Posted by: Alex Borders | October 28, 2010

Interview with Alumni

Thursday 28th October

Kindergarten parent, Sonja Seawright, interviews GFS Junior, Jason Mitchell-Boyask and asks him about his eight years at WSP.  In particular his views on the use of computers, having the same teacher for eight years and how music became his passion.

Sonja:  When did you start going to the Waldorf School of Philadelphia (WSP)?  Kindergarten? First grade? Second? etc.

Jason:  I came to WSP in first grade.

Sonja:  How many kids were with you in your graduating class at WSP?

Jason:  There were 11 kids in my graduating class. All but one had all been together since first grade

Sonja: In a Waldorf school, kids stay with the same class and the same teacher from when they start to when they graduate. What was that experience like: the same teacher year after year? more or less the same kids year after year?

Jason:  Personally, I loved having the same teacher. My teacher was Dori Persinotti. She was with us from the end of second grade all the way through to graduation, and I was very fortunate to have her. I think that when you’re with the one teacher for such a huge amount of time, you can learn a lot more from them because you get to know one another so well, especially with such small class sizes. It makes it easier for the teacher to get to know which teaching styles will best help their students. I also loved having such a close personal relationship with them. For example, Mrs. Persinotti and many of my special subject teachers were at my bar mitzvah, and they were each individually called up during my candle lighting ceremony. Having them there was very special to me.

Sonja:  When you entered 8th grade, you knew that was the last year in the insular community of WSP. At the time, were you nervous about having new teachers the next year? Were you nervous about meeting “hundreds” of new kids in another school? Or were you ready for a change?  (Maybe both?)

Jason:  I have to admit, I am a huge crier, so there was a lot of tears throughout my eighth grade year. My class had a very close relationship, and although I was excited to discover what the rest of the world was like, I definitely knew that I was going to miss them, and the entire school, very much after I left (and I most definitely have). I adored the close community at WSP. The way I like to put it is that I loved that you could just walk up to pretty much anyone in the school and give them a big hug, and it wouldn’t be weird. It was one giant family, really.

Sonja:  You chose to go to high school at Germantown Friends School (GFS). What made you and your parents decide upon that school?

Jason:  Music is a massive part of my life (my schedule in school consists of about 50% music classes, and I am planning on trying to be a vocal performance major in college), and GFS had a stellar music department, so that was one factor that greatly influenced my decision. Another factor in my decision to go to GFS was the relationship the students seemed to have with the teachers. I talked previously about that being something I loved about WSP, and so I wanted to go to a high school where I could keep that relationship as much as possible.

Sonja: My daughter just started kindergarten at WSP, and we intend to send her to WSP through the grades.  One of the things that made us feel like WSP was a good place for her was the emphasis on music.  As you are very interested in music, tell me about the role that music plays at WSP.

Jason: I definitely think that the music at WSP is an important part of the community. I don’t know what the system is now (I’ve heard that it’s changed a bit), but when I was at WSP, I had mandatory recorder lessons, string orchestra classes, and chorus. I think that having so many different required areas of music really gives them a chance to see what they might be interested in, and what they might have not otherwise known they were good at. Music also brings the community together in a really fun way, whether it be for concerts, Holiday Fair entertainment, or the May Fair.

Sonja: Did you get music lessons outside of WSP?  Or did you get all of your music needs met in school?

Jason: Students are strongly advised to take lessons outside of school for their string instruments, so I took those at Settlement Music School. I had started my string instrument when I was five, though, because my grandfather was an avid violinist when he was younger and wanted to get me started on it as soon as possible.

Sonja: When did you know that singing was your passion?

Jason: I started to discover that I loved to sing towards the end of eight grade. However, I didn’t really know that I was good enough to go anywhere with it until the end of my freshmen year in high school, when I was the youngest member to make GFS’ exclusive A Cappella group (our last album was nominated for one of the 5 best high school albums in the USA, woohoo!)

Sonja:  Congratulations!  So, did any of your classmates at WSP also choose GFS?

Jason:  Yes, Nicholas Rittler.

Sonja:  Were there other WSP students from earlier graduating classes at GFS?  If so, did any of them reach out to you at GFS to help you transition to the new school?

Jason:  No. Nick and I were the first kids from WSP to go to GFS.

Sonja:  How was your first year at GFS? Did you feel like it took you time to acclimate? Or did you hit the ground running?

Jason:  In my freshmen year, it definitely took a bit of time to get used to a community so much bigger than the one at WSP, and not having the same kids in all of my classes, but I quickly adjusted and made friends and did well in my classes. WSP definitely helped make me someone who knows how to get along with new people. Despite what many might think, because of the school’s small size, WSP made me a very independent person.

Sonja:  How was it meeting a whole bunch of new students?

Jason:  I knew a couple of people at GFS already from camps and various other social events, so I did already have a couple of friends to go to there. But I quickly made many others. Everyone was very friendly.

Sonja:  Now you’re in your third year at GFS. How’s it going?

Jason:  It’s going well, but there is definitely A LOT of work, which can be stressful. College has also now come into the picture, which is really exciting but very nerve-wracking. Mrs. Persinotti definitely helped us out a lot though by intentionally preparing us for high school work loads. When someone complained, she would point out that she was only trying to prepare us for what was next, which I am grateful for.

Sonja:  Do you wish you had gone to GFS sooner, like 6th grade or even earlier?

Jason:  No. I enjoy being [at GFS] for high school and I love the community there, but I wouldn’t trade all my years at WSP for the world, especially my eighth grade year, which was probably the best year of my life so far.

Sonja:  Now I’d like to talk a little about technology.  At WSP, computers are not a part of the work students do, but at GFS, I assume you write most of your papers on a computer and also do a lot of research for your homework on computers.  How was that switch in emphasis for you?

Jason:  The huge increase in computer usage was definitely a big switch for me. I think that WSP prepared me enough for it that it wasn’t too big of a switch, though. Towards the end of 7th grade and pretty much throughout 8th grade, we typed our papers on the computer, and we had a few reports for which we used the computer to do research.

Sonja:  Did you use a computer at home before 7th grade?  Or did your parents prohibit you from using one until you started using it for school?

Jason:  Computer usage for me was fairly limited by my parents. Up until middle school, especially up until 7th grade, my parents would give me maximum around 20 minutes a day on the computer, and they would monitor what I would do on the internet. Mostly I would only ever just play kiddie games.  But that didn’t happen often.

Sonja:  My daughter is just in kindergarten, but from what I understand, students make their own textbooks through the grades.  How has the switch from making your textbooks to reading (rather dry, boring) school textbooks been for you?

Jason:  That was definitely a change for me, to have a textbook in every subject. We did use math texts books in 7th and 8th grade, and a history text-book in 8th grade, and I think that those prepared me enough for the textbooks that I would end up using in high school. Making Morning Lesson Books was definitely a lot of work, but I think that the good thing about them was that it really got you to learn the material well when you’re writing it all down yourself. WSP definitely helped greatly strengthen my memory skills.

Sonja:  I think that will do it.  Thanks so much for your time, Jason!


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