On their project presentation night, Emerson Waldorf School students displayed items they had been working on for the last year, such as a recipe book, demo CD, and documentary about the 2008 financial crisis.
Almost 200 people attended the event, a record for the school.
One draw for many may have been the grade level of the students. The presenters were all in eighth grade.
Aidan Buehler, 14, created one of the most elaborate projects, a design for a single-family house. He worked with Lucy Davis, a professional architect, to learn the skills and did most of his work on Google SketchUp.
“Basically, I designed a house from start to finish,” he said, although it ended up being larger than planned. He laid out rooms and external design features, furnished the house, and added paint and textures. He did not include a plumbing system, electrical system, or internal wiring. “I did put in some vents and designed it so that, with some editing, it could be built legally I should hope,” he said.
He got some of his ideas from architecture books he read. “For the most part, however, it was me experimenting with random ideas of mine and seeing if they looked good,” he said. “Although I did go into this project with ideas as to what qualities I wanted in my house, my model was constantly changing.”
Buehler said he also had “an insane amount of fun” working on the project throughout the year. He appreciated having a long time to complete it, because he didn’t have to stress about deadlines. He estimates that he spent several hundred hours on the project.
Emerson Waldorf is structured differently than public schools and many private schools. Students often have the same teacher from first to eighth grade, although some teachers may only teach a certain range of grades. Specialists help teach advanced subjects in higher grades.
This has allowed Shannon Wiley, who has taught Buehler for eight years, to build a deep bond with his student.
“In very real words, I am the third parent,” he said. “That makes me involved at a very emotional level and thats kind of the best part of Waldorf education, especially for a grades teacher. I watch them grow, I help them grow, and I guide them, but I also am part of that process as well.”
Aidan Buehler’s father, Georg Buehler, described his son as heady and intellectual.
“He’s always been more into the thinking and the logical side of things, less into the squishy, more human side of things, although he’s always surprised me with how he brings that into creative, artistic kinds of things.”
From a young age, Aidan enjoyed building structures. “When he was much younger, he would play with Kapla blocks,” his father said. “I have pictures of him building enormous bridges and things out of thousands of these little blocks.”
Davis, an architect at LCDA Architecture in Chapel Hill, has been working with the Buehler family since last fall, meeting with Aidan once a month.
She taught him some basic skills, such as how to use Google SketchUp and other design programs, but he did all of the work for the project himself.
“I just really was a mentor,” she said. “He came up with all of the ideas and I just helped him consider them and develop them.”
“I thought he was really amazing in how well he picked up on the issues and how really talented he is in that area,” said Davis, who attended the presentation night. “A lot of them, to me, for that age group of kids and the scope of the projects, they produced some really sophisticated work,” she said.
Buehler is working on designing another house, and his mother asked him to help decide how new furniture will be arranged on their porch. He is also designing a rec room for his garage, although he said that its unlikely the room will actually be built. He is interested in architecture as a potential career as well.
“These projects are kind of like internships,” he said. “It’s for the hands-on experience. The ability to go out into the world and learn something and have it be whatever you want and hopefully learn some overall, overarching knowledge.”