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The History of MWS

The BeginningsTomte-Gubben School

The history of Monadnock Waldorf School is one of vision and determination. It began, interestingly enough, with two young women knocking on strangers' doors in Sullivan and Nelson, New Hampshire, neighboring towns in the Southwestern corner of the state.

Founding MWS teacher Janet Gordon, and her colleague Linda Ladoucer, had this question to ask of their communities: Would young families be interested in joining a Nursery program based on the insights of early childhood education from the Waldorf tradition? The program would be play-based and nature-orientated, offering children a chance to unfold at their own pace.

The answer was Yes. In 1976, the Tomte Gubben School was born. Named after a beloved Swedish storybook character, and translated as "little men" or "little people", Tomte Gubben opened its doors to eight children and five families. Those doors went directly into the living room of Signe Motter, a founding parent.

Community Support

Tomte Gubben grew year by year, attracting more children, more teachers and a wealth of warm community support, a wealth that continues today. Veteran teachers from other Waldorf communities offered advice, inspiration, and practical guidance; individual families offered homes to the growing school. Tomte Gubben went from a living room to an entire farmhouse, then to a property in Nelson owned by the Iselin family, with pond, woods and a potential for building.

In 1980, the school found itself with 23 pupils; a nursery, kindergarten, a combined first and second grade class and three teachers, including Waldorf teacher trained Dorothy Iselin. Parents and teachers also found themselves with an important decision to make: Where could the school best continue to grow and thrive?

The Big Leap

The answer came after much thought and discussion: Keene, a friendly, vibrant city, centrally located in Southwestern New Hampshire, would be ideal. In 1982, the city of Keene offered the former Lincoln Elementary School for lease, in a residential neighborhood on South Lincoln Street. Built in 1901, the school is a solid three story brick structure, with spacious classrooms, abundant natural lighting and easy access to Robin Hood Park and other town parks to supplement its outdoor recreation area. Tomte Gubben took a deep breath and made the leap.

The leap was not just in building capacity, or in location. From the beginning, Tomte Gubben fulfilled all state, county and town laws and guidelines for operation as a preschool and became a non-profit organization with a Board of Trustees and its own Articles of Association and Bylaws. But now the school also began the lengthy process of becoming an "official" Waldorf School, and at last acquired its permanent name: Monadnock Waldorf School. A new chapter had begun.

Growing Pains and Projects

In 1986, the school was able to purchase the Lincoln Street Elementary building from the Keene school district, and one year later, the first eighth grade class proudly graduated from Monadnock Waldorf School.

As the school continued to attract more families and students, the Elementary school that once felt cavernous began to feel just the opposite. Kindergarten and nursery classes, feeling the constraints of tiny basement classrooms, were moved to a local Unitarian church. Every Friday at the church, the teachers had to disassemble their classrooms to make way for Sunday school over the weekend, and then put everything back in place for Monday morning.

After a long search, and strong support from the school and local community, including many generous no-interest loans and outright monetary gifts, Monadnock Waldorf School was able to purchase a beautiful twelve acre site on the outskirts of Keene in 1992. Woods, open fields, streams, gardens, a chicken coop, and a stone house with sweeping views of the Ashuelot River Valley welcomed the Nursery-Kindergarten into its new home.

In 2001, the Elementary school, once again bursting at the seams, underwent a transformation of its own, adding a five thousand foot addition, complete with assembly room and stage with seating for 200, library, faculty room, handicapped accessible elevator and bathrooms, and office space. Only three years later, the stone house at the Nursery-Kindergarten was also expanded, adding two new classrooms. In the following years, Nursery-Kindergarten hours of operation were lengthened to better meet the needs of today's young families.

All of these expansions were made possible through the hard work and generosity of a broad circle of friends.

The High School

In the fall of 2010, Monadnock Waldorf School's legacy of both vision and determination culminated in the realization of a long held dream: offering a complete Waldorf program from Nursery through the High School level.

Essential to the effort was the generous offer by members of the Putnam family, whose property surrounds the Tilden Building on School Street in Keene. They admired both the cultural community that MWS brings to the larger city, and the community spirit MWS brings to its neighborhood. Members of the Putnam family came to the MWS Board with the idea of purchasing the Tilden School and leasing the building for a Waldorf High school.

Again, families, teachers, staff, and community gave tirelessly of their time, effort, and personal resources to launch the program. Twenty seven pioneering students and four intrepid High School teachers, hailing from New York City to Australia, inaugurated the High School with ninth and tenth grades. By 2013, we had children and adolescents from Nursery though twelfth grade served by Monadnock Waldorf School.