After struggling with undiagnosed attention deficit disorder (ADD) at other schools in Kindergarten through 4th Grade, Peter Ragonetti was not sure about his ability to succeed in school or even his willingness to try.
Peter’s mother Marcia, a mezzo-soprano with Opera Colorado, was convinced that the style of teaching and learning at The Denver Waldorf School would better fit Peter’s needs. “I learned about the school from Joan Condon, rest her soul. Joan was my very influential English teacher at Cherry Creek High and we kept in touch.”
Peter’s father Tom, a race car driver, wasn’t so sure about the school. “I first felt that Waldorf was perhaps a little strange, too soft and whifty. I was not certain that knitting and eurythmy were useful, but that all changed nearly the moment I spoke with Mrs. Ina Jaehnig.
“She was the most clear-thinking educator I had ever spoken to. I knew that this was the right place for Peter. Ina is an incredible person and the best thing that ever happened to Peter Ragonetti,” Tom says.
It didn’t take long for both of his parents to see that they had made the correct decision. Peter began to thrive and flourish. Marcia said, “In retrospect it would have been great to have Peter start at Denver Waldorf when he was in First Grade, but the school has proven to be the right choice. It was pivotal for Peter, even if it was just for 4 years.”
Influential Teachers, Challenging Roles
Marcia recalls, “After Ina accepted him into her class, she told me that he was not done yet. I didn’t quite understand the full meaning of what she was trying to say at the time, but now I do. Ina knew that it was too early to judge him or any child, that it was her duty to continue to fill them up, allow them to take it in, and trust that they will eventually take all that they have learned and in their own time, bloom. Ina took the banner from me and was Peter’s cheerleader.”
Peter has done just as Ina predicted: he bloomed while at DWS, he bloomed in high school and college and now is continuing to bloom in his career and his recent marriage. “I credit the strength and understanding that Ina gave to him and us. It opened our eyes as parents and we’re thankful,” Marcia adds. quite understand the full meaning of what she was trying to say at the time, but now I do. Ina knew that it was too early to judge him or any child, that it was her duty to continue to fill them up, allow them to take it in, and trust that they will eventually take all that they have learned and in their own time, bloom. Ina took the banner from me and was Peter’s cheerleader.”
Reflecting on his experiences in fifth through eighth grade at DWS, Peter says, “I’m not certain if it was any one thing that made the difference; I think it was everything put together. It was the dedication and love that Mrs. Jaehnig put towards me and the rest of the class, it was the curriculum and how it was presented.”
Peter had learned how to read at a young age but felt no real interest in it. The challenge for him was not actually reading, it was focusing on the content. “I would get so distracted that I wouldn’t be able to remember what I read or actually learn from it. That is where having information presented by Mrs. Jaehnig in the home room environment was so beneficial. I could relax and listen rather than force myself to focus and the information sank in much deeper. Those ideas and stories lived in me and helped with my comprehension, which then made reading fun.”
As a boy, Peter was initially skeptical about eurythmy, but from his perspective as an adult, it was essential to helping him manage his ADD. “I was a very energetic young boy, but when I went to eurythmy class, it relaxed me and gave me an opportunity to be within myself while still moving. Eurythmy was better than being prescribed Ritalin. It was pretty amazing. I certainly do hope that The Denver Waldorf School still teaches eurythmy.”
I assured Peter that not only does the school still teach it, we continue to emphasize the value of this coursework for current and future students. As part of our long-range Campus Master Plan, we are looking to build a room specifically designed for the class.
Peter’s mother Marcia reflects that she sometimes questioned the school’s teachings, but then was always amazed by the results. “Peter joined a class in 5th grade that had been together and knew each other for years. They were a pretty tight bunch. Ina cast Peter as the lead role for the class play Perseus. I thought she was nuts; being a performer myself in Opera, I just didn’t see Peter doing this.
“Other kids with more experience wanted it and were probably more of an appropriate choice for the role. But in the end, Ina set out to put him outside of his comfort zone. Playing Perseus was not a gift for Peter, but a responsibility. He had to hold the class up in playing this part and Peter understood that and did it well.”
Peter left DWS after 8th Grade to attend a charter high school that was very self-directed. “In my high school, I essentially chose my path as to what classes I would do. This was a fairly easy concept after working on and creating my own textbooks and main lesson books at The Denver Waldorf School. I already had all the tools I needed to think, act independently and prioritize,” he recalls.
Life After Waldorf
When Peter was in high school, he didn’t have a computer in the home. In college, Peter still designed and prepared his artwork by hand. “Designing on computers just started during his last couple of years of college,” Marcia notes.
Peter is now Design Director of Kikkerland Design, Inc., a large design firm in New York City, and credits the arts-integrated curriculum at DWS for his career choice. “As an Industrial Designer I have designed and built furniture and models, and have a full understanding of manufacturing and craftsmanship and the product marketplace. Since I graduated from Pratt in 2004, many of my own designs have come to market and have been patented. Currently I am responsible for overseeing the launching over 300 new products a year.”
Some of Peter’s designs can be seen on his website, and in this video from the Pratt Institute. “I continue to see the influence that Mrs. Jaehnig and DWS has on me. I try to incorporate the beauty of nature and the world around me.”
Despite his impressive professional achievements in design, Peter’s most treasured creation is a humble one. “Out of all of the things I’ve designed and can attribute my name to, the one item I cherish most is the wooden spoon I made in Mr. Baker’s woodworking class. It’s currently displayed on my mantel. When I was a student you had to finish a mallet and spoon and then you could make anything you wanted. Most people made a project each semester. In four years, I made a mallet and a spoon – but it is a very nice spoon,” he notes.
In May of this year, Peter got married in Brooklyn, NY. His wife tells him that she wishes she’d had the opportunity to attend a Waldorf School. She also has A.D.D. and struggled in a traditional education setting, and hopes their future children will attend a Waldorf School in New York City. (Peter, your kids are always welcome at DWS!) One of Peter’s DWS classmates, Claire Boswell, is now a teacher at the Brooklyn Waldorf School.
Peter and his wife already value the Waldorf approach to education. “I can see even before having children that there are so many things that Waldorf is doing that are so relevant today. Kids have access to so much technology everywhere else, so not having the technology in the classroom is beneficial. Having to do things on your own and solve problems without the aid of technology is healthy and helpful in understanding the world,” he explains.
The Denver Waldorf School made an impact on the entire Ragonetti family. Peter’s father Tom believes that DWS helped to shape the man Peter has become. Peter himself recalls his four years at The Denver Waldorf School as being the first time he could see what he was capable of and what was possible for him to achieve.
Marcia adds, “The biggest gift that Waldorf gives to students is making them unafraid to go out into the big wide world. They want to be out in the big world and when they finally go, they are grounded and they are not afraid. Peter certainly benefited and we’re thankful.”
As our conversation ended, Peter mentioned he was headed to Massachusetts, his wife’s home state, to go fishing for the weekend. “I enjoy fishing. It is an opportunity to get away and see the truth and beauty of nature. I guess there’s a bit of Waldorf influence there as well.”