MMS Glass Classroom to spotlight a ‘new vision for education’
What do the founders of Google, Wikipedia and Amazon have in common? All attended Montessori schools—distinctive learning environments that foster academic excellence, innovation and a lifetime love of learning. The Wall Street Journal describes the approach as the “Montessori mystique,” while the Harvard Business Review calls the CEOs who run America’s top companies the “Montessori mafia.”
The curtain will be pulled back on this unique approach to education this summer, when Mountaineer Montessori School (MMS) presents “The Glass Classroom: A new vision for education” on June 19-20 at the Charleston Town Center Mall during FestivALL.
The two-day event will feature classroom demonstrations, interactive educational activities and public conversations, giving local children and their families the chance to touch, feel and experience the “Montessori magic” for themselves.
Kanawha County Public Library
Brown Bag Lunch Series: The Glass Classroom-A New Vision for Education
Wednesday, June 17, Noon
Charleston Town Center Mall Sears Court
Friday, June 19
2:30 p.m. Grand opening and ribbon cutting
3:00-5:00 p.m. Educational demonstrations and interactive activities
Saturday, June 20
1:00-3:00 p.m. Educational demonstrations and interactive activities
An exhibit that gave American a new vision for education
The Mountaineer Montessori project is part of a national centennial celebration of the “glass classroom,” an actual working Montessori preschool classroom that was conducted at the San Francisco Panama Pacific Exposition for four months in 1915. Walled by glass that allowed visitors to watch the children in action, it was one of the expo’s most popular exhibits, drawing tens of thousands, including Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. In honor of the 100th anniversary, schools across the country are staging special events and educational activities.
The “glass classroom” gave the world its first real look at Montessori education and helped launch the Montessori movement in North America.
“We hope our ‘glass classroom’ will give families here the chance to see what Montessori is all about and offer a model of true education reform for West Virginia,” says Mountaineer Montessori School Co-Director Jennifer Carriger.
What is Montessori?
Montessori is a scientifically-based, empirically-validated and time-tested approach to education, named for Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy and a pioneer in the study of child development and psychology. Many of Montessori’s discoveries, at the time controversial, are now considered common knowledge in the fields of child care and education. A humanitarian and devout Catholic, she was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1907, Montessori founded the Casa dei Bambini, a school for mentally ill and disabled children in Rome. At that time, the mentally and physically challenged were usually believed to be incapable of academic learning. However, Montessori found that when offered the appropriate environment, guidance and materials, the students were capable of great things. Observing that all young children have an innate curiosity and desire to learn, Montessori said: “free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”
Based upon her scientific observations, Montessori dramatically transformed the prevailing approach to education for all children. “It is not true that I invented what has been called the Montessori Method. I have studied the child, I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method,” she said. The Montessori philosophy directs the “guide” (teacher) to work with the “whole child”: academically, emotionally, physically, socially. In a Montessori school, children work independently and at their own paces, with time dedicated to collaborating with peers, resolving conflicts, and participating in community services in addition to all of their academic studies. The Montessori approach encourages older students to work with, mentor, and inspire younger children.
Today, neuroscience confirms what Montessori discovered a century ago. “Montessori is the original brain-based approach to education because it is based upon scientific principles of human development,” says Dr. Stephen Hughes, past president of the American Academy for Pediatric Neuropsychology.
Montessori has grown to be the single largest pedagogy and education movement in the world, with an estimated 20,000 schools on six continents, including 4,500 in the United States. While many specialize in preschool (ages 3 to 6) education, Montessori programs can start at birth and go through 12th grade.
Most Montessori schools are private, nonprofit, non-sectarian organizations, but a growing number of religious and public schools (500 in the United States) are also adopting the program. The largest school of any kind in the world, City Montessori in Lucklow, India, has more than 50,000 students!
MMS is West Virginia’s largest, oldest and most established Montessori school. Founded by education pioneer Mary McKown in 1976, the school has served an estimated 1,000 area students over four decades. Today, MMS offers its rich academic and arts curriculum to 120 students ages 3-14 on campuses in Kanawha City at the University of Charleston (308 20th Street) and South Hills (804 Myrtle Road at the Unity of Kanawha Valley Church). In response to growing community interest in alternatives to conventional education, MMS has expanded its programs in many areas, including the addition of a middle school in the fall of 2014.
“When it comes to education, one-size-fits-all doesn’t,” says Co-Director Suzanne Sanders
“Dr. Maria Montessori came up with her educational approach more than a century ago, and she was way ahead of her time,” Sanders says. “She realized that ideally, children should learn at their own paces and be driven by their own interests, with adults as guides. For instance, a child who’s interested in automobiles would best learn about mathematics and science while researching what makes a car run.
“This concept of a student-centered education is finally being incorporated, in small ways, into the traditional education system. However, due to the large sizes of schools and the standards-driven curricula, most schools are still more about building a collective group-thought and scoring high on tests. This explains a lot about the failures of traditional schooling because in reality, each child has a distinct learning style that suits him or her. Mountaineer Montessori lets the children follow their own paths, with guidance from adults, to develop socially as well as academically.”
In addition fostering academic achievement, Montessori schools excel at cultivating the skills needed for success in the 21st century: innovation, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration.
That’s where Montessori is at its best. Montessori graduates were noticeably overrepresented in a six-year study of successful executives who had either invented new products or launched innovative companies. Among their notable characteristics were a Montessori education and the ability to follow their curiosity.
“It was part of that training of not following rules and orders and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently,” explained Google co-founder (and Montessori alumnus) Larry Page in an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters in a 2007 interview.
Some may attribute the success of Montessori students to their families’ socio-economic status, parental educational attainment and involvement or other factors, but a landmark study of inner-city Milwaukee students with comparable backgrounds found that Montessori students outperformed peers on standardized tests in reading and math, “engaged in more positive interaction on the playground and showed more advanced social cognition and executive control.” The study, reported in the Sept. 29, 2006, issue of “Science,” also found that in higher grades, Montessori-educated children “wrote more creative essays with more complex sentence structures, selected more positive responses to social dilemmas and reported feeling more a sense of community at their school.”
Parent and student perspective
“We are living in an age of knowledge. Only the highly educated will be positioned to succeed,” says Brian Glasser, a Rhodes Scholar and founding partner of the law firm of Bailey & Glasser LLP. All four of his children attended Mountaineer Montessori. “The Montessori method gives children the intellectual discipline to understand how learning is a personal responsibility.”
“It’s not sit down, book, paper, pencil. It’s get your hands on it. Do it. Figure it out,” explains seventh-year student Jamie Coleman as she worked with classmates on a project to map the historic Carriage Trail in South Hills. Hands-on, student-led projects in “real world” settings are one of the hallmarks of Montessori.
“When people are talking to you, you’ve kind of got a picture of what it is, but you’re not really sure. Having the outdoor experience and doing what they’re actually teaching is much better and you have more understanding and learn a lot more,” added middle school classmate Jasmine Phillips.
Lower elementary (ages 6-9) student River Schroeder-Neal says, “We get to take care of our environment here.” And classmate, Iris Charbonniez says, “We are independent at Mountaineer Montessori.”
Chace Boland, a primary (ages 3-6) student, says that “The thing I like best about my school is that there are all kinds of people there from so many places, and I’m friends with them all. I make new friends every day. The adults lift you up. They encourage you, not discourage you. They support you, and they are fun. I love working on maps, and I love working on Practical Life lessons. My mom says she didn’t know about the maps of the world at my age, and the only continent I have left to do is Africa and all the countries in it. I’ve learned to focus more. I love my school.”
His mom, Sarah Halstead, concurs: “We are thrilled with the Mountaineer Montessori program. Our son has learned so much in his first year, and he’s excited about learning. We appreciate the focus on personal responsibility and accountability, and the emphasis on caring for others. The nature of the lessons in different topical areas offer Chace and other kids amazing opportunities to ask questions, to work independently and together to explore and experiment, and to master information and skills that are so important in life. The expertise of the teachers is assuring. He loves his classmates and he recognizes that his teachers all follow the same principals. He likes the consistency and support, and as parents, we do too. We can’t imagine a better, more loving and intellectually stimulating place for our child.”
And for the faculty, Montessori creates a space that allows them to be the teachers they wanted to be in the first place.
The focus is much more on “leading children toward independence, with more freedom to go where they need to go rather than where the testing goes,” says an MMS faculty member who previously taught in public schools. “Instead of just checking boxes for a list of standards, a Montessori education guides children to discover and become who they were meant to be.”