An Alternate Path: Waldorf

Posted on October 25, 2011 by  
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(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)In the middle of Silicon Valley, an area ever brimming with the next new “it” technology design, a local school teaches students without a single computer in the classroom.  What?  Really?  Yes, really.

While the school teaches the children of the Valley’s Tech Titans, they have chosen an alternative path to today’s tech focused schools.  This is not to say this is the new “it”, however, it does provide another educational choice for Los Altos families.

This past Saturday, Matt Richtel (New York Times) wrote an article about Waldorf School of the Peninsula.  Below, is a slightly edited version of his article.  Enjoy …

The chief technology officer of eBay sends his children to a nine-classroom school here. So do employees of Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard.

But the school’s chief teaching tools are anything but high-tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and, occasionally, mud. Not a computer to be found. No screens at all. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school even frowns on their use at home.

Schools nationwide have rushed to supply their classrooms with computers, and many policy makers say

it is foolish to do otherwise. But the contrarian point of view can be found at the epicenter of the tech economy, where some parents and educators have a message: computers and schools don’t mix.

(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of around 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold here among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

While other schools in the region brag about their wired classrooms, the Waldorf school embraces a simple, retro look — blackboards with colorful chalk, bookshelves with encyclopedias, wooden desks filled with workbooks and No. 2 pencils.

Some education experts say that the push to equip classrooms with computers is unwarranted because studies do not clearly show that this leads to better test scores or other measurable gains.

Absent clear evidence, the debate comes down to subjectivity, parental choice and a difference of opinion over a single world: engagement. Advocates for equipping schools with technology say computers can hold students’ attention and, in fact, that young people who have been weaned on electronic devices will not tune in without them.

(Jim Wilson/The New York Times)Ann Flynn, director of education technology for the National School Boards Association, which represents school boards nationwide, said computers were essential. “If schools have access to the tools and can afford them, but are not using the tools, they are cheating our children,” Ms. Flynn said.

Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, disagreed, saying that “a spare approach to technology in the classroom will always benefit learning.”

The Waldorf experience does not come cheap: annual tuition at the Silicon Valley schools is $17,750 for kindergarten through eighth grade and $24,400 for high school, though Ms. Wurtz said financial assistance was available.

Ms. Wurtz says the typical Waldorf parent, who has a range of elite private and public schools to choose from, tends to be liberal and highly educated, with strong views about education; they also have a knowledge that when they are ready to teach their children about technology they have ample access and expertise at home.


Going For International Recognition

Posted on October 11, 2011 by  
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Based on the 2010 census, 20 percent of the residents in Los Altos were over the age of 65.  When compared to Santa Clara County, at 10 percent, Los Altos has twice the senior population on a percentage basis.

Does this mean Los Altos is getting “old”?  Of course not.  It simply means that we have more residents retiring, and remaining, in their homes than the average Silicon Valley community.

Hopefully, this blog has helped convey what living in Los Altos is really about.  As I have previously mentioned, this is a destination community.   To begin, we have some of the best educational choices in the nation, from pre-schools to top tier universities.  Many of our seniors volunteer in helping future generations realize their potential, as tutors, mentors and advisors.

In addition, quality of life in Los Altos is superb … from access to health care, to outdoor recreational activities, to the supportive volunteer social structure found in the community.  Our senior residents have compelling options at their disposal.

Recently, Kristen Marschall (Daily News) wrote about the City Council applying to be designated “age-friendly”.  Below, is a slightly edited version of her article.  Enjoy …

With the highest concentration of seniors in Santa Clara County, Los Altos thought it was time to make it official.

After receiving the OK from the city council, Los Altos has submitted an application to Geneva, Switzerland, to be recognized as “age-friendly” by the World Health Organization.

The title doesn’t come easily. Since the program began in 2005, New York City and Portland are among the few cities in the nation dubbed “age-friendly.” Los Altos would be the first in California.

For Karen Jenney, chair of the Los Altos Senior Commission, it was an easy decision to go for it.

As first, the relatively new commission mailed out questionnaires to about 4,500 residents older than 55 in both cities, asking what concerns them as they age.

The commission received more than 1,000 responses and compiled a list of comments that totaled 100 pages.

If the two cities are deemed by the World Health Organization to be “age-friendly,” the commission will be expected to go to work right away on projects that benefit seniors. Jenney said some changes must be implemented within five years.

Possible projects include improving street lighting and adjusting traffic lights to allow more time for crossing the road, Jenney said. The commission estimated about $8,000 would be needed, and at the Los Altos City Council’s request it will prioritize improvements based on costs and community impact.

Among the many Los Altos residents who chose to stay in the community as they age is 94-year-old Muriel Perkins, who with her husband moved to the area in 1941 when homes were cheaper and schools abounded. When it came time to choose a retirement community, she said her husband had a carton box of options from San Jose to San Mateo, but they opted to move to The Terraces at Los Altos.

Established in 1949 as Pilgrim Haven, the retirement community is home to 73 people in independent living, 14 in assisted living and about 50 in skilled nursing, executive director Rae Holt said.

The community is about to build additional units and a memory support center to accommodate those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which Holt said will make The Terraces the only retirement community in the area to have such a facility.

Residents must be at least 62 but most are around 85, Holt said, noting than many come from the Los Altos and Palo Alto area.

Arvid Hamer, 90, is a second-generation resident, following in the footsteps of his mother, who lived there in 1963. There was no question about where he and his wife would go when the time came, in 2003, Hamer said.

“I’d been here a couple of weeks and I said, ‘What am I doing with all these old people?’ And then I realized I’m one of them,” Hamer said.


Upcoming Events – GreenTown Los Altos

Posted on October 7, 2011 by  
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Every so often, I will include upcoming events of organizations I have previously written about. Back in 2009, I posed the following question in a post:  “Who is this group helping Los Altos think green, be green, and live green?” Of course, I was talking about GreenTown Los Altos.

GreenTown does good work, and is comprised of hard working and caring community members.  If you are interested in being green, I encourage you to swing by one of their upcoming events. There’s something for everyone.  Enjoy!

Shaped by Water: Past, Present and Future, Oct. 8, 2011-Apr. 15, 2012

The Los Altos History Museum will be featuring an exhibit about the history of water in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills opening October 2011 and running through the end of April 2012. The exhibit will examine four phases in our history:

* The native people, the Ohlone tribes, and their relationship to the water in our area

* The arrival of the European immigrants and the proliferation of agriculture and pumping of groundwater

* The present day with the development of large scale infrastructure such as the State and Federal water projects and waste water treatment plants and,

* A look towards the future and new ways to conserve and re-use the limited resource of water.

The exhibit will have an emphasis on fun and learning with hands-on interactive exhibits and programs such as films, engaging lectures and tours of watersheds and the wastewater treatment plant.

Oct. 27, 7pm: Community Meeting and Short Film, “Delta Blues”

Join GreenTown Los Altos for a Community Meeting.  The agenda will include recognition of several GreenTown volunteers who have made extraordinary contributions over the last few months.  They’ll also provide a brief update on some of our key programs and we will show the short documentary film, “Delta Blues,” by Sausalito director, Steven Johnson.

The film presents the disparate needs and interests of farmers, fishermen, environmentalists and water consumers and highlights the challenge of coming to decisions about water in the Sacramento River Delta.  The film will be followed by an informal group discussion.  Light snacks will be served.  Thursday, 10/27/11, 7-8:30 pm, Neutra House, 181 Hillview Ave., Los Altos.

Seating is limited so please register today by clicking here.

First Saturdays Bike Ride – November 5, 4pm-6pm

This is a family-friendly, leisurely bike ride through Los Altos. We’ll explore  “cut through” paths (bike and pedestrian only!), parks and some shopping areas. Meet at Second and Main Streets at 4:00pm.