Happy Anniversary, Monterey Bay Charter School! by Giulie Garland, Retired MBCS Teacher
As I prepared to teach Local History and Geography, the first main lesson block in 4th grade, one of the stories that I knew I would be telling the class was the history of our school. As I began thinking about this, I realized how many current MBCS community members have not heard about the beginning years of our school! Since August 31st will be our school’s 20th anniversary as a charter school on the Monterey Peninsula, it seemed a good time to revisit that story.
Since 1986, some form of Waldorf education existed: a private Waldorf school, located on the Monterey Fairgrounds during the school year (and packed up and stored away during each summer) continued until 1992. Parents and teachers kept Waldorf education going after that by working with local school districts to form an independent study program where some of the expenses were covered by the district and the rest was paid for by parents (who also served as custodians, office help, board members, and movers). The independent study program looked like a school, but found it hard to keep a steady site, and from 1996 through 1998, the school program moved 4 times.
JoAnn Holbrook (“Miss JoAnn”) was a teacher and parent with the school from the very beginning. I arrived as a parent in 1996 and became the school’s office administrator in 1998. Kathi Lares, who now serves on our board and the HR/Finance committee, arrived as a parent in 1996 as well, and for many years served the school as its business manager.
Throughout this time, parents and teachers were inspired to find a way to bring Waldorf education to a larger community and make it affordable to all. The new charter school law in California made that a possibility. Charter School 25, located in San Lorenzo Valley, allowed our small Waldorf community to become a program of their school, and we were able to operate in Monterey County.
In 1998, the Monterey Bay Charter School opened its doors on two campuses: the grades campus was in Marina at a small church on the corner of California and Carmel Avenues; the kindergarten campus was located in Monterey at the Methodist church on Soledad St. There were a total of 67 students enrolled. During that first year, the classrooms had to be moved and packed away at the end of each week and then moved in again each Monday morning before the children arrived. Parents took turns overseeing these moves. We had one person – me! – in the “office” which was actually the church kitchen. Every Wednesday I made a pot of soup for all of the children and teachers and called it “Soup Wednesdays”, a tradition that continued with 3rd graders eventually making and selling soup as a fundraiser for their big farm trip each year. And during that year, school was held Monday through Thursdays only!
After our first year, the tiny church in Marina could no longer accommodate our growing school, and we found a new grades home in Seaside at the St. Francis Xavier church (the kindergartens remained at the Methodist church for a number of years after). 1999 was also the year that Mia Michael (Miss Mia,who recently retired from Kindergarten), joined the school. The school began a homeschool component and every Friday homeschoolers joined regular classes for enrichment activities (painting, sculpting, music, handwork). During our time there, Lili Blalock joined the school as a parent and began volunteering her talents as a handwork teacher. The following year, the school rented additional classroom space at another church about a mile away to make room for our growing middle school classes, and Janaka Stagnaro (one of our new first grade teachers this year), joined our school as the first grade teacher in 2000.
In 2001, the grades classes moved to our current campus in PG. It’s hard to believe now, but moving to the PG campus, which would cost so much more to rent compared to what the school was used to paying to rent space in the churches, was controversial! Could the school bear the expense? Parents stepped forward and pledged to donate more to the school to make it a possibility. The David Avenue campus had been unused by PGUSD for several years and the district agreed to rent a portion of the campus to our school as well as to the newly opened International School and Calvary Christian High School. In celebration of our new home, we planted a little redwood tree in the front near what is now the Performing Arts room, the children forming a circle around it and singing “Oh Be Joyful”. Seventeen years later, that tiny sapling now towers over the garden and children can often be found playing among its branches! 2001 was also the year of our school’s first graduating class (my daughter, Emily, was part of that class of nine students).
In 2002, the International School moved out and we were finally able to have our two kindergarten classes join the grades on one campus. The school continued to grow in enrollment and after a few years of a happily united school, the kindergarten classes once again found a new home in Seaside on a middle school campus.
In 2006, Krista Clarke joined our faculty as the 7th grade teacher and that same year our school was informed that charter school laws had changed and we would no longer be able to operate as a program of Charter 25. In a squeaker of a decision, after a huge amount of work and dedication by Cassandra Bridge, who led the Charter Committee and School Board, the school became an independent charter school with the support of Monterey County Office of Education.
In 2008, Ms. Bridge became the new director of our school, Ms. Gober joined our school as the 7th grade teacher, and I left my position as Office Manager to become a class teacher for the very first time.
In 2010 our kindergartens relocated to the Seaside Children’s Center where they now reside.
For all of this time, there were two kindergartens and one class for each grade. But in 2012, the school welcomed our first double-tracked 1st Grade (Ms. Bellanger was one of those inaugural teachers) and the school has added a class each year bringing us to the present time, with three kindergartens and double tracked grades classes through 7th grade. Our current 8th grade is the last single-tracked class of the Monterey Bay Charter School.
From 67 students twenty years ago to our current enrollment of over 450 students today, the Monterey Bay Charter School has changed a great deal and, like many times in our history, we are once again experiencing growing pains. But the impulse to bring Waldorf education to the Monterey area is alive; heeding Rudolf Steiner’s advice to “receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom” remains central to fulfilling our school’s mission to “Inspire Joyful Learning and Courageous Living”!
Cheers to the next twenty four years!