The music stops for Singing Winds School

Small Waldorf School closes in Riverside

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A small private school that offered a radically different approach to education has shut its doors this year the victim of a poor economy and a small enrollment. The Singing Winds School, a Waldorf school that had been renting space in the United Methodist Church of Riverside for the past two years, did not open its doors this fall and has closed.

"It's so sad," said Riverside resident Joan Anderson, the president of the Singing Winds board of directors.

The poor economy made it hard for the private school to attract students.

"Families were hesitant to commit to a private school because of the economy," Anderson said.

Singing Winds was founded in 1999 and was initially located in an Oak Park home, had rented space at the United Methodist Church of Riverside since 2007 after renting space for a few years at the now closed Holy Cross High School in River Grove.

With an enrollment of only about 30 kids in a program that went from early childhood education through eighth grade the school could not afford to pay the $3,000 monthly rent to the church and to pay its four teachers.

The school had attracted students from the near west suburbs and from Chicago.

The Waldorf method of education is based on the ideas of the Austrian intellectual Rudolph Steiner. It emphasizes a holistic and humanistic approach to education. It stresses music and hand work as well as traditional learning. All first graders are taught to knit and students typically do not begin to learn to read until the second grade. All students learn to play a musical instrument, the recorder. Physical activity, movement and hand work are important parts of the curriculum.

There are three other Waldorf Schools in the Chicago area, one in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, one in Warrenville and one in Wauconda, according to the Web site for Waldorf schools.

"I think there is room for a school in Riverside with different ideas, but we just didn't have enough of a base of students to survive," Anderson said.

The loss of the rental income has been a blow to United Methodist, a church with only about 90 members, many elderly and living away from Riverside. Only about 20 to 25 people typically show up for Sunday services said Doug Asbury, United Methodist pastor.

United Methodist would like to rent the space to another tenant as the rent has been an important source of income to the church.

"We are looking for other organizations that might need space," Asbury said.

United Methodist is located across the street from Central School and Hauser Junior High School. Asbury said that he has had conversations with Riverside Elementary School District 96 Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson about whether District 96 would be interested in renting the space for its administrative offices. He said Lamberson toured the space at United Methodist a few weeks ago.

District 96 currently has its administrative headquarters at the closed Mater Christi School in North Riverside where it has rented space since 2008. That lease, which is with the Archdiocese of Chicago, expires after the 2010-2011 school year, according to District 96.

"We do not have a need this year or next year for any additional space," Lamberson said. "Who knows what will happen after that."

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