We are the proud parents of Benjamin, a 15 year old rising ninth grader at Camphill Special School. For the past eleven years we have watched him grow up at Beaver Run, becoming a young teenager poised to embark on his high school years.
After Ben’s birth and Down Syndrome diagnosis, we followed conventional early intervention recommendations, but these felt like attempts to force Ben to grow up too quickly, and to rob him of his childhood. We couldn’t see how mainstreaming would help Ben to develop his strengths or the self-confidence he would need as an adult. Ben needed a setting to help him develop academically, socially, and spiritually, where his inherent strengths and challenges would be honored.
At four years old Ben joined Beaver Run’s integrated kindergarten program, filling his days with free play, time outside in nature, stories, eurythmy, purposeful activities, and therapies. Upon arrival, he lagged far behind the typical developmental milestones and lacked appropriate impulse control. But in keeping with the mission of the school—to offer wholeness to children with special needs—each child, including Ben, was warmly welcomed and accepted without judgment.
Ben and several of his friends moved up to the grades in the schoolhouse, where an adapted Waldorf curriculum guided them along a rhythmical, developmentally appropriate journey which continued to embrace them as unique individuals. His social skills improved immensely by this point, and he showed confidence in his ability to navigate his surroundings. He was prepared for academic instruction, and became an increasingly engaged learner each year. He produced letters and numbers, drawings and water color paintings. He participated in class plays, seasonal festivals, and field trips outside of the community. He had friendships to sustain him. His skills and abilities emerged seemingly unforced, and with the aid of thoughtful therapies and artistic activities. Ben certainly came to trust his classmates, teachers and therapists, as benevolent partners in the educational journey.
We have come to trust that Ben’s destiny to become a free and purposeful individual will come to fruition. Beaver Run’s unconditional respect and childhood focus has laid a solid groundwork for Ben’s adolescent development. The applied knowledge of the evolving human being, including head, hands, heart and spirit, will facilitate Ben’s ability to think resourcefully and to grow his independence in the years to come.
By Allison and David Hunter