Fresh snow reaches my knees as I shovel the car free from the effects of the night’s storm. Dawn is a distant shimmer behind the dark mountains. Headlights from other commuters flash along the sleepy main street as I leave the village of Pemberton. A half hour drive along winding Highway 99 brings me to Whistler, in British Columbia, a world-famous ski resort destination. High on the mountains, I hear the boom of snow cannons doing avalanche control before the lifts open and thousands of skiers hit the slopes.
At the bottom of the mountain sits the Whistler Waldorf School, where I teach humanities, outdoor education and French. Our independent, not-for-profit school has approximately 200 students from pre-school to grade 12 (aged 16 and 17). The school is part of a worldwide educational movement inspired in the early 20th century by Rudolf Steiner. The school follows the British Columbia ministry of education guidelines and the tuition is subsidised by the government.
Students begin arriving around 8am, and socialise outside – rain or shine – until the bell rings. Depending on the season, students often arrive with their ski and snowboard gear for post-school adventures, and in the spring and fall, many students arrive by bike.
Classes are from 8.30am to 3.15pm. Each morning, students have a two-hour main lesson where they focus on a subject in depth for a three- to four-week unit. The remainder of the day consists of skills classes in maths, language arts or French, and practical or artistic classes such as music, outdoor education or fine arts.
Students have a one-hour lunch break. Some of the older students walk to nearby cafés; the younger ones stay on campus to play football, frisbee, or imaginative games around the natural playground with trees, fields and hills. I am invariably amazed at the athleticism of many of these students. Numerous students compete in high-level sports such as mountain biking and alpine skiing, and often travel for weeks at a time for coaching and competitions. I suspect we’ll see at least a few of our students at the Olympics one day.
After school, many students focus on competitive sports or other activities. Teachers often have meetings or special events such as preparation for class plays or seasonal community festivals. Despite my best intentions to be efficient in my prep periods at school, I usually end up taking work home each evening.
A challenge we face is that we have outgrown our current (rented) space. Real estate is extremely expensive and limited in Whistler, so it has been difficult to find a new, bigger space for the school. We are fortunate to have families who are deeply committed to the community and school.
In many ways, Whistler is a bubble with some incredible attributes. Over 2 million visitors come to Whistler annually seeking the thrill of adrenaline and après-ski partying.
Given the unique characteristics of our location, many students do not necessarily experience much cultural or socio-economic diversity. One of my favourite parts of teaching here is finding ways to broaden the students’ horizons, and guide them in exploring different perspectives or connections that they may not experience otherwise. By discussing different cultures or religions, hosting diverse guest speakers, making different foods, doing hands-on science experiments, and pushing their comfort zones through service learning, work placements, exchange programmes, theatre performances or outdoor education trips, our students deepen their sense of self, and how they relate to each other and the world.
Charlotte Jacklein is a humanities, outdoor education and French teacher at Whistler Waldorf School, British Columbia, Canada