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The Papalotes School, located in Oaxaca, Mexico, is the first Waldorf School in the history of the State of Oaxaca. It was founded five years ago by a group of parents and educators concerned about the state of education in the second-poorest state i

The Papalotes School, located in Oaxaca, Mexico, is the first Waldorf School in the history of the State of Oaxaca. It was founded five years ago by a group of parents and educators concerned about the state of education in the second-poorest state i

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Kurt commented on The Papalotes School in Oaxaca, Mexico

Valeria and Meena, thanks for the replies and apologies for the delay in responding. The first thing I would really challenge people to think about when considering the situation of underprivileged children is what kind of opportunities we are actually providing them. Oftentimes, with the well-intentioned premise of extending educational opportunities to the 5-and-under age group (vis-a-vis programs such as Head Start, for example), we wind up extending a model that does precisely the opposite of allowing young children to thrive. High-pressure, high-stakes education, pushing reading, computers, homework and test-based teaching at an ever-earlier age, reinforcing a competitive, isolating model the effect of which is to reinforce the same kind of society that fostered the problem of underprivilege in the first place. At Papalotes, we opted for the Waldorf model out of a clear conviction that Waldorf education seeks to educate the whole child in a creative and age-appropriate manner.

Of course, the families of underprivileged children are precisely the families that tend not to know that alternatives to the hegemonic system of education exist - or if they do, couldn't possibly afford them. Over the years, what is called "alternative" education has come to be associated with an upper and upper-middle class elite, scorned, for different reasons, by those on all sides of the political spectrum. Of course, the tuition costs for a typical Waldorf school in the US only feed that distrust. This is both unfortunate and ironic in light of the fact that Waldorf schools were first founded to educate the children of cigarette-factory workers in post-World War I Germany; for their part, Montessori schools were founded to find an innovative way of educating children with deliquency and disciplinary problems.

In order, then, to extend educational opportunities to underprivileged children that don't wind up doing more harm than good, parents have to be encouraged to question what education is, to reflect on how they were educated and how they want their children to be. This is an empowering process that allows parents to realize that, instead of one, underperforming model, there exists a choice of educational methods out there. At Papalotes, we hold open-house and community-outreach sessions, along with once-a-month study groups with the parents of our students to encourage that conversation to take place. Our Board of Directors is made up of parents and teachers, itself an empowering process. We have no principal or layer of administrators to pay. In addition, we offer tuition-reduction possibilities for lower-income families by means of our work-exchange programs. Community work ("tequios") is required from all families both to foster community and to keep tuition costs low: our fees, for example, are competitive with and even lower than those of the rest of Oaxaca's private schools, while at the same time we manage to pay our teachers for their training as well as offer them a full, 12-month salary: a given in the US but not in Mexico, where private-school teachers do not tend to receive paid summer vacations. In all honesty, however, this still prices us out of the large majority of Oaxaca's families: with greater fundraising and sponsorships, we hope to offer full scholarships and to expand our community outreach.

I hope this goes some way towards answering your questions and look forward to receiving any feedback you might have.

Best,

Kurt