Kindergartner Ben Lewis, 5, works on a corner shelf for the new Madrone Trail public charter school Saturday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

The beat of a different drum

Rather than plugging away at math worksheets and in reading groups, students at the Madrone Trail Public Charter School will play, sing, dance and act their way to an education when the school debuts on Sept. 4.

The Waldorf-style charter school, housed in a former YMCA building at 129 Oakdale Ave., is sponsored by the Medford School District. It will open with about 75 pupils in grades kindergarten through second after more than two years of planning.

In the Waldorf school system, standardized-testing is frowned upon. But Madrone Trail's agreement with the Medford School District requires it to conduct the same tests and meet the same standards as public schools.

Director David Darcy said he is confident Madrone Trail students will reach the testing benchmarks.

"I'm confident enough in this curriculum that we don't have to teach to the tests and we'll be successful," Darcy said. "I will be interested to see what our test results are. There's not really a track record for the most part."

Unlike private Waldorf schools, some of which include a spiritual element, Madrone Trail will be void of religious instruction.

The curriculum will also differ from the other elementary and middle schools in the Medford district, but will accomplish similar goals.

Students will learn how to read, write and complete mathematical operations through song, dance and games.

In public elementary schools, addition and subtraction are introduced to students in the first grade.

"In a Waldorf classroom, you typically introduce all four math processes (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) in first grade," Darcy said.

Each year the school will grow by one grade level until it encompasses eighth grade.

Jennifer Nidalmia, the parent council chairwoman for the school, has enrolled her daughter in the second grade at Madrone.

She said she is confident that her child will get a quality education at the charter school.

"I don't have any concerns at all," Nidalmia said. "The kids' needs are going to be met and they'll perform at a high level."

In addition to the lack of religious teachings, a diverse student body is one of the other major differences between Madrone and other Waldorf schools, according to Nidalmia.

She said she has met with families with adopted children, a family from India, and homeschool families that have signed their children up for Madrone Trail.

Students typical of other Medford schools will comprise the rest of the charter's attendees.

She added that the local school's non-affiliation with the Waldorf organization will allow teachers to craft a curriculum that adapts to their students' needs.

"It's not going to be as rigidly adhered to the Waldorf curriculum, which I see as a plus," Nidalmia said. "We'll have a more diverse population. Families don't have to deal with the private school tuition."

Teachers Beatrice Janczak and David Witt have had extensive experience in Waldorf education. Janczak, who will teach second grade at the new school, sent each of her four children through Waldorf schools and has been involved in the program for 35 years.

She said one of her favorite things about the program is that students stay with the same teachers all the way through the eighth grade.

"When a new child comes in there is a network and a community that welcomes that child," Janczak said.

Witt said that in his experience with Waldorf, students learn slowly and develop their imagination in the early years. He added that by the third- and fourth-grade years, they catch up and even surpass their public school counterparts.

"Around third grade they make big leaps," said Witt, who will be teaching first grade.

Darcy said the Waldorf movement, which began in 1919, is rapidly growing, and that serves as a testament to the program's success.

"It's a growing movement because it works," Darcy said.

He said he did not believe governance by the Medford School District will hinder the Waldorf principles and the integrated-arts education they provide.

Added Darcy, "If I thought that was going to happen I wouldn't have taken this job."

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail

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