In the social and economic chaos that followed World War I, Emil Molt, a German industrialist and manager of the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory, called upon his friend, the philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, to formulate a new kind of education. Both men believed that to affect a renewal of human societies, education must change. The prevailing social mode that viewed education as the provenance of the state must be replaced by the perception of education as a "cultural deed."
Schooled in modern science and philosophy, Steiner was a spiritual thinker whose articulated philosophy is commonly called Anthroposophy. While Anthroposophy is not taught at Waldorf schools, it does inform the curriculum and methodology, which recognize the need to respect both the material and spiritual realities of all humans. Waldorf schools thus strive to educate not only the intellect, but also the child's full and essential humanity—his or her ability to feel and to do, as well as to think. The Waldorf curriculum also recognizes that our common humanity develops in clear, predictable and understandable stages, which should be honored, not rushed through.
Since the first Waldorf school opened in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1919, Waldorf education has spread throughout Europe and the United States (the first American Waldorf school opened in New York City in 1928) and now exists in 45 countries. At last count, there were nearly 1,000 schools and 1,200 kindergartens worldwide. Each school is self-administered and independent, but follows the essential curriculum designed by Steiner and utilizes his insights into human development.
Charlottesville Waldorf School opened its doors as Crossroads Waldorf School in September 1982, welcoming a class of twelve kindergarten-age children to a farmhouse at "The Crossroads" in southern Albemarle County. This first day of school represented the culmination of a two-year study of Waldorf education and the works of Rudolf Steiner undertaken by a group of parents. The founding teacher was Sharifa Oppenheimer, who continued in our early childhood program for 21 years.
One year after it opened, the fledgling school added a first grade, and the year after that outgrew its space in the renovated farmhouse and moved into rented space at St. Paul’s Memorial Church across from the Rotunda at the heart of Charlottesville’s university district. Throughout the 1980s, CWS experienced steady growth in enrollment and programs, adding specialty classes in handwork (1983) and foreign language (1984) and later stringed instruments (1987), recorder and music (1988), physical education (1992) and games (1999). In 1995, CWS graduated its first eighth grade.
As it expanded in size and programs, the school also outgrew its St. Paul’s location. In 1986, the grade school moved into rented space at Saint Thomas Aquinas Church while the kindergarten and nursery classes remained at St. Paul’s, where a presence was maintained until June 2001. In 1988, the grade school moved into cabins at Camp Holiday Trails near the Ragged Mountain Reservoir where it remained for three years, adding a second kindergarten class there in 1990. In 1991, the school moved to Crozet, renting the old Crozet Elementary School building from Albemarle County, while maintaining its Early childhood Program in several locations in Charlottesville over the years.
Throughout its history, CWS has sought to find and fund a permanent location with the expressed intent of having the school in quarters that embody its mission. That goal was attained in the spring of 2002, when a group of parents, grandparents and friends of the school purchased a 13-acre property on Rio Road for the school’s permanent home. In December 2002, friends of the school purchased the Little Red House, which stands in front of our Rio Road property, to lease to the school for its in-town Early Childhood Center. In April of 2003, the CWS Board of Trustees, with the agreement of the College of Teachers and the CWS Board of Trustees, created the Charlottesville Waldorf Foundation, whose mission is to raise funds to build a permanent home for the school.
On September 4, 2007 CWS opened Phase I of our building project on our property on Rio Road. The building has eight classrooms. In addition, we purchased the property where our Early Childhood Center is in the summer of 2012.
The most recent addition to the campus in town has been a newly-built, eco-friendly assembly hall, music room, library, and outdoor pavilion, which we have enjoyed since 2010.