Detroit’s Waldorf School gets historic marker

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — The 92-year-old founder of the Detroit Waldorf School was present to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary Saturday by dedicating a historic marker at the Albert Kahn-designed building in Detroit’s historic Indian Village neighborhood.

Amelia Wilhelm, co-founder of the Detroit Waldorf School, holds a 50th anniversary plaque as the school celebrated a milestone on Saturday September 24, 2016.

Amelia Wilhelm founded the school with her late husband Rudolf Wilhelm in 1965. It was housed at Central United Methodist Church on Woodward until 1966, when the couple purchased the stucco and brick structure on Burns Avenue that previously housed the Liggett girls’ school.

“It not only educates children for the mind but (also for) their spirit, and it gives them self-confidence,” Wilhelm said Saturday, surrounded by dozens of Waldorf students, parents, alumni and faculty.

The couple founded the school because they were committed to the Waldorf method of education. There are 168 Waldorf schools in the U.S., including three in Michigan, with others in Oakland County and Ann Arbor.

“My husband went to a Waldorf school in Germany that his father founded,” Wilhelm said of her husband, an allergist who passed away in 2000.

The Waldorf method was developed in Germany in the early 1900’s by Rudolf Steiner, a well-known artist and scientist of that time. His holistic approach integrates art and music with academics, and allows children to learn at their own pace. The name “Waldorf” was coined because Steiner’s first school was built at the behest of the Waldorf-Astoria Cigarette Company.

Henry Traurig, of Huntington Woods, said said the school’s unique methods gave his daughters the ability to analyze and problem solve. Now ages 31 and 27, his daughters are grateful they attended the school.

“They feel like it didn’t just educate them in their lives, it changed their lives,” Traurig said. “They learn to think three dimensionally through a concept, so they’re able to analyze at great depth.

“They learned how to learn through the rest of their lives.”

Lily Mitchell, 13, has attended Waldorf since third grade.

“There’s a lot of art and music,” said Lily, who’s now in seventh grade. “ You can use your creativity to learn new things and experience things that at other schools you wouldn’t be able to.

“We’ve done painting and drawing and use charcoal, water colors and pastels, and we did an oil painting of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Starry Night.’I knit a doll too, and knit a pair of socks.”

According to Wilhelm, the school was “deliberately integrated” at its founding. The school strives for a mix of racial, ethnic, geographic, and social-economic status among its 240 pre-kindergarten through eighth-graders. Tuition ranges from $7,000 annually to $13,000 depending on the grade, but not all families pay that much.

The Detroit school has “accessible tuition”, meaning families pay an agreed-up amount consistent with their income level, and the school forgives the remainder, according to Charis Calender, enrollment and outreach director.

“It’s based on economic need and it depends on each family’s financial picture,” Calender said.