Suncoast Waldorf School rejects computers in the classroom

6:09 PM, Dec 1, 2011   |    comments
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Palm Harbor, Florida - No computers in school?

It's a concept some top officials and employees with companies like eBay, Google, Apple and Yahoo are buying into for their own children. The school is Waldorf education and there are 160 nationwide, including one in the Bay area.

Walk into the Suncoast Waldorf School in Palm Harbor and you take a step back in time.

There is the old fashioned black board, no smart white boards here. Students write in cursive and many are better at it than print. It's a school where the arts and music rank as high as reading and math.

Students get recess twice a day and learn a new language. It's a school where good teachers and good teaching outrank high tech learning. There are no computers at Waldorf schools through the 8th grade.

"Right now we are developing the children outside the use of technology, so they can develop on their aesthetically, artistically and maintain that love of learning," says Ryan Thompson, 6th grade teacher.

Thompson spent 13 years in the public school system. His students could have learned about fossils from a computer or textbook. Instead they take a camping trip to the Peace River looking for shark's teeth. 

"They experience digging through layers of the sandy bottom of the Peace River. Basically they were digging through time," says Thompson.

As with previous lessons, students create their own textbooks.

"This is the mountain the volcano and the lava coming out," describes 6th grader Lanie Schmidt as she flips through her self-made textbook.

Lanie's teacher says the hands on lessons stick with the student. "It gives the information a venue to penetrate more deeply in the child. They're doing the work," says Thompson.

Lanie doesn't miss using computers at school. "Drawing is actually doing instead of typing in a computer," says Lanie. She has a computer at home, but says she rarely uses it.

The Waldorf way is to educate the whole child as early as kindergarten. "It's a protected time. They engage wonderful pretend play," says Barbara Bedingfield, the director at Suncoast Waldorf School.

At Waldorf's 160 schools in the US, computers are left for high school. "While computers can offer a lot, you lose a lot," says Bedingfield.

Waldorf School officials are quick to point out there is no data proving computers help students learn better. Bedingfield says, "The last 15 years have seen computers coming into schools and are we still having educational problems, yes. I think it's because we are missing that whole half of the human being the music, the arts the movement that children need."

Waldorf officials say they have nearly a 100% graduation rate and many students go on to attend prestigious universities and colleges.

But a Waldorf education comes at a price, about $10,000 a year at the Palm Harbor school. But some parents say it's worth it. 

Isabel Mascarenas

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