinker zone, greenhouse, kitchen, reading nook/game room, sports court and the school office. Beginning mid-April, the campus is undergoing renovations to prepare for opening in September.

 

Student Experience

The student experience at Sycamore features 10 tenets: reading and writing, social emotional learning, enriched learning, technology, field trips, play, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math), unique learning spaces, making, and environmental stewardship. At a family open house held at Sycamore on March 21, the dynamic leadership team led prospective students in fun games demonstrating these tenets in action. A fast-paced game called “Haystacks” in the adventure room encouraged mathematical thinking, developing numeracy, social dynamics, systems thinking and problem solving. A second game outdoors demonstrated how Sycamore utilizes its outside spaces for learning – in this game, to build literacy, pre-literacy and teamwork. A third project-based maker activity had the kids building a theme park without even realizing they were developing skills in creative thinking, design, physics, problem solving, materials science, mathematical thinking, individualized student instruction or failure redesigned as iteration.

 

Sycamore School’s Leadership Team

Research shows that schools do better when educators are collaborative. To that end, Sycamore does not have a principal, per se. Instead, the three-member leadership team shares teaching and decision-making responsibilities and each governs a particular sphere of influence. AJ Webster oversees curriculum; Christy Durham, logistics and operations; Tedd Wakeman, community and outreach.

  • AJ Webster has more than 15 years of classroom experience teaching science, Latin, language arts, math and social science at schools including Buckley in Sherman Oaks and the PlayMaker program at New Roads in Santa Monica. He holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He embraces the Maker Movement, in which students design, construct and “think with their hands.” Webster has conducted workshops for the national Game Learning Society and was the keynote speaker for the 2014 Milken Playful Learning Summit. His work with PlayMaker was featured on PBS NewsHour.
  • Christy Durham has more than 15 years of elementary and middle school teaching experience. She holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies and was a sixth grade teacher at Buckley, where she orchestrated an outdoor educational program and created a diversity initiative round table for the faculty. In 2011 she was awarded the Buckley School’s Parents’ Association Award, which allowed her to study in Peru. She received the National Junior Honor Society Teacher of the Year Award in 2012. Durham left Buckley in 2012 to teach fourth and fifth grade at Los Encinos School in Encino, which embraces integrated, project-based learning. She has presented at the Archer School for Girls STEM conference and the Milken Community School Playful Learning Summit.
  • Tedd Wakeman has been working with children in education, recreation, and research for 20 years. For 13 of those, he taught inner-city youth in LAUSD at the elementary level, concurrently traveling the country teaching and developing STEM curriculum for Nike/Eco Educators. He has taught extensively across the globe, working in the Republic of the Maldives teaching English to groups of adults from more than 25 different nations while diving the local coral reefs as a dive master. In Bali, he lived and worked with Indonesian rice farmers and taught local teenagers. He taught fourth and fifth grade for two years in Costa Rica, while exploring the local rainforest ecosystems. Wakeman then joined the GameDesk team in Los Angeles to found the revolutionary PlayMaker School, which has gained notoriety for its unique approach to 21st Century learning and game-based curriculum.

 

A Sycamore School advisory board is being assembled and will include local and national leaders in education, business and development.

Funding and How to Apply

Funding for the Sycamore School is provided by a generous private grant. Tuition is relatively low due to this funding. Financial assistance is available. Applications are due May 15 and admission is determined on the basis of applications and family interviews. Interviews for qualified applicants will be conducted starting April 13. Please see note below.

For more details about Sycamore’s mission and educational philosophy, and to download an application packet, please visit www.sycamore-school.org.

Contact Heather Boylston at heather@h-rpr.com to set up interviews or a campus tour.

Note: Information provided by Sycamore School’s press release. The school’s first class is full, but there is a wait-list so if you’re interested, go ahead and contact the school! –Christina

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Opening the doors to a global world vision

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A view of the campus

 

Waldorf schools take their name from a world-wide educational philosophy centered on the belief that nurturing both the imagination and the intellect are important to create a deep love of learning in children. Pasadena Waldorf is a developmental school, meaning that, “children learn in distinctly different ways at different stages of their development.” (Source: Waldorf materials). As Diane explained, the intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual development of each child are all nurtured. This is essentially what is known as the whole child approach. However, Pasadena Waldorf is not a progressive school, Diane explained, although it shares many elements with progressive schools. For example, students at Pasadena Waldorf don’t call teachers by their first names as they do in progressive schools.

 

Interestingly, there is no head of school. The school is governed by its faculty and decisions are made by consensus. Weekly faculty meetings help sort out and identify issues involving students and curriculum.

 

Kindergarten play area

 

Walking through the gorgeous 3 ½ acre campus, surrounded by enormous trees on a gently sloping hill, I was taken in by the beauty of the natural surroundings. The school is stunning in its pristine beauty. Classrooms are in located in rustic one-story bungalows. At the top of the campus is the renovated home that serves as the majestic entrance to the school. The middle school is up the hill from there. A newly opened high school resides at separate location.

 

One of two identical kindergarten classrooms

 

Pasadena Waldorf has a modern vintage vibe. Walking into the kindergarten classroom felt very nurturing. It is reminicient of a life-sized dollhouse. When we arrived, the teacher was setting up for story time while the kids played in the enclosed outdoor kindergarten play area. The retro feel of the school comes from many of the play and learning tools in the classroom, which are made largely of natural materials such as wood, stones and other found objects.

 

Close up: One of two Kindergarten classrooms

 

The main lesson is a two-hour block in the morning over a period of three to four weeks, focusing on one subject. Specialist teachers are responsible for music, languages, P.E., arts and other subjects. Hands on activities are important at Waldorf and the classroom is filled with imaginative activity centers. The power of childrens’ imaginations plays an important role in the classroom. In kindergarten, much of the teaching is done through teacher-led storytelling, without reading from a book. The teachers tell stories based on carefully selected books, while encouraging free play to both teach and inspire. Kids learn through baking, creating books, making snacks, gardening and doing handicrafts. The hands-on quality of the classroom gives one the sense that learning here is both serious and fun, organic and inspiring. Kids reach for the stars while learning the 3 Rs.

 

Basketball court

 

What you won’t see in the classrooms are computers or technology of any kind. Pasadena Waldorf is a tech-free zone until 9th grade. This is unusual in the world of private schools. But, it fits perfectly with the Waldorf method, which focuses on learning through play, imagination and hands-on experiences with natural materials.

 

First, Second and Third grade classrooms

 

Pasadena Waldorf is a structured school, but it is one without the intense academic pressure found in so many private elementary schools. One of my favorite aspects of the program is called “looping.” Teachers remain with their students from 1st to 8th grade, forging a deep bond and mutual understanding. There are two kindergarten classes, each with a teacher and an assistant for 20 kids per class.

 

A place in the sun: the gorgeous garden

 

Until this year, when the school added its high school, Pasadena Waldorf students went on to 9th grade at The Waverly School, Flintridge Prep., Mayfield, St. Francis, and public schools. Families who attend Pasadena Waldorf live in Pasadena, Altadena, Los Feliz, La Canada and other locations.

 

My observations of Pasadena Waldorf are that it is a school filled with a love for teaching children to reach their fullest potential. A tried and true philosophy that instills the spirit of adventure radiates from every corner of the school.  The educators here have seamlessly blended the past, present and future, creating a warm, nurturing school filled with imaginative elements created by– and for– kids. Attention to tiny details combined with a big picture focus on the world in which we live has created a school that is authentic and uncontrived. Encouraging students to dare to dream big is what makes this school so remarkable. Retaining the best elements of eras gone by while remaining just ahead of the educational curve is what Pasadena Waldorf is all about.

 

If you’re looking for a school with a distinctive vision, a stunning campus and a style of teaching that has the just the right mix of structure and freedom with a magical, homespun quality, this school might just fit your family’s wish-list.

 

The coolest store ever: A carefully curated selection of all things Waldorf-inspired

 

The school’s super-popular Elves Fair is coming up on Sat. Nov. 17th. Admission is free and it the fair is open to the community. It includes music, crafts, games, food, a tea garden, a silent auction and puppet show. Best of all, you’ll get to visit the charming campus store that is stuffed full of amazing Waldorf educational objects and toys. www.elves-fair.com

For more information, visit, www.pasadenawaldorf.org

 

 

 

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