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Sunny Greenberg

Wildflowers Grow in Philadelphia

Teacher Leaders Eileen Fell and Jake Cohen at Clover ribbon-cutting in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia

Wildflower is launching schools in and around Philadelphia! Known for its diverse neighborhoods and history, Philadelphia is a city filled with possibilities. As a racially and economically diverse city, Philadelphia is rich with the history and opportunities to grow schools that can address its educational inequities while upholding the values and traditions for which the city is known. It is a fertile ground and culture to adapt the liberatory principles of Montessori to the needs and values of its diverse neighborhoods.

Clover, our flagship school, opened its doors in 2021. In the heart of Mt. Airy, Clover is a Montessori preschool celebrating early childhood in a joyful, equitable, and inclusive community. Clover provides a child-centered approach to learning that celebrates each student’s individuality, autonomy, and innate curiosity, empowering children to be global citizens who seek justice. In their combined two decades of teaching, co-founders Eileen Fell and Jake Cohen found the Montessori programs they’ve worked in to be largely inaccessible to lower income families. Seeking the vibrancy that accompanies a diversity of experiences and identities, Eileen and Jake partnered with the Wildflower to found Clover Montessori on a tiered tuition model in which families pay according to household income. Clover had its official ribbon cutting recently, and Jake and Eileen commented that it was a celebration not only of a school, but also of a principle–that all families deserve access to a high-quality Montessori education.

This fall, two more teams will launch their schools that are accessible to families from all backgrounds and where children are supported, challenged, and affirmed. Carmen Montopoli and Madeleine Nutting will open Hyacinth Montessori, the only independent Montessori elementary school in Center City Philadelphia. Hyacinth is located in West Philadelphia, a diverse, widely mixed-income area of the city. Building upon the long legacy of educators who envision Montessori as a liberatory pedagogy, Hyacinth approaches Montessori with an anti-bias, anti-racist lens that welcomes all families and encourages healthy identity development. Their tuition structure welcomes families as contributors rather than customers, and they work with each family to determine an income-based tuition cost that is sustainable for them. They will create a permeable boundary between school and home, and encourage interaction between children, families, and the broader community.

Spicebush Montessori will also open this fall for children ages 3-6 in Concordville, Pennsylvania. Leah Walker and Kirsti Forestt went to Montessori schools growing up and always knew that they wanted to open their own school. Kirsti says her goal “has always been to make Montessori education far more accessible than it currently is, and for many years working in private Montessori schools, I’ve felt like I wasn’t reaching the children I wanted to reach.” They are passionate about social emotional education for young children and will infuse the Quaker values of SPICES (social justice, peace, inclusion, environment and simplicity) into the curriculum. Their school will be located in the Concord Friends Meetinghouse which was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1977. The meetinghouse was built in 1728!

While growing schools specifically in the Philadelphia region, I have expanded my own understanding of community and culture. With the guidance of Dr. Erika McDowell, we are reconfiguring the Pennsylvania hub to become the Mid-Atlantic hub that includes Central and Southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, PA, and Wilmington, DE to honor the shared values and influences of the region. For so many of our stakeholders, this expansion feels right to continue in the spirit and integrity of the Wildflower mission. This expansion also added three more Wildflower schools to our local network: Dahlia Montessori, Lily Montessori, and Sea Lavender Montessori, spanning across Southern New Jersey. With so much growth and opportunity, we are intentionally exploring not just the neighborhoods and areas to launch new schools, but also pathways for BIPOC educators to lead these expansions. In partnership with Rising Tide, we have launched a fellowship to certify and prepare BIPOC educators to become future Wildflower Teacher Leaders.

We began in Philadelphia, and we are moving in the spirit of brotherly love to serve the surrounding region. It is a moment of harvest, and seeing how our new schools and hub are evolving validates the mission and values alignment between our work and the momentum of the region.