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Interest growing in alternative education



Waldorf and Montessori Schools set to expand in coming years

In the four years since the Grace Christian Montessori School and the Alta Lake School opened their doors in Whistler there has been increasing interest in alternative education among local parents.

In both, enrolment is higher than ever for the coming school year.

The Montessori school was full by April this year, with between 35 and 40 kids.

All other students for the 2002-2003 year have been put on a waiting list. In the past enrolment was never filled until the end of August.

Likewise, the Alta Lake School, which adheres to the Waldorf guidelines, is set to expand from 25 students to roughly 40 in the fall.

It now offers classes up to Grade 4.

"I think that people are a bit disillusioned right now with the public school system, with government cutbacks and the increasing number of students in the classroom," said Patti-Jean Lima, founder of the Grace Christian Montessori School in Whistler.

A Pemberton mother who is trying to set up a Waldorf school in her town points to other problems in the public school system which make independent schools more attractive to parents.

"It’s a big assembly line for funneling kids through," said Sarinda Hoilett.

She points to the large ratios of teachers to students, increased awareness of bullying in the schools and teachers spending more classroom time disciplining and keeping order rather than actually teaching.

These problems have enticed her and others in the gateway community to explore other possibilities, specifically Waldorf education.

It’s not so much the shortcomings of the public system that have parents looking elsewhere, said one of the founders of the Alta Lake School in Whistler. Rather, it’s the need for other educational choices to complement different ways of learning. One system alone cannot do that, she said.

"We all learn differently," said Michelle Kirkegaard, principal of the Alta Lake School.

"We’re all looking for different things. We’re looking for something that fits us more comfortably."

Both schools came from humble beginnings, springing up in the community as the same time in 1998.

Kirkegaard recalls coming to Whistler from Colorado at that time and looking to continue Waldorf education for her daughter, who had gone through a Waldorf school from ages two and a half to five.

Four families gathered together and began home schooling their five children.

Now the Alta Lake School has grown beyond the boundaries of the house on Alta Lake Road.