Competing in a pentathlon is a rite of passage for all fifth graders in Waldorf Schools worldwide. Strength, commitment and good sportsmanship intertwine with academic lessons about Greek history. True learning through the head, hands and heart.
The pentathlon has a significant place in the fifth grade Movement and Games curriculum for it is the culmination of a curriculum highlighting ancient civilizations. The year begins with training in the five pentathlon events: javelin, discus, long jump, 55-yard dash, and Greek wrestling. There is a special atmosphere that surrounds the students’ training sessions and a subtle sense of uprightness soundlessly makes its way into the class. The students follow the teachers training instructions with intention, encouraging and challenging one another, competing in a constructive way, and taking responsibility for their training.
This year’s Olympic Games included almost one hundred fifth grade students from six Waldorf schools. Students from The Waldorf School of Princeton, River Valley Waldorf School, Kimberton Waldorf School, Susquehanna Waldorf School, Baltimore Waldorf School and The Waldorf School of Philadelphia proudly wore their colored tunics to represent each of the four Greek city-states: Athens, Thebes, Corinth and Sparta.
The opening ceremony always begins with the passing of the torch. The Olympic flame is lit and each class makes offerings to the gods and takes the Olympic Oath. The athletes in each city-state compete in five events and then join forces with those same athletes to compete against the other 3 city-states in the relay race.
At the closing ceremony every athlete receives a medal and a personal message from their judge about their own performances throughout the events. The final award is the presentation of the laurel wreaths, given to one boy and one girl from each city-state who the judges think best represented the spirit of the games. In every event the students strive to do their best, reaching for a win with pride, accepting and giving encouragement and praise, even when competing against each other, and gracefully accepting outcomes. Of the eight laurel wreath awards, two were presented to students from The Waldorf School of Philadelphia.
As the Games and Movement Teacher at The Waldorf School of Philadelphia I have had the privilege of being a part of the pentathlon experience for the past ten years and it still has the power to awe me. Each year I gain a new understanding of some facet of the pentathlon. It is much more than an addition to the block on Greek history or an event to test their physical abilities. It is accepting the reality of a disappointing performance without feeling defeat; being beaten by an inch and high-fiving the winner; accepting the judge’s decision with grace; jumping further than you ever jumped before; sticking the javelin better than you did in training; wrestling until your arms are exhausted . . . and wrestling some more; running faster and with more beauty and grace than anyone else thought you could; being awed by an opponent’s amazing discus throw.
The community of The Waldorf School of Philadelphia should feel proud of the way our fifth grade students represented our school at this year’s Greek Pentathlon. When you see a fifth grader ask them about the pentathlon and thank them for representing our school with such grace.
Treacy Gallagher, Games & Movement Teacher, The Waldorf School of Philadelphia
Photography by Dave Moser