Book Review: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Book Review: The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

by Saul Nishan | WSP Class of 2023

The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel WilkersonThe daughter of parents who fled the South and Jim Crow, Isabel Wilkerson sought real stories from real people. She was the first black woman to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, and the first African American to win for individual reporting, at that. Wilkerson dedicated fifteen years to the making of this six-hundred-page book, interviewing over 1200 individuals documenting the widespread phenomenon that was the Great Migration.

“Such may be the sheer force of determination of any emigrant leaving one repressive place for something he or she hopes will be better. But for many of the migrants from the South, the stakes were especially high – there was no place left to go, no other refuge or other suns to search for, in their own country if they failed. Things had to work out, whatever it took, and that determination showed up in the statistics.” (Wilkerson 530.)

These stories that Isabel Wilkerson brings to paper capture the desperation of the times. There was a blind faith that so many people simply had to put in their plans of leaving the south because they had no other choice. The times were cold, and there was word of sunshine in the north.

Isabel Wilkerson translates real life experiences gracefully on the page, blending these three stories with information and context of the times with care. She shows us experiences from people who would have otherwise blended into history as simply a small part of the great phenomenon that swept America. She brings these similar yet very different experiences to light for us, following three of millions who had gone in search of warmth.

I recommend reading this book because the switching of focus on different main characters saves from a droning on and on about one person. You’re allowed to take a break from someone’s story and read something new without having to put down the book. It adds depth to the whole of the reading and learning experience, as sometimes the material can get to be a lot. This book gives the reader a view through the eyes of three people who had to find their ways in the dark, trusting that they would reach a light to bring the warmth of other suns.

Read more student perspectives in the Waldorf Chronicles, a newsletter run by WSP high school students.

Opinion: Edible Food is too Often Destined for the Dumpster

Opinion: Edible Food is too Often Destined for the Dumpster

by Sohei Wu | WSP Class of 2023

I recently got a job working at a restaurant and after a couple of weeks the abstract concept of food waste became concrete in my mind. It was no longer just the idea of food being lost, I was starting to see real food wasted. And much of the food being thrown out was still perfectly edible! It could probably be reasonably inferred from the contents of any restaurant’s dumpsters that humans have an excess of available food. But we see in the world as well as in the United States that that is not actually true. 

Imagine you have a pound of food in front of you. For a visual, that’s about the weight of a bowl of pasta. That is how much food is wasted every single day per person. This means that every day, for every person in the world, a whole bowl of pasta is lost. That is equivalent to over seven billion bowls of pasta wasted every day. One pound of food per person per day.

In the United States, a whole thirty to forty percent of available food goes to waste, and the reasons it goes to waste vary a lot, ranging from farming practices to cooking practices. During every step food takes to reach our mouths, food is wasted. 

The first concern comes with the fact that we are, in fact, wasting thirty to forty percent of our food, and in turn, putting too much effort and labor into something that will never see the light of day (or the inside of a stomach). We are losing so much money paying for workers whose work ends up being wasted. This, and the food insecurity we see all around us today, are reasons food waste is an important topic. 

One reason that waste is so commonplace is how we unnecessarily nitpick what food reaches stores. Companies will reject food that doesn’t look the way a customer might imagine, because it’s been shown that people are more likely to buy visually aesthetic food than “misshapen” food. This problem is in the process of being overcome, with companies like Imperfect Foods selling “misshapen” produce (like that in the picture above) so that it doesn’t go to waste. 

A large contributing factor to food waste is over purchasing. This is a problem both in average households and, to a much more dramatic degree, in restaurants. What we as average citizens can do is to keep over purchasing to a minimum. Buying too much food ultimately leads to that food being thrown out for spoiling or for lack of need. If we all limit what we buy to what we need, food waste would be reduced on a small scale. The restaurant industry, on the other hand, has a larger impact on the creation of food waste. Restaurants need to buy extra food, as is understandable, because of the nature of the industry, but there must be better ways of dealing with leftovers than to simply throw them away at the end of the day. Restaurants could, at the end of the day, take the edible food that was destined for the trash and instead offer food to people in need. 

This is not a completely hopeless fight. We may have no control over the restaurant industry or the packing and processing of food, but we do have control over what we buy and what we throw away. The things we can do to reduce the amount of food waste is to buy the amount of food we need and to only throw out food that is inedible. There’s no reason so much food should be going to waste, especially considering the large number of households that are food insecure.

Cooper, Ryan, Food Waste in America: Facts and Statistics, Rubicon.
Food Loss and Waste, FDA
USDA’s Food Waste FAQs
Feeding America’s How We Fight Food Waste in the US

Read more student perspectives in the Waldorf Chronicles, a newsletter run by WSP high school students.

EI Week: Exploring Bay Area Diversity

EI Week: Exploring Bay Area Diversity

by Dylan Lee | WSP Class of 2023

Experiential Interdisciplinary Week (better known as EI Week) is a week-long engaged learning process in which high school students at WSP “learn by doing”. The planning of EI Week starts in winter when high school faculty and students submit proposals for workshops based on the theme that WSP adopts to explore as a whole school community. This academic year, the school established “togetherness” as the appropriate theme when our school community transitioned back to campus for in-person learning. EI Week learning activities can include, but are not limited to, a hands-on learning approach, day and overnight trips, field explorations, guest speakers, community service, art, music, performances, and so forth.

The workshop in which I participated was titled “Exploring Bay Area Diversity ” and the main intention was to bring more awareness that would give students a platform to discuss the quality of equity and actual representation of Bay Area communities by looking through the intersectional lens on social issues. 

A group of eleven students and two faculty advisors had several planning sessions and discussions to form what we envisioned the week would be like for us to bring the proposal into a reality. In these meetings, our group members began to brainstorm, discuss and disagree, collaborate and combine ideas, lead and follow each other until we arrived at the basic framework of what our group would be doing together for a week. Basically, the piece that stood out for most of us was the challenge to visualize or verbalize intersectionality.

Eventually, we shifted our focus to include all types of diversity while promoting and celebrating inclusive environments that strive to make everyone living in the Bay Area feel like we belong here. Our group was clear that we wanted to incorporate community service, explore historical aspects of migration into the Bay Area, deepen our understanding of racial equity and systemic issues, eat good food, celebrate art, music and culture of various communities, and spend time capturing our experiences through photography, journaling, poetry, story-telling, painting, drawing, learning, creating, and questioning.

The biggest take away from this experience is that our group learned that there are pockets of segregation across different counties. There are also the invisible communities who have very little access to healthy food, proper shelter, education, health care, childcare, employment issues, and equal wages, as well as immigrant rights. Our exploration clearly brings out how segregated the entire Bay Area is. That segregation impacts economic outcomes:  a racial segregation that leads to economic segregation. The housing crisis in the Bay Area impacts all of us in its own way as well. The most humbling moment of this entire experience was when we met with Erika Huggins for an entire afternoon while she led our group through the streets of West Oakland and shared her biography and history of the Black Panther Party. With deep wisdom and courage, she conveyed that we should try to talk about these things in a broad framework of humanity. How do we treat our fellow human beings?

Othering certainly is a mechanism by which we are trying to segregate people: ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ So, it’s important that our generation look at this moment through the lens of ‘othering and belonging,’ and see that if we have a more integrated community, we are actually lifting up everybody. We are lifting up the entire society. We are all living together. 

Other EI Week workshops looked at Food Systems, went on various Outdoor Adventures, and explored sustainable fashion.

Dylan Lee is a regular contributor to the Waldorf Chronicles, a newsletter run by WSP high school students.

3 Surprising Things about WSP’s FIRST® Robotics Tournament

3 Surprising Things about WSP’s FIRST® Robotics Tournament

by Christine McQuade Hsu | Advancement Director

WSP hosted a FIRST® Tech Robotics Qualifying Tournament on the Mountain View campus earlier this month. The STEM group that convenes the event is named First—but the event was a first in other ways, too: until now, WSP had never hosted a public tournament before. (Shout out to WSP senior and Walbots captain Lysander Schmidt and faculty team-sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson for spearheading!)

By 8:15 AM on a chilly Saturday morning, competitors from 16 local middle schools had arrived. As the hosting robotics team, WSP’s own Walbots joined nearly 80 other WSP volunteers to serve as judges, referees, scorekeepers, videographers, commentators, and runners, to name just a few of the many volunteer roles. High school senior Zoe Wheatonfox helped kick off the competition with a gorgeous rendition of the national anthem.

Here are three things I, and many other participants, didn’t expect to see at a robotics tournament:

1. Chickens on the loose
We’re guessing it was the first time many of the 320 participants had seen a chicken at a robotics tournament. “Pepper” and “Turbo” were roaming the garden as students wearing safety goggles would stop on their way to and from the competition hall (aka the Eurythmy room) to exclaim, “Is that a chicken?!”

Yes. At WSP, chickens roam alongside Silicon Valley’s next generation of engineers. No big deal.

Students took breaks not only to sit in the garden and hold the chickens but also jump on tree stumps, play tetherball or ping pong, and enjoy the rope swings hanging from a nearby tree.

“It was wonderful to see the students from the other teams getting so much genuine joy from our campus,” said WSP parent (and lead scorekeeper) Brent Ingler. “Witnessing their excitement over things that we, as a school, may otherwise take for granted was heartwarming.”

2.  “A well-oiled robot”
That’s how a visiting robotics team mentor who’s attended these tournaments for years described this event. Or as a student participant said, “The whole event had a fun, chill, vibe and was so much fun.”

Thank the incredible flow within the WSP team for that.

“Every problem that came up, we actually resolved very efficiently, and that’s what made it overall a successful event,” said Lysander. “In our community, there are a lot of people with ingenuity and initiative. We had so many volunteers who could do whatever was needed.”

To allow spectators to cheer on their teams, despite COVID restrictions on numbers of attendees, all 9 hours of the event were live-streamed by a crew of WSP students led by Pierre Laurent, WSP’s School Administrator. (Catch a few highlights of their footage here.)

Go team!

3. Real-time innovation
Competitors spent the day troubleshooting, tweaking, and adjusting their robots. The team “pits” looked like chaotic workshops, with students darting in and out.

WSP parent and event judge Neil Overmon, who designs systems for Level 4 self-driving trucks, was inspired. “I was genuinely impressed with the student competitors,” he said. “They were working with concepts that I don’t always see even at the professional level. I was inspired to brush up on a few topics when I went home that night!”

Watching the teams work was also a master class in problem solving and collaboration.

“What you think is going to happen and what actually happens a lot of times is not the same,” said WSP 11th grader and Walbots team member Stephen Lee. “That’s applicable not just in a robotics club but also in real life.”

He also saw the value of standing by your vision. “If you want to present ideas to people who don’t think it’s going to work, you just do it.”

Find out more about the day WSP hosted its first Robotics tournament.
Read more about what happened that day.
Watch a breakdown of how a robotics tournament works by WSP’s Walbots team members and Faculty sponsor Dr. Lea Fredrickson.

Interested in joining or supporting the Walbots Robotics Club at WSP?
“The club is open to anyone who is interested,” says Lysander. “At its core, it’s just a group of people doing some things. If you want to animate something, that’s robotics. If you want to work on finances, you can do that in robotics. If you want to make a website, draw some art, or even design clothing, it’s all part of what we do.

It’s also truly student-driven. As WSP parent and longtime Walbots supporter Christopher Schmidt explains, “we’re quite different from a lot of FIRST Tech Challenge schools. We draw the line. Neither Dr. Fredrickson nor I ever tell the students what the decisions are going to be in building the robot. Also, at our school, we have the right balance of time commitment. At our school, the people in the robotics club are also the people who are doing theater and track. It doesn’t need to take over your whole life. And that makes it even more fun.”

The club is always looking for sponsorship and support. Reach out to high school faculty sponsor Dr. Fredrickson or Team Captain Lysander Schmidt for more information.



Executive Functioning and Waldorf Education

by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Nursery – Grade 8

On Tuesday, October 12th, along with many parents in Silicon Valley, I joined the Common Ground Event ‘The Essentials of Executive Functioning – Building the Skills to Flourish’ with Dr. Adele Diamond. Dr. Diamond is a leading expert in the field of executive functioning, a host of cognitive skills children need to develop not only so they can thrive at school, but also later in life.

Studies consistently show that strong executive functioning skills are a better predictor of successful careers and happy relationships than IQ scores. In part, this is because IQ tests measure something called “crystallized intelligence”- which is mostly how well you recall what you have already learned. Executive functioning, on the other hand, is related to your ability to use that information – to be creative and problem-solve with it. In other words, executive functioning relates directly to fluid intelligence

As Dr. Diamond says, “If you look at what predicts how well children will do later in school, more and more evidence is showing that executive functionsworking memory and inhibition actually predict success better than IQ tests.”

Executive functions begin to emerge in early childhood, and, like the developing brain, do not fully mature until early adulthood. In order to develop, they need constant work and reinforcement.

Given how important these skills are, you may wonder how WSP and Waldorf Education support the development of the four categories of executive function skills. The four categories are:

  1. Focus – In order to learn or carry out a task, we need to be able to control our attention – ignoring some things while zeroing in on the activity, skill, or lesson we wish to fulfill. This is true whether we are a young child struggling to tie a shoelace or a manager crunching numbers for a mid-year report. Nothing gets done without focus and attention.
  2. Working Memory – Working memory is the ability to hold pieces of information in our minds while adding to it, updating it, or working with it to create something new. Dr. Diamond highlighted oral storytelling as a way of challenging working memory. When a student is listening to a story, they have to keep track of the actions, words, and interactions of the various characters in order to understand the whole story.
  3. Cognitive Flexibility – This is the ability to think creatively and problem solve. Without cognitive flexibility, it is easy to get stuck. Cognitive flexibility is also the ability to see someone else’s perspective; the ability to take advantage of an unexpected opportunity or admit to a mistake.
  4. Inhibitory Control – We do not often think of the ability NOT to do something as an important skill, but anyone who has taken a few deep breaths to control an impulse has practiced such control.

So, how does the teaching of executive functioning show up in Waldorf education, particularly here at Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley? I see it throughout the curriculum. In fact, every recommended activity that Dr. Diamond identified as supporting the robust development of executive functioning takes place at a Waldorf School. From Early Childhood through high school, our core curriculum attends to each of the four categories of executive functioning skills. Executive management skills are also directly addressed through the high school years, often as a focused topic of study for incoming high school students. Here are a few of many examples across the curriculum:

Oral storytelling
Dr. Diamond talked about a study of First Graders that found that the children who heard a story, rather than having it read to them with pictures, had improved vocabulary and an ability to recall (working memory) the details of the story. Every day in Early Childhood, teachers tell stories to their children. These stories feature advanced vocabulary (with words such as “precipice” and “horrendous”) and challenge children to remember the actions and interactions of various characters. Verbal storytelling features in the early grades as well, but the teacher now adds a review, challenging students to recall details of the story the following day.

Starting at around four years old, children transition from something called parallel play into the richer world of role play. Here they work with friends to create worlds together and populate them with characters and actions. When a child is role-playing, they need to inhibit the desire to go “out of character”; they need to keep their character and other character’s words and actions in working memory; they need to respond flexibly when their friend does something unexpected, and they need to remain focused on the story and all its moving parts. Dr. Diamond described role-playing as hugely important for developing executive functioning skills. Fortunately, the Waldorf school day provides lots of time and space for children to pursue such play and not only in the Early Childhood. In the first and second grades, formal instruction ends at 2:05 pm so students can have an open class period, which allows for role-playing and social interaction. 

Traditional games and toys
WSP’s Early Childhood program abounds in open-ended toys such as blocks and play cloths. A block is simply a piece of wood – a child needs to think flexibly in order to make it into a chair, table, part of a slide, or a cave. In the grades, teachers frequently play games with children that require them to keep a sequence of movements in working memory. Properly executing the sequence of movements requires focus as well as inhibiting the impulse to move when they are not supposed to move.

Eurythmy also involves keeping a sequence of movements in working memory while focusing and inhibiting impulses. In fact, Dr. Diamond specifically cited storytelling, dance, art, music, and play as being healthy and powerful drives in developing executive functioning skills. She described the distinction between “academic” and “enrichment” activities as arbitrary and wrong. In addition to developing vital executive functions, these activities also address social, emotional, and physical needs.

Avoiding the negative impacts of stress and “teaching to the test”
Dr. Diamond opened her talk on executive functions with a discussion about stress. She cited studies that show that, while some people perform well under mild stress, many people perform markedly worse. She was clear that even those who performed well under mild stress did not perform better – they were just less negatively impacted by the mild stress. 

For this reason, Dr. Diamond dislikes the emphasis on tests and grades, and especially “teaching to the test.” Research shows that this emphasis leads to lower executive function, less critical thinking, and much higher rates of stress among students. 

At WSP, we foster a healthy rhythm of learning that’s free of unproductive stress or competition. Faculty ensure that students are evaluated on articulated, visible and relevant learning goals, and encourage students to strive for excellence in order to reach their highest potential rather than do merely enough to arrive at an arbitrary end.

Student crafted lesson books
Opportunities for developing and strengthening the capacities to organize and synthesize are inherent in Waldorf students’ lesson book work, which goes considerably deeper than simply recording data. Students capture not only information but also their impressions and feelings. From learning how to form letters to composing thoughts via well crafted sentences and paragraphs with neat handwriting along with artistic elements such as drawings, paintings, and well-balanced colored backgrounds deftly support executive functions. Even creating page borders helps with framing content, context, and contemplation.

Students take on more initiative and self-direction as they progress through the grades with the creation of their lesson books across a vast scope of studies. Many WSP alumni have reported that they use the “Waldorf lesson book method” to help with organizing and synthesizing their college studies.

All you need is love
Dr. Diamond emphasized that the single most important thing parents can provide for their children is love – that our caring is more important than our knowledge, skills, or resources. In the journey through the grades at WSP, the teacher generally stays with the class for grades one through eight. This enables students, teachers, and their families to learn and grow together over time. The security from these long-term relationships supports learning, confidence, and healthy development of social and emotional skills. At the high school, our small, supportive and close-knit community helps ensure that each student is known, respected, valued, and challenged.

From early childhood all the way through their senior year, students build the capacities to organize, manage and synthesize, step by step, so that they may function productively and with purpose as individuals–and in the communities in which they choose to participate.