Bullying. Sex education. Media representations of men and women. These aren’t easy discussion topics, but for two weeks in November, Waldorf’s 7th and 8th grade classes put down their pencils, set aside their books and took up these topics. Together with their teachers, the students shared their questions and feelings about the adolescent years and, in the process, deepened their relationships with each other.
“The Coming-of-Age Experience is a special time for our 7th and 8th graders,” said Ms. Florence Kadri, Waldorf’s French teacher for grades kindergarten through 8 who worked on the faculty team that put together the two-week program. “The discussions, activities and experiences are intended to support our students’ physical and emotional changes during puberty by creating a safe and comfortable space for sensitive conversations.”
Both classes were split along gender lines for the two week program. During the first week, one group visited Camp Glen Brook while the other remained in Garden City. (This arrangement reverses during the second week.) Now in its third year, the programs both in the Garden City classroom and at Glen Brook are designed to facilitate discussions on the physiological transformations and psychological issues that girls and boys face during this crucial time. Topics ranged from the perennial issues of peer pressure, body image and self confidence to more complex questions about respect and conduct in conjunction with the changing nature of peer and adult relationships.
But regular discussions, journal-writing and poster-making weren’t everything. Each group also engaged in some hands-on activities – like building a wooden bridge, forging iron and learning about trust through the high-ropes course at Glen Brook. In Garden City, the students built two beautiful wooden benches* and cedar compost bins as well as practiced yoga as a way to achieve balance and equilibrium.
“When the students weren’t flying through the air on the ropes course or building compost bins for the gardening program, we discussed social media, health, hygiene and proper nutrition,” said Coach Shane Flanagan, Waldorf’s Athletic Director who also worked on the team that developed the two-week program. “Self-image and opening up about what we are capable of achieving in life were other topics we discussed.”
In the end, new bonds were formed between the students and teachers involved.
* Wooden benches that were made out of recycled furniture during the Middle School Coming-of-Age Experience are now on display in the School’s breezeway.