Hundreds of current and past students, along with faculty and staff, joined hands at the Maine Coast Waldorf School in Freeport Sept. 19, to celebrate the Waldorf program’s 100th anniversary. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

FREEPORT — Returning to the Maine Coast Waldorf School on Sept. 19 brought back a rush of memories for Dylan Clark, who was among the school’s debut first-grade class 27 years ago.

The Scarborough man was there to help celebrate 100 years since the founding of the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart, Germany. Since 1919, more than 1,100 Waldorf schools and nearly 2,000 Waldorf kindergartens have emerged in 80 countries across the world.

The Maine Coast school, founded in 1984 as a kindergarten with 11 students, expanded in 1992 to include Clark’s class. It has since grown at its 57 Desert Road location to serve 295 students from early education through 12th grade, according to Public Relations Coordinator Deeda Burgess.

Sylvia Holland, who graduated from the Maine Coast Waldorf School last year, praised the life skills and love of education the program bestowed upon her. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Clark had attended a public school kindergarten in Lewiston, but his mother chose to move him to the Freeport school. “I think she just wanted a better education than the public schools down there,” he said.

Since the school didn’t offer high school at the time, Clark returned to the public system after completing eighth grade.

“I had a really great experience here,” he said. “And when I got to high school, I was ahead of everybody else in terms of reading and math, but also the attitude toward education was very different.”

The life skills he gained curated an attitude of being able to tackle anything, Clark said: “If you don’t know how to do something you can figure it out; you can learn.”

Part of the vision of the Waldorf system, as founded by Rudolf Steiner, is “the idea of taking each individual seriously, as they’re here to fully become themselves,” said David Barham, a humanities teacher and faculty chair at the Maine Coast high school. “The purpose of education is not to become a member of the democratic society only, or a consumer only, or a voter, but is to actually become yourself.”

Barham was among Waldorf staff to give speeches commemorating the centennial. Forming a large circle, a group of hundreds of students past and present, teachers and parents alike took hands and sang Mamuse’s song “We Shall Be Known.”

One of those was Sylvia Holland, a 2018 Maine Coast graduate now attending Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She spent nursery school through 12th grade in the Waldorf program, and her sister is in 10th grade at another Waldorf school geared toward the performing arts.

“Everything that I learned here really translated very well to the ‘real world,’ as they say,” she said, pointing to her strong relationships with teachers and classmates, as well as a deep love for learning.

“Things aren’t pushed on us early,” Holland said. With learning to read, “they wait until that perfect moment when suddenly the child is interested in the subject, and at that moment you can learn much faster, and you actually love and are engaged in what you’re learning.”

Although his children didn’t start reading until second grade, “then they went five grade levels in the space of a year,” Bill Holland of Durham, Sylvia’s father, said.

Holland said he and his wife “wanted our kids to experience childhood to the fullest, and not be hot-housed into adulthood, and not have the pressure of tests and grades … to suffocate their love of learning.”

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