“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.”