Spanning five decades, five Bryn Mawr grads discover unique connections through Portland Waldorf School

by Lauren S. Johnson '88

It was a delightful exercise in sleuthing and discovery for me when I began contacting the women in this photo. I am the parent of two children at Portland Waldorf School, a pre-K through 12 independent school in Portland Oregon that was founded as a kindergarten in 1982 and now serves 340 students. PWS is one of over 150 Waldorf schools across the country that share a rich academic curriculum infused with visual and applied arts, music and movement. The school is devoted to nurturing the imaginative and creative capacities of the developing child through a core curriculum involving the humanities, foreign languages, math and science.

It is a liberal education in the truest sense of liberal arts. Waldorf is an education that liberates the mind and develops the whole human being- head, heart and hands. I was attracted to PWS for the rich curriculum and the community of parents and others who value direct experience, creative thinking, and a developed social consciousness as intrinsic parts of a whole education.

Coming into the PWS community, I met a parent in the school whose son was in my daughter's class-Sara Genta Romero '85. Sara and I shared some of the same Haverford living experiences, though we never met on either campus. I must have been too immersed in field hockey as a freshman, and she was doubtless involved with some serious senior-itis! Now we find ourselves raising families in Portland. Sara has been busy with three children and has recently founded a non-profit arts group called Portland Eurythmy. Eurythmy is a form of movement that was developed by Rudolf Steiner, the same philosopher who founded Waldorf education in the early 20th century in Europe. Many adults are increasingly attracted to this beautiful and expressive art form for its therapeutic benefits and creative opportunities. Sara is now involved with starting a substantial west coast presence for eurythmy.

Upon embarking on my new staff position at the school (I'm the development officer), I was pleased to discover that one of the school's first eighth-grade graduates in 1991 went on to Bryn Mawr. Wow! I thought, PWS must be doing something right! (PWS founded its high school only four years ago. We just sent one of our first 12th-grade graduates to Mt. Holyoke-ah, well.) I was lucky to get connected to this early PWS graduate, Caitlin Murphy '99, and had a good time reminiscing about our shared major of anthropology at BMC. Caitlin is now doing great work for a leading polling firm in D.C., which serves a myriad of non-profit clients including environmental groups and the ACLU.

Not long after meeting Caitlin, I met a wonderful grandparent of a student in our school. Mary Camman '45 is active in our school's grandparent community and is an avid supporter of many worthy causes around Portland. It was interesting to hear her perspective of the Bryn Mawr tea in 1945. I understood these teas were, back in the day, a key way to meet the students from the lovely (male) college down the road. Not so in the early 1940s; World War II took virtually all of the Haverford students to its service. It was a truly sobering period. Even in today's tense international climate, I can only imagine what it was like. Mary's description of the foreign language requirements of the time were also sobering. Incidentally, one of the benefits of a Waldorf education Mary sees for her grandson is the exposure to two foreign languages starting in first grade. We teach all children languages from two separate language roots, German and Spanish, to keep young children's minds flexible and open to different ways of thinking and conceiving the world.

Finally, upon reading a recent Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin's Class Notes section, I spied a name that I recognized from our parent body at PWS. Nicole Iseli is a Bryn Mawr School of Social Work graduate (1992) and mother of three who is working to raise awareness of autism. Nicole has been developing her non-profit organization on a national scale.

A graduate of PWS, three mothers and a grandmother all have BMC in their lives. What is remarkable is that this is a very young and relatively small school in Oregon-a very long way from the Main Line. I have only come into the education arena recently (after Peace Corps, graduate school in geography and several years of environmental and government affairs consulting). It is wonderful to find an excellent school for my children in my beautiful adopted city. It is just as exciting to discover here a community of people so dedicated to creating self-sufficient, competent and creative adults. I find that working in this small school community causes me to draw extensively on my experience as a student and active member of the Bryn Mawr community. I was too busy in the life of the school, perhaps, to make great grades. But I learned much as captain of lacrosse and field hockey and continue to draw enormous insights from my tenure on the honor board and especially as its head. Like everyone, I made mistakes and experienced victories. Bryn Mawr provided an incredible education and dear friendships. Through my work now, I hope I am helping to develop young women who are creative, competent and willing to dive in to the rigors of life and, maybe, the rigors of Bryn Mawr.

cover icon Return to Winter 2003 highlights