Heidi Britt: No place like home

March 12, 2011 

Heidi Britt

I first met Tisha Blackwood-Freitas at The Frog Shop boutique in 2009.

The bob-haired brunette bounced into the shop with a kid on each arm to let us know that she and a few other parents were starting a team to develop a charter school in the area.

Her enthusiasm was palpable and contagious. How many parents complain about the public school system in Merced? A lot -- maybe most of us. How many do something about it?

Blackwood-Freitas, whose three children are ages 6, 2 and 1, is a part of a core team of four moms who are working on two petitions to be submitted to school districts in Merced and Los Banos in a few months.

Long after her children are sound asleep in bed, Blackwood-Freitas hammers away at the project.

"Look, it's 11 o'clock ... my babies are sound asleep and this is the time I use to work on our project," she wrote in a recent Facebook post to Central Valley parents. "I'm a voice for our children -- not the only, but perhaps the loudest! So I'm screaming for someone to answer back and perhaps care (or dare to join in)."

The project she dares parents to join is the Foundations Public Schools Initiative, which is creating two new charter schools: Green Valley Charter School in Los Banos and Creekside Charter School in Merced. Both schools will eventually house grades K-8, and will feature a Waldorf-inspired curriculum.

"Waldorf education seeks to educate the whole child: head, heart and hands," Blackwood-Freitas explained. "The head refers to academics, heart being the social connection, the will to serve your community, humanity. The hand is the art; it represents the arts, using your hands for developing, creating."

Waldorf education is a system based on the educational philosophy of Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner, and incorporates creativity and imagination in a curriculum.

The first Waldorf school was opened in 1919, and by 2010, there were 995 schools throughout the world, according to the Association of Waldorf Schools in Germany.

There are many more Waldorf-inspired institutions -- schools whose curriculum is influenced by Waldorf philosophy.

The Waldorf curriculum differs from traditional public school curricula in that it incorporates interactive and pictorial lessons, and gives teachers the freedom to teach children according to their own individual learning styles.

As a comparison, in public schools academic placement is largely driven by competitive testing, which fails to cater to a large percentage of children whose learning styles are sometimes stifled by rigid structure.

Blackwood-Freitas said that the Initiative's charter schools' curriculum will be Waldorf-based and structured to respond to age-appropriate developmental stages of children.

"Our team is trying to bring about educational choices throughout the Valley, giving parents and students additional options for public education," she said.

The "team" includes Dena Melin, Brandy Rucker and Alexis Neves, all area moms who display an interest in improving education choices for their children.

Melin, a mom of two children ages 4 and 1, said she got involved after visiting a Waldorf school in Jamestown.

"The best way I can describe it is magic," Melin said. "The kindness, respect, enjoyment for learning, enjoyment of teaching, peacefulness all coming from teachers, staff and students were noticeable. I want this type of learning environment for my children. I want this for the friends of my children. I want this for our community."

There is still a lot of work to be done. Once the petitions are submitted, the team hopes to open a K-3 school in Los Banos in fall 2012, which would grow into a K-8 school by 2017. Blackwood-Freitas said the Merced school may start out as a K-1 depending on how much facility space is available.

Melin, Blackwood-Freitas and the others are looking for community members interested in taking part in the formation of the new schools. They still need more founding members, advisory board members and committee members, as well people with technical and education expertise.

They recommend interested parents visit two new Web sites, GreenValleyCharterSchool.org and CreeksideCharterSchool.org, where parents will soon be able to sign up for a newsletter to keep abreast of project developments.

Parents who would like to "answer back" to Blackwood-Freitas' call to join the team can reach her at (209) 587-4150.

Heidi Britt is a grant writer and co-founder of the Parent Resource Association of Merced. Six kids and counting call her variations on the name "Mom."

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