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Irish Inspirations: A Transformative Visit to ALFA Steiner Secondary School


I traveled to Ireland in September with my family as we accompanied my husband on a work trip to Dublin. Our plan was to spend a week in a city hotel before subsequently renting a car to road-trip the island. After a week corralling my two young boys in an overcrowded metropolis, we were ready to break free and escape to the pastoral Irish countryside.

On our journey, we’d hit a number of sites: monastic ruins, neolithic sites, and Medieval castles. Additionally, we’d visit a school nestled in the historic hills of County Clare providing “full-time, progressive education for 12 to 17-year-olds” wherein “a team of experienced teachers, tutors and artisans offers an authentic, project-based learning program that develops the hands, hearts and head of our students.”

The school is called ALFA: Active Learning for Adolescents. Michele, Jessica, and myself (the three co-founders of Nova High) had discovered this school in the early months of forming Nova and used it as a shining example of what we would strive towards. ALFA had built exactly what we envisioned: a program that supports teens by equipping them with the tools and the environment to develop their capacity to think creatively and critically. Furthermore, ALFA’s hands-on approach of allowing students to construct their own school buildings and engage in persistent immersive learning opportunities aligned perfectly with the Nova’s vision.

The path to ALFA Steiner Secondary School in the early fall is lined with Irish Yew Trees that sprinkle delicate fronds about the walkway leading to the front office. Little picket fences bordering the grounds are adorned with twisted vines and dripping with bows of ivy. This is how I found ALFA’s campus on the crisp autumn morning of October 4th – like a true Irish fairy tale.

I was kindly greeted by Alex, the office manager, who gave me a well-planned itinerary of my visit. I would visit Junior Maths with Gordon Woolard, a visiting teacher from England, before continuing to Senior History. From there, I’d witness the teens participating in a Socratic discussion exploring “why we study math” before transitioning to the hands-on lessons of woodworking and textiles in the afternoon.

I was then escorted to a sweetly-lit wooden schoolhouse and asked to take a seat. As in all Waldorf classrooms, a beautiful chalk drawing was displayed on the blackboard announcing the current block of study: Sacred Geometry. I walked the rows of enthusiastic adolescents as they worked in their Main Lesson Books, peeking over their shoulders and listening to them chatter about Prehistoric Mathematics.


Afterwards, I paid a visit to the Senior’s history class and witnessed a discussion about Cleisthenes, the “father of Athenian democracy.” Students tracked the lesson by once again illustrating their Main Lesson Books, pausing to engage in a rousing dialogue about whether or not we are all living in a “true democracy” at this point in time.

Following history, we all disconnected from our brainwork and made a quick exodus to the courtyard for lunch. Teens either teamed up to play basketball or crowded around the concrete ping-pong table (which they’d made themselves) for games of table tennis. I sidled up next to a few of them and asked if they’d ever be interested in participating in an exchange program to Idaho. They excitedly answered, “Yes, yes, yes!”

A highlight of the day was getting the opportunity to enter the geodesic dome I’d seen photos of on ALFA’s website. The construction of the dome fully involved the teens and employed the architectural theories of Buckminster Fuller. The entire dome was built in stages over the course of 3 years. I was able to witness it complete in all its glory as students constructed wooden stools with hand tools within.



The day ended with a final walkabout of the grounds to view past projects. I played wooden xylophones the students created in a block studying The Physics of Sound, thoroughly inspected a handmade pizza oven, and gazed at a beautiful copperwork art piece fabricated in honor of ALFA’s 20-year anniversary in 2021.

My visit to ALFA Steiner Secondary School was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The program is buzzing with passion, life, and enthusiasm. ALFA began in 2001 with a group of 12 students in an off-grid log cabin. Twenty years later, they are here. Nova is beginning in 2023 with a group of 11 students in downtown Sandpoint seeking land to build on. Where will we be twenty years from now?

We are honored and overjoyed to be standing hand-in-hand with a school so rich and enlivened as ALFA. We welcome their mentorship with open arms and together dream of engaging in more connected programming into the future. For now, we will both continue in our own ways and on our own continents to strive towards our shared endeavor: “… to develop free human beings who are able of themselves to impart purpose and direction to their lives." -Rudolf Steiner




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