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One of the best kept secrets of the South Sacramento area is a small, private school tucked away in the Lanai Shopping Center on Freeport Boulevard, neighboring the Sacramento Executive Airport, where it has existed in rented space for 21 years.
Over the years, most of the shopping center tenants have moved away. Meanwhile, countless hours of parent, teacher and student work have gone into transforming a run-down property into a school with colorful classrooms and playgrounds.
It has an understated entrance, but Camellia Waldorf School is an oasis for children.
The kindergarten yard is home to Mr. Mountain, a big pile of dirt, and Ms. Sandy, a big pile of sand. There are climbing structures in trees, hay bales, a water pump, chickens and a garden of oak and fruit trees, flowers and vegetables.
Young children run, jump, play and are close to the elements. Walking down the central corridor, a visitor may hear music, singing or poetry being recited. Watercolor paintings line office windows.
The community at Camellia Waldorf School is a diverse group, including families from Sacramento, West Sacramento, Elk Grove, Carmichael and Rancho Cordova. Parents are engineers, pastors, attorneys, health practitioners and public school teachers.
Many parents work for the government (federal, state and local), and in a variety of occupations. Families are from a wide range of social, economic, cultural and spiritual backgrounds.
With regard to racial/ethnic diversity, 8 percent of students are African American, 8 percent are Asian American, 17 percent are Hispanic American, 10 percent are from other racial/minority groups and 57 percent are Caucasian.
Families are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim. Camellia is one of the most diverse Waldorf schools in Northern California. Diversity is important, but what bring families together are deeply shared values regarding how children should be raised and educated.
The school and its values, in many ways, resist the tide of mainstream society. Public schools emphasize academics at younger ages; preschool children are being taught phonics. Camellia remains steadfast to its protection of childhood – encouraging preschool children to play outside, rain or shine.
Rooted in the tenet that a child learns through movement in his or her first seven years, the early child curriculum encourages movement through creative free play and in structured activities. Woodworking and finger knitting, learned in kindergarten, develop fine motor skills for writing in later years.
Storytelling and song stimulate creativity and nonlinear thought, vital to the development of critical thinking skills and problem-solving. Gardening teaches children about the life cycle and our environment, while keeping in tune with the seasons and harvesting healthy foods to be eaten at snack time.
In this digital age, media and technology are central to our lives. Camellia encourages keeping both from young children until they are developmentally able to handle the intense sensory input.
The interdisciplinary curriculum for the grades balances the sciences, humanities, and the arts. Subjects include math, science and history, as well as music, art and woodworking.
According to a standardized test used at Camellia, 8th graders' average scores over the past 3 years were higher than the expected Grade Equivalent for all 9 academic subjects tested. Scores for 8 of 9 such subjects were at 10th grade level and higher.
Some Camellia graduates continue their education at the Sacramento Waldorf School in Fair Oaks, while others transition to public schools or private schools such as Christian Brothers and St. Francis High School.
According to a study of Waldorf graduates in North America, 94 percent attend college and nearly 80 percent intend to attend graduate school.
The same study reported that 47 percent of undergraduates majored in arts and humanities, 43 percent in math and science, and the remaining 10 percent in a variety of other fields.
Camellia Waldorf School’s annual tuition is $8,675. Considered low for a Waldorf school, it is expensive for the average family.
What most people do not know is that, perhaps unlike other local private schools, Camellia provides more than $170,000 in tuition assistance to an unprecedented 42 percent of its student population.
Contrary to public perception, 10 percent of Camellia students would qualify for free or reduced lunch in a public school. This Waldorf School is committed to providing its integrated curriculum to a socio-economically diverse population. Parents of all backgrounds make sacrifices to send their children to this school.
The school's mission is to educate by “honoring childhood, appreciating the individuality of each student and nurturing a sense of moral and ethical responsibility while building capacities for learning and encouraging clear and creative thinking.”
Camellia Waldorf School is more than a school. It is an educational community of committed staff, faculty and parents that strives to achieve and live a shared mission.
On Dec. 12, the school will host its 21st Annual Winter Faire, open to the public. This event offers a variety of activities for children such as puppet shows, storytelling, craft activities, and a store just for children to select gifts for family and friends.
Over 40 local artisans and craft vendors will be selling handcrafted items and unique gifts for holiday shopping.
This year the Faire will offer free demonstrations on beekeeping, hand-blown glass ornaments, and blacksmithing.
Festive and culturally diverse music and dance performances will also be free and include Kalpulli Xihuacoatl - Danza Azteka, the Southern Brothers Drum Group, Val Shadowhawk, the Nada Brahma Music Ensemble, Agua de Beber Capoeira, The Benny’s and the Ntshiab Li Nag Hmong dancers.
A “Gingerbread Creations” exhibit will feature the "work" of local architects and housing developers. The public, too, will be invited to build gingerbread structures.
The “Golden Ladle Soup Competition” will serve gourmet soups from local restaurants including Ella Dining Room and Bar and Magpie Café to be judged by local celebrities, such as Mai Pham from Lemongrass Restaurant, Sonney Chong from CAPITAL, Paulette Bruce of The Dining Divas, and Councilmembers Rob Fong and Kevin McCarty.
This event is open to the public and free. Some activities require nominal fees. Celebrate the winter season at this exciting event! CWS, 5701 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento, (916) 427-5022. See www.camelliawaldorf.org for more information.
This article was submitted by Marisa Cheung, Camellia Waldorf School Parent, and Meredith Johanson, Camellia Waldorf School Administrator.