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Berkshire Waldorf: Small high school with a big heart

An open house on Thursday, November 3 celebrated The Berkshire Waldorf School in Stockbridge. “What I like about this school more than a public school is the attention that the teachers can give an individual student," said one student who took part in a preview performance of "Much Ado About Nothing" during the event.

Stockbridge — For 20 years, The Berkshire Waldorf High School, located at 14 Pine St., has educated ninth- to 12th-grade classes from 10 school districts and 25 towns in Berkshire County; Columbia County, N.Y.; and Litchfield County, Conn.
An open house on Thursday, November 3 celebrated the program.

Executive Director and school co-founder Stephen Sagarin writes a message welcoming visitors to the high school for its open house. Sagarin also teaches history, and art. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

According to school Executive Director and co-founder Stephen Sagarin, the school has graduated 15 classes since its founding. “Ninety percent of our students [got] into their first choice of college, but not everybody who goes here goes to college,” Sagarin said in an interview before the event. “Sometimes we have students who become chefs or furniture makers. We help them try to figure out what they want to do and their next steps for their future.

Sagarin said that the school has four full-time teachers, along with seven equivalent full-time teachers “if you count the part-time teachers, along with a large number of local artisans, coaches, and people who help the school out.”

He said that the school currently has 43 students enrolled. “At the moment, we are rebuilding after the pandemic,” Sagarin said. “We took a dip in enrollment just like many other private schools. But the students are trickling back in, which is very good.”

Sagarin said that one of the many goals for the school is to “aim for a respectful community of learners, and teachers.” He explained, “We have jobs here because the students want to be here and they want to learn. They get a great education because we do what we can to give them a great education. I have a biased opinion, but I believe that getting a great education is the most important thing that there is.”

Life science and art teacher Elizabeth Orenstein. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

Life science and art teacher Elizabeth Orenstein has been teaching for the past four years at the school; she also graduated from the school in 2010. “When I graduated from Berkshire Waldorf High School, I felt incredibly prepared for college,” Orenstein said. “I was in a learning environment that gave me opportunities to be creative. I don’t think I would have had those opportunities if I was in a different school. It also allowed me to be creative in how I went about my education.”

Admissions Director and history, philosophy, and English teacher Samantha Eliot Steir. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

“One of the best things about this school is the fact that teachers are given a lot of creative freedom in how and what they teach,” Samantha Eliot Steir said. Steir has served as the school’s admission director for the past seven years and is also an English, history, and philosophy teacher. “I’ve been able to design seminars that we teach, including seminars on critical thinking, United States democracy, translation, and medieval literature,” Steir said. “These are things that you wouldn’t necessarily get at a traditional high school and we’re able to adapt and create these more challenging and interesting classes. To me, I think teaching is usually about cramming as much information as possible. Our model of teaching is about inspiring students to want to learn more, and to give them a sampling of a variety of subjects that they can go on to study.”

Wyeth Curtis, 17, Owen Lamond, 16, and Floora Paladino, 15, promoting the upcoming production of “Much Ado About Nothing” by the school. Photo by Shaw Israel Izikson.

As part of its open house, several students performed a scene from “Much Ado About Nothing.” The performance, which is being held in conjunction with Shakespeare & Company of Lenox, will be held on Saturday, November 12 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theater in Lenox, and on Thursday, November 17 at 7 p.m. at the Tina Packer Playhouse as part of the Fall Festival of Shakespeare.

One of the students taking part in the play, 16-year-old Owen Lamond, had nothing but good things to say about Berkshire Waldorf. “I went to a public school for the first two years of high school, and when I was there it felt like no one cared about me save for my band teacher,” Owen said. “What I like about this school more than a public school is the attention that the teachers can give an individual student.”

For more information about the school go to its website.

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