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Recognition for pint-sized Sebastopol poet

Friday, August 9th, 2013 | Posted by
Mateo Mijares. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ The Press Democrat)

Mateo Mijares. (CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/ The Press Democrat)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN / West County Correspondent

Any writer would be delighted to have something published in a national magazine. If the writer is a poet, it’s an even more impressive accomplishment. But when the writer is just 9, everyone sits up and takes notice.

That’s what Mateo Mijares of Sebastopol did. And he didn’t even realize it until a schoolmate came running home with a copy of Highlights Magazine that featured a poem by Mateo on page 36.

“Mateo has had a subscription all his life since he was about 1 year old, but our subscription had lapsed and we hadn’t realized it,” said Loretta Mijares, Mateo’s mother.

Understanding why a third grader (heading into fourth now) could exhibit such interest in poetry, much less so much talent, requires a look at his home and school. In the case of the Mijares family, the two are inextricably woven.

“We moved here from Manhattan five years ago because of the Waldorf schools,” said Loretta Mijares. “We, Mateo and his brother Gabriel, 6, were living in a 680 foot apartment. We knew we should move. So I looked at Waldorf schools and was impressed that there were not just one but two in Sebastopol, including a public charter school. I decided there must be something special about this community. I was right.”

Mijares is an English professor who stopped working for five years until her sons were both in school.

Gabriel and Mateo are lively, typical boys in an atypical home. The first thing you notice in the Mijares household is the absence of television and electronic games.

“I believe there is a time and place for electronics,” said Mijares. “I am not a Luddite. I have a computer I use daily, but the time and place is not childhood. That’s why I sought out Waldorf schools.

“The boys and I are part of a like-minded community. This allows for creativity and imagination in childhood.”

Sebastopol Independent charter school, like all Waldorf schools, has a very specific curriculum based on RudolfSteiner’s educational theories. The K-8 school has no electronics, no computers; the education is very hands on and in-depth.

So what do two young lively boys do to amuse themselves? They and their friends have a band called Use because they use anything as instruments — pots, pans, boxes and real instruments. The Waldorf curriculum calls for music starting in the first grade. Mateo plays the violin and writes love songs for the band.

Mijares takes the boys to see lots of live entertainment, including puppet shows at the library. “The only movies they see are very specially selected ones we bring on long airplane flights,” she said.

Gabriel and Mateo also create books, illustrating them with paintings. In addition to arithmetic, Mateo learned Native American and Hebrew stories in third grade and made books that included them.

Mateo wrote his first poem when he was 3. His mother wrote it down for him, and he has turned it into a book, “What can I drink? What can I eat? What can I spill all over my feet?”

How did the family feel when his poem “Trouble” was published?

“I was proud and surprised,” said Mijares. ”He sent it in last year just on a whim.”

Asked if she thinks she is nurturing a genius, she laughed.

“No, I wouldn’t call either of my children are geniuses. They are just typical kids getting a Waldorf education.”

Highlights Magazine has been around since the 1940s and is popular with children and educators. Children submit thousands of stories and poems each year. Mateo Mijares’ poem was selected from more than 3,000.


by Mateo Mijares

Trouble can bother you but you
Don’t have to let it.
All you have to do is forget it.
Just don’t think about it and Whew!
Trouble won’t bother you.
That’s all you have to do.


  • Pete Karaiskos

    Yes, Waldorf schools deserve all the credit… not your son. Or maybe you should be given credit, for finding a Waldorf school… yes, that’s it… How about credit where credit is due? Your son wrote a lovely poem that was published – before his Waldorf school destroyed his creativity. That would be more accurate.

    • Heather Hume

      Hmmm. Bad experience, huh?

  • Loretta Mijares

    Just a note of clarification: I told the PD reporter that before we moved here, I learned that there were THREE Waldorf schools in the Sebastopol area, TWO of them public charters (Sebastopol Independent and Sunridge), and that this indicated to me that there was something special about this community. Five years later, I continue to believe this!

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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