While Montessori education is highly valued and sought after in Puerto Rico, residents have experienced significant disparities in access: Wealthier families historically have been able to choose and afford a high-quality Montessori education for their children, while families who earn lower and middle incomes have not.
Over the past eight years, a group of Puerto Rican Montessori educators, parents and community leaders have led a grassroots campaign to repair this inequity – growing what is now Wildflower’s second largest region of open schools.
Undeterred by three destabilizing hurricanes, COVID 19, tremors in the south of the island, government ordered school closures and supply chain issues, Wildflower Puerto Rico persisted, nurturing the growth of six beautiful Montessori microschools and one Montessori parenting program. Each school was designed and started by a small team of Teacher Leaders who are intimately familiar with the unique needs and strengths of their own community. Each school centers children and families who have the least privilege and access to opportunity. Working beside local families and nonprofits, Teacher Leaders have designed some of the most innovative and collaborative school models within the Wildflower network – including trauma-informed learning environments that are co-located within shelters for women and children healing from domestic violence and schools that center neurodiversity and functional diversity and offer onsite, integrated therapies. These schools complement the existing public Montessori programs on the island, reaching communities that have never before had access to Montessori through carefully tailored schools.
While the demand for and impact of Wildflower’s schools is clear, the economics of making nonprofit Montessori microschools that serve all families, regardless of means, function in Puerto Rico has remained a challenge. To date, the region’s work has been heavily augmented by mainland U.S. based philanthropy – which can be impractical to maintain long term.
We are excited to share that this year, Wildflower Puerto Rico turned a corner on our journey to sustainability and strength on two fronts!
1) Tuition support for families + operating stability for schools
After a rigorous application and evaluation process, Flor de Loto, Mariposa, and Alhelí have all been approved to receive public funding from Puerto Rico’s Child Care program. Securing this renewable revenue stream is a major step forward on the path to financial stability – fully funding tuition for all students from households that earn low incomes, supporting Teacher Leader and teaching assistant salaries and supporting with operating budget. Through this funding, schools that serve children five-years-old and under will be better able to balance the goals of providing high-quality Montessori education for all families while also ensuring a living wage for their teachers and staff.
Morivivi Montessori, which is an innovative school model connected to a group home for children, is also applying to receive this increased public funding – which will augment current voucher and philanthropic revenue and support the school’s sustainability.
Additionally, Ave del Paraiso Montessori – a primary (preschool) program that centers students with neurodiversity and functional diversity – has just signed a contract with Puerto Rico’s Department of Education, who will now provide funding for tuition, integrated therapies and equipment for students with special needs, as well as the school’s operating expenses.
2) Philanthropic commitments from Puerto based-funders
For the first time, Wildflower Puerto Rico has received $110,000 from three locally based philanthropic foundations this year: Fundación Banco Popular, the Peter Alfond Foundation and the 20/22 Act Society. In addition to providing seed capital needed to support the growth of new schools, each of these grants represents a vote of confidence from respected, thoughtful local investors who understand the dynamics of education on the island and the needs of families. We are honored to have their partnership and to be in conversations with more Puerto Rico foundations to support the growth of 2-3 new schools in the 2023-24 school year.
While the generosity of U.S. foundations based on the mainland was pivotal to seeding Wildflower Puerto Rico, sustaining and growing this movement can only happen with the shared support of local funders and partners – reflecting the authentic interconnectedness each Wildflower school has with its neighbors and neighborhoods.
In the hours before Hurricane Fiona hit ground last fall, Flor de Loto Montessori’s teachers and primary and elementary students worked beside Mercy Corps to distribute emergency provisions to aid area residents as they took shelter. After the hurricane hit, Ave del Paraíso Montessori’s teachers were unable to reach the school. By the time they could, the neighborhood had already come together to clean up the worst of the storm damage done to the school. In return, Ave del Paraíso invited its neighbors and the school custodian and her family to use the school to access running water, bathe and charge their cell phones.
Wildflower Puerto Rico’s progress growing new public and philanthropic funding streams represents what has always been true about this community of teachers, children, families and neighbors: Puerto Rico is defined not by its needs or the hardships it overcomes but by its profound commitment to each other.