The Rudolf Steiner Writing Club 2020-2021

“It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good, both for oneself and others.”

— His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama

By Amba Singh, Clio Venho, and Camila Grunberg

Featured Image by Marie Stone-van Vuuren

Amidst so much uncertainty in our world, our elementary school students were able to come together and realize a space to create and spend time with one another every Friday afternoon. Writing Club first met in May of 2020, with a small group of third grade students. Together, the club created the first publication of the Steiner Times––our very own newspaper. Through this project, students were able to express through writing their reactions to the difficult reality in which we found our world. Writing and speaking about the current events in a supportive and safe environment allowed these difficult truths to be placed into context within our school community.

We then wrote our very own play. In this play we explored the development of character as it applies to writing fiction. It was at this point that drama teacher, Mrs. Clio Venho, joined the group. Her recollection of the experience is as follows:

I was thrilled when Amba invited me to join the Writing Club as they began to work on their original play though I did not expect to become a permanent member of the group. But once I joined, I was hooked. To see the students come together with such imagination and support of each other during this season of isolation, was truly inspirational. It was wonderful to see the creative ways in which the students identified their characters and made them truly unique and three-dimensional individuals with a story to tell.

The Baking Club Catastrophe, as the play was later called, included elements of cooking, measurement, astronomy and literature. The students then performed in their original play that conveyed the moral of working together to overcome adversity.

In July, our group welcomed new students spanning second through fourth grade to embark on our next project which was a short story anthology! This project emphasized the importance of planning as the first step for writing a fictional short story. The students were able to guide their writing in any direction they felt was relevant and important to them, resulting in a wonderful and varied array of stories that follow young protagonists as they face challenges and ultimately triumph. It was empowering for the students to overcome the fear and discomfort that comes with sharing one’s original work aloud with others––especially via zoom.

In August we focused on writing our own poems as well as identifying poets whose writing we are fond of. We started by defining different types of poems, creating vivid imagery using our senses as well as figurative language, including similes and metaphors. The following week we discussed voice, line, stanza, and rhyme as we analyzed our poems and favorite poets such as Rumi, Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein to name a few. To prepare for our Poetry Jam, we were led by Mrs. Clio Venho and Camila Grunberg (a current 12th grade student), in fun tongue twisters and speech exercises which introduced the students to the fundamentals of public speaking. Having Camila as a co-teacher and scribe since our very first meeting was a brilliant move. She is an excellent student as well as a tech wiz. She provided a vivacious young voice which was encouraging and comforting to the students and teachers alike.

Towards the middle of August, we shared recipes from egg in a frame, to Ramen with vegetables, a Tzatziki dip and a Chia seed pudding for our World Cookbook. The goal of writing recipes was to organize thinking from listing ingredients accurately to creating steps sequentially. Our August guest shared with us the importance of public health and we experimented with hand washing with soap and without soap using pepper to resemble germs in our experiment. We cut up sleeves of old tee shirts and made masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well.

For our last class of the summer we shared the recording of our Poetry Jam, reviewed grammar by playing Mad Libs together, and said goodbye to each other in hopes of continuing a similar club once school was in full swing. In Writing Club, students benefited by having the camaraderie of their peers, support from their teachers, sharing, creating, discussing, learning, being in a safe space, and simply having fun. It was such a joy to see enthusiasm and creativity flourish through our class projects and conversations. Soon, even the shyest students were becoming chatty. Some volunteered to read challenging material aloud with confidence despite obvious difficulty. The growth and courage that took place in the group was heartwarming and encouraging.

We were all thrilled to resume Writing Club in September of 2020 and we have completed a number of individual and collaborative projects in the months that followed. Students wrote articles for the Steiner Times: Back to School Edition, and created virtual tours of our neighborhoods, from the lush parks of Inwood, to the ornate buildings on the Upper East Side and Morningside Heights to the fall colors of Roosevelt Island. Our next project was an Oral History Project, where students prepared interview questions and recorded informative conversations with family members around the world. As we neared the winter, a freshman at Rudolf Steiner School, Genesis Almonte, joined Writing Club introducing an activity that soon became a staple in our weekly routine: kahoot! Thank you, Genesis!

For the months of December and January, we focused on nonfiction writing as it applies to science. Students studied ecosystems and the symbiotic relationships that exist between plants and animals. Each student then chose an animal to research further. Selections included penguins, tigers, bears, coyotes, gray wolves, and rabbits. Fourth grade students shared components of projects that were simultaneously being prepared for schoolwork as part of their animal studies while Camila shared illustrations and text from her Zoology Main Lesson. We explored how mice and birds adapt to their respective environments over several generations, leading to further questions regarding dinosaurs and the relationship between primates and human ancestors. Finally, we took a virtual field trip to the American Museum of Natural History and visited the dinosaur room, the blue whale and dioramas from both Asia and North America. Students sketched dioramas of the animals we observed in the museum. To wrap up the year our final two projects will be creating a graphic novel, with a focus on character and dialogue and a picture book highlighting narration and imagery. We also hope to launch a book club to encourage students to read literature of interest at their appropriate reading levels and discuss the texts with one another.

For the teachers and students alike, this medium of weekly mixed age zoom sessions and google classroom collaboration was a learning experience. Amidst the Pandemic, the murder of George Floyd, the subsequent Black Lives Matter protest movement, the passing of senator John Lewis, and a worldwide lockdown, this virtual classroom has been a safe space for all of us to share our feelings, fears, and joys while learning together through projects that inspired and have challenged us. We certainly look forward to our weekly virtual meetings with students and teachers located physically in Turkey, Vermont, Connecticut, Long Island, Roosevelt Island, Bronxville, Pennsylvania and New York City. Friday afternoons have become the highlight of our week. The prescient words of writer Azar Nafisi come to mind when thinking of the final meetings coming up:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.”

Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books