"For you have no idea how unimportant is all that the teacher says or does not say on the surface, and how important what he himself is, as teacher."
- Rudolf Steiner
There's a long tradition of self-reliance in the Whistler Valley: from Myrtle and Alex and their bold pioneering spirit to the long-haired ski bums who built squatter palaces in the forest; from the visionary folk who created a resident-housing solution all their own in MDC to the downhill-crazy Weasel Workers who initiated a whole new course-prep paradigm with their enthusiasm, zeal and unimaginably hard work.
Still, there's one story that gets far too little play around here. And that's the one about the three women who joined forces and launched a new school in Whistler. Not a pottery school or a yoga school or even a snowsport school — although two of them had extensive experience in the latter realm. No, these strong, stubborn, independent-minded women decided to launch an alternative primary school.
I mean, talk about a long shot. A school in Whistler based on the mind-body-soul philosophy of Rudolf Steiner? A curriculum that stresses a holistic approach to education: where learning about music and art is just as important — maybe more — than math and grammar? No way. Not in a sports-crazed town like this one.
And yet... this September The Whistler Waldorf School will be welcoming 145 students to its current "campus" in Spruce Grove Park. The school now has a full-time staff of fourteen (with three additional part-timers) and a handful of portables to house its students. It's certainly a long way from the guerrilla home-schooling that launched the whole thing.
Think about it for a moment. It nearly defies the imagination. Thirteen years after the three local moms — Michelle Kierkegaard, Vicky Bunbury and Peggy Vogler — launched their unlikely initiative, the little-alternative-school-that-could has exceeded all expectations.
"There have been a lot of 'Ah-ha!' moments during those years," laughs Vogler. "We've all learned so much..."
We're sitting in Aphrodites, a funky little restaurant on the western fringe of Vancouver's Kitsilano district. Famous for its vegan pies and fresh-from-the-farm organic fare, the restaurant was launched by Peggy's father, Alan Christian. She inherited it in 2008 when her dad passed away.
As we share a coffee together, the 40-something mom tries to explain to me how she juggles her responsibilities at the restaurant with her obligations back in Whistler. You see, she's still the Director of Development at the Waldorf School. Crazy, eh? So how does she manage it?
"Well," she starts, "I spend the first half of the week in Vancouver — Sunday, Monday Tuesday — and the next half of the week working at the school." She chuckles at the madness of her own self-imposed work schedule. "Luckily [husband] Stephen is a pretty good cook and an amazing dad. Being a writer and all, he works at home..." She laughs again. "So he keeps things going while I'm away."