Finding the right career is a journey of its own, and for some people, that road divides with the search. Others never veer, and still more take the bends and turns life gives only to realize the choice was theirs all along. Kim Holmlund reflects on her vocation and realizes that no matter what occupation she pursued she always found herself directed toward learning.
"The common thread in my career," she says, "has always been working with children and education."
Currently, Kim is a kindergarten teacher at the Northern Lights School, a Waldorf Initiative in Saranac Lake. Born in Freeport, on the south shore of Long Island, Kim grew up and graduated high school in that same coastal city. She eventually went to college at SUNY Oswego, graduating with an industrial arts education degree. Early in her career she struggled with finding the right avenue and deciding whether or not to teach.
Kim Holmlund reflects upon working with children.
(Photo —Diane Chase)
Certified to teach technology from kindergarten through 12th grade, Kim focused on graphic arts and photography, doing all the necessary student teaching. She discovered she just didn't fit.
She attempted both ends of the spectrum, teaching high school students mechanical drawing and then kindergarteners' woodworking projects.
"I loved the content and all the learning, but just couldn't find myself connecting with the students."
Kim described her student and substitute teaching experiences as awful.
"If I had known about Waldorf education at that time, I would have been very excited about it but I hadn't even heard of it," she said.
After departing from teaching, Kim starting commuting into New York City, working in a variety of graphic design jobs, typesetting catalogs for one company, creating slideshows for another and working for her sister's production company, all stemming from her strength in design.
"Then I started working for a company on Long Island that ran summer camping trips for kids, eighth grade and up," she said. "It started as a summer job that worked to full time."
Kim was with Musiker Tours for 10 years, and in that time, traveled extensively.
"I saw almost every National Park out west 10 or 11 times; California, Hawaii and Western Canada," she said.
She would organize and travel with about 35 to 40 kids on a bus for six weeks, exploring parts of the U.S. and Canada. In the winter, she would lead ski trips. Then the owners started the Summer Discovery at the University of Vermont (UVM) program for high school upperclassmen. It was a college preparatory program where students would live at UVM for the summer and take courses.
"My job would be to take care of recreation," she said.
Kim took the students rock climbing and hiking.
In 1988, she was fed up with commuting from Long Island, so she took a job at Mount Snow in Vermont. She continued to work the summer tours for Musiker, eventually moving to Winter Park, Colo., to teach skiing to children.
"I knew I always wanted to get my master's, but for a long time didn't know what to do it in," she said. "I guess I was using my time to narrow in on the topic."
She received her master's degree in recreation from SUNY Cortland. In her last semester of graduate school, she wanted to do an independent study and take a National Outdoor Leadership School or Outward Bound course and found out about the Wilderness Education Association. This led her to the Adirondacks.
She attended the WEA professional short course at North Country Community College, led by Jack Drury. Designed for professionals with extensive previous outdoor leadership experience, the "short course" is similar on the principles of the National Standards Program, but at an accelerated pace stressing the importance of leadership and group dynamics and developing problem solving to outdoor educators.
She loved it.
"I finished my master's and Jack hired me to do the wilderness fall practicum (backpacking and canoeing for 30 to 35 days, emphasizing leadership, risk management and minimum impact techniques)," she said. "It was amazing, fantastic." She also met her future husband while teaching that first fall practicum. Eric Holmlund was one of the other course instructors.
"I then started doing other WEA courses in a lot of places like Colorado and Alaska," she said. "I traversed glaciers and all sorts of crazy stuff."
At that time, she found herself doing various freelance work for WEA and Outward Bound and spending most of her time traveling. Saranac Lake remained her home base.
"At one point, I even served as the interim executive director of WEA in the mid-90s," she laughed.
Things seemed to settle down when she married Eric in 1996.
"I was then hired at NCCC as an adjunct professor, then taught in Paul Smith's College's forest recreation department," she said.
A few years later, they were expecting their first child. Kim stoically speaks about her pregnancy and the hardships that followed. "Dana was born 15 weeks premature. I was life-flighted to Burlington and I lived there for the next 84 days while my daughter was in the neonatal intensive care unit."
Kim reflected on the profound effect this had on her life.
"We were shell-shocked, blown out of the water," she said. "We really didn't understand what was going on."
Almost three months later, they brought their daughter home.
"She weighed 3 pounds," she said. "The part that was so amazing was the bond between other families, the nurses and doctors and the people at Ronald McDonald House. We still volunteer there, donate funds and stay in touch with families from there. It was a real powerful experience."
Two years later, she conceived twins, ending in another emergency trip to Fletcher Allen Healthcare in Burlington, Vt.
"The twins (boys) were born at 24 weeks gestation," she said. "This time though, the doctors knew me and we had an idea of what to expect, though nothing truly prepares you for the experience. You can look back years later and realize how lucky you are. My kids are living charmed lives and got away with very little of the issues others (preemies) may have."
Kim pauses adding, "You just appreciate life in a different way."
With three children under three years old and the health challenges facing her children, Kim stayed home with her kids until her eldest turned three, doing some part-time teaching at PSC. She had heard how some friends were driving to Wilmington to attend a parent/child group.
"I thought they were crazy," she said. "Around that same time, I would walk around my neighborhood in Lake Clear and heard about this wonderful school that the Hoymeyers' (of Lake Clear Lodge) granddaughter was attending. They talked about this school that was teaching art, German and Spanish. I thought, 'Wow, what a great idea.' I finally put it together that this was the same school that my friends were attending.
"I never set out to teach in a Waldorf School. I realized my daughter needed to get out of the craziness that was our house and separate a little. I would drive to Wilmington and leave her at the school two days a week. It was a slow process, Waldorf. I didn't get it at first, but then eventually fell in love with the philosophy."
Waldorf education, developed by Rudolf Steiner in 1919, is based on his educational philosophy dividing childhood development into three seven-year stages. The earliest phase emphasizes learning through practical activities (imitation and example) and nurturing imagination through movement, balance and play.
"My children's pace is different," she said. "I never saw myself as a private school person. I had my public school training. I started volunteering and then working in the school because I was there and it just morphed into our lives."
In 2005, Northern Lights School opened a satellite in the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Saranac Lake, eventually moving in its entirety from Wilmington.
"I like how Waldorf is a full body education," she said. "It looks at the whole child."
She went on to say that Waldorf was the right choice for her and her family, attributing it to the need for balance and movement and its importance in learning.
She is quick to point out that all children need movement. "Education is much faster now and testing, academics are brought in even earlier. Waldorf brings learning alive with stories, figures and imagination at a different pace."
"Having my children is one of my most valuable experiences," she said. "It brought me to where I am in my community with my church, my community with this school and my community as a whole. I would not be integrated into it, as I am, if I were not the parent of these three children. All my experiences brought me to this point. I was drawn to the WEA because out of its philosophy came the outdoor curriculum. That is the same for Waldorf. I am drawn to it. What I do has to be meaningful to me. I need to be doing something meaningful in my corner of the world."