Public Montessori schooling is available for the first time to Delaware residents with the opening this month of two programs in the Christina School District. They include a preschool through grade 5 program operating under the umbrella of Bancroft Elementary School in Wilmington and a preschool program at Brookside Elementary School in Newark.
McCrae Harrison and Wendy Lapham on the Montessori Academies at Christina.
Bancroft’s program, called the Montessori Academy at Christina in Wilmington, had operated as the private Elementary Workshop Montessori School since 1971. The school had found it increasingly difficult financially to operate on its own and thus sought a partnership with the Christina District, says McCrae Harrison, former director of the Elementary Workshop. She is staying on to direct the new Montessori program in Wilmington.
“The Christina Board of Education and our superintendent were both very supportive and interested in the idea of a public Montessori program,” said Wendy Lapham, public information officer for the district. “In the current public school environment, we are always looking for opportunities to provide different options and choices to our parents. This partnership seemed like an excellent opportunity for us to not only offer something different but also to be a leader in the state in terms of public Montessori programs.”
The newly created Montessori Academy will be located in the same building on Pine Street that was formerly occupied by the Elementary Workshop. While some things will change—the teachers, for example, now all have state certification in addition to Montessori certification—most aspects of the school, its “Montessori-ness,” will remain the same, Harrison said.
Seven-year-old Olivia McMahon has attended the Elementary Workshop since preschool and will remain at the Pine Street address to attend the new public school program, says her mother, Lauren McMahon of Wilmington.
“We have loved the program and it’s really worked well for Olivia,” McMahon said. “We would have done what we needed to cover tuition for this year as well [if the school had stayed private], but it’s a burden lifted for us that the program is tuition free this coming year.”
Brookside’s program, called the Montessori Academy at Christina in Newark, will begin this year with a preschool program, with additional grades to be added in future years until it too extends to grade 5.
Montessori Education Takes Root in the U.S.
Montessori education was founded in 1907 by Italian physician Marie Montessori, who based her instructional methods on her observations of children’s learning processes. It spread most widely in the United States beginning in the 1960s. Today there are more than 5000 Montessori schools in the country, one-tenth of them operating as public schools, according to Keith Whitescarver, director of the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.
Whitescarver says that Montessori education is growing in both the private and public school arenas. According to his research, the number of public Montessori programs has more than doubled since 2008. The creation this year of new Montessori programs in Delaware and New Hampshire brings the number of states with public Montessori programs to 42, according to Whitescarver. There are also public Montessori programs in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
One of the numerous aspects of Montessori education that makes it different from more traditional classrooms is that children are grouped together in age ranges, so that preschool children are in the same classroom as kindergarteners, first through third graders are together, as are fourth and fifth graders. Both the older and younger children benefit from the multi-age groupings, Harrison says, because younger children have mentors and older children develop leadership skills and reinforce their own knowledge.
Among the other differences with Montessori education is that almost all instruction is hands-on “to help children build a conceptual base of understanding,” Harrison says. The classroom environment is structured such that children can move about freely and at their own pace among various learning stations. Class work also teaches children to take care of themselves, others and the environment in which they live, Harrison says.
There is a teacher and an assistant teacher in every Montessori classroom so that teachers have a greater ability to work with students, one on one or in small groups.
After looking at several preschools, Shola Coker of Wilmington enrolled her 3-year-old son, Ayomide Johnson, in the preschool program at the Montessori Academy of Christina in Wilmington. “Not everyone learns on the same level and at the same curve,” she said. “I like that students in this preschool program can move at their own pace and explore what interests them.” She also appreciates the multi-age classroom groupings, saying it is more reflective of real life.
The ABCs of Delaware’s First Public Montessori Programs
For the 2012-2013 school year, 22 preschool students have enrolled in the Montessori Academy at Christina in Newark, and 85 students are enrolled in preschool through grade 5 at the Montessori Academy at Christina in Wilmington.
Most public Montessori programs nationwide are choice schools such as a magnet or charter school, Whitescarver says. Such is the case in the Christina School District. Students must request assignment to one of the Montessori programs through School Choice. Enrollment for the upcoming school year is closed at the Bancroft program. There are still a few openings for preschool in the Brookside program. Applications can be found on the Christina District website. Interested parents can also call the Christina Early Education Center at 302-454-2720.
Those who want to attend one of the Montessori programs in 2013-2014 must select that option through the School Choice program. Students within the Christina District are given preference, and if there is still space available, spaces will be open to children from other districts through a lottery system, Lapham said. The School Choice deadline for the next school year is Jan. 9, 2013.
Since these are public school programs, children of kindergarten age and up attend for free. As with other preschool programs in the Christina District, there is a charge for the Montessori preschool. Enrollment in the full-day Montessori preschool programs will cost $650 a month. According to the Christina District’s website, tuition assistance may be available.
The new Montessori programs in the Christina School District are three-year pilot programs, Lapham says, and the district has not yet decided whether or not it will add additional Montessori programs in the future. “It’s a little too early to say whether we’re going to expand it further,” she said, “but we’re really hoping that we’re going to continue to get the enrollment and the interest in our community to make these really strong programs.”