This morning, Raymond and I visited Charles Ellis Montessori Academy. This is the school we hope to get Fletcher into for kindergarten next year. We knew it was at the top of our list – we have heard nothing but wonderful things about the school, and the fact that it is walking distance from our house is a huge bonus – but after visiting the school today, it’s official. I’m in love with this school.
It felt like an elementary school should feel. Everywhere we went, people were smiling. There were children we know in every classroom we peeked into. Every teacher we came across spoke to us. We saw a dozen parents that we know. It was the epitome of a neighborhood school. But better than your typical neighborhood school, because it’s a Montessori school.
The Montessori method is all about observing and supporting children’s natural development. There is a focus on creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time management. The children work independently or in small groups, and while they are guided by their teachers they are also free to decide what they want to focus on and when they want to do it. Now keep in mind, this is a public school and the children have to pass the same standardized tests and meet the same standards to which all state school are held. These kids learn everything they need to learn, but they do it (without text books) in a very individualized way. Montessori schools have mixed-level classes, so Kindergarten and 1st grade might be in the same classroom, 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade in the same classroom. But it really doesn’t matter, because each child is working at their own level in each subject area. A child might be at grade level in one subject but above grade level in another. This seems like sooooooo much work for the teachers, but it means that no student is ever slowed down and no student is ever left behind. The advice of Maria Montessori was to “follow the child.” That makes so much sense to me.
As we toured the school, I was struck by the classroom environment. Most of the classrooms, especially in the pre-K through 1st grade classrooms, had the overhead lights off. The rooms were lit by lamps around the room, so it was easy to see but the light was soft and quiet. There was a lot of activity everywhere we went, but there was not a trace of chaos. Every child was working. Some were at tables in small groups with the teacher, others were working on rugs scattered across the floor. At another elementary school I visited recently, I heard teachers fussing at children in the hallway, scolding them to get back in line, get into the classroom, get out of the bathroom. We all have bad days, but 3 scolding teachers as I walked down a single hallway seemed like a bad sign to me. There was none of that at Ellis.
As we were leaving, the school nurse was walking down the hall towards us with 2 little girls, probably first graders. She stopped and introduced herself to us. We told her we had a 4 year old and were looking a kindergartens. She asked his name, and I told her. One of the little girls smiled at me and said “That’s a nice name.” I was surprised, and thanked her. The nurse said that one of the things the school focuses on is good manners. Then she turned to the girl and told her that was a very kind thing for her to say. I think that goes beyond good manners. This school just really seems like a place where every individual is respected. And I can’t think of a better learning environment for my children.
Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that Fletcher gets in. Applications will be available in December. They estimate that they will only have 25 kindergarten spots and will probably receive 75 applications for those spots. I can’t tell you how frustrating that is! I know we need to have a back-up plan, but I’m having a hard time thinking about anything other than this school!