Leonore Bertalot – pioneer of the Brazilian Waldorf movement

By Nana Göbel, September 2019

When Rudolf Lanz, at the time a council member of the Escola Higienópolis school association in São Paulo, was looking for a “competent and all-round inwardly stable teacher”, he asked in many letters for support from Ernst Weißert at the German Association of Waldorf Schools. Finally, Leonore and Italo Bertalot joined the school in 1962 and supplemented the small faculty, she as a class teacher and he as an English teacher.

Both were originally Swiss. Leonore Bertalot-Bay (1928) grew up in Holland as the daughter of Paul Johann Bay, the architect of the first Goetheanum in Dornach, and Dieuwke Troelstra, an artist and daughter of the founder of the Social Democratic Party in Holland. The family had moved to Stuttgart because of the Waldorf School. Leonore Bertalot subsequently studied at Hawkwood College in England and emigrated with her husband, Italo Bertalot, to Uruguay. Initially, they were involved together in a Waldensian community. From there they received the call to the Waldorf school in São Paulo. They remained for two-and-a-half decades.

The Escola Higienópolis, which later changed its name to Rudolf Steiner School, developed into a small cultural centre with regular concerts, public monthly celebrations, lectures and performances. The active parents of the school built an imposing new building for the primary school and the kindergarten in the extensive grounds which was ready to be occupied in 1959. After as little as ten years some 500 children attended the kindergarten and school.

The contacts of the school extended through the German and Swiss Waldorf movement as far as England. Ron Jarman, the representative of the English school movement in the Hague Circle, visited Brazil several times and helped in developing the school.

One of Leonore Bertalot’s particular concerns was to link the work in Brazil with the international Waldorf movement, something that accorded with the endeavours of the Hague Circle to integrate the various national school movements and bring about worldwide encounters. Leonore Bertalot was not only familiar with Brazil but also established contacts with Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina, where she was repeatedly invited to give lectures.

In February 1979, the Colégio Micael was established as the second Waldorf school in Brazil; from 1986/87 onwards, more schools were started. In preparation of the World Teachers’ Conference planned to take place at the Goetheanum at Easter 1986, Leonore Bertalot invited all interested Waldorf teachers from Brazil to a meeting in São Paulo. With fifty participants, five from the São Paulo Steiner School and forty-five from other kindergartens and the second Steiner school in Brazil, it was an astounding response at the end of the school year. “We sat in the conference room of the Rudolf Steiner School and it was apparent what a beautiful, harmonious conference was taking place here. People were listening to one another with real interest.”

Help was sought from and given to one another, further meetings for the kindergartens and schools were agreed. And a feeling arose, Leonore Bertalot said, of something embryonic at this meeting, of common ground, of mutual recognition in respect of the vision for an encompassing human school – a seed for the Association of Waldorf Schools in Brazil which was only founded much later.

In 1992 there were already six Waldorf schools in Brazil: alongside the large school in São Paulo with meanwhile 990 pupils and the Colégio Micael with 350 pupils, there was the Escola Francisco de Asis also in São Paulo. In Botucatu, the Aitiara school was established near a biodynamic farm. In Campo Verde, 25 kilometres outside Camanducaia in a 1,600 metre-high mountainous area of the Mantiqueira mountains in the south of the Province of Minas Gerais, the Escola Araucaria was started as early as 1972. And the Anabá Waldorf school was established in the university town of Florianópolis on the Atlantic. In 1993, they were joined by the Escola Conviver in Ribeirão Preto, 400 kilometres north of São Paulo. A bumpy road lay ahead of the school in Ribeirão Preto.

It started in 1985 in the family property of a building contractor whose wife was a Waldorf teacher and wanted to setup a school. In 1989, Italo und Leonore Bertalot, who had already given lectures at the school, moved to Ribeirão Preto to support the development of the school. When the building contractor got into difficulties in 2000, the company gave notice to the school to take effect in July 2001. Two teachers did not give up and looked for alternatives. They were finally given a leasehold property by the town on which they built up the Escola Waldorf João Guimarães Rosa. A second Waldorf school was set up in Ribeirão Preto in 2006/07, the Escola Waldorf Pomar.

Over time, Leonore Bertalot took on teacher training tasks. In 1989 she started a peripatetic seminar for teachers who were already working, the Seminário para Professores Atuantes. Together with a number of other teachers, Leonore and Italo Bertalot started the first modular seminar outside São Paulo in Botucatu. Over thirty state school teachers enrolled and made great sacrifices to do so since they had to pay not just the travel, accommodation and study costs but also for the stand-in teachers at their own schools. There was great enthusiasm. For a country the size of Brazil, such in-service training for teachers from the whole country was the first real opportunity for a solid Waldorf training.

The Bertalots spend their old age in Botucatu and helped the Aitiara school there as much as they were able.

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