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June TL Stories: Jill and Eric

Educators from around the country continue to come together to share big dreams of creating tiny schools with their communities. During the June gathering for Teacher Leader Stories, educators Jill Evans of Goldenrod Montessori (Cleveland, OH) and Eric Oglesbee of River Montessori High School (South Bend, IN) shared their unique entrepreneurial advice for emerging Teacher Leaders.

Eric Oglesbee is one of the founders of River Montessori High School, a first-of-its-kind replicable, mixed-income, Montessori high school. He discovered Montessori as a parent and left his career as a college professor to become an advocate for the expansion of Montessori and the creation of the small-scale Montessori high school.

Jill Evans, founding Teacher Leader of Goldenrod Montessori, never dreamed she would open a school. Still, her path as a business administrator turned educator led her to discover the beauty of the Montessori method, and–after learning about Wildflower–she said it was like a light bulb went off. She decided then and there to start the School Startup Journey, eventually launching Goldenrod in the heart of Cleveland’s Shaker Heights neighborhood.

Jill and Eric offered their unique entrepreneurial advice to emerging Teacher Leaders. Jill described how they invested in community outreach from the outset:

“We are involved in community events in our neighborhood. That’s how we got the word out about our school. We went to every community event we could think of and were visible in our neighborhood. Before we opened the school, I would open the door and let people come in, greet them, and let them know what we were doing.”

Eric advised emerging Teacher Leaders to operate with a sense of urgency without rushing: “Rushing to get the doors open if you haven’t created a good foundation will lead to all kinds of cracks that will be ten times harder to solve when you have kids in the building and families you’re serving because reputation only gets built once.”

To join an upcoming Teacher Leader Stories event, please register for the July 21 or August 18 sessions.

Montessori for Our Collective Liberation

Wildflower Schools – Minnesota hosted a virtual town hall with a panel of Black and Indigenous education leaders and institution-builders from around the United States. The panelists shared the life experiences, spiritual preparation, and practical skills they build upon to use Montessori education as a tool for racial justice and liberation.

Koren Clark–a Wildflower partner and founder of Know Thyself Inc.–described education as the practice of holding space for the child’s mental, physical, and spiritual transformation: “What Montessori requires that teachers do is to mirror their own work of inner transformation–to hold space for the spiritual transformation of these precious beings.” 

Janice LaFloe–founder and director of the Montessori American Indian Childcare Center–described how she discovered in Montessori the same respect for the sacred nature of children that she learned through her upbringing. Montessori’s concept of the spiritual embryo of the child echoes Ojibwe cultural star knowledge–the idea that every child has a path that they designed for themselves before they are born.

Siobhan Brown is a citizen of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, a teaching artist, and a founding member of the Weetumuw School. Her advice to educators committed to liberatory Montessori education is to be your whole self at all times and under all circumstances:

“There is nothing about your heritage, race, or identity that needs to change to be in this pedagogy. It is designed to reach everyone. And if you feel it is not–-if there is a training program or something that is not inclusive or anti-racist–speak up and find allies who will support you. These training programs need you to be you. All of the training programs within the pedagogy need to be called in, particularly when they are complicit in the active erasure of Black and Brown children, their experiences, and their aspects of identity.”

Siobhan’s colleague, Dr. Nitana Greendeer is the Weetumuw School’s Language Development Director and lovingly describes their educational practice as “Wampassori.” She shared that their Montessori environment includes language and culture to help students understand that their culture and brilliance are one and the same. 

Dr. Ayize Sabater, Executive Director of AMI USA, shared how his experience as a Black parent prepared him to nourish children when school systems and broader society too often didn’t recognize their brilliance or humanity. Pastor Jessica Jackson shared Dr. Ayize’s experience as a Black mother. As she works to launch Morning Glory Montessori, a faith-centered Montessori school for Black boys, she is focused on staying free, staying well, and staying open: 

“I can’t usher in liberation for anyone if I’m not free myself …If children don’t see us as free and see us well, how can they understand what liberation is?”

For more brilliance from the compelling panel, watch the full recording below. If you are interested in starting your own liberatory Montessori program in Minnesota or want to learn more about Wildflower schools, you can reach out to Brandon Royce-Diop ([email protected]).

Our Grief

"To be loving is to be open to grief, to be touched by sorrow, even sorrow that is unending" - bell hooks

We hold the Uvalde community in our hearts as we mourn the devastating loss of 19 children and 2 teachers – so soon after 10 people in Buffalo were viciously gunned down in an act of racial terror, another person was killed in a house of worship, and after so many others have died due to gun violence. The seemingly endless mourning can feel overwhelming. We stay standing, not only for our children, but ultimately for our shared humanity. Standing, holding space, taking action, and mourning may look different for each of us. We share the following resources in community, in grief, in hope and in active work toward a better future.

Teacher Leader Stories: Britni Haynie & Kanan Patel

Teacher Leaders Britni Haynie and Kanan Patel

Wildflower Teacher Leaders Britni Haynie and Kanan Patel share a passion for reflecting Wildflower’s foundational commitments to practice anti-bias anti-racism and unity in their schools and their work with emerging Teacher Leaders around the country.

Britni Haynie is a Teacher Leader at Tiger Lily Montessori, an infant and toddler program in Providence, Rhode Island. After working at a series of Montessori and non-Montessori child care centers across several states, she landed at Tiger Lily during a leadership transition that left her rebuilding relationships with families. Despite those challenges, she described the experiences as life-changing:

I have learned so much and grown so much as a mother, as a teacher, as a human, in general, through teal practices, Holacracy, being able to show up as my full self, building an environment where we respect our community members, and we put the children first.

Kanan Patel remembers wanting to be a teacher from her earliest years. She studied education and attained her Montessori degree in India before moving to the US with her husband and growing family. After hearing about the original Wildflower Montessori School in 2014, Kanan reached out to the network to learn more about the model. Soon after, she enrolled her daughter at the second Wildflower school in the network–Aster Montessori School, a Cambridge primary program–and began to work there.

Those early days were tough because The Wildflower Foundation didn’t exist yet–Kanan explained that they were building the bike as they were riding it.She described the community the early Teacher Leaders built in Cambridge:

We all understood that this is not work that is done in one day; it is ongoing work that will force us to grow and evolve and will continue as long as we live…but there’s a community around me to help me, support me, and guide me, and that really was the basis for The Wildflower Foundation. Now, so many amazing people work at the Foundation who support the work that Teacher Leaders do. It absolutely takes a village to build even a microschool.

Kanan and Britni both leveraged their experience and passion for Wildflower as Operations Guides—A partner to emerging Teacher Leaders as they navigate the operational and administrative aspects of the School Startup Journey (e.g., budgeting, facilities, enrollment). Britni explained that the role mirrors a guide in the classroom: “I am here for you, for resources. I create an environment for you to feel safe to explore. I guide you through the SSJ, but you’re the one who’s in charge, and I follow you.”  

To join the next Teacher Leader stories event on May 25, register here.

Teacher Leader Stories: Karla Vázquez-Torres and Ruth Melián

Ruth Melián and Kárla Vazques Torres Profile Images

More than 80 people gathered together to hear the stories of two Wildflower Teacher Leaders from Puerto Rico, the visions that sparked their schools, and their experiences with Wildflower’s School Startup Journey. They included parents, interested Montessorians from around the world, and educators with dreams of creating education environments for their communities.

Karla Vázquez-Torres is a Founding Teacher Leader at Mariposa Montessori, which bloomed out of a partnership with a home for women who have experienced domestic violence. She spoke with participants about her previous work in traditional schools, sharing that it often felt like a hostile environment for children and educators alike.

Karla realized that she needed to join with other brave people fighting for Montessori for the communities that need it most. On that path, she met the Wildflower family and her partner in founding Mariposa to serve the protected children within the home and–more recently–the children from a neighboring foster home. 

Karla describes the changes she sees in her students as almost instantaneous: 

It is amazing. The kids come with a lot of trauma, and they find in Mariposa a peaceful space with love and respect. That’s their space that we create. At first, they don’t know how to deal with freedom–they ask for permission, ‘Can I go to the bathroom? Can I do this?’ In a couple of days, they are born again.

Ruth Melian founded Moriviví Montessori before discovering Wildflower. Morivivi also partners with a foster home in Caguas, Puerto Rico. She told the group that she “fell in love” with Wildflower after attending the Montessori for Social Justice conference in 2019. She met many Wildflowers there and found a group of like-minded people who believed in centering Montessori on its founding vision of equity and social justice. They decided then and there to join the Wildflower network, seeing their alignment with Wildflower’s principles and values

Ruth feels incredibly proud of the Moriviví community, including the parents who believed in the school and organized a fundraising campaign. Because the school started as a toddler and primary program, the parents wanted an elementary program so their children and the foster home children could continue in a Wildflower school. A year later, Passiflora Montessori opened next door. She grounded this experience in what makes a Wildflower school different: “It’s not only the Teacher Leaders doing the job, it’s the whole community embracing and taking care of all of us.”

Both Karla and Ruth spoke about their experience as Teacher Leaders within the Wildflower network as “Montessori for adults,” echoing the freedom with support paradigm that the children experience in a Montessori learning environment. In describing the process of starting up her school, Karla explained: “Wildflower is a family full of dreamers, fighters, a community of people who walk with you on an amazing journey. You always have them. Today I can’t imagine teaching in a school that is not with Wildflower.”

Interested in learning more about starting a Wildflower school? Join our next Teacher Leader story on XYZ and, if you can’t make it, fill out the Contact Us form to learn more!

EVENT: Next Teacher Leader Stories Conversation on February 24th

For those who are eager to learn more about the lived experience of Wildflower Teacher Leaders in designing and operating liberatory microschools with their communities, we invite you to join the next Teacher Leader Stories conversation. Perhaps you are considering leading a Wildflower School as the next step in your journey? If so, these conversations are a great opportunity to learn more about different ways Wildflower schools come to life in communities across the country.   

 

Join us for an evening of storytelling, reflection and learning with Wildflower Teacher Leaders, Renee Jolley + Lindsey Barnes. Please extend this invitation to other educators in your network that may have an interest in opening a micro-school with their community!

 

And if you can’t join us but want to stay in touch, let us know by filling out this quick form!

 

Thursday, February 24th

6:30 PM EST

*Virtual Event*

Registration: 

https://bit.ly/TLStoriesFeb2022 

EVENT: Next Teacher Leader Stories Conversation on January 20th!

As we begin 2022, we know educators are working harder than ever to serve children and families. For those who are eager to learn more about the lived experience of Wildflower Teacher Leaders in designing and operating liberatory microschools with their communities, we invite you to join the next Teacher Leader Stories conversation. Perhaps you are considering leading a Wildflower School as the next step in your journey? If so, these conversations are a great opportunity to learn more about different ways Wildflower schools come to life in communities across the country.   

 

On January 20th, join us for an evening of storytelling and learning with Wildflower Teacher Leaders, Angelina Hawley-Dolan and Mario Benabe. 

 

Thursday, January 20th

6:30 PM EST

*Virtual Event*

Registration: https://bit.ly/TLstories2022

 

We look forward to seeing you there!

 

–Maia Blankenship & Rebecca H. Snyder

Coming Home: Schools’ affordable housing and community partnerships are helping fulfill Wildflower’s purpose

The Virginia Coffee House, permanent housing for former residents of Lydia’s House and named after Cincinnati Civil Rights activist Virginia Coffey, sits above Azalea Montessori.

How do you bring an affordable Montessori education to communities that historically haven’t had access to it? 

 

It’s a question at the heart of Wildflower, and one that innovative Teacher Leaders grapple with regularly. Through the years, Wildflower schools have addressed the tension by embracing strategies such as city and state-subsidized tuition vouchers, creating tuition-free public charter schools, and pursuing school district partnerships. But recently, various teachers across the network have unlocked a piece of the puzzle that they hope will pave the way for an even greater number of students to access a Wildflower education. They are co-locating their schools in the epicenters of the communities that need them most: affordable housing complexes, shelters for women and children, and transitional housing. 

 

Creating deep and lasting partnerships with existing organizations in a community isn’t new for Wildflower. As Teacher Leaders have sourced buildings for their microschools in the past, they have followed a common Montessori practice of co-locating with houses of worship, as is the case for Marigold and Allium, both of which are located inside churches in Massachusetts.

 

The new co-location partnerships Teacher Leaders have forged with various providers of affordable housing are the sort of exciting and mutually beneficial relationships that will help the network make Wildflower schools more accessible to all families. In each partnership, the Wildflower school rents space from a housing nonprofit at a below-market rate, and enrollment is prioritized for children who live there. Taking advantage of the subsidized rent allows higher salaries for the teachers and, in schools with tuition, more affordable fees for enrolled families.

“It’s really meaningful to everyone involved; we’re forming partnerships with organizations who know and have been serving their communities for many years,” said Ali Scholes, a Wildflower Foundation partner spearheading efforts to grow more co-location partnerships. “Part of why families are so excited to send their children to co-located schools is because of the schools’ explicit commitment to centering families who have been historically marginalized.”

Jeana Olszewski, founding Teacher Leader at Azalea in Norwood, Ohio, said co-locating with apartments for former residents of the women’s and children’s shelter Lydia’s House has created a warm community. Jeana tells the story of two single mothers who likely would not have met if not for Azalea, but whose bonds have grown outside the classroom. One woman is a former resident of Lydia’s house, and the other lives in a neighboring community, and was drawn to Azalea. From playdates to sleepovers to helping navigate each other’s work schedules, they have both grown to appreciate the sense of family the small school provides.

“Our school community feels like a really organic and genuine expression of the Wildflower principles. Our students love each other and they’re so close; it’s like having 25 cousins 

together,” Jeana said. “We’re physically located in this urban neighborhood, there’s always a bit of a ruckus outside, but we also have a children’s garden across the street with chickens and a bunny. When we’re walking down the street to the several nearby parks, people who live in the neighborhood are looking for us. They’re always waving.”

 

Norwood, a city outside Cincinnati, is full of Montessori schools of all types: private, public, faith-based. But Jeana, a longtime local educator and a veteran Montessori teacher and parent, said that before Azalea opened its doors, Montessori schools may have been plentiful, but a Montessori education was anything but accessible. 

 

“We have all this Montessori in the city, but it’s often the wealthy, privileged kids who get it,” she said. “Even the public Montessori schools are mostly located in the nicer neighborhoods.”

Karla Vasquez-Torres, a Teacher Leader at Mariposa in northern Puerto Rico, agrees. Her school is located inside a shelter for women and children called Hogar Ruth. The exact location is not public in order to protect the safety of their students, who all either live at the shelter or have parents who work there. A Wildflower veteran, Karla previously ran Flamboyan, a Montessori school in partnership with the local public school district. 

“In Puerto Rico, Montessori is an elite privilege. But the moment I became certified, I knew I wanted to help bring Montessori education to kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. When I saw and lived the results of what Wildflower can be, I knew I had to open this up to more kids.”

 

Because the majority of the students at Mariposa have experienced violence in their home, Karla said they come to school with little agency and are often scared to jump in and participate in lessons.

 

“These kids come in without a voice…but here, they find a place where they can talk and someone will listen to and respect them. They learn that violence is not the solution,” she said. “When you start seeing those kids being owners of their space, it’s just beautiful. They find a place where they can be themselves and be free.”

 

***

 

While the Teacher Leaders say there is no question that a Wildflower education is particularly meaningful and effective for the students they serve, there are plenty of operational benefits to partnering with these housing organizations, many of which are longtime nonprofits and highly respected in their communities. 

 

When the pandemic hit in Spring 2020, leaders of the nonprofit Lydia’s House, which runs the transitional housing where Azalea is located, came to Jeana and offered to waive their rent for six months while they figured out how to operate school during an uncertain time.  

 

“Partnering with a nonprofit like that, they will have your back,” Jeana said. 

 

Karla from Mariposa said that Hogar Ruth, the 30-year-old women’s shelter where their school is located, has been instrumental in helping them identify and access grant funding they might not have otherwise known about. 

 

Claire Ricker, Director of Real Estate at Coalition for a Better Acre (CBA), said their partnership with Wildflower has been a critical piece of their efforts to transform the Haverhill neighborhood.

 

“If you’re trying to improve lives, you have to think about changing many elements of a single neighborhood, in a systematic way, at a steady pace. With this in mind we felt that a partnership with Wildflower Schools was crucial to meeting our goals of not only providing safe, stable affordable housing, but also to use our physical space to further invigorate the neighborhood.”

 

***

 

Teacher Leader Janet Begin has been laying the groundwork for these co-location partnerships for years. Her own school, Marigold, is co-located within a Haverhill, Massachusetts church, but Janet, who believes strongly in using Montessori for social justice, knew there was even more potential. A lightbulb first went on three years ago after meeting with the housing nonprofit CBA and realizing their mission and Wildflower’s were closely aligned. Later, a parent at Marigold, Nicole Randall, expressed interest in Montessori education, and Janet tucked it away. Finally, the stars aligned this year after Nicole, now a Montessori-trained teacher with several years as an educator under her belt, agreed to start Snowdrop, a toddler program located in the same complex as some of CBA’s affordable housing. At least 25 percent of the available seats at Snowdrop will be reserved for residents of the housing complex, and many will receive state education vouchers to help pay a portion of their tuition. 

 

“Being a teacher, you plant these seeds because it’s just what you do, and then years later you start to see it all pay off,” Janet said. “There’s just a lot of people pushing for this and we’re all really excited to be here.”

With Snowdrop’s opening, Wildflower leaders like Ali are hoping that the model becomes a pilot for future collaborations. Currently, the Wildflower Foundation is in the process of making connections with other affordable housing nonprofits to support new Teacher Leaders who want to pursue similar opportunities. 

 

While the natural diversity that results from these co-location partnerships is undoubtedly positive for the students, Nicole Randall, the Teacher Leader who will run Snowdrop starting in September, said she is also grateful for the opportunity it will give her.

 

“I’m excited for myself, to learn and to grow,” she said. “ I’m really excited about the exchange of ideas.” 

CO-LOCATED WILDFLOWER SCHOOLS

Azalea

Location: Norwood, Ohio

Co-location: Permanent housing for former guests of Lydia’s House, a shelter for women and children 

Opened in: September 2019

 

Snowdrop

Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts 

Co-location: Coalition for a Better Acre, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing 

Opened in: Anticipated opening September 2021

 

Marigold

Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts

Partnership: Trinity Episcopal Church 

Opened in: 2015

Miramelinda

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Partnership: Just-a-Start, an affordable housing nonprofit

Opened in: Fall 2018

 

Sundrops 

Location: San Jose, California 

Partnership:  El Rancho Verde, an affordable housing community located in northeast San Jose

Opened in: February 2021

 

Mariposa

Location: Puerto Rico

Partnership: Hogar Ruth, a shelter for women and children 

Opened in: January 2021

Students at Azalea wear rain suits while participating in the school’s outdoor program, “Azalea Outdoors.”

Resilient Roots: Celebrating Wildflower Seedlings

WF Seedlings Banner Image

Every year, a new group of Wildflower schools peeks through the soil for the first time. But what a year this has been. In the best of times, the challenges, uncertainty, and personal growth of designing and launching a new school are immensely demanding. Yet Wildflower Teacher Leaders rose to meet the storm of challenges this year with resiliency, grounded in purpose, experience, and love for the families they serve.

 

For the first time, Wildflower is celebrating the achievements of these education entrepreneurs throughout their opening year with the inaugural edition of Wildflower Seedlings – a special publication highlighting the first year of our newest class of Wildflower schools. Please join Wildflower in welcoming the 14 new schools that opened their doors to families this year and their founding Teacher Leaders who transformed their lifetimes of learning and dreaming into their schools in their own communities.

 

Download Wildflower Seedlings

 

In these pages, you will meet the exceptional Teacher Leaders behind these schools and see what they have to say about what inspires and motivates their work as educators. To read more about their stories, backgrounds, and the beautiful schools they have created, please check out our first edition of Wildflower Seedlings.