The Hartsbrook School
Waldorf Education In The Pioneer Valley Of Western Massachusetts
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Alumni Feature: Casay Yamazaki Heineman

Casay Yamazaki Heineman, Class of 2011 (High School)

Casay Yamazaki HeinemanAs he looks back on his years at the Hartsbrook School, Casay Yamazaki Heineman points to the enormous impact of the classroom culture on the lives of all his classmates.  His graduating class of 2011 included 17 members of which 12 were boys.  “We became like an extended family,” explains Casay, one that learned how to function as a community and as a cohort that sought deeper answers to questions.  Casay noted how fascinating it was to watch individual personalities emerge over the years they grew up together.

Casay credits the Hartsbrook High School exchange program with other Waldorf schools around the globe as being a unique and life-altering component of the school’s Waldorf-based education.  Casey notes that 50 percent of his classmates participated in the student exchange program, which included students from other Waldorf schools attending Hartsbrook and living with Hartsbrook families.  Aside from the experience of living in another culture for three months, Casay says that the key value of such an opportunity is that, “You experience living outside of your comfort zone, a key factor in learning who you are as an individual.”

Casay put this theory into practice in his own life experience.  He spent three months as an exchange student at a Waldorf School in Kyoto, Japan absorbing their education and experiences.  Following this time of learning and reflection, he invited seven Hartsbrook friends to join him in Japan for a two-week period of travel and exploration, sharing with his Hartsbrook family these new experiences.

Now in his junior year at Bard College, Casay reflects on the influence that Hartsbrook High School Science classes have had on his college class choices and major.  “We approached all our Hartsbrook science classes from the perspective of observation,” explains Casay.  “The Hartsbrook approach to science,” Casay continues, “was grounded in hands-on experiences, even in the lower grades, which developed the power of observation in all the students as well as an analytical approach to scientific discovery and to other disciplines.”

Within this scientific approach, there is a focus on allowing time for experiencing concepts and natural phenomena deeply, a key modality of the Waldorf educational approach. For example, during an Astronomy class overnight trip, students were asked to close their eyes as the sun rose, Casay recounts, and instructed to open their eyes when they sensed that the sun’s rays had begun to brighten the world. Attuning their being to the natural world became a key component of this learning process.

Other science courses left their mark on Casay.  He vividly remembers the impact his Hartsbrook High School Chemistry course in which he was assigned a research project on the effects of various drugs on the brain.  In the research process, he became fascinated with both research and critical observation.  These two areas of interest have prompted him to double major in neuroscience/biology and philosophy, with special concentration in the study of the brain, behavior and contemplative science; he is also keenly interested in exploring biology, ecology and environmental science.

Ultimately, Casay is convinced that “Philosophy is the father of all disciplines” and its perspective yields the best analytical approach.  This approach that Casay honed at Hartsbrook brought him some early research success stemming from a Senior Project devoted to analyzing the distance measurements to a star cluster.  By analyzing different methods used to calculate such distance, he and his research team discovered that currently accepted distance calculations to this star cluster are flawed.  By using an alternative method that employs color shifts in light patterns to determine distance, they came up with more accurate distance measurements.  Casay and Julian Poplawski, his research teammate, are now in the process of preparing their project paper for publication, targeting the Canadian National Journal of Astronomy.

Casay’s interests in philosophy and science continue to grow, particularly in environments that encourage both disciplines.  He recently spent a summer as an intern at the Mind and Life Institute in Hadley, MA, whose president is Arthur Zajonc, a physics professor, philosopher and one of the founders of Hartsbrook.  We look forward to learning where Casay’s path takes him next.