Winter Sing

December 17, 2015


Walden School Sixth Graders hosted the annual Upper Core Winter Sing, by providing narrative context for the song selections, as well as introducing each performance. This year’s theme presented a history of music as far back as 200 BCE to present day 2015 in their one-hour show. No space suits were required.

The 4/5 classes performed “Bagatelle” from Robert Schumann’s Album for the Young, a collection of 43 songs that he wrote for his three daughters in 1848.

The next piece was by one of the most famous Baroque composers of all time: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi. Students played “Spring” from Vivaldi’s series of concertos called The Four Seasons.

Antonin Dvorak’s most well-known piece, “Largo” from his New World Symphony was performed as an example of Nationalist Music.

Because of the number of sharps notated in his music, students joked that Mozart was using hashtags before it was cool! They played “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.”

It is said 16th century composer and music printer Tilman Susato published books to encourage young people to try something new through music. Walden’s 4/5 “Canada Lynx” were inspired to try his “Canterbury Dance.”

The big surprise for the evening was American experimental composer John Cage’s three-movement composition called 4’33” written in 1952. The piece consists of the sounds of the environment that the listeners hear while it is performed. Cage believed that life creates a symphony around us everyday, and was quoted saying, “the sound experience that I prefer to all others is silence.”

Walden’s Class of 2016 concluded the instrumental program with their original composition “Minimalisma II” inspired by the works of Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

The Upper Core Choir rounded out the evening by singing the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition, including notation, from anywhere in the world, “Seikilos Epitaph.” The choir also sang “Dona Nobis Pacem,” “Greensleeves,” and “Ode to Joy.”

First Days of School

September 11, 2015

Walden School welcomed new and returning families over two days; K-6 students began classes on Thursday, September 10 and Pre-Kindergarten students started school on Friday, September 11.

Both mornings were celebrated with Bagels & Chatter events hosted by Walden School Parent Guild volunteers. Parents gathered in the playgrounds to share coffee and conversation, after the children and teachers went into their classrooms.

Bagels & Chatter Coordinators

Bagels & Chatter Coordinators

Walden values, respects, and supports diversity.  The school defines diversity as all the ways in which people may differ. Walden School’s diverse faculty and student body reflects the school’s commitment to honoring the uniqueness of every person and building an intentional community.

Family Photo Project

Family Photo Project

Principles of diversity inform how Walden teaches an awareness of self and others to children from Pre-K to sixth grade. Through curricular activities, project based service learning, classroom morning meetings, student mentors, and mixed age classes, Walden promotes equity, empathy, compassion, and dialogue.

Check out the First Day of School video here:

Walden School 6th Grade students Oscar and Jackson opened Walden’s annual Winter Sing Concert with this explanation about the American Roots Music theme:

“America is made up of people from all over the world, that happened to find themselves together on the same continent. Some people came because they chose to, some came because they didn’t, and some were here already, so whose roots are we talking about at exactly? We are looking at all of those people’s roots tonight. We are looking at songs that are like stories, songs that have lasted generations, songs that have ideas that are still important today.”

The important thing to keep in mind is American roots music tells the story of ordinary men and women, who were and often still are defined and limited by cultural constructions of race, class and gender. Just as music reflects how Americans have struggled against oppressive social and economic conditions, music is also a way of celebrating and giving dignity to identity.

Performing songs that are probably more than a century old, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders researched the history of each song and took turns telling the stories of the songs to the assembled crowds at both performances. Fifth grader Caden said, “What I like best about all these songs are the stories … because they have been passed by word of mouth, the origins of them are often unknown, but we will do our best to provide some of their history here tonight.”

Classmate Lotte played her century-old banjo at the concert. Inherited from her mother’s friend, Lotte has been playing ukulele and banjo since she was five years old. “We had the banjo spiffed up and replaced the strings, but otherwise it is fine,” said the fifth grader. “I like playing my antique banjo on special occasions,” she continued.

Fourth grade bass drone musician Oskar confided that this was his first year performing in the Winter Sing. “Sometimes, I lose my place, but by listening to the other band members, I am able to get back on track,” he said. “My favorite song was probably ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky’ by the sixth graders.”

Other songs included:

Good Night Irene

Follow the Drinking Gourd

The Entertainer

House of the Rising Sun

Erie Canal

Wayfaring Stranger

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,

Pay Me My Money Down

(For a copy of the narration that accompanied the performance, please click here.)

adapted from Director’s Notes written by Matt Allio in previous years

The standardized testing experience at Walden School is novel because our faculty looks for depth in skills and content and not simply repetition of the covered material. As a progressive school, our students are the center of gravity and not the text or tests. Standardized tests are a significant departure from how we view learning at Walden. The concept of expressing one’s knowledge of reading comprehension through a 35-minute timed test, where short passages are silently read, and 45 bubbles are filled in with a #2 pencil is a novel experience for Walden students.

Walden students in the 3rd to 6th grade take the CTP4 (Comprehensive Testing Program) standardized tests published by ERB (Educational Records Bureau). Each morning of one week in the fall, students complete a battery of tests: verbal reasoning; writing mechanics; quantitative reasoning; vocabulary; mathematics; and reading comprehension.

How do the roots of the progressive school movement align with standardized testing? Tracing the history of progressive education takes us back to the dawn of the 20th century when educational philosopher John Dewey took action against the established practice of achieving cultural conformity and dutiful citizens through education. Dewey believed that, with the decline of local community life and small scale enterprise, young people were losing valuable opportunities to learn the skills of democratic participation, and he concluded that progressive, experiential education would need to make up for that loss.

Dewey founded the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago, where he experimented with some of his ideas about deliberate, reflective practice. Dewey’s progressive ideals of learning through direct and applicable experience preceded the standardized test movement of a few decades later. Colleges began to use the SAT in 1926 and by the 1950’s the average public school student took three standardized tests before graduating high school.

As a progressive, experiential school we work at Walden to align ourselves with Dewey’s theories; however, our students will take tests that may be considered traditional in that they are timed, the content is set, they classify and stratify students by scores and norms, place content above process, and do not place value on creativity or critical thinking.

Walden School Director Matt Allio believes strongly there is important value to these tests. Each year, we do an item analysis on the collective scores and we identify areas in which a class did well or poorly. This data enables teachers to plan more effectively for the remainder of the year and is why Walden students take the test in the fall.

Additionally, exposure to the tests, we believe, is enlightening to our students. There is value in students understanding the CTP4 is one of many measures that determines what they may have learned. There is value in teachers understanding the CTP4 is one way to look for areas of limitation and strength in our academic program.

While the tests might not be the most compelling measuring stick for what a student learns, they can provide an overview of skill sets of students and grade levels. For more information about CTP4 testing at Walden, please contact Director of Studies Terra Toscano.

Professional Development

October 9, 2014

“We know that in order to teach,
we must be learners first.“

Have you ever wondered how we do what we say we do at Walden School? Director of Studies Terra Toscano says, “We know that in order to teach, we must be learners first.“ Without an ongoing commitment to professional development, the work that we do at Walden could not take place.

Similar to how we teach, Walden teachers engage in personal inquiry and collective inquiry to grow in their practice. Every year, each teacher maps out specific goals to improve professional competence, to keep abreast of the latest research in education, and to nurture their interest in lifelong learning.

Our curriculum partnerships often come with a person or group that facilitates dialogue around the latest body of knowledge within that discipline, and works alongside teachers to bring it to life in their classrooms. In a partnership, our teachers have the opportunity to contribute to the growing body of knowledge while learning. This leads to empowerment and ownership of their teaching.

An example of this: Walden is just wrapping up a 30 month partnership focused on differentiation in mathematics with USC Rossier School of Education, and our USC trainers are now asking Walden teachers to present their findings at a national conference.

This year, our partnership continues with Teachers College Columbia University focusing on Reading Workshop, as well as a study with the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning that began with sending seven faculty catalysts to a conference in Washington D.C. over the summer.

Walden faculty want to increase their understanding of how children learn, how best to teach children, and how to transform the latest research into actual curriculum. Professional development through case studies, in-services, conferences, workshops, partnerships, formal coursework, coaching, mentoring, reflective supervision, consultations, and other facilitated learning, is an important expression of how we do what we say we do.

The Value of Camping

October 2, 2014

Have you ever wondered why thirty-eight million Americans went camping in 2012[*] for a total of 516.6 million days? What motivates modern urban dwellers to leave the comforts of home in exchange for rustic cabins and tents?

One study in New Zealand found that campers like to go back to basics. “They felt there was a lot more like-minded people around who were family oriented. It’s a real communal lifestyle, because it’s an environment in which you bump into people more,” University of Otago researcher Jonathan Ryan said.

The American Journal of Public Health released a study in 2004[†] which concluded that “Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.”

At Walden School, the Ponderers’ annual camping trip gives students in grades 4 through 6 the opportunity to spend time together in fresh air scented by trees and ocean breezes. Socializing in multi-age Ponderer groups, the Upper Core enjoys learning and bonding that contributes to healthy and happy peer relationships.

Camping activities are designed to be both physically and intellectually stimulating. Beyond the obvious benefit of exercising through hiking and swimming activities, Ponderers also experience challenges and have time for reflection that can reduce the stress of everyday, scheduled life in the 21st century. By working together to put up a tent, a sense of accomplishment and confidence is fostered. Taking turns to cook communal meals together also cultivates teamwork and trust.

And getting a good night’s sleep in a tent with your friends after a fun-filled day of camping endeavors feels really good! The Ponderers’ annual camping trip is experiential in nature, and provides opportunities for leadership and risk taking. In promoting environmental sustainability, the Ponderers demonstrate their shared commitment to the value of being responsible expeditioners.

Click here to watch a video of the 2014 Ponderers’ Camping Trip. 



Some journalists are erroneously using data that was pulled from the State of California Department of Health Services to report a skewed view of “herd immunity” at Walden School. The cited data is a snapshot of one report from the first month of school in 2013. With thousands of schools in California, it is an inefficient reporting system and many journalists are not reporting the full picture of what constitutes “herd immunity” at our school.


The form filed in 2013, unfortunately, did not distinguish between delayed vaccinations (temporary PBE) and no vaccinations (permanent PBE). By publishing that in September 2013, 42% of Kindergarteners (or twelve out of 28 students) at Walden School were not vaccinated, journalists mislead readers because within a few weeks that number radically dropped to 3% as children’s 5-year wellness visits were completed and vaccinations were updated. Only one student out of 28 kindergarteners last year filed a permanent Personal Beliefs Exemption (PBE).


Vaccinations delayed by a few weeks after the start of the school year (because a child has not yet turned 5 years old) is not the same as delayed vaccinations for personal/religious beliefs (temporary PBE). Different again is the permanent Personal Beliefs Exemption (PBE) which means that parents have opted out of all vaccinations for their child. Because Walden School does not have a birthday cut-off date, some of our students complete their 5-year wellness checks after the first day of school.


Since children are born on different days of the year, there is no magic one day when herd immunity can be codified for all schools. Probably for ease of collection, the State asks schools to report stats each fall on the incoming Kindergarten class for that year on the first day of school. But even that is not accurate, as different schools have different start dates.


Herd immunity is established over time and the data used in this recent news cycle does not accurately portray actual community immunity at Walden School (and probably is misleading for other schools, too, due to the inefficiency of the State reporting system). In recent school years, across our entire student body, between 94 -96% of students have met all vaccination requirements and/or documented history of disease. The CDC and the World Health Organization have estimated herd immunity thresholds for vaccine-preventable diseases in ranges from 75-94% depending on the specific contagious disease.


In January 2014, a new form was developed by the State and this fall’s report filed by all schools addresses some of the data collection issues. The form Walden School filed this September distinguishes the number of kindergarteners with all required immunizations and/or documented history of disease from the number of kindergarteners exempted from any immunizations due to Permanent Medical Exemptions (PME), or Personal Beliefs Exemptions (PBE). These students are counted as Unconditional Entrants.


Students with a PBE are further quantified between “Pre-January 2014” exemptions, “Health Care Practitioner Counseled” exemptions, and “Religious Exemptions.” Two students filed a PBE this year (out of 29 students in Kindergarten).


Conditional entrants are also documented on this year’s form. These are students who have a temporary medical exemption because they have not yet met all of the required immunizations but are on a delayed vaccination schedule and these kindergarteners require follow up documentation.


The State of California Department of Health Services advises that in case of an outbreak of any one of the diseases for which a child is not vaccinated, that child may be temporarily excluded from attending school for his/her protection.


Like any other health concerns you have about your child, consult your health care professional about what is best for your child with regards to vaccinations.

Fall Picnic

September 11, 2014

A Pic Nic Party

19th century American landscape painter Thomas Cole was commissioned by a wealthy New York banker to create this painting titled “A Pic-Nic Party” in 1845, according to the Brooklyn Museum. Historical accounts of picnics are found in literature and art with references to sharing a meal outdoors in an attitude of respite and leisure.

While the etymology of the English word “picnic” is disputed among scholars (Is it French? Is it English? Is it from the Middle Ages? Is it more recent?), most everyone can agree that Walden School’s annual Fall Picnic is a “pleasure excursion at which a meal is eaten outdoors, al fresco or en plein air, ideally taking place in a beautiful landscape such as a park, and usually in warm weather.”[1]


Over two hundred people gathered on Sunday, September 7, 2014 to celebrate the start of a new school year together at Walden. Parents, children, alumni, faculty, and staff all brought their picnic blankets and suppers to eat together on a warm late summer afternoon at Eaton Blanche Park.


Walden School’s diverse families and faculty reflects our commitment to honoring the uniqueness of every person and building an intentional community. Through events like the Fall Picnic, we are fostering a shared commitment to developing, sustaining, and supporting an inclusive community.

large_photo336310_4530614 large_photo336310_4530625  large_photo336310_4530639 large_photo336310_4530642

Current Walden School families may log on to The Pond to see more photos here.

[1] Wikipedia contributors. “Al fresco dining.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Jul. 2014. Web. 11 Sep. 2014.

First Day of School

September 4, 2014


South Yard playground before school

“Perhaps I should give some account of myself. I would make education a pleasant thing both to the teacher and the scholar. This discipline, which we allow to be the end of life, should not be one thing in the schoolroom, and another in the street. We should seek to be fellow students with the pupil, and should learn of, as well as with him, if we would be most helpful to him.” [Henry David Thoreau to Orestes Brownson, 30 December 1837]


School teachers were happy to be back together this fall after a busy summer of professional development conferences, in-services, and workshops. On the First Day of School, returning and new K-6th grade students eagerly gathered early on the Walden playgrounds to greet their teachers on this cool September morning. The Pre-Kindergarten students will begin their school year a few days later on Monday.


Walden faculty traveled to summer conferences focused on social-emotional learning, writing and reading workshops, Responsive Classroom, math skills, mindfulness, and many other topics. Walden School believes that teaching students to be academically capable, insightful, and passionate learners requires teachers to pursue their own interests with passion and determination. As teachers model mastery of traditional academic skills, they can better guide students to apply newly acquired skills to a variety of situations in creative and discerning ways. As students discover the interrelatedness of what they are learning, along with their teachers, they are inspired to find deeper answers to their questions.



North Yard as students line up for first day of classes


Headed into the classrooms





Parents look on as North Yard teachers begin leading students into classrooms


K/1 Assistant Teacher Matt Little high-fives one of his students

K/1 Lead Teacher Joe Braxton shares a laugh with Walden parent Dwana Willis

K/1 Lead Teacher Joe Braxton shares a laugh with Walden parent Dwana Willis



First Morning Circle



Walden School Parent Lee Zamastil (parent of Caden ’16) wrote this blog post after attending Graduation on June 12, 2014.


There was a television show that ran its final 2 1/2-hour episode when I was 11 years old. This was M*A*S*H. I only occasionally watched the program as a kid but the buildup to its final broadcast was enormous and I could not resist. If you have ever seen this finale—and, perhaps, especially if you saw it in the 1980s with the rest of us—you know what a powerful night of television it was.

When the show was finished I told my family that I was sad that the characters were gone. The program’s ending was a parting between two men who shared a deep friendship. It was an emotional end. My older sister reminded me that I’d hardly ever watched the show. How could I miss it?

And why am I thinking of this old show today? Because today I saw kids the same age I was in ’83 graduate from Walden. Mostly these were children who I really don’t know. My son is grades younger and it’s his class that I know most well. And like M*A*S*H once I saw the finale, once I saw the best of what this class of 2014 has to offer, I was hugely moved. I thought “Wait! That’s it? Now I want more.”

I was happy I’d seen it. I also couldn’t help but feel I had missed out—missed out on knowing some wonderful people who were now moving on. I didn’t expect this. I expected to see twenty of Walden’s kids each give a speech and collect their Walden diploma. What I saw was a presentation of friendship, love, gratitude, intelligence and caring. Community is an often referenced concept at Walden. At times one wonders if it’s truly as pervasive as advertised. Other times you do truly feel the bond. Today I was reminded, by the children of Walden, that the essentials that build our community are always there. They are right there in front of you. You just have to watch for it.

Best wishes to the Walden Class of 2014!


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