The master says, “sit”. The dog sits. The dog is rewarded with a tasty treat. That’s training. But if the dog were truly educated, it would ask, “Why?”
We’re not in the business of training dogs, and true education consists not just of learning a set of tricks but instead learning the spirit of inquiry, the true meaning of freedom and responsibility, and the empowerment that comes with determination and hard work. Youth Initiative’s approach to creating character in community doesn’t stop at academic excellence. Students at YIHS learn the skills necessary to be good workers, good citizens, and good people. We’ve built these skills into every single day at YIHS. Here’s how:
Students are an integral part of the everyday and long-range functions of the school. This is not the student council you remember from high school that lobbied for more magazines in the library. Students are full voting members of every committee, they work hand in hand with parents and faculty to ensure the smooth operation of the school, the continuing development of our curriculum, and are even members of our Board of Trustees. Students learn by watching their more experienced counterparts and know that their input and their actions make a real, immediate difference in the quality of their own education. When students leave this school they have developed an intuitive sense of the way that an organization is run, the importance of accountability, the value of leadership, and the necessity of cooperation.
YIHS encourages students to follow their passions. Students in good standing are able to pursue courses of study with the approval of the Independent Study committee. Students design and evaluate their own class under the tutelage of a mentor and then present their work to the Independent Study committee for a final grade. This process allows YIHS to maintain academic excellence while allowing students to study subjects as varied as Japanese, Survival Skills, Songwriting, Marine Biology, and many more.
The Pass/Fail Philosophy
Engendering initiative is also built in to the way we evaluate students’ work. Our grading system is based on narrative evaluation, not on letter grades. We seek to develop the desire to understand the world from a place of deep curiosity within the student, not from the reward-seeking, competitive character inherent in a letter-grading system. In keeping with the true spirit of democracy, YIHS does not rank students in any way.
Students here play a key role in the financial health of the school. Each year students raise roughly 5% of the school’s budget through agricultural work projects, events, food sales, childcare, and more. The money students raise is also tied to one of our keystone fundraising programs, The Matching Gift Circle which accounts for nearly 25% of our budget. Through these efforts students learn event management, accountability, entrepreneurship, budgeting, and the value of cooperation.
Our students are expected to be active, engaged members of their community. Along with an entire week of school that is dedicated to serving the community, students are required to complete 54 service hours every year in order to graduate. Our close connection with many community members, businesses, and organizations provides ample opportunity for engaging and interesting service.
At the beginning of every day, students have the opportunity to spend ten minutes before their first class in guided meditation. We hope that the consistent practice of meditation will teach students the importance of contemplation and self-knowing in a busy, distracted world, and give them a wellspring of mental and spiritual energy to draw from throughout their day.
Energizing the Will
Another unique aspect of YIHS is our focus on the manual arts. Students spend an increasing amount of time in the digital, “virtual” world. YIHS attempts to counterbalance this by ensuring that our students are introduced to work with their hands and bodies as well as their minds. In addition to teaching practical life skills, classes like auto mechanics, soap-making, carpentry, woodworking, primitive skills, energy sustainability, robotics, and others introduce students to the creative process with an emphasis on follow through, precision, and the importance of completing what has been started.
Whether you are a current Waldorf student or new to Waldorf education, our school provides a deeply transformative environment to continue the developmental stages begun in a Waldorf elementary school or to challenge and invigorate students in a new way, building on their past experiences and growing into their future selves.The world in which our students are coming of age is constantly evolving. That’s why we are continually evaluating our pedagogical methods and developing dynamic and innovative approaches to help students grow as whole human beings.
Our curriculum is not limited to the traditional classroom. Youth Initiative High School weaves students into the very fabric of their school and their community, making every moment a teaching moment. In addition to our academic and artistic curriculum we have also taken an innovative and successful approach to character education, staying true to our name and engendering initiative in our students every day.
No matter where else I go in the world I know there’s a place where I can feel comfortable being myself and I know people accept me for who I am. I feel like everyone should have a place like that.Maris B.