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.
From 2017-2018, three Wildflower teacher-leaders were given the opportunity to delve further into equity and racial justice work by taking a class taught by our Wildflower partner, Daisy Han, at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The course, entitled “Leading for Equity,” has been a unique space for me, along with graduate students and other local school leaders, to reflect upon teaching practices, understand dominant white culture, and recognize the implicit biases that we all hold. I’m writing to share some of my reflections from taking this course as well to share two pieces that Daisy recently wrote about her own experiences with racial identity as a child and as a Montessori teacher. Continue Reading
Wildflower partner Ali Scholes is helping to grow and support more schools in the Greater Boston area. Her children attended Wildflower schools Aster and Snowdrop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and have recently aged into Wild Rose.
The primary school teachers at Wild Rose Montessori know the 6-year-olds are ready to transition to elementary school when they start curiously peeking over the half-wall to see what the big kids are doing. The elementary school teacher on the other side will sometimes invite them over to observe a lesson or two, and see where that leads.
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.
A Montessori classroom welcomes the child to a symphony of sensorial experiences. One child’s small fingers trace the rough edges of a sandpaper letter, while another child uses a quiet hand to grade 10 pink cubes into a tower. The child not only sees and hears what “h” is, but feels the curves of the letter. The child not only sees the shift of the size in cubes from largest to smallest, but feels the weight of 10 pink cubes progressively changing in volume. The classroom, a living organism, moves in harmony when the children can see, hear and feel along their pathway of learning. Maria Montessori designed all of the materials to encompass aspects of experiential learning: they are beautiful, sensorial and didactic in nature.
Dr. Montessori said, “It is exactly in the repetition of the exercises that the education of the senses exists; not that the child shall know colors, forms or qualities, but that he refine his senses through an exercise of attention, comparison and judgment.” The sandpaper letters and pink tower are classic examples of the myriad pedagogic materials that exist within the classroom to sharpen and hone this exact development of the senses to which Dr. Montessori refers. At Aster Montessori, we seek to further the refinement of the senses by cultivating a deep sense of artistic expression in our culture, design, daily works, partnerships and more.
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
As a new year approaches, we wanted to share the achievements and learnings over the last year of our growing network of teacher-led, micro Montessori schools. The report we’ve prepared for you reflects on the Wildflower Foundation’s first year as an independent organization.
With 13 schools across two states and Puerto Rico, plus schools developing in several more places, we’ve observed that Wildflowers grow and thrive very much like wildflowers. They spread organically, but only under the right conditions. You and our many supporters have helped create those conditions, along with Wildflower’s teacher-leaders, parents and students, and for that we are so grateful.
Montessori entered my life, thankfully, when I was seven years old, after two bumpy years in a traditional school where my struggles to sit at my desk led to a lot of missed recess. Today, both of my own children attend public Montessori schools, and I get to work with a brilliant group of Montessorians and other passionate visionaries every day.