Combining grades can allow the teacher to form a large enough group to be dynamic and to embody the social aspects of Waldorf education.
— Lori Freer, Waldorf teacher from Pennsylvania

The Waldorf main lesson curriculum is traditionally taught to each grade individually; each grade-level experiences a set of blocks that are intended for their specific age group based on the correlation between the block content and the developmental stage of the child. In the spring of 2017, Orchard Valley Waldorf School adopted a new model of class structure, which we refer to as the Bay School Model. The Bay School Model combines classes of two ages—eight- and nine-year-olds, for example—in each classroom. Though this is a departure from the Waldorf convention, the Bay School Model is recognized within the community of Waldorf schools as a viable and sustainable model, particularly for schools located in more rural environments with smaller demographics from which to draw students.

There are several advantages to this model that we believe strengthen our school and pedagogy:

  • It allows classes to reach healthy sizes, providing opportunities to develop sensitivity to group work, varieties of friendships, and an appreciation for a differentiation of tasks and expectations based on each student’s unique learning journey.
  • Classes feel like families with siblings of various ages, strengths, and challenges that contribute to a rich social mix. This demands alertness and flexibility in the teacher, movement against complacency in the curriculum.
  • Older students can mentor younger classmates, and the younger students help the older classmates to stay fresh and curious.
  • In skills classes (mathematics, language arts), older students who need remedial work have the opportunity to master skills before stepping forward into the next grade; younger grade students have the opportunity to stretch their skills a little further than if they were in a straight grade class.

Every year at Orchard Valley we will have a standalone 1st grade due to the uniqueness of the first grade child and the curriculum. Currently (2017-2018 school year), we have a 2/3 combined class, a 4/5 combined class, a 6/7 combined class, and a standalone 8th grade.

Class teachers of combined classes have adjusted the traditional main lesson block schedule to meet both ages within their class, and have met with great success in forming strong, healthy groups of learners.