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Consider joining us in 2023-24 for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade in an all-outdoor setting, perfectly suited to the adventurous and introspective middle years student! 

The Waldorf Middle School curriculum is perfectly attuned to the developing adolescent. We offer a program that honors each student’s experience of their expanding world and their unique exploration of their role in it.

Middle School is a time for each student to take ownership of their identity, learning style, and place in their community. This is accomplished by diving deep into subject matters through various modalities – calculations, map drawing, geometrical drawing, science experiments, projects, composition, art, handwork, and drama.

Thoughtful in-depth morning lesson blocks, spanning three to four weeks at a time, allow for this “diving deep.” 

Courses like Business Math, Geometry, Astronomy, Physics, and Medieval History offer opportunities to analyze, observe, debate, and draw conclusions. Art is part of every class; special subjects like handwork, woodwork, modeling, and world languages build confidence and competence.


And with acres of beautiful forests and beaches steps from the outdoor classroom, the students will experience unstructured and structured time in nature. 


On this page you will find teacher bios for next year, a curriculum guide and links to specific grade overviews, and an application link.

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Explore our grade specific pages:

Meet our 2023-24 Middle School Teachers

Cara Baxter-Downs
6th/7th Grade

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Cara is a lifelong resident of Jacksonville Beach, Florida and graduate of Jacksonville University. 


In her 16 years as an educator, Cara has been privileged to work with students and teachers in a variety of K-8 settings, traditional and nontraditional.


Her certifications range from K-8 through high school Social Studies, ELA, and Earth Space Sciences.  She has worked as a classroom teacher, Reading Teacher, Science, Social Studies, and Math. Currently, Cara has been a global educator working with private families traveling internationally while ensuring the educational integrity of her client’s children. 


Her goal is to create academically engaging learning experiences through an environment that fosters creativity, curiosity, and compassion.  She is committed to sharing her passion for literacy, learning, and nature.  Cara was the 2010 Teacher of the Year (Mayport Coastal Sciences) recipient, Community Service Teacher of the Year (2010, 2018).  She will be taking two Waldorf middle school preparatory courses this summer through the Center for Anthroposophy and joining the Building Bridges cohort in the fall.


Cara is an avid hiker, runner, kayaker, nature enthusiast, and dog lover. Finally, she is a mother of two grown children who she loves dearly. 

Julia Hassler
8th Grade

Julia is a trailblazer for Waldorf Education in Jacksonville.  She has worked to bring Waldorf to the beaches community beginning in 1994 when she first learned about this amazing form of education. The creative aspect of Waldorf education, coupled with her love for nature, is a perfect fit for educating homeschooled children. Julia has been a class and handwork teacher at Spring River since 2017.

Julia both participated in and led Waldorf mixed-age programs from 1997 to present day: from being one of the founders of The Playgarden, leading early childhood and parent/child classes, and teaching at various homeschool co-ops including middle school classes in physics and chemistry using a Waldorf curriculum.  Julia also homeschooled her own child from 1st through 8th grade.  Her daughter transitioned into public school beautifully earning A/B honor roll at Fletcher High. 

Julia holds a Bachelor of Arts with a minor in mathematics.  She attended Sunbridge Institute every summer for nearly eight years receiving Waldorf certification for the programs Preparing for Grade 1 through Preparing for Grade 8 which covered all grade specific main lesson subjects as well as watercolor painting, movement, games, singing, form drawing, handwork, and anthroposophical study.  Julie has attended many Waldorf workshops and is a leader in the Spring River community as she continues the journey of Waldorf education for our children. 


Julia completed the Explorations Course offered through Antioch University and the Center for Anthroposophy in 2019 and is currently working toward her Master Degree in Waldorf Education at Antioch University.  She has been trained in CPR/First aid with an emphasis on urban wilderness first aid and completed an American Red Cross Lifeguarding course in the summer of 2020.


Kira Mauro

Kira Mauro holds an MA in Linguistics from the University of Arizona. She is a dedicated community gardener and currently serves on the board of the nonprofit Dig Local Network, working with the Beaches-area gardens and farmer’s markets.


Kira has come to love the Waldorf community and educational path after seeing each of her children thrive in the reverent embrace of a philosophy that acknowledges and encourages their whole selves and incorporates the natural environment, art and music into all aspects of the curriculum. Her own handwork journey began at a young age, playing at sewing the discarded fabric scraps given by her grandmother, a professional seamstress. She enjoys fiber and fabric arts of all kinds and of late has focused on embroidery and costume for historic re-creation. She looks forward to sharing the joys of handwork with the families of Spring River.


Kira and her family moved to Atlantic Beach in 2007. She enjoys being outdoors as much as possible and can often be found paddleboarding on the ocean, pitchforking compost in the community garden, or walking the trails in our state parks- sometimes in historic costume! She and her spouse are raising three children, all of whom have participated in Waldorf programs. Her youngest child is now at the Playgarden.

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Helena Acosta holds her B.A. in Art History from the University of Los Andes in Venezuela and a Certification in art exhibition Management from Elisava Design School in Barcelona, Spain. She was an Independent art curator for 10 years developing projects around the world in places like New York, Tokyo, Barcelona, Mexico, and Cuba, among others. During this period, and as part of the exhibitions’ programs, she developed art and creativity classes for children and adults. Helena always regarded this educational component as one of the most fulfilling and favorite parts of her job. 


Her love for art, teaching, and traveling bloomed at a very young age. Her mother is an art teacher and her father is an anthropologist. At home, she learned with passion the importance of creativity and curiosity in the exploration of nature and cultures. Helena taught art classes at the University of Jose Maria Vargas and in Private Art Institutes in Caracas, Venezuela, and she has been invited to talk about art and activism at Musashino Art University in Tokyo, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and Cervantes Institute Tokyo. In 2018, Helena experienced the most amazing gift in her life, she became a mother. From that moment her approach to teaching art took a different and most beautiful pathway, as she started to apply her passion for creation to her daily parenting dynamics. Helena quickly fell in love with the philosophy of Waldorf when she enrolled her daughter at The Playgarden and enthusiastically started to work as a TA at Spring River School bringing to the classroom her love for creativity and discovery, finding magic in everyday objects and nature. She is also the founder of a home-based art studio for children called Jax Little Art.

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Linda Minke

One of the founders of the Jacksonville Waldorf Initiative, which later became The Playgarden, Inc.,  Linda Minke has been playing and teaching music in the Jacksonville area since 1993.  

Linda started playing viola and then cello in the public school system in Rochester, Michigan, after having studied piano and singing in children's choirs. Linda earned two bachelor's degrees in Music Performance and Music Education from Northern Michigan University. Linda also obtained a Master's Degree in Music Performance, with extra training in Suzuki Pedagogy, from Memphis State University.

Linda is a professional cellist who also plays violin, viola, Celtic harp, piano, ukulele, recorder, melodica, and various drums. She has played assistant principal cello with Memphis Symphony for 10 years, section cello with the Peninsula Music Festival in Wisconsin since 1983, part-time cello with the Jacksonville Symphony since 1993, and with the Bold City Contemporary Ensemble since 2015.


Linda is the cellist with the Magnolia String Quartet which plays mostly at weddings in the Jacksonville area. She has recently joined the local Renaissance group called "RareSong" in which she plays the Celtic harp. She also plays fiddle, harp, and washboard with The Walker Family Band and is a chief facilitator for the Florida Fiddle Fest, held each year in the Jacksonville beaches area since 2012.

Linda believes that everyone has music in them and is dedicated to helping people find the joy that it brings.  

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