Half a mile from Brown University, in the center of Providence, Rhode Island, sits the first Wildflower school in Rhode Island. Founded by two Montessorians who migrated north from Alabama’s Gulf Coast, Tiger Lily currently enrolls students as young as 6 weeks, and up to 3 years. With its peaceful interior color palette, wide-paneled walls, and natural wooden accents, teacher-leaders Alexandra Theris and Brittney Powell say visitors often tell them the space looks like an “after” from the HGTV series “Fixer Upper.” The pair, who just completed their first year leading Tiger Lily, recently sat down to talk about how they got started on their Wildflower journey.
With a long history of Montessori in her own life, as a student, a teacher, and a parent, Lisa Kuh, director of early education for Somerville Public Schools, was always looking for ways to incorporate Montessori approaches to curriculum into professional development for the teachers she supports.
Two years ago, on her way to give a presentation in Philadelphia on the concept of beauty in Montessori, Lisa ended up on the same airplane flight as a group of teacher-leaders from Wildflower, and a budding partnership began. After hitting it off with the Wildflower team, Lisa observed in several Wildflower schools.
In the heart of the Lake Street corridor in Minneapolis, a micro Montessori school called Lirio has made a temporary home inside the educational wing of Christ Church International. Next door sits the historic Sears building, an economic hub for the city before it closed in 1994. What once was a predominantly affluent neighborhood struggled through the years, but the community is working to turn itself around. Along with a new Midtown Global Market that serves up international food and incubates startup businesses, local leaders, particularly those of color, are working to revitalize the neighborhood. Lirio teacher-leaders Maya Soriano and Susana Rodriguez are thrilled to play a part in that effort, and say the neighborhood is the perfect setting for their two-way Spanish immersion school, one of the first three Wildflower schools in Minneapolis. And with a waiting list only months after their opening, it seems the community agrees.
At Wildflower, teachers lead every aspect of their schools, from instruction to administration. Teacher-leaders collaborate with each other across the Wildflower network, contributing a wide variety of experiences and perspectives to the group’s work. Here, meet Janet Begin, founder and co-teacher-leader at Marigold Montessori in Haverhill, Massachusetts, who is among several Wildflower teacher-leaders who came to Montessori education after a career in another field.
Public K-12 funding is far from simple, with its reliance on federal title programs and special education funds, state appropriations, local tax levies and more. Despite the complexity, district innovation programs and charter school laws have opened up standardized ways for new schools to access public funds, and we’ve seen an explosion over the last 20 years of new public schools.
The context is very different in preschool — in some ways more open, due to the prevalence of a mixed public/private delivery system, and in some ways more closed. In particular, the challenges of accessing public funding and the administrative obstacles that come along with many funding sources pose barriers to creating more accessible high-quality early childhood education options, even amid growing demand.
(1/30/18: This article has been updated.)
A Montessori teacher for 25 years, Mary Rockett, like many educators before her, had resigned herself to the fact that becoming an administrator was the only way to progress in her career. But five years into the “soul-crushing” administrator life, a chance meeting with a prospective parent changed everything.
Sep Kamvar, a former Google computer scientist who was running the Social Computing Lab at the MIT Media Lab at the time, met Mary during an admissions open house. Several months later, she received an email from Sep saying he wanted to open a Montessori school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and wondered if Mary would like to have coffee with him. Eager to help a fellow Montessori believer, she agreed.
Over coffee, Sep started telling Mary about his dreams for a network of Montessori Schools he called Wildflower. He told her about the kind of education that he wanted not only for his son, but for every child.
“He’s a very gentle, disarming, kind, thoughtful person, but in listening to him, I thought, ‘This guy is really grandiose; I hope he’s not out of his mind!’” Mary remembered. “He was talking about changing the world, changing the face of education. I was intrigued. Totally blown away.” Continue Reading
Hurricane Maria devastated the infrastructure of Puerto Rico – including many schools. On the main island, there are three Wildflower schools within the commonwealth’s public education system: Alheli, Flamboyan and Girasol. From our school leaders there, we have learned that our schools, teachers and families, like so many other Puerto Ricans, are without roofs, electricity, food and fresh water.
We’ve been looking for ways to support our team, and so far have shipped three generators, fans, water filtration systems, batteries and lanterns. We are now starting to send non-perishable food for students to have at school.
Our Wildflower community, which connects to Puerto Rico from our schools and offices in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota and elsewhere on the mainland, is eager to support our schools directly. We have been inspired by our teacher leaders who – in the face of near-complete destruction – have shared that they are eager to provide a safe place for students and families to learn and be together as many of them are currently without homes.
Wildflower Schools stand against the racism, antisemitism, bigotry and hatred that were on display in Charlottesville.
One of the most important things we can do as a community committed to equity is to acknowledge that we live in a society full of inequity and equip ourselves with the tools and the capacity to dismantle racism – within ourselves and within our communities. Our commitment to equity calls us “to create diverse, inclusive learning environments that work for justice as the foundation for peace,” and we hold this commitment sacredly.
Peace education—supporting children to live in harmony with all living things and to become agents of peace-making in the world—is the foundation of our work as Montessorians. The peace rose is a common fixture in Montessori environments, passed back and forth during conflict resolution to practice deep listening. Too often though, we focus only on the bloom, without looking deeper to examine the roots.
Have you ever wished you could clone yourself, so that one “you” could carry out your work while the other “you” could just focus on carefully observing and learning? Having heard a version of this from enough Montessori teachers, we started to wonder if we could use technology to give teachers this superpower. This is one of the questions we are exploring today as part of our commitment to making Wildflower schools a platform for innovation and learning what we can share with the world. Continue Reading