The Brooklyn Waldorf School Moves to Bed-Stuy
Bed-Stuy welcomed a new independent school this September, the Brooklyn Waldorf School, as part of a wave of new independent school openings along the Clinton Hill border.
The Brooklyn Waldorf School is moving into an integral part of Bed-Stuy history, an unused building dubbed by the school the “Claver Castle” across the street from the St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church. St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church when it was founded in 1921 was the first African American Roman Catholic Church in the diocese of Brooklyn.
In 1931, ten years after the Church was founded, the visionary leader of the St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Bernard Quinn, created a school and community center. The school building that Quinn built was split into three parts: Nuns quarters, classrooms and a Gym with a track for community recreation. “In essence, his building was like a YMCA before the YMCA existed in the neighborhood.” Says Val Mello director of the Brooklyn Waldorf School. Reverend Quinn was dedicated to integrating the community center into the lives of the neighborhood.
Twenty-three years after the Claver school was closed in 1988, it is being reborn as the new location for the Brooklyn Waldorf School. The school has been searching for a new space since they had outgrown their space located directly behind BAM in Ft. Greene. “We were so cramped in the old space, now everyone is happy, this building is a dream come true”, says Katie Roth assistant to the director.
There are a series of clips on You Tube under the tag Claver Castle that show exactly how much work went into making this dream come true. Over 4.5 million dollars of work, funded by a combination of loans and parent donations/fundraising efforts, remade Reverend Quinn’s three part building into a unified space. Teachers met with the architects and designed the new layout according to the flow of traffic during the day, needs of the children and the curriculum.
The results are stunning with the school taking full advantage of period details such as curved windows, terraces between classrooms, a large Gym and a solarium on the top floor accessible from the classrooms.
Hewing closely to Reverend Quinn’s legacy, The Brooklyn Waldorf School has a diversity and community involvement mission. Val Mello, the director, says of the new location, “it is a wonderful place to reach all neighborhoods in Brooklyn and we want the Brooklyn Waldorf School to truly reflect the population in Brooklyn with all groups and cultures present.”
Although a independent school that must seek tuition to cover its costs, the Brooklyn Waldorf School has a three tiered tuition schedule based on income and has done fundraising to allow five children who are below tier to attend the school and the school hopes to raise more funds for more below tier children.
Wednesday morning is the weekly parent coffee, where parents can gather in the Waldorf room for bagels and conversation. Many of the parents were signing up for the doll-making workshop, where they will learn crafting skills and make items to sell at their winter festival fundraiser.
Passing through the hall a group of children are getting ready for a trip to the playground. “Every class goes outside at least once a day if not twice a day”, says director Val Mello.
Peeking into a kindergarten classroom, we saw a child-sized table set with ceramic cups where the children had just eaten a freshly cooked snack of organically grown food. The Brooklyn Waldorf School tries to use as many natural materials and organic products as possible. Once the solarium and outdoor garden is finished the children will be growing their own vegetables.
The Waldorf motto is “head, heart and hands” where every part of the curriculum is taught from different angles emphasizing movement, experience and artistic expression.
Another important aspect to the Waldorf experience is the fostering of community. Whenever a big decision about the school is made, everyone gathers from the Board, the teachers, administration and parents to weigh in. “It’s done collectively, everyone participates” says Val Mello. Community also comes in the unique holiday celebrations such as Michaelmas- a festival of courage using inspiration from St. George, the Spiral of Lights- a cross-cultural winter candle lighting festival, and a Springtime Planting Festival- like a maypole celebration.
Don’t be surprised to see a group of parents and children walking along Fulton St. at dusk with beautiful handmade lanterns- that will be the Brooklyn Waldorf School celebrating the time change and the beginning of the winter months.