Reflections on 30 years at The Meher Schools: Who we are

The year 2005 marked the 30th anniversary of The Meher Schools. A remarkable week-long celebration was held. The themes for this celebration reflected the underlying foundation laid down over 30 years before: Values for the New Humanity and Unity in Diversity.

The Meher Schools, originally called The White Pony, began quietly in the summer of 1975, the fulfillment of the dream of Murshida Ivy Duce for a school for children based on Meher Baba's principles of love, harmony, beauty, and service to life. "Murshida" means "teacher" and Murshida Duce was the head of an American Sufi school for adults, Sufism Reoriented. Our school draws its philosophy from the spiritual teachings of Meher Baba, who was also Murshida Duce's teacher. Meher Baba writes that we are on the brink of a new age characterized by what he terms the "New Humanity." Meher Baba has defined the qualities that will characterize this group. They will be creative, confident, and secure individuals whose strengths emanate from a strong perception of the unity of life. He goes on to say: "At present, the urgent problem facing humanity is to devise ways and means of eliminating competition, conflict, and rivalry in all the subtle and gross forms which they assume in the various spheres of life that strengthen the illusion of separative existence."

Murshida Duce wanted to create a place for children in harmony with these beliefs and practices. Murshida said, "A child needs love like plants need sunshine."

While there were many views about just what form Murshida's school would take, the immediate needs of our community were for an affordable preschool and daycare for children of working parents, most of whom were single working moms. We responded to that need. We opened our doors in the parish hall of a local church for summer sessions. We named the school The White Pony as a diminutive of Meher Baba's association with the White Horse, the symbol of the spiritual age being ushered in.

We quickly expanded our programs beginning in the fall of 1975, and added kindergarten. Within a few years, we had expanded up to tenth grade!

Initially, our elementary school curriculum was a blend of two teaching methods. We chose to experiment with the Waldorf method created by Rudolph Steiner, and the educational construct created by Maria Montessori. These apparently opposite teaching methods, in practice, fully complemented each other. That was one reason why we entered into this bold experiment. The other reason was that our available teachers were trained in either one or the other of these methods.

We created our program "on the job" by having two teachers team-teach, one trained in Waldorf and the other in Montessori. We also tried to have a man and a woman teaching together. We had many children of single parents, and our goal was to create balance in the classroom. Our classes were rich with storytelling, hands-on activities, dance, rhythm, music, art, and integrated lessons ("main lessons"). Right from the start, we began to develop our program of the arts. We believe that the arts, which express the beauty and unity that underlie diversity, are a critical tool for imparting attitudes of love and harmony.

In 1979 we again outgrew our space and began a search for new, more permanent quarters. We chose our current location, the Montecito School in the Lafayette School District. Here is where we added grades 7 through 10. Murshida Duce changed the name of the school to The Meher Schools (the name "Meher" means compassion) for all grades except the preschool. She said no teenager would dare go to a school called The White Pony! What a privilege and what a standard to live up to: a school called "Compassion."

We also added an infant/toddler program and were eventually licensed for 80 infants and toddlers. So, for a time, we offered programs for children aged two months through tenth grade.

In 1982, we consolidated our programs by eliminating the middle school and high school. It was simply too costly to offer the quality program we had developed at the tuition we charged. We also realized that our gifted teachers' skills were better used in early educational programs where the impact could be greater.

In October 1986, we created a structured academic program with a standard daily schedule. No more main lessons or unlined paper! We chose textbooks for all subject areas including language arts, math, science, social studies, and handwriting. We created a Resource Center where artists, composers, poets, and writers were invited to create beautiful teaching materials to enhance our published texts. We developed a structure to contain and amplify the joy of academic learning.

Ultimately, we eliminated the infant program when it became obvious that we were really not serving the community needs by having a waiting list of over 200 preschoolers that we would never be able to take. We only had room to take children as infants, because they all stayed on. When we eliminated the infant program we were able to expand the preschool program to serve over 150 children.

We were now a preschool beginning at age two and an elementary school that went through grade five. Since all the junior high schools in the county had converted to middle schools spanning grades 6 through 8, we were in complete alignment with our surrounding community. Since then, The Meher Schools has offered programs for children aged two through fifth grade. Our school continues to be open from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in order to meet the needs of working families.