Mexico: Playa del Carmen lies on the Mexican peninsula of Yucatán. People normally travel there to have a holiday on the white sandy beaches of the Riviera Maya. But if one follows a seemingly unspectacular sign with a tortoise on it at the end of the town for a mile or so into the jungle, one arrives at the premises of the Ak Lu'um Waldorf School and encounters a completely different atmosphere compared to the surrounding holiday resorts.
Ak Lu'um International School was founded in 2006 and began with a toddler group, a kindergarten and a first grade. Since then, the founders and all teachers at Ak Lu'um have participated in different Waldorf courses in Mexico and the United States in order to enhance their Waldorf educational skills. Today, the main lessons include instruction in English as well as Spanish and cover most subjects that can be found at Waldorf schools. Currently, the school consists of two preschool groups and primary grades one through seven. Around 80 students are guided by ten teachers and aides.
The school was built as a carefully thought out ecological site in the jungle and the buildings were constructed from traditional materials, to serve as a reminder of traditional Maya huts with their round, organic forms. There is a big yard and a play area for pre-schoolers and a patio for students in the primary grades, as well as an organic garden, a vegetarian kitchen and a small number of farm animals.
The special nature of this school reveals itself not only in its environmental consciousness, which forms a crude contrast to the mundane hotel complexes and the gigantic supermarkets of the region, but also in its social engagement. For those families who cannot afford tuition, the school is providing scholarships. Moreover, the school community comprises 13 nationalities ranging from immigrants from the United States, Canada and other countries to local students and their families.
There are many challenges in bringing Waldorf education to a new arena. Therefore, Ak Lu'um also has instituted opportunities to educate the parents in Waldorf education and anthroposophy. In Mexico, Waldorf education is not widely known so it is of great importance to provide parents with the opportunity to learn.
The school runs exclusively on solar power and processes its sewage in a biodigestor. As a result, Ak Lu'um has received recognition from the department of education as the only green school in Mexico, as well as from the Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources, for its participation in many activities to educate the community about environmental issues. Recently, a scheme to collect rainwater to provide drinking water has begun as well. Within the next ten years, plans are in place to add a secondary school to Ak Lu'um and increase the number of scholarships offered to local children.