Desert Marigold School Biography

The birth of the Valley of the Sun Waldorf Education Association, Inc. and the Desert Marigold School is to be found in early Waldorf study and support groups established in Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, and specifically in Tempe during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Many of these informal study groups were simply unions of numerous individuals who were initially impressed with Waldorf education and interested in trying to create some kind of educational initiative out of the study.

These early, relaxed inclinations were supported by a number of experienced Waldorf and anthroposophical individuals and organizations including Karen Hoyt and Harold and Eva Fridley from Tucson; Charity Cygal from Sedona; Joan Treadaway from Prescott; Christopher Hahn and Nancy Dubasik from Phoenix; and Peter Rennick from Tempe. Many of these individuals were founding members of Arizona’s Manzanita Branch of the National Anthroposophical Society which had been operating for many years prior to the opening of Waldorf schools in Arizona. In addition, Joan Treadaway, Peter Rennick, and Nancy Dubasik ceremoniously formed a statewide Waldorf educational support organization, the Arizona Council for Waldorf Education (ACWE) through a celebration in the fall of 1991. ACWE and the Anthroposophical Society drew together various individuals who were and continue to remain personally committed to exploring the writings and works of Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf education, anthroposophy, anthroposophical medicine, biodynamic gardening, and the role of the human spirit in our contemporary society. ACWE and the Anthroposophical Society worked to organize and support a number of public presentations and discussions concerning Rudolf Steiner’s work as well as its application in Waldorf education, including presentations from noted Waldorf educators like René Querido, Margret Meyerkort, Roberta Van Schilffgaarde, Betty Staley, and Mark Finser.

A great deal of the dramatic progression of Waldorf education throughout Arizona in the early 90’s was the direct result of ACWE. ACWE was founded to bring Waldorf schools and individuals together from around the state to work collaboratively to advance the clarity of Waldorf education and generously became one of the first organizations to decide to support the work of Waldorf schools in the public sector. ACWE continues to support the growing interest in Waldorf education and remedial therapy throughout Arizona and the nation.

Throughout the early 90’s, the three founders of ACWE hosted many meetings and nurtured many of the study groups throughout the state focusing on Waldorf education. One of the aforementioned Waldorf study groups began to regularly occur in Tempe, where that group’s meetings often took place in Peter Rennick’s office. The Tempe group in particular brought together a small cadre of committed parents of young children, including Beth Farley who lived in Tempe and brought a neighbor, Regina Hahn, who had recently completed the Waldorf Kindergarten certification, and Nancy Hawk, who began a Waldorf preschool playgroup in Mesa in 1992 and hired Regina Hahn to work at the Mesa playgroup. Concurrently to the Mesa playgroup, Nancy Dubasik had begun a Waldorf inspired pre-school playgroup in Glendale in 1991 called the Desert Marigold Playgroup. The Mesa playgroup dissolved after two years, and the parents of children in that playgroup pressed for another initiative more centrally located in the Phoenix area. Most of the individuals attending the study groups were parents of pre-school as well as school-aged children, and the will to create a Waldorf Pre-school and Kindergarten in the Tempe area continued to grow despite the setback of the closing of the Mesa initiative. After the closing of the Mesa playgroup, a particular group of parents dedicated to Waldorf education continued meeting informally for a parent-run Waldorf-oriented playgroup. They met at local city parks and supportive venues including the Quaker Meeting House in Tempe. The study of Waldorf education continued throughout the metro Phoenix area through ACWE and eventually Nancy Dubasik’s Glendale playgroup and the informal Tempe playgroup became associated. Nancy Dubasik agreed to move her Glendale playgroup to Phoenix and Regina Hahn agreed to join Nancy Dubasik as founding teachers to help open the relocated Glendale school to a 1,200 square foot rented bungalow on Whitton Drive in a central Phoenix historic neighborhood. The relocated Desert Marigold Playgarden first opened its doors in the fall of 1994. It began as an independent Waldorf initiative serving pre-school and kindergarten age children in a half day/extended day program. These founding teachers, along with a handful of pioneering families, created a fairy tale oasis where many Phoenix-area families celebrated seasonal festivals, heard dynamic speakers and received their first taste of Waldorf education.

An informal governing board was established to help guide this early initiative and the Board obtained legal corporate status in August, 1994 as the Valley of the Sun Waldorf Education Association, Inc. The initial board members included Nancy and Joseph Dubasik, Tom and Regina Hahn, Peter Rennick, and Karl and Alice Stambaugh, Leslie Lambert, and Casey Carpenter. Others joined the Board soon after, including Glenda Groyer, David Derby, and Diann Gallawa.

The number of parents involved continued to grow, including Amy Bird and Brian Aiken who moved from Tucson and enrolled their daughter in the pre-school class at the Whitton site in the spring of 1995. At this time, the Board decided to look at relocating to, and hopefully purchasing, a larger site as the contemplation of creating a grades program became central to the efforts of the school community. All Board members were assigned a different section of the Phoenix metro area to research and report back to the members about the possibilities and potentials for property appropriate for a school in their assigned sections. Amy Bird took over researching the South Phoenix section from Kay Wilson and found the 6210 S. 28th Street property near the base of South Mountain. Amy Bird, along with Tom Hahn, played critical roles in supporting the location as well as putting together plans to create sufficient capital to purchase the site. The school moved to South Phoenix in the summer of 1996. The small community – twenty some families – raised more than $25,000 to purchase the 5-acre property and renovate the main structure to house two classrooms and a small office.

RSF Social Finance (RSF) is an innovative financial services organization committed to fostering an ever-growing community committed to creating social benefit and environmental sustainability. RSF, who is supportive of Waldorf education, took an interest in Desert Marigold and has partnered with the school since 1996 as a lender and financial adviser. RSF helped support and finance the purchase of the land that would house the Desert Marigold School.

The school continued to grow slowly, adding a grade a year starting in 1997. Between 1999 and 2001, literally hundreds of volunteers worked with local contractors to construct four classrooms and patio areas – the first permitted commercial straw bale building in the City of Phoenix. The straw bale building project, designed by architect Tom Hahn in conjunction with Blossom Design Group, was again notably supported with further financing through the RSF. During this time community members, many of them parents, began taking up the training needed to become Waldorf teachers and administrators. Festivals like the Penny Fair, Lantern Walk, Winter Fair and May Fair became much anticipated annual traditions. Over time – and thanks to countless numbers of volunteer hours from dedicated individuals including Brian Aiken, Jim Peake, Graylin Grissett, Arne Dailey, Leno McCook, Tom and Gena Hahn, and Karl Stambaugh – the five acre tree farm purchased in 1996 began to be transformed into a school campus. Desert Marigold also began hosting the quarterly meetings of the Arizona Council for Waldorf Education (ACWE) and continues to do so to this day.

In the fall of 2001 the school was struggling with small class sizes and a deficit budget. Many families wanting to attend the school had difficulty paying the private school tuitions of over five thousand dollars per child. After a series of tumultuous and emotional community meetings, it was decided to seek a charter with the State of Arizona in order to take advantage of the funding available from the state and to attract and serve a more diverse population. When the charter was granted in May 2002, Desert Marigold became one of a small but growing number of publically funded school communities choosing to offer the Waldorf curriculum.

Since 2002, Desert Marigold’s enrollment has more than quadrupled and the facilities have grown to include two additional classroom buildings through the assistance of the RSF and numerous large scale site improvements, much of it done under the devoted direction of Gerald Leclair. Our first 8th grade, seven students strong, graduated in May 2005. As of the start of the 2009/2010 school year, the school serves over 230 children in preschool through 9th grade. Additional families attend parent/child playgroups weekly. A staff of over thirty full-time and parttime educators works together to meet the needs of these children and their families. We celebrate the diversity of our community, so rich in different cultural, family and faith traditions and so generous in its support of our school.

In 2005, Desert Marigold took another big growth step with the purchase of an adjacent 5 acre property with the aid of the RSF for a future high school and other community facilities. We are now breaking ground on a comprehensive construction project that will add much needed classroom and specialty program space as well as enhance the safety and beauty of the campus by relocating the parking area to the southern edge of our now 10 acre campus. Our goal is to continue to serve the children and families in the Phoenix area as we work together to bring the deep principles underlying Waldorf education alive in the 21st century.