The Brooklyn Waldorf School Moves to Bed-Stuy

The Revisioning of a Bed-Stuy historical building to accommodate a progressive, independent school

Bed-Stuy welcomed a new independent school this September, the Brooklyn Waldorf School, as part of a wave of new independent school openings along the Bed-Stuy/Clinton Hill border.

The Brooklyn Waldorf School is moving into an integral part of Bed-Stuy history, an unused building dubbed by the school the “Claver Castle,” across the street from the , founded in 1921 as the first African-American Roman Catholic Church in the diocese of Brooklyn.     

In 1931, ten years after the Church was founded, the visionary leader of the St. Peter Claver Roman Catholic Church, Reverend Bernard Quinn, created a school and community center. The building was then split into three parts: Nuns' quarters, classrooms and a gymnasium with a track for community recreation.

“In essence, his building was like a YMCA before the YMCA existed in the neighborhood,” said Val Mello, director of the Brooklyn Waldorf School. Reverend Quinn was dedicated to integrating the community center into the lives of the neighborhood.

The Claver school eventually was closed in 1988. And today, 23 years later, it is reborn as the new location for the Brooklyn Waldorf School. 

The school has been searching for a new space since they had outgrown their space located directly behind the Brooklyn Academy of Music building in Fort Greene. 

“We were so cramped in the old space. Now everyone is happy," said Katie Roth, assistant to the director. "This building is a dream come true."

There are a series of clips on You Tube under the tag Claver Castle that show exactly how much work went into making their dream come true. More than $4.5 million of work, funded by a combination of loans, parent donations and fundraising efforts, remade Reverend Quinn’s three-part building into a unified space. 

Teachers met with the architects and designed the new layout according to the flow of traffic during the day, the needs of the children and the curriculum.

And the results are stunning: The school takes full advantage of period details, such as curved windows, terraces between classrooms, a large gym and a solarium on the top floor accessible from the classrooms.

Hewing closely to Reverend Quinn’s legacy, the Brooklyn Waldorf School has a diversity and community involvement mission. Mellos said of the new location, “It is a wonderful place to reach all neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and we want the Brooklyn Waldorf School to truly reflect the population in Brooklyn with all groups and cultures present.” 

The Brooklyn Waldorf School has a three-tiered tuition schedule based on income and has done fundraising to allow five children who are below tier to attend the school, and the school hopes to raise more funds for more below tier children.

Wednesday morning is the weekly parent coffee, where parents can gather in the Waldorf room for bagels and conversation. Many of the parents were signing up for the doll-making workshop, where they will learn crafting skills to make items for sale at its winter festival fundraiser. 

Passing through the hall, a group of children are getting ready for a trip to the playground. “Every class goes outside at least once a day if not twice a day," said Mello. 

In one kindergarten classroom sits a child-sized table set with ceramic cups where children had just eaten a freshly cooked snack of organically grown food.  The Brooklyn Waldorf School tries to use as many natural materials and organic products as possible. Once the solarium and outdoor garden are finished, the children will be growing their own vegetables.

The Waldorf motto is “head, heart and hands,” where every part of the curriculum is taught from different angles emphasizing thought, experience and artistic expression. 

Another important aspect to the Waldorf experience is the fostering of community. Whenever a big decision about the school is made, everyone gathers from the board, the teachers, administration and parents to weigh in:  “It’s done collectively, everyone participates” added Mello.

Community also is encouraged through unique holiday celebrations, such as Michaelmas, a festival of courage using inspiration from St. George; The Spiral of Lights, a cross-cultural winter candle lighting festival; and a Springtime Planting Festival, like a maypole celebration.

Also, don’t be surprised to see a group of parents and children walking along Fulton Street at dusk with beautiful, handmade lanterns-- That will be the Brooklyn Waldorf School celebrating the time change and the beginning of the winter months.

Brooklyn We Go Hard October 01, 2011 at 03:11 PM
They were formerly located in the Brooklyn Music School's building not BAM


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