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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.

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.

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.

DC Wildflower Public Charter School Secures Full Approval!

Congratulations to Riverseed School Approval

On April 18, the DC Public Charter School Board voted unanimously to fully approve the 15-year charter agreement of the DC Wildflower Public Charter School (DCWPCS). This full charter approval vote will enable the Founding DC Wildflower Board and Staff to transition from planning to implementation as they prepare to open their first site, The Riverseed School.

DCWPCS Executive Director Rachel Kimboko, Founding Teacher Leaders Ebony Marshman and Zani Dalili-Ortique and Board Chair Neil Campbell thanked the Public Charter School Board for their feedback throughout their application and approval process. Both Zani and Ebony are Ward 7 residents, and Zani expressed her excitement to continue their journey: 

As a Ward 7 resident, a career Montessori educator, and a parent of school-aged children, I am thrilled to continue my work in bringing joy, laughter, and learning to children and families–this time in my own community–using an approach that has been proven to build critical thinking, independence, a joy of learning and collaborative work skills. 

The Riverseed School is prepared to open this fall in the Burrville neighborhood of Ward 7 in a beautiful converted residential home located on a large triple lot, including ample outdoor space for safe play and nature-based Montessori learning. 

Over the past year, the team spent extensive time building community support and partnerships: They attended and held community meetings and playdates, volunteered, met their neighbors and created a network of supportive service providers for students. They also hired a student support partner and operations partner to complement the founding team in the first year of operation and as the charter grows. 

The Riverseed School will be the first of up to six microschools, providing 225 students the opportunity for a free public Montessori education in beautiful, neighborhood-embedded, intimate learning environments.

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!

Pollinating Innovation: Removing barriers to BIPOC leadership in Montessori education

Wildflower seeds are everywhere, including in the hearts and minds of educators all across the country. Much like the relationship between bees and the flowers they pollinate, Wildflower schools spread through the leadership of entrepreneurial educators as they shape the blooms of new teacher-led schools in their communities. 

 

Unfortunately, the current Montessori teacher landscape does not reflect the racial or socioeconomic diversity of the United States. Just as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color families haven’t historically had the same access to Montessori as more affluent white families, the same goes for educators. That is why we are launching the Wildflower Pollinator Fund–an initiative to diversify the Montessori educator workforce and support Black, Indigenous, People of Color educators to become credentialed Montessori educators. We plan to raise $1 million over the next three years to train and support 100 new BIPOC Montessorians, creating the capacity for their leadership to grow and diversify the beauty of the broader Montessori ecosystem.

 

This work is critically important to me because–after 16 years of leadership in public education–I have the unique opportunity to steward the growth of DC Wildflower Public Charter School and toddler programs here in the District of Columbia. When I think about the challenges and opportunities in front of me, I believe my most important work is to dismantle the domination culture educators have operated in and allow them to reset from the ups and downs they’ve weathered working in education.

 

I’ve already experienced this with our founding Teacher Leaders, Zani Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman. Creating an environment that cultivates their ownership and autonomy is a massive task in a world where anti-Blackness has constructed assumptions about the capabilities of Black leaders and educators. Through our work together, building trust, and honoring their pace, I’ve seen firsthand the deep relationships with families and community that ground their vision and plans for The Riverseed School. 

 

There are many more incredible BIPOC educators like Zani and Ebony out there—people committed to their work with children, who have stewarded learning pods during COVID, who are credentialed educators but not Montessori trained. I have seen how strongly their beliefs align with Montessori philosophy and Wildflower’s liberatory purpose. Trends throughout the Wildflower network reinforce my experience: just under 10% of the prospective BIPOC educators who come to us are already Montessori trained. We want to support them in becoming Montessori educators in a way that is accessible for their place in life.

 

Montessori training is typically expensive and logistically difficult to access, with tuition averaging between $13,000 to $15,000 and hefty in-person training requirements that make it difficult for educators who need to maintain full-time employment. Even when candidates receive scholarships to local programs, many report that they are one of the few BIPOC students and that their program lacked an equity lens.

 

Regardless of cost, we believe investing in BIPOC leadership is the right thing to do, but these barriers continue to be a significant impediment to educators. We now have a considerable opportunity to pilot an effort to expand and accelerate our work through partnership with Rising Tide Montessori, a game-changing new AMI training program taking Montessori training online through a self-paced, low-residency program. 

 

Rising Tide’s program reduces the cost of training by half while allowing Wildflower the opportunity to create a supportive cohort of educators from across the country as they go through their online training and develop their school vision. Rising Tide will ensure our newest Montessori educators are equipped with the baseline practice and pedagogy to succeed as Montessori educators. Wildflower can provide further support and growth opportunities to determine what kind of school environment they want to thrive in as educators and liberatory leaders. 

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