Elaina Vimmerstedt

Elaina Vimmerstedt

Thursday, 22 February 2024 13:48

Je Ne Sais Quoi

Have you ever walked in the Antioch School and wondered “What in the world is going on here?!” I have! I remember the first time I visited the school. I was a naturalist at Glen Helen at the time, and I wanted to learn more about the school and their unique approach to education. 


I left that visit full of emotion - I felt relief that a school like this existed - that there was a less oppressive place for children to spend their school days, and these fortunate students had the amazing opportunity to learn outside of more restrictive models of schooling. I felt joyful because the children’s joy was infectious and I couldn’t help but pick up some of that feeling. I was sad the visit was over! I felt that it was a truly good place to be, and I wanted to spend more time there. 


I also remember feeling intense curiosity. I knew I hadn’t gotten the whole story of the school from my short visit - there was a je ne sais quoi quality about it. What was so special about this place? A lot of what makes Antioch special is immediately apparent, but I remember feeling like there was so much more to understand, and I needed more time to sleuth it out. That visit was in the spring of 2018, so I’ve had a few years to develop my understanding of the special magic of the Antioch School. My understanding deepens every year - there is always more to learn! 


I’ve been thinking about my first school visit recently because we’ve been welcoming a lot of prospective families for pre-enrollment visits. Getting to know them and hearing their first impressions of the school makes me think that they too sense that there’s more going on under the surface, and they want to understand what makes the school a special place.  


This reflection is for those prospective families who are getting to know our school. It’s also for school families who are deepening their understanding as their children grow up through the program. I want to share some of the more subtle pieces of our school ethos that I’ve come to appreciate after a few years of observing and living school days at Antioch. These are the more intangible principles that aren’t immediately obvious after one visit. This is some of the philosophical framing that the school is built on. Without this subtle framing, the obviously-special things about the school wouldn’t be possible.  


The faculty and staff hold positive regard for the children, other faculty, staff, and school families. Holding unconditional positive regard means that someone supports and accepts others regardless of what choices they make or who they are. This includes when people make mistakes, both benign and harmful. It also includes accepting and supporting people who get on our nerves. In practice, holding unconditional positive regard means that when someone has transgressed in our community, we do not consider them to be a bad person. We consider instead that they are flawed just the same as we are, and they made a mistake. We try to maintain positive regard, even if someone has made a harmful choice. 


Unconditional positive regard is an essential tenet of our conflict resolution process, which is based on the principles of restorative justice. We practice a form of restorative justice in the form of “meetings”. Criminologist John Braithwaite describes restorative justice succinctly as

“a process where all stakeholders affected by an injustice have an opportunity to discuss how they have been affected by the injustice and to decide what should be done to repair the harm.” This is counter to our culture’s crime, punishment, and prison model of justice, where people can be essentially thrown away and excluded from society when they break the law. At school, meetings occur between transgressor and transgressed. Together they come up with a solution to their problem - they may also agree on amends to be made. 


At the Antioch School, teachers are trusted to lead and make decisions that are in the best interest of their students at school. Four of the five lead teachers serve on the school board every year. Teachers here have  autonomy over the educational program of their group. Teachers at Antioch are trusted, masterful observers of children, and their reports to families provide deep insight into their child’s experience. While serving on the board, teachers contribute to the governance and management of the whole school. 


We work as a team with families to support the children and keep the school running. Every family is asked to contribute volunteer time to the school every year. Just yesterday a parent volunteer was here after school replacing ceiling tiles. Parents weed the garden, spread mulch,  repair playground equipment, clean and organize classroom libraries, build shelves, serve on the board and board committees, plan school events, chaperone field trips, and so much more. The school would not run without their dedication. 

Every child is a capable learner - children are people who can thrive given time, space, and support to do so. This isn’t to say that children won’t have difficulties or barriers to overcome as they learn. It does mean we believe that children will learn and grow - at their own pace. They will achieve important milestones. They are able to do really difficult things!  We meet them where they are and go forward from there. There is no negative judgment - implicit or explicit - about when or how someone achieves the milestones of growing up. We celebrate the unique intelligences of every child, and compassionately support them while they work through things that are most challenging for them. 


Speaking of doing difficult things, children are resilient! Remarkably so, given they have a caring and supportive team of family, teachers, and friends! We believe children are capable of overcoming hardships, discomfort, and strife. Going through typical childhood hardships and discomfort is healthy for young people! It helps them learn how to process hard feelings that are a natural part of life. Children are going to live a life full of highs and lows. Part of our curriculum is teaching children how to cope with the lows, because they won’t always have an adult there to distract them from the lows, or make their problems go away.  

There is no single person who is in charge of the school. The faculty, staff, and board are all responsible for the governance of the school. We make big decisions together by consensus. Power to steer the direction of the school is decentralized and shared relatively equally between governing parties, with deference given to the teachers who are the stewards, caretakers, and historians of the school. Problem solving is left to the stakeholders who are involved. 


The nature of children is unchanging, but childhood and childrearing are subject to changes that come with cultural evolution.  The school opened in 1921. As an institution, we have a long track record of teaching and childrearing. Through this time and through generations of long-serving teachers, we have come to understand that children are born with the same nature as they were 100 years ago. We are first and foremost a child-centered school. Given that our approach is child-centered and the nature of children has not changed,  it follows that our approach to schooling has only changed a little over time. Trends in child rearing are constantly changing, and this means that we cycle through times of aligning more closely with these trends, and times when we are working in opposition to them. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on our school ethos if you’re a school community member! You can send me your thoughts via email -  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wednesday, 31 May 2023 11:42

Painting Joe Ayres' Camry

The Older Group has a busy schedule! The last few weeks of school were packed with the musical, camping, graduation, an end-of- the-year strings concert, practice standardized tests, cleaning out carrels, and saying goodbye to friends for the summer. This year, the Older Group had the opportunity to end the year with an ambitious art project: painting one of the cars in Joe Ayres’ collection of late 90’s Toyota Camry wagons. 

The children sketched designs on paper, came to a consensus on a draft, penciled in the design on the car, and began painting. Little elements changed along the way. Together they decided where they wanted different colors, and a tiger was added to the hood. It was a great project to end the year with! 

Thanks to Joe Ayres for giving the children this opportunity! 

Wednesday, 05 April 2023 20:19

Measures of success

We are a school with no grades, and no report cards, so how do we measure success?  Traditional schooling measures success essentially by grades alone. Antioch school children are not limited by the extrinsic motivation of grades. Learning is allowed to happen by means of intrinsic motivation. The teachers here wholeheartedly trust that children will learn and grow if they are given the time, space and support to do so - we don’t need grades to know this either! 


There are countless opportunities to measure success here. At the Antioch School, success can be (but is not limited to):


Feeling happy 

Feeling fulfilled

Connecting with peers in meaningful ways 

Pursuing something you’re really excited about 

Deciding you want to get better at something, and doing the practice that will help with that goal 

Learning how to do an essential life skill 

Learning a new academic concept

Teaching someone how to do something 

Making friends 

Learning how to advocate for yourself and ask for help 

Getting to know yourself 

Learning to set boundaries when you’re uncomfortable 

Having a conflict and finding a resolution with someone

Learning to receive feedback and use it to improve 

Learning to share resources

Doing something with peers that would be impossible to do alone, learning the value of human cooperation

Developing empathy 

Learning to compromise

Accepting differences and flaws in others

Learning how to make choices about what to do when you’re bored

Planning something, following through, and seeing it work exactly how you imagined


Measures of success are unique to each child. I believe that part of the journey of growing up is deciding for yourself what being successful and happy looks like, and then deciding what your priorities need to be to achieve that vision for yourself. It takes time to decide. It’s an honor to be here with the children as they start this work, and I’m so grateful to our school for giving them the opportunity to see all these different measures of success.   

Wednesday, 01 March 2023 22:48

Unclaimed Art

Art time for children at the Antioch School is often free and self directed. Materials are provided and I give instruction and suggestions on how things could be used, but for the most part, the children are free to create as they see fit. As a result, the Art and Science room is routinely stocked with unclaimed art. Every day the children come to the Art and Science room full of ideas. They know exactly what they need and they have a plan! Other times, the children come in a seeking mood, searching for just the right medium to bring their vision to life. It's amazing what they create out of the simplest raw materials. Cardboard boxes become stuffy houses. Paper becomes an origami fortune teller or frog. A Y-shaped stick and some rubber bands become a slingshot! Paper and chalk pastels make vibrant, abstract scenes. 

Once the creating is done, I'm both surprised and delighted by how often they leave their work behind! Sometimes they leave their work behind because they have bigger, better, more exciting things to get to and there's no time to waste bringing their art with them. Other times they simply reach an internal limit of work and they need to go relax or do something else, and they have no interest in taking their work with them. Their unclaimed art is a great reminder that oftentimes, the process of creating and expressing ourselves is so much more important than the end product. It is also a great reminder not to hold onto things too tightly.

Tuesday, 24 January 2023 03:06

Digging the Dirt and Feeling the Beat - Artists in Residence at the Antioch School

The Antioch School has a wonderful artist in residence program. Every year we welcome guest teachers specializing in a wide range of fields - all the way from archaeology to dance, music, theater, and poetry. The residency program is a great opportunity for the children to experience unique classes, and work with talented specialists who are experts in their craft. As the art and science teacher, it is my pleasure to host the resident teachers in the art and science room and help them facilitate their lessons with the children. 

Earlier this school year we welcomed Jeff White, who is an archaeologist, entrepreneur and educator.  Jeff has visited the school before, and his return was highly anticipated by the children who remember his first residency week with us in the fall of 2018. Jeff’s residency included hands-on study of prehistoric and historic artifacts, cataloging model artifacts in prepared model dig pits, and a few chemistry demonstrations as well. Jeff will return for another week this spring to lead dig site excavations around the school grounds. The children discovered the foundation of an old building that once stood near the parking lot in past digs with Jeff. I’m excited to see what is uncovered this time around!   

We've also welcomed two drumming teachers into our residency program this year. Gyamfi Gyamera, who we fondly call Baba G, introduced the YG and OG to the djembe, conga, and dun duns in the fall. His lessons introduced the children to the origins of the instruments in Africa and the Caribbean, West African salutations, and West African drum culture. The groups learned the basic sounds the drums can make (slap, bass and tone), proper drumming position and technique, and two traditional West African rhythms: Kuku and Kakilambe. By the end of Baba G’s residency, the children knew the rhythms and song forms so well and loved playing them so much that they decided to perform them at our Thanksgiving feast - the concert had no conductor - the children chose lead drummers who cued their classmates with the “call” rhythm of the songs. 

Our second drumming teacher is Tom Kondas, who will be teaching all the children on Wednesdays in January and February. Tom has picked up where Baba G left off with the OG and YG - he’s challenging them to hone their precision and technique, and is teaching us a new rhythm - train jam! The Kindergarteners and Nurseries are thoroughly enjoying their time with Tom as well. They are learning the basics like the YG and OG did in the fall - the bass, tone, and slap techniques, and how to feel a steady beat in the music. Tom leads them in marching games to practice feeling the beat, but he also indulges their need to move to the music in their own way. The most thrilling part of drum time with Tom for the Nurseries and Kindergarteners is the train jam dance time. It’s a beautiful way for them to express their joy and creativity!


Thursday, 27 October 2022 20:27

Art and Science Haiku

 Nails are to hammer

Scrubber Ducky is to scrub 

Stage is to act on 


                                                       Flathead screwdriver 

                                                       Becomes a wedge for splitting 

                                                       Wood is cleaved in two 


Can I hold Froggy

Yes you can, please keep him safe   

Hold on sweet Froggy


                                                       Little bit of blue

                                                       Mix it with lots of bright white

                                                       Pastel! Try some more! 


What are you making

Lots of purple cabbage juice

Wow it's so stinky

Monday, 26 September 2022 15:44

Juniper the Snake

Once upon a time there was an Antioch School student who grew up and went to college. When he was getting ready to move into his dorm, he found out that his beloved ball python Juniper wouldn't be allowed to stay there with him. He brought her to the Antioch School art and science room where she could stay safe and sound while he was away at college. The Antioch School children had mixed feelings about her arrival! Many were excited, happy and curious. A few were trepidatious. After asking lots of questions, getting to see her up close, and getting to feel her scales for themselves, everyone who was feeling unsure felt much more at ease.