Jane Norton spent much of her life studying the philosophical works of Rudolf Steiner, a German-Austrian scholar who developed Waldorf education as well as the foundation of biodynamic agriculture. She shared her enthusiasm for these subjects with her grandchildren Janey, Robin, and Margaret.
Janey, who has served on the Norton Foundation Board of Directors for more than 30 years, knew from an early age that she wanted to be an educator and she knew from her studies of Steiner that Waldorf education was the best model for educating children. Throughout her career as a teacher, Janey integrated Waldorf teaching methods in her classrooms and was thrilled to see the impact on her students.
The Waldorf method approaches education holistically, teaching not just academics (the head), but also social/emotional skills (the heart), and physical, hands-on activities that stimulate curiosity, creativity, intuition, and imagination (the hands). It inspires students and teachers to be more engaged in the classroom. And it prepares students for life — to know how to be creative in solving problems when faced with them; how to deal with different types of people; and how to rise above when challenges come their way.
The Norton Foundation gave its first gift to support Waldorf education in Louisville in 1986 to create a Curriculum Resource Center in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). The center provided planning curricula and other resources for JCPS teachers. A goal of the foundation was to educate teachers about the existence of the Waldorf educational philosophy.
Soon after, the Foundation began providing funding to formally instruct public school teachers on Waldorf teaching methods. This began at Bellarmine University and today is conducted by a dedicated nonprofit organization, Kentahten Teacher Training.
In 1993 Janey and her brother Robin founded the Waldorf School of Louisville. The school began with grades K–5 and now goes through 8th grade. The Norton Foundation has provided operational support to the school for many years.
In 2014 a group of passionate public school teachers trained in Waldorf education submitted an application in the JCPS School of Innovation Design Competition. Sanctioned by the Kentucky Department of Education, the district sought to break out of the traditional structures of public education and try new and innovative ways to improve student achievement. They won the competition and in the 2015–2016 school year, Louisville’s first public Waldorf school was opened at Maupin Elementary. The Foundation supports this school by providing funding for teacher professional development.
The Norton Foundation views much of what it seeks to fund through the lens of Waldorf education, always interested in holistic, hands-on programs that encourage creativity and an open mind.