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A Growing Community of Holistic Learners

A Growing Community of Holistic Learners

  • This story originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of COMO Magazine
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City Garden School fosters sense of wonder.

To understand the charming City Garden School, you must first understand its background and origination. The City Garden School is inspired by Waldorf Education, which is based upon the thoughts of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, dating back over 100 years ago. During the turbulent years of the First World War, he dreamed of better ways.

The CGS website describes that genesis: “Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner worked with factory owner Emil Molt to create the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart, Germany, with the goal of educating children to be clear-thinking, compassionate, and conscientious adults that could look at the world in complex ways rather than descend into war. Steiner achieved this by creating a pedagogy centered around reverence for and deep observation of how we, as human beings, naturally develop.” 

“It’s this method of education that really embodies teaching students through their heads, their hearts, and their hands,” says Jordan Johnson, head of school. “That recognizes that students are whole people and that we can’t educate them fully if we’re only focused on academics. And so, we try to make sure that we’re honoring their bodies’ needs for movement and art and beauty and spirituality.” 

The early years

City Garden School was founded in June 2013 by a small group of parents who wanted a school inspired by Waldorf education for their elementary students.

“It started as a small kind of homeschool enrichment group for students who were graduating from some of the Waldorf-inspired preschools and wanting to continue that type of education,” says Jordan. 

What started at 12 students in grades one through three has grown into 63 students in kindergarten through grade six.

“We rented two rooms in Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Columbia, and we visited Peace Park for recess,” the CGS website explains. “Every Friday, parent drivers would help bring our students to a nature area in the county. We visited Three Creeks Conservation Area, Rockbridge State Park, Pinnacles, and local city parks as well. This Outdoor Friday program continued for many years.” 

Let’s take this outdoors

With the onset of COVID, City Garden School met the education crisis with outdoor education. According to its website, it was in the 2020-2021 school year that the school first rented Camp Takimina, returning to the location at Calvary Episcopal Church in the deepest winter months. CGS saw a rapid increase in its student body, almost doubling to around 35 to 40 students. Outdoor Fridays were discontinued because the school was outdoors all week.

“Nature is kind of a building block to Waldorf as well,” Jordan explains. “The curriculum, especially in the younger grades, really aligns with the natural rhythm of nature. And in our classrooms, we use natural materials that are beautiful and homelike and calm — no jarring colors and sounds and things like that.”

Above and beyond

The City Garden School goes above and beyond in many ways. When asked what sets the school apart from others, Jordan’s answer came easily.

“I think it’s really our focus on a holistic approach. That’s kind of a buzzword in education. Like teaching the whole child,” she says. “This type of education has been around for 100 years. The whole focus is creating this natural curiosity in students and nurturing them fully. And the rigorous curriculum that we bring to them as well.”

Apart from the regular school year curriculum, City Garden School offers summer nature camps. The summer camps are hosted at Rock Bridge Memorial State Park. There are two sessions offered, starting in early June through the end of July. Each session is from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., designed for incoming first graders through sixth grade. 

Volunteering pays off

The City Garden School invites anyone who is interested in the school to schedule a tour or attend an open house. There is an application and interview process to make sure CGS is a perfect fit for everyone involved. The City Garden School offers tuition assistance in the form of tiered tuition, which is a multi-tiered model allowing families to choose a monthly tuition rate with a corresponding volunteer hour requirement.

“That’s kind of a unique thing that we do. We really want this type of education to be available for every family, no matter what their financial situation may be,” Jordan says. “And so, we do have a pretty low starting tuition but even from there, we have different tiers. The more contribution hours you can donate up to 10 hours, the lower your tuition will be.”

Plans for the future

With the continued and predicted growth, City Garden School is quickly outgrowing its current space. 

“We are looking at the feasibility of a capital campaign and one of our families has purchased some land and is holding that for us,” Jordan says. “This is a beautiful 11 acres off Mexico Gravel. Now we’re in the phase of figuring out how to raise the money to pay for the buildings.” 

Along with a new building, CGS hopes to be become a K-8 school by the 2024-2025 school year. The plan is to add an additional grade for the next two school years. CGS is also finishing up the accreditation process and anticipates being accredited in June. 

City Garden School
606 Ridgeway Ave.
[email protected]

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