Today we’d like to introduce you to Bethany Chaffin.
Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
In 2006, I started a little preschool called Rock Rose. When their children were becoming too old for our program, families approached me about where their child should go next. I had my list of schools and recommendations for them, but sadly, many of these schools that followed a similar educational philosophy were out of their price range.
Between 2013-2014, I had the unique opportunity to be honored as one of San Diego County’s Teachers of the Year. This gave me a window into what was happening at many of the public schools within our area, and I had been hopeful to find a school that these families could attend. I did find one but it was out of the driving range for families who wanted to remain in north county San Diego.
At the end of 2014, I tore my ACL which put me on bed rest for a good amount of time while I healed. During that time, I decided to help these families by creating a school that could help them continue to maintain the type of education they were seeking for their children. I partnered with a local charter school, and we created a program that was Waldorf-Inspired. In 2015, I stepped away from my tenure with the Escondido Union School District and began a little program called Willow Tree. We found a facility to rent, and we opened our doors for our first class of Kindergarten – Fourth graders! By the second month of classes, we had a waiting list! By the end of the year, we had to do a lottery for enrollment for the upcoming school year. Things were going well, and families had CHOICE!
Sadly, the facility we rented was no longer going to be an option for us so we began to search for other locations. We found a lovely piece of land in Bonsall and began the process of obtaining a Major Use Permit. At that time, the school district that we were chartered through underwent a superintendent change, and our charter was no longer going to be able to operate. We surveyed our families about the different options we had available – 1. Become a charter under a different school district and lose our new property in Bonsall. 2. Become a private school and price many of our families out of attendance, or 3. Become an enrichment center and become a vendor for other charter schools, which would offset the operating costs that families would need to pay in order to attend. The survey came back that more than 92% of the families wanted option 3 – to become an enrichment program.
We completed that school year in the parks with outdoor school as we no longer had a facility and then in 2018, we found a location in Fallbrook that would enable us to continue to offer classes as an enrichment program while we worked to develop our amazing 14-acre property to become our new permanent home.
That is where we are today!
We made it through the pandemic thanks to the PPP and EIDL loans and extremely generous donations, and it is wonderful to be able to continue to offer our program to families from all over North County San Diego, and Southern Riverside County.
We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
The biggest challenge has been navigating the county and the major use permit process. It seems that at every turn, there is a new hoop we have to jump through. These hoops are expensive, and finding donors or lenders to help with the costs so that the burden doesn’t fall onto our families has been hard and at times extremely challenging.
It is frustrating to have a beautiful piece of property that would allow the students to learn in nature and not be able to use it – yet.
Transitioning to a non-profit enrichment center was also a bit tricky in the beginning, but now that we have been doing this for 5 years, it has become easier, and the benefits that it brings to the families to be able to choose this type of education for their children far outweighs the struggles.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
We are a small non-profit enrichment program that provides Waldorf-Inspired educational services to homeschooling and charter school students. Families can attend for 4 full or part days or 2 full or part days or just take afternoon classes with us. We have many different options for families to choose from.
In our work with children, we strive to:
~Educate each child to embrace the wonder and challenge of the world while achieving academic proficiency.
~ Nurture each child’s imagination while educating the intellect and encouraging the development of a healthy body and social life.
~ Teach so that each child might become a confident, capable person with integrity and a sense of social and environmental responsibility
~ Recognize the nature of the human being, and therefore present a Waldorf-Inspired curriculum designed to cultivate the child’s unfolding and awakening capacities
In our work as a community, we:
~ Participate in a worldwide movement of social renewal starting with our own campus community
~ Strive to reflect in our student body the cultural and socio-economic diversity of our greater community
~ Endeavor to create an environment in which students, faculty, staff, and parents communicate openly, respectfully, and safely
Friends of Willow Tree is the ONLY Waldorf-Inspired enrichment center in all of Southern California. We give parents a choice in the education that they desire for their child(ren).
We pride ourselves on the diversity of our students which is due to the accessibility of our program to those from a varying socioeconomic background
We are located in Fallbrook while we are working to obtain our Major Use Permit to move to our future permanent home in Bonsall. We offer a variety of ways for families to attend our program so that they can find what works best for their lifestyle, their child, and their budget.
What would you say has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
The most important lesson I have learned (and continue to learn) from this journey is to not give up on something you believe in.
When parents come to me grateful for the education their children are able to receive, it makes every stressful moment worth it. Every child’s success is our success.
When alumni tell us how well they are doing now that they are in high school – it makes it worth the hours that go into running a program like Willow Tree because we are helping to shape the future.
- 4 Full Days ~ $9,174/year
- 4 Part Days ~ $7,304/year
- 2 Full Days ~ $4,587/year
- 2 Part Days ~ $3,652
- Specialty Classes ~ $1,870
- Website: www.friendsofwillowtree.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/willowtreelearning
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WTenrichmentcenter