An alternative high school may soon be a reality for South Whidbey.
A group of parents, teachers and community members have joined together to create an initiative for a high school that would focus on encouraging independent learning. Woodhaven High School, as it is called, will be inspired by the holistic education style of Waldorf schools.
Marli Jenkins is the mother of one of Woodhaven’s first full-time students. Jenkins has shouldered the administrative duties for the initiative school, which is already operating, as she works with the Washington State Board of Education to help it gain accreditation.
“It takes a special kind of pioneer to jump into something that’s unfamiliar, and really kind of a start-up,” Jenkins said.
Woodhaven’s model is based on the democratically run Youth Initiative High School of Wisconsin. In talking with the administrator there, Jenkins has helped determine the probability of the alternative school surviving in the small community of South Whidbey.
“I thought if they can do this in a town of 4,000 where it’s frozen half of the year, certainly we can put something together,” she said. “It’s daunting, but doable.”
Former Langley Middle School teacher Kent Ratekin has helped set the curriculum for Woodhaven as the faculty liaison and one of the eight teachers. No stranger to start-ups, he helped begin a Waldorf school in Bellingham with friends.
“It’s just been really inspiring to see their energy to want to get something going,” Ratekin said about South Whidbey. “You can kind of see that there’s something missing on the island here, so it’s been fun to fulfill that.”
Classes started this past September for a dozen students, who are mostly either graduates of Whidbey Island Waldorf School or home-schooled.
One of the unique things about Woodhaven is the opportunity for students to form apprenticeships with mentors in the community. Jenkins’ son, Kelvin, is currently working with a 3-D printing artist.
“We are actively looking for more mentors, more people who think independent education is a good idea,” Jenkins said.
Although they have had classes in the yurt at the Organic Farm School in Clinton, Woodhaven students also had the opportunity of taking kayaking lessons and most recently, ceramics lessons from Whidbey Clay Center in Freeland.
This time next year, Woodhaven High School may officially open its doors as an accredited school. The hope is for students on its school board to have equal say and control of their education as parents and teachers.
South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia continues to encourage students and families to attend the public district, but she said private schools similar to Waldorf “offer a unique philosophy toward education” and the choice to attend them is “a family matter.”
School Board Vice President Julie Hadden agreed.
“Like Dr. Moccia, I think that where parents send their children to school is one of personal choice,” Hadden said. “South Whidbey School District is a gem of a school district.”
She added that the impact of Woodhaven on South Whidbey High School’s enrollment would be “a shot in the dark” and impossible to predict.