On a rise at the top of a short driveway on a quiet section of Tupper Road in Sandwich sits a large ranch-style house surrounded by more than three acres of land that include a meadow, a large garden area, and a one-acre bamboo forest.
Formerly the homestead of the Roberti Dairy Farm, the sprawling residence has been remodeled and expanded to become the new, permanent home of the Waldorf School of Cape Cod, which opened its doors to students in September.
The open design of the building retains the feel of a cozy farmhouse, with original wooden ceiling beams and a large central fireplace featured in the entrance hall.
Braided oval rugs give one classroom the feel of a living room; sheepskin-covered mats with pillows laid out six feet apart on the floor near a rocking chair give another classroom, used by the youngest students, the feel of a nursery.
These days, for COVID-19 safety considerations, windows in the classrooms are cracked open despite the winter temperatures outdoors, and the hum of air filters can be heard.
Six-month-old puppy Tupper, a mini-poodle, greets visitors to the new Waldorf School building. “Tupper has been a great support,” school business manager Emily A. Holmgren said as she held him during a recent interview at the school.
After decades of moving the school from one rental property to another since its inception in Woods Hole in 1984, the Waldorf School board of directors decided it would be in the best interest of the school to purchase its own property, school director Roxanne King said.
When the Waldorf School left its Cotuit campus after 10 years at the end of the 2019 school year and moved to the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Falmouth building temporarily for the following academic year, the administration had to make the difficult decision to downsize.
“The UU Church had only four classrooms, so we had to cut out our middle school, with the intention of bringing it back when we had the right space,” Ms. King said. “It was a very hard decision, but we had to do it in order to keep going.”
After a search of some 50 residential and commercial properties that might work for a school, and with funding from donors, the Waldorf School purchased the old Roberti farmhouse in November 2019.
Despite the pandemic, the school was able to get the proper permitting to turn a residence into a school, and finish whirlwind construction last summer in time to open in September for in-person learning.
“I’m really proud of this school,” Ms. Holmgren, a Sandwich resident, said. “It was a lot of work; relocating the school twice in two years was no small thing. Much of the work (of relocating) was not hired out,” she said. “Our families, board of directors, and faculty all pitched in, despite COVID making it complicated.”
For the start of the school year, four outdoor tent-like structures were erected in the field behind the school, two of them 30x70-foot Sperry tents. The school’s wooden desks and chalkboards were moved into the structures to turn them into classrooms.
“COVID has created challenges,” Ms. King said. “But we were really able to follow Department of Education guidelines on our new campus and have 100 percent outdoor learning through early December.
Once the cold weather arrived, two of the structures were taken down and students began rotating indoor and outdoor class time.
The fact that the school is small enough for students to attend in-person every day and spend so much time outdoors is attractive to many parents, she said.
Since it opened at the new Sandwich location, the Waldorf School has drawn many new families who—after experiencing remote learning through the public schools last spring—felt their children might be better served at a smaller school with an alternative style of education, Ms. King said.
Since its move to the Sandwich location and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school’s enrollment has risen from 40 students last year to 58 students this year.
Ms. King said the school is receiving many calls from families asking if the school has room for their students for next year. With COVID restrictions, she estimates that the school could serve a maximum of 75 students.
Tuition for students at the Waldorf School is $13,925 per student per year.
The Waldorf School of Cape Cod currently serves nursery through 6th grades.
This year’s 6th graders will move on to 7th grade next year and 8th grade after that, recreating the middle school that had been put on hold during the transition.
Founded in the early 20th century, Waldorf education is based upon the insights, teachings and principles of education outlined by the late Austrian philosopher and teacher Rudolf Steiner. Music, dance, theater, writing, literature, legends and myths are integral parts of the curriculum.
“It is a warm, inviting community,” said Ms. Holmgren, whose children have attended the school for five years.
“The Waldorf School takes a holistic approach to education; my children are nurtured here. The teachers care about how my children will grow into the greater world and how they will connect with people.”
“It’s a village-like setting where everybody has a sense of responsibility for the children and the children feel it,” she said.
“We have been so lucky to be here in-person the whole year. We have worked tirelessly to make that happen. It keeps a sense of normalcy for the students to go to school every day; it keeps the rhythm of their lives intact,” she said.
“It’s more than just an education,” said Cotuit resident Katelin P.J. Kehrl, who currently has three children at the school. “The school is preparing my children so they can be healthy, happy, engaged, confident people.
“The school has been amazing; the education teaches life skills and social and emotional development starting at a young age, which is an incredible foundation that sets the students up in a way that enables them to learn and absorb every day, and also later in life. The teachers are warm and wonderful. It’s an incredible community.”
“It was sheer determination to build a place where are kids are so happy,” Ms. Holmgren said. “We have all been on a journey and the students have been right there as part of it. They have seen how dedicated to the school all of the adults have been. My 12-year-old daughter has loved the school since day one, and she still does. ”
Standing outside during recess, where, despite the lack of a designated playground, students were making good use of the space by writing on outdoor blackboards, playing with bamboo fronds, climbing trees, using the large tent for games, exploring the thicket along the edges of the meadow, climbing a favorite boulder, and pushing one another on a tree swing, Ms. King spoke with enthusiasm about the school’s future.
“It’s a great space,” she said of the new campus “It’s an exciting time for our school. We get to reimagine what we want our school to look like for our students. We have so many more opportunities to do the things we have wanted to do for years—create gardens and playgrounds, for example. I’m looking forward to watching the school develop.”