New building for alternative education pathways
A carefree childhood is considered by many ambitious Chinese parents to be a complete waste of time. In the most populous country in the world, even the smallest children are under enormous pressure to perform in a society in which the main focus is on success and economic growth. Nevertheless, there are more and more parents who are now looking for alternative education models. For this reason new Waldorf schools are now being established that in spite of a critical regime offer an alternative education pathway. One of these schools is the Riverine Waldorf School in Hancheng. This is the only rural Waldorf School and therefore has a pioneering character. As part of the foundation and development of the school, a number of renovations had to be carried out from 2012 to 2014. Parents and teachers played an active role in this.
The Riverine School had previously been operating in an old and dilapidated state school building. he concrete floor was badly worn, the walls required a new coat of paint, mould had to be removed. The classrooms for the scientific and artistic lessons had hardly any equipment. For this reason the school drew up plans to renovate the building and classrooms and equip the classrooms appropriately. In the future rooms should also be provided for the kindergarten, which is still located in the city.
The school was not able to do this with the financial resources available to it. In China it is not legally possible to acquire ownership of land. The sole owner is the state. Only the acquisition of usage rights is possible. The school has a standard use and occupation agreement for 15 years for the school building and grounds. Those in charge of the school maintain good relations with employees of the authorities and assume that after the 15-year period of this agreement has elapsed, it will be renewed.
With the help of Friends of Waldorf Education, the kitchen was completely renovated and re-equipped in a first step at the beginning of 2013. This was followed in the summer months of 2013 by the refurbishment of the main building with classrooms and a conference room, as well as the outbuildings with the administration, library and store. The walls were given a fresh coat of paint, a new floor was laid and the windows replaced. The classrooms were fitted with new shelves, cabinets and chairs and the school grounds were freed of debris and greened. However, it has not yet been possible to implement all of the planned measures. For example, the specialist rooms for art and science have not yet been renovated and for the time being the equipment includes only the bare essentials.
The mentor of the Riverine school reports after her visit in September 2013
"The school radiates in a new coat of paint, with the 'correct' floors, new windowpanes and refurbished doors, clean curtains and nicely designed tables representing the seasons. In the corridors outside the classrooms three taps have been installed. New cupboards and shelves and 30 attractive and comfortable chairs for the conference room have been purchased. In the 'outbuilding', with its extremely attractive new coat of paint, the teachers have now furnished several rooms for administrative tasks, a library and storeroom for teaching materials. This beautifully designed environment has a very positive effect on the entire learning atmosphere. The pupils may only enter the classrooms if they are wearing slippers and the mop is particularly important. Every day the teachers and pupils clean the school together. Everyone is obviously attempting to keep everything clean and tidy. It is very pleasing to see the trouble the teachers are taking with their tables showing the seasons! The children wash their hands thoroughly after the breaks and try to keep their exercise books tidy as well. They make every effort to design them to be as attractive as the ones they admire from Germany. A clear example of how we are shaped by the environment! The teaching staff appear to be relaxed and to enjoy their work. Although they spent most of their summer holidays renovating the school, nobody was absent for even a single day or hour during my three-week stay there. Their school day begins at 7:30 with the preparation of the classroom and ends after they have cleaned it together at around 5 p.m. The times when there are no lessons are used for preparation."
The beginnings of the Riverine School
A group of young and courageous teachers founded the Riverine School in 2005 as a Montessori kindergarten in Hancheng with 37 children initially. The demand was very high, so that the following year the number of children had grown to 120. In 2007 the first class was opened. The teachers soon experienced the limits of the educational system with which they had started. They set out in search of other educational possibilities and discovered the Waldorf education. In 2008 three teachers started their three-year Waldorf Teacher Training in Chengdu. Since then, workshops and further training courses for more teachers have been on offer. In September 2009 the first Waldorf class started with 20 children, followed in 2010 by another with 10 children and a class of 9 children in 2011. Since the premises were no longer large enough, an empty school in the countryside was rented. In 2012 the Riverine School completely abandoned the Montessori method and transformed the school into one which exclusively used the Waldorf education with 5 classes and 55 children. The kindergarten also works predominantly on the basis of the Waldorf education. The renovation work on the school building began at the beginning of 2013.