The Arya-Ashford Family
This year marks the 20th year of the Arya-Ashford family's commitment to the Walden mission. Dylan '07, Caroline '09, Isabel '14, and Gemma '21 cite Walden as foundation for their lens on the world. We are grateful for their partnership in Walden's evolution.
Our family has had the good fortune of being part of the Walden community since the fall of 1999. It was then that Dylan, the oldest of our four children, made the move from Pacific Oaks (where he had been since he was a toddler) to Tina’s Pre-K classroom. It was the beginning of what has been a long and extraordinary journey. Though it seems impossible, September marked the start of our 20th year at Walden.
I very clearly recall our initial tour of Walden. I was inspired by the administrators and faculty who spoke so passionately not only about their love for educating children, but also their commitment to Walden’s mission. After, as Michael and I visited the various classrooms, I was struck by how engaged and happy the children seemed, the lively and thoughtful discussions taking place, and the warmth and ease of the interactions between the students and their teachers. I was also impressed by the amazing artwork on the walls!
The more I researched Walden, the more it appeared to have everything we were looking for in a school. It was clear that Walden’s values were closely aligned with our own, and it seemed to be a perfect fit not only for Dylan, but for our entire family. Turns out we were right.
What stood out most for me when we first visited Walden was the friendliness of the people. I could tell that the administrators and teachers wanted to be there, and truly believed in what they were doing. Alison and I loved the small, intimate feel of the school and, coming from Pacific Oaks, it felt like a natural transition. I’m a big believer in trusting your intuition, and mine told me Walden was the place for us.
Once Dylan started at Walden, it didn’t take long to realize we had made the right decision. He loved going to school every day, and right away our family appreciated—and became involved in—this new and lovely community we had joined. When the time came to look for a new school for Caroline, Walden was the obvious choice. Isabel and Gemma followed in turn.
Fortunately, Walden doesn’t subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach to education. Our children were allowed to develop at a pace that fit their distinct personalities and learning styles while also receiving the individualized attention and support they needed. All of them have thrived/continue to thrive at Walden, and it has been a joy to see them learn and grow into curious, compassionate and capable people. Though Michael and I would like to take all the credit, we know Walden has played a huge part in making this happen.
From experience, we have come to know that Walden teaches its students exactly what we try to teach our own kids at home: to be kind and generous, to cooperate with and respect each other, to be curious and ask questions, to solve problems in a constructive way, and to be aware of the wider world. What more could you want?
I still love Walden as much as I ever have, and I’m grateful to have been a part of this wonderful community for the past 20 years. During the earlier years, I volunteered in many capacities around school. I really liked being involved and getting to better know the administrators, staff, faculty, students, and other parents. In fact, a couple of our dearest friends were fellow (now former) Walden parents who we met our very first year here.
To me, the heart of Walden is its teachers. I am constantly amazed by their dedication to their students, and their passion for Walden specifically. They are warm, creative, enthusiastic, generous, kind… and fun, too (I’ve been to enough Walden events to know!). I appreciate their tireless work on behalf of all of our kids, and I’m grateful for the many talents they bring to Walden and share with our children every day.
Naturally, we’ve seen some changes at Walden over the years (we were around even before there was a north building, and the “art room” was a cart of art supplies pushed around from classroom to classroom by the art teacher). However, I believe the essence of Walden has remained intact. It’s always been a place where children are supported and challenged to explore, think, create, and grow into responsible, accepting, caring citizens of the world.
I actually remember my very first day of Pre-K in Tina’s class. I was pretty unhappy about my mom leaving me there, but thanks to my very kind and patient teachers, and my brand new best friend Harper Umfress, I not only made it through, I had a great time. Looking back, that day pretty much set the tone for my entire Walden career. I think it’s the caring people at Walden that make it such a special school, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to spend eight excellent years there. (By the way, Harper and I are still best friends.)
I have always looked back upon my time at Walden with great affection. Even then, I knew I was getting an education unlike most other kids, and I cherished our special community of students, teachers, and other adults. One of the things I especially loved about Walden was the way my peers and I were allowed to collaborate on various projects, whether it was pitching a tent at the Ponderers camping trip, working through a difficult math problem, or painting our fruit-themed mural in the South Yard. The ultimate example of this was our sixth grade play, titled, “TV or Not TV,” a story of Martians invading earth looking for good TV programs (there weren’t any). It was daunting, but so much fun! We were able to pull off something of that magnitude because we knew how to work well and cooperate with each other. It’s one of my fondest memories of my time at Walden.
Even though I graduated long ago, I don’t feel that my “Walden Experience” is behind me. I believe I’ve taken it with me through middle and high school, and now on to college. It’s part of who I am.
One of my favorite aspects about Walden is the incredible outdoor education program. Some of my fondest memories with my classmates and teachers took place while braving the ropes course at Astrocamp and skiing in the sub-zero weather of the Tetons. In fact, my Walden friends and I still laugh about putting squid on our tongues in Catalina, and playing “Apple to Apples” during a snowstorm. In addition to all of the funny moments, these adventures deepened my knowledge and piqued my curiosity. It was on these trips that my love of traveling and new experiences began.
I love Walden because everyone knows and respects each other, and it feels like everyone is your friend! I also love the special connections I have with my teachers. They have always been so helpful and patient. I’m interested in the things we do and learn, like the LA River project we worked on in 3rd grade. I also really like the specialty classes, especially art.
I suppose I would just encourage parents to enjoy their child’s time at Walden by getting involved in the school community and getting to know the lovely people at this unique school. It’s trite, I know, but it all goes by in a flash! One day you’re saying a tearful goodbye to your child on the first morning of Pre-K and, before you know it, you’re sitting in the Community Room listening to their sixth grade graduation speech….and you’re crying all over again.
I believe that one of the most important aspects of a Walden education is the emphasis on caring for our world and the people in it. The idea that we can—and should—contribute not only within our families and our school, but also our larger communities, was a seed that was planted early on, and I know it has impacted many of the choices our children have made so far in their lives.
I see every day how our kids are developing into caring and thoughtful young adults (or in Gemma’s case, an almost-11-year-old). From the career Dylan has chosen, to the work Caroline is doing at Whitman, to the causes that Isabel supports, and the volunteer work that Gemma participates in, we hope that they continue to try to make the world a better place.
To me, stewardship for the world means I have a responsibility to make a positive impact in my community and beyond. This idea has led me to working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control organization in Washington, D.C. As a Politics major at Pitzer College, I spent a semester interning at Brady, and after graduation, I returned to a full-time position as a policy and research associate. By instilling the value of stewardship all those years ago, Walden helped inspire me to do my part to help curb gun violence in our country and make our communities safer.
Care and appreciation for the environment were values I was taught at Walden, beginning in Pre-K. To this day, those lessons have had a large impact on my life. As a senior at Whitman College, I have spent the last three years working towards environmental justice and a more sustainable community. Three years ago, I lived in what is colloquially known as “The Outhouse,” an interest house at Whitman that puts on events relating to environmental stewardship and sustainability. Additionally, I am an active member of a group that is attempting to remove Whitman’s investments in the fossil fuel industry. All of these things, which are a large part of my college identity, came to be because Walden cultivated in me a deep passion for protecting the environment - a passion I know I’ll always carry with me.
My appreciation of the world and my responsibilities within it began at Walden and were fostered throughout the seven wonderful years I spent there. Every one of my teachers encouraged me to think deeply about my role within the Walden community and greater world. For the past three summers, I have had the amazing opportunity to travel with a program called Rustic Pathways, a service-based organization for high school students around the world. I have built bathrooms at a rural elementary school in Costa Rica, and constructed an aqueduct in the Dominican Republic. Last July, I traveled to Thailand and taught swimming lessons to local children, and cooked meals for family members of hospital patients. Walden’s emphasis on kindness and our obligation to generate positive change has stayed with me long after sixth grade graduation, and has certainly influenced the way I choose to live and give back.