The Prairie Moon Name
The name of the new school– Prairie Moon Waldorf School– came to Waldorf Association of Lawrence board member Marty Haught in August 2001 after having attended Summerfest, an early community event. Inspired by a day on the Mitchell’s farm, southeast of Lawrence, Marty felt that the word “prairie” should be part of the name. “Moon” also came to mind (as it came up!) and the name “Prairie Moon” was born. The name evoked the combination of the earthiness of the prairie with the heavenly beauty and mystery of the sky. The idea for the name sat dormant for several months but was re-introduced by Sarah Visos-Ely, a participating parent at the time. After consideration by Waldorf Association board members the name was adopted.
Building a Waldorf School in Lawrence, Kansas
In 1992, Rick Mitchell returned to his hometown of Lawrence, KS, after having lived on the east coast for twenty years where he had been a parent and board member of the Princeton Waldorf School, in Princeton, NJ. The father of two grade school aged sons, he wanted to create a Waldorf school in Kansas and, working closely with the Meisinger family in Gardner, KS, became the founding president of the Waldorf Association of Greater Kansas City (established in 1993). WAGKC developed a Waldorf inspired early childhood program in Gardner, KS and brought several important speakers and groups to Kansas for the first time including Arthur Zjonce, President of the Anthroposophical Society of North America, Eugene Schwartz, Waldorf teacher and writer, the professional Eurythmy Troup from Spring Valley, New York, and Bothmer Gymnastics and Spacial Dynamics instructor Jaimon MacMillan who did a memorable workshop in a Gardner public school gym. In 1996, Rick incorporated the Waldorf Association of Lawrence and gave numerous public talks in Lawrence and around Kansas about Waldorf Education. He spoke several times at the University of Kansas in graduate classes in the School of Education and the School of Architecture and spoke at a professional educators conference in Wichita.
Fast forward to 2001…
Marty and Juliana Haught moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota (where they had learned about Waldorf education) to Lawrence, Kansas to be closer to extended family members. Realizing that they wanted a Waldorf education for their daughter, Marty decided to start a dialog with the community of Lawrence to see if there was interest in creating a Waldorf school. After two months of planning and with the assistance of teacher Alexander Cameron of the Arcturus Rudolf Steiner Program, the community of Lawrence began to respond.
On May 26th, 2001 a public meeting of the Lawrence Waldorf Study Group was held at the Lawrence Public Library. Over 30 people attended. Several people who had been long interested in Waldorf education came to the meeting. Having recently moved from San Francisco, Elizabeth Benner called Marty before the meeting to talk about his plans. She introduced him to Rick Mitchell. Rick informed Marty that he had purchased a 160-acre farm with the idea that it might someday become home to a Waldorf school. Monika and David Eichler, certain that they wanted Waldorf education for their children, contacted Marty and became involved in helping the effort move ahead.
Over the next two months the group grew in number. Several individuals that had been inspired by Waldorf education made their interest in developing a local school known. Sarah Visos-Ely and Heidi Benham both attended the second meeting of the Waldorf Study Group and volunteered to help. A “core group” was formed and started meeting regularly to guide the school development process. Marty started a monthly email newsletter that kept interested individuals in the community informed on the progress of the school.
In August 2001, the group celebrated its first seasonal festival. With no traditional festival scheduled in August, but anxious to have a summer social event, they chose to start one and called it Summerfest. On a warm and breezy day, over sixty people attended the festival that featured a nature walk, storytelling, craft making, a potluck BBQ and a bonfire. In his effort to increase awareness about the developing school, Marty contacted Lawrence’s local newspaper, the Lawrence Journal-World, about covering Summerfest in the weekend edition. Education writer Tim Carpenter interviewed Marty and Rick about the school and Waldorf education in general. While the article did not appear before Summerfest occurred, it did come out the Monday after the event as a feature article in the Lawrence & State section, the main section for local news. As a result Marty received several phone calls and emails from interested families.
In September of 2001, the first Anthroposophy Study Group meeting was held at Rick’s farm. A dedicated group of readers has been meeting monthly since that time. The first readings were from Stuart Easton’s Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, which was chosen because they offered an overview of Anthroposophy for the beginning group.
Encouraged by growing community support, the core group re-incorporated the
Waldorf Association of Lawrence (originally established in 1996 and referred to by some as WAL 2.0) on October 10, 2001, as a Kansas not-for-profit organization. A board of directors was formed. Marty and Juliana Haught, Monika and David Eichler, and Rick Mitchell drew up By-laws. Other board members included Sarah Visos-Ely, Erika Bessey, Jonathan Benham, Heidi Benham and Ali Mangan
In November, 2001 the recently formed board planned its first fall fair. Chipping in together, the group purchased books, Stockmar products, musical instruments, wooden toys and other Waldorf items to sell at the mid-November event. Additionally, the group produced baked goods, showed a Waldorf education video, and provided various children’s activities to draw the public. Attendance was steady and strong and a number of people added their names to the growing e-mail list—by this point including over seventy names.
In early 2002 the board scheduled regular meetings and started planning for a Fall 2002 opening of the kindergarten program. During a discussion in the Anthroposophy Study Group Marty asked Rick about his experiences with starting a Waldorf school from scratch. Rick suggested a “Pioneering Families” contract that would call for a commitment of one year’s tuition that would guarantee that expenses would be covered in the start-up phase. Marty mulled over the “Pioneering Families” concept. His dilemma: how does one hire a teacher and secure a classroom without having any committed families? And how does one get families to commit to paying tuition for a teacher and school that does not exist? This was the problem that the Pioneering Families initiative addressed. In the February email newsletter, the association sent out the Pioneering Families initiative plan to its members. Within a few weeks five families had signed up with 9 children in the first group. After sending out the Pioneering Families initiative plan the board posted job announcements to www.waldorfworld.net and a Waldorf Early Childhood Conference in Spring Valley, NY. By creating a social contract and building a community of families that committed to a first year, the board planned to be able to hire a teacher and lease a school property.
In February of 2002 the board approved the filing of IRS form 1023 that is required to request non-profit status with the federal government. The paperwork was sent on March 4. A little over seven months later the IRS approved the request to be acknowledged as a 501 (c) (3) non-profit corporation.
The school received meager response to its first search for a kindergarten teacher. However, a strong candidate from India, Dipti Lakdawala, impressed board members who agreed to try to bring her to the U.S. on an H-1B work visa. Having a lifelong dream of relocating to the United States, Dipti planned to move with her family and lead Prairie Moon’s early childhood program. The board sent off the INS paperwork in May and waited for a response. Meanwhile, the number of pioneering families had increased to nine.
In July, the board added new members Sakhi MacMillan, Kenji Zweygardt and Barb Thompson. David and Monika Eichler decided to share a seat on the board in anticipation of the arrival of their first child in August. Monika stepped down as treasurer, a role that Sakhi assumed. Rick Mitchell accepted the vice-presidency and Juliana Haught became the new secretary. Marty Haught remained as the president of the board. Erika Bessey, Jonathan Benham, Heidi Benham and Ali Mangan left the board.
Another piece of the school puzzle that needed to fall into place in 2002 had to do with its location. On a tip from an Anthroposophy Study Group member, Marty contacted the Unity Church of Lawrence and inquired about renting space during the school year. The church leaders supported the school’s goals and agreed to explore the possibility. Unfortunately, church and WAL leaders learned that in Kansas property tax laws are structured to penalize churches for using their facilities for non-church activities, which included allowing a preschool or private school to rent space during the week. After the Unity Church board explored the issue it was clear that there was no way around it. While the board and school community wrestled with how to handle the last minute surprise, Dipti’s visa failed to return by August. The school year started for the surrounding schools while Prairie Moon’s families continued to wait. In September the INS replied to WAL’s inquiries with a request for more information on Dipti’s visa application. The school scrambled to compile the needed information and submitted it to the INS. However, the fall came and passed without word from the INS. Dipti then announced that she would not be able to come to the U.S. until the following summer, even if her visa was approved in early winter. Thus, the plan to open the school to children in 2002 was abandoned.
The core of pioneering families stuck together and immediately began planning the 2003-2004 school year. It was tough for many of the families to realize that their children would miss a year in a Waldorf school. However, all agreed that the school needed to start on a strong note.
During the January 2003 Board retreat it was determined that the school needed to step back and evaluate the events of the previous two years and not rush into beginning the school – better to strengthen its foundation. During the summer of 2003, a new president of the association took office—Monika Eichler. With changing leadership and a new vision, the movement in Lawrence continued. WAL continued its seasonal fairs, and in the summer of 2004, a Waldorf playgroup began in the home of the Eichler’s. At first only four families attended, but by the last monthly playgroup gathering in May 2005, over 20 families had participated.
In September 2004, the Grant Township board of trustees approached WAL officers to see if they wanted to rent their vacant school building in Grant Township, just north of Lawrence. The board decided to rent rooms in the building for the next school year. With a resurging interest in the school and an excellent new facility, WAL was now ready to hire its first teacher.
The search for an experienced early childhood teacher to open the school led to Barbara Shields, a teacher at the Steiner School in NYC. She accepted the offer to help begin an initiative and moved to Lawrence in July 2005. With assistants, Pat Stangl and Rachel Rolfs, and a program assistant, Prairie Moon School was ready to open. In Sept. 2005, Barbara resigned for personal reasons, but mentored Pat until her departure at the end of October. During the 2005-2006 school year, Pat beautifully took the lead along with Rachel as her assistant. Pat received mentoring (in person as well as by phone) by Betsy Gimenez, an AWSNA regional representative. Elizabeth Rowley joined the school as the after-care teacher to help with afternoon rest, snack and outdoor time.
In 2006-2007, Monika Eichler began training as an early childhood Waldorf teacher and accepted the lead position for the early childhood program. Assisted by Katherine Dessert, and Tisha Cullen, and with Elizabeth Rowley (for the afternoon), the early childhood program gained stability. Also in 2006-2007 Bret Schacht joined Prairie Moon School as the first grade school teacher. He started a combined 1st and 2nd grade. Andrea Simberg joined the school becoming the first teacher of handwork and German. At this point the school had grown large enough to require, not only regular, on-site office staffing, but someone who could bring form and structure to our young school. In July of 2006, Mary Veerkamp Ph.D., was hired as the school’s first Administrator. By now, the school had 25 families, and volunteer efforts by many were increasing. Lesley Rigney served as president of the WAL Board.
In 2007-2008 Mark Lajiness, coming from Wisconsin, joined Prairie Moon and began a combined 5th and 6th grade class. Kathy Farwell, who won an award as public grade school Teacher of the Year for Lawrence in 2007, joined Prairie Moon School as the 1st grade teacher and commenced Waldorf training in California. Katherine Dessert began her own training in early childhood Waldorf education and took a lead position, assisted by Michelle Wolf.
Rick Mitchell became WAL board president—summer 2007.
David Eichler- Treasurer
Martin Simberg- Secretary
Under the direction of an advisory group (Teresa Woods, Becky Kasenberg and Rick Mitchell) established by the board, WAL completed a three-year development plan and submitted it to the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America. AWSNA approved the plan and elevated Prairie Moon’s status to “Developing Waldorf School” a step up from “Initiative.” The new status allowed Prairie Moon to use the word “Waldorf” in its name, thus the school became “Prairie Moon Waldorf School.”
Prairie Moon expanded the early childhood program, by establishing a ‘nursery’ class for children as young as 2 years, 9 months through 4 years. Bekah Zachritz led the class of eight children. Ms. Bekah took a great interest in food preparations and introduced the children to a gluten-free classroom.
Prairie Moon received assistance from Laurie Ward and Teresa Woods, two advisors to the board, and Barbara Clark (Citizens for Responsible Planning) to write and assist with two grants that allowed Prairie Moon to become the 1st official Kansas Green School in Douglas County. One grant, from the Douglas County Community Foundation Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund, helped fund the creation of the Okanis Market Garden. The Okanis Garden is affiliated with the Community Mercantile Natural Foods Grocery Store, The Lawrence Downtown Farmer’s Market, and Citizens for Responsible Planning. A Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) garden, Okanis provided fresh organic vegetables to the “Merc” Deli (under Sula Teller) and to ten subscribers who picked up vegetables each week at the school. The second grant, a Water Quality Grant from the Kansas Association of Conservation & Environmental Education (KACEE), and funded through the Department of Health & Environment (KDHE), was to support decreasing non-point source water pollution, and the preservation of water. It funded the writing of science education curriculum and the establishment of a rain barrel system for harvesting water from the roof of the school’s building to be used to irrigate the garden.
For the first time at the end of the academic year of 2009, a summer camp for the grades was begun. It was called The Four Elements and included four sessions, each two weeks long, with each session focusing on a theme: Earth (environmental education), fire (drama), air (wind/art) and water (swimming, water movements, water resources).