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Sustaining a great education -- in Detroit

Years ago, I had a friend who longed to send her daughter to the Detroit Waldorf School. Only one thing stood in her way: the private school tuition.

If only she had made a few phone calls. Turns out the prestigious school has a new tuition program that assists families who want its education – and to pay the rent, too.

This year, nearly 60 percent of the school's families held a tuition adjustment meeting as part of Detroit Waldorf's new Sustainable Tuition model.

To me, that number is shocking and inspiring. Shocking that so many people need the school to prorate their tuition. Inspiring because the school actually made it happen.

This is a story of how a school not only saved itself, but it saved so many families the grief of choosing between a great learning institution and the basics of life.

Yes, I know, not everyone needs to attend a private school. There are lots and lots of great public, charter and magnate schools in and around Detroit. But the bottom line is this: If you want the Waldorf experience, the school wants you.

Here's how it works: The cost to educate a child at the Detroit Waldorf School is about $12,500 annually. A serious shock to the system, I know.

“In essence, we meet with every family in the school and share the school's strategic plan and budget,” explained Outreach Director Melanie Reiser. “We ask every family to contribute to the maximum of their ability and that they are willing to place this as a high priority in their family finances. Then we work together with the family to come to an adjustment that is sustainable for the school and the family.”

Get that? They work together!

Tuition covers about 70 percent of the cost to educate students. Because the school is not supported by government or outside funding, the difference in costs is covered by fundraising, grant writing and low teacher salaries.

Every family volunteers a minimum of 30 hours per year to aid the school's fund-raising efforts. And some 88 percent of parents are in involved in one or more of the school's major fundraisers.

Detroit Waldorf itself sets aside $385,000 of its budget to support the Sustainable Tuition program. This is the program's second year, Reiser said, and it won't be its last.

A little background: The first Waldorf School was founded in 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany. Its philosophies are based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator and artist. Today, there are nearly 1,000 Waldorf schools on six continents.

The Detroit Waldorf School was founded in 1965. It is located three miles east of downtown in historic Indian Village (just blocks from Time's D-Shack…). The building, a large yet humble maze of classrooms, was designed by beloved local architect Albert Kahn. Several rooms even have fireplaces. Sigh.

The best part of the school (in my fine opinion) is the four-acre campus. There are multiple species of Michigan trees towering above, providing a dappled shade befitting a Hallmark moment. The wooden play structures and meandering paths scream, “This place makes an IDEAL place to be a kid!”

The classrooms are just as lovely. The goal, Reiser said, is to give students a feeling of warmth and protection. There aren't piles of toys in the nursery school beeping and chirping. Instead, there are play clothes, wooden blocks and a place to make bread with the teacher (yes, they bake bread. It's like Little House the Prairie in the City.)

Kind of old-fashioned, I know. But as the mother of two children, I like it.

I believe Michigan needs great schools. We need kids who love nature, the arts, science, literature, mathematics and more. And it seems to me that Detroit Waldorf is the kind of place where these things happen.

By the way, you (yes, you, dear Reader) can help. The school is hosting a Knit-a-thon through Oct. 24 to raise funds to support Detroit Waldorf and its families. (Hurry – registration ends this week.)

Each participant (kids, moms, dads, grandmas, coworkers, whoever) collects pledges for knitting 6-inch squares. Collectively, they will put the squares together on Oct. 24 during the Cast Off event (more clever knitting terms!) and donate the resulting blankets to Children's Hospital of Michigan. You can go to the event even if you've never knitted and just want to support a good cause (and help raise the $30,000 goal at the same time).

Knitting and fiber arts are a part of the Waldorf School curriculum, explained Kathryn Savoie, Knit-a-Thon chair. It blends the arts, develops fine motor skills, improves attention and offers a sly way of learning mathematics all at the same time.

This time, I won't participate. I can't knit. But I can donate online. Go, knitters, go! To register, click here.

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  • 1

    The Waldorf School is a great school. But it's not for everyone. And it is not Detroit's only great school.

    The Skillman Foundation has a lot of good information about schools in Detroit: .

    My son attends the Detroit Edison Public School Academy (, which would be worth checking out for a future blog post.

  • 2

    It's a crying shame that the only way to get a "great" education in Detroit is to be able to afford a private school with a $12,000+ tuition price tag. That is totally out of reach for the families of most Detroit school children, even at a fraction of the price. The Waldorf School is there IF you are fortunate to be the child of wealthy parents. In this economy, even the wealthy have taken a financial hit and balk at spending mega bucks for a Waldorf education. Waldorf knows that in order to survive they've got to get "creative", hence the institution of the Sustainable Tuition Program, It's a crying shame there isn't a concerted and determined effort to improve the educational standards in the Detroit Public School System, the avenue for educating the majority of school-aged underprivileged children in the city. There are quality opportunities in Detroit IF you have the money, but for most poor people those quality opportunities aren't a reality.

    • 2.1

      The statement that "the only way to get a 'great' education in Detroit is to be able to afford a private school" is just flatly false. There are other ways. Charter schools are a really good option. And there are some really good schools inside the DPS system.

      Check out the information from the Skillman Foundation I linked to above.

    • 2.2

      We are not rich parents either. We just value the nurturing environment for our son who is in the Children's Center at the Waldorf. We don't live in a big house nor drive fancy cars. We are middle class. It actually costs less to send him there than to other daycares around the metro Detroit area. We (including my son) love the Waldorf.

    • 2.3

      Interesting discussion here. As jdmdetroit said, there are other options in Detroit.... like U of D Jesuit High School where they are bringing city and suburb, black and white together. Despite pressure to do otherwise, they are committed to staying in the city and ensuring diversity of their student body to reflect and prepare their students for the "real world." And they are very aggressive in working to provide scholarships and financial aid to allow academically qualified young men to attend regardless of socio-economic status. The folks at Time should check U of D High out. They're making a real difference in Detroit.

  • 3

    My friend, jdmdetroit, i assure you, the Detroit Waldorf School is not accessible only to "children of wealthy parents."

    I am one of the many very proud - and decidedly not rich - parents at the Detroit Waldorf School. Definitely NOT RICH. I am blessed with a good job. But i have met many people who make a lot more money than me - and a lot more than many other Waldorf parents - who believe they cannot afford private school tuition.

    You'll notice in this wonderful blog, it states that nearly 60% of my peers at the school are there because we get assistance with our tuition costs. Me and my children are most grateful for this generous tuition program.

    One of the most inspiring things to me about the community of Waldorf families, is their diversity. Especially their economic diversity. Another thing I admire is the decisions many of these families make to enable their children to attend Detroit Waldorf. They make big adjustments in their lives to keep their kids at this school. And they work tirelessly for the school, helping to cover operating costs and keep the school thriving.

    I invite you - and everyone - to come visit us, take a talking tour. See what it is that draws me - and other modest parents like me - to this wonderful place. And what it is that causes us to value this education so much.

    I'll tell you, it's nothing short of magic that draws me. Nowhere have i experienced this kind of educational environment. It isn't about money, or exclusivity. And it's certainly not about profit - just ask our incredibly dedicated - and underpaid - teachers. They're here because they love it.

    It's about raising the healthiest, strongest, happiest children we can.

    Yes, the Detroit Waldorf School is a jewel of Detroit. An accessible jewel. A jewel that wants to share itself with everyone who truly shares its value. I'm deeply honored to be a parent there.

    I hope to see you!


  • 4

    The close mindedness of the public is apparent here.

    Thank you to Joe for expressing a positive and insightful view of Waldorf. I too am a Waldorf parent. My husband and I aren't wealthy but we wanted the best education that fit our child. We toured many schools, gathered our information, asked many questions and felt that Waldorf was where we wanted our child to learn. It offers a close community, a wealth of knowledge, wonderful environment, a positive atmosphere and most importantly every child and parent is involved with the school on a daily basis.

    The positive for us was that it is not a regurgitative environment. In public schools it is learn it and leave it. MEAP's are the only thing that matter. At Waldorf, kids are allowed to be kids. There is no homework in Kindergarten. Kids learn to respect and value each other. They learn to believe in themselves and not to see boundaries that are so prevelant in many other schools.

    Before you speak about something you know nothing or little about, come take a tour or attend an open house. Open your mind before you walk through the front gate and you will see what a marvelous place Waldorf is.

    For those of you who think the cost is too much, the adjustable tuition is available to everyone. Without the program we would not be able to send our child, but because of it we are afforded the opportunity of a life time.

    You took the time to post your comments before seeing the school and gaining it's knowledge, now take the time and visit.

  • 5

    Thanks for the blog post. Didn't know Detroit had a Waldorf school.

  • 6

    I am also a parent of Detroit Waldorf and a resident of Detroit. While there are some good schools in Detroit that are academically preparing children to reach their potential, there are far too few for the number of children that live in Detroit. I am hopeful that things will change however DPS has been in such steep decline for so long that no quick and easy solution will solve these issues.

    I send my children to Waldorf because I believe in the Waldorf way of engaging and teaching children. My children are having a completely different experience than they did in a 'traditional' school. There is a very noticeable difference in them.

    Waldorf is not for everyone. A parental commitment to the Waldorf curriculum is key. Just like not ever child will grow and learn in a Catholic school, the same can be said for Waldorf.

    The sustainable tuition has been essential to maintaining a diverse group of children in every sense of the word. Not only are we racially diverse but we are also blessed with economic and religious diversity. It is more representative of the world at large than any other school I have seen.

    I often tell people that if I were a kid I would want to go to Waldorf. They treat kids like well - kids. That's how I want my children to grow up and I am blessed that the school and community have provided a way for me to do so.

  • 7

    I believe I've unwittingly blundered into a hotbed of anthroposophy. Nevermind.

  • 9

    [...] “Tuition covers about 70 percent of the cost to educate students. Because the school is not supported by government or outside funding, the difference in costs is covered by fundraising, grant writing and low teacher salaries.”(more) [...]

  • 10

    For those who won't open their minds to new experiences are losing out on life.

    I agree with kiplinger, Waldorf is not for everyone. We checked out many schools before choosing Waldorf. There have been kids that started out there but needed a different structure and changed schools. It is about what is best for the individual child.

    For those who think Detroit sucks, well we do have our problems, just on larger scales than other cities. In order to make Detroit better people have to be willing to learn and work together to change. Waldorf is a great example of people coming together to learn and work together to change, to change a child's chance at a great education in a different environment.

    It's said that if you don't vote, don't bitch. Well same goes here..if you haven't opened your mind and checked Waldorf out not only on the website but in person then don't try and talk about something you know nothing about.

    I wouldn't give my child's education up at Waldorf for anything. We have to stretch our budget, but it is very much worth it.

  • 11

    Wow, I never expected to see my elementary/middle school alma mater mentioned in a Time Magazine blog post! The years I spent at Waldorf were some of the best of my life. I'm so glad they've found a way to stay open!

  • 12

    [...] = 'none'; document.getElementById('singlemouse').style.display = ''; } Sustaining a great education — in Detroit - The Detroit Blog - Cufon.replace(',',{hover:true}); .editComment, .editableComment, .textComment{ display: [...]

  • 13

    Review of Allied Medical School

    Sustaining a great education - in Detroit - The Detroit Blog -

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