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Wildflower Charter School Sprouts in DC

Teacher Leaders Ebony Marshman and Zani Dalili-Ortique enjoy a Family Day at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

The seeds of a series of Wildflower microschools have been planted in Washington, DC. Through conditional approval in April 2021 – DC Wildflower PCS, only one of five applications the DC Public Charter School Board approved – the first microschool will open in Fall 2022 as The Riverseed School in Ward 7 or 8.

In this Q&A, Regional Site Entrepreneur Maia Blankenship previews the arrival of Wildflower in the District of Columbia. She shares what families can expect from these teacher-led, micro, Montessori schools and how educators can join the effort to establish liberatory learning environments in and around our nation’s capital.

We also invite you to tune into the following conversation with the DC Wildflower Public Charter School Leadership Team on the Montessori in Action Podcast!

How would you describe what Wildflower will add to the DC public school landscape? 

Imagine small, tuition-free public schools – about 25 students – throughout the District of Columbia, tucked into neighborhoods and led by dynamic teachers dedicated to creating a liberatory learning environment in partnership with the community. DC Wildflower Public Charter School will create spaces for educators and communities to design classroom sites where each child’s identity is affirmed and their genius is unleashed. We believe that intentionally small, Montessori learning environments enable the liberation of children, families and educators from the structures that limit opportunity. Together we can and must accelerate the journey to a more racially just and equitable world.

hiking adults and children

How will Wildflower schools build and support community in DC?

Every school site will foster deep relationships with the community in which it is embedded. Teacher Leaders will build relationships that go beyond the students and families they serve by partnering with and tapping the unique assets of their community. Families and students will thrive in a vibrant school community that reflects who they are, the assets they bring, as well as the deep investment of educators, volunteers, local businesses, and nonprofits.

We believe that communities of color, especially, know what they need to thrive – it is often resources and access that are in short supply. The community’s ideas and needs should be central in the design of schools. Educators, families and children, advocates and invested community partners will collaborate to create Wildflower classroom sites that reflect the genius, beauty, cultural wealth and assets of the neighborhood.

In a city with a lot of school choices already, what differentiates Wildflower?

Each Wildflower school is intentionally small and directly reflects the community. We provide liberatory learning environments that are anti-bias, anti-racist, inclusive, identify-affirming and healing. Our schools are co-founded by educators who serve as guides (Montessori’s term for teachers) and also serve as the school leaders, managing the day-to-day operations and administration of the school.

Tell us about the leaders of DC Wildflower Public Charter School and their mission.

Our two founding Teacher Leaders, Zanso (Zani) Dalili-Ortique and Ebony Marshman, are creating a community-embedded liberatory learning environment east of the Anacostia River – a school centered on Black students in a center of DC’s Black community. As local Black Montessorians, Ebony and Zani have deep experience as educators in DC, which, despite its increasing diversity and strength, remains stifled by historic and present-day racism as well as discriminatory policies and practices.

Also, we are thrilled that Rachel Kimboko joined DCWPCS as our Founding Executive Director of Stakeholder Engagement. A longtime contributor to DC’s Montessori community, Rachel will partner with Zani, Ebony and the Board of Trustees to keep us on track to open the Riverseed School, the first of up to six sites within the charter.

How is educational equity woven into Wildflower DC’s mission?

Our approach is grounded in the fact that the Montessori method is a holistic, time-tested curriculum that is keenly attuned to a child’s development and that, at its roots, is a tool for liberation. Providing a Montessori education faithfully and effectively requires both readiness of the environment (a physical space, within the community and saturated with identity-affirming materials and curriculum) and readiness of the people, especially teachers and staff who are committed to liberation and to disrupting all forms of oppression and who are armed with the tools to implement with purpose. Across all sites this includes:

  • Teacher-led and community-activated spaces that center Black people, Indigenous people, Latinx people and all people of color
  • Small and safe settings that are nimble and adapt to community needs
  • Intentionally anti-racist and anti-bias approach  
  • Identity-affirming, inclusive spaces 
  • Freedom to make decisions, move and communicate – with limits 
  • Focus on developing intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic rewards 
  • Hands-on, experiential, challenging curriculum
maia and daughter on grass

What are opportunities to stay connected and get involved in Wildflower’s DC regional hub?

We invite educators and families committed to liberatory, culturally affirming, community-embedded microschools to design with us. Public charter schools are one way that Wildflowers will grow in the DC region, but there are other ways, too. We are seeking Teacher Leaders interested in founding toddler programs or other teacher-led liberatory programs in the metro area.

Learn more about our work at https://wildflowerschools.org/dc/, and contact us at [email protected] to get involved. On social media, follow Wildflower DC’s development on Instagram @wildflowerschools.dc and on Facebook.

Resilient Roots: Celebrating Wildflower Seedlings

WF Seedlings Banner Image

Every year, a new group of Wildflower schools peeks through the soil for the first time. But what a year this has been. In the best of times, the challenges, uncertainty, and personal growth of designing and launching a new school are immensely demanding. Yet Wildflower Teacher Leaders rose to meet the storm of challenges this year with resiliency, grounded in purpose, experience, and love for the families they serve.

 

For the first time, Wildflower is celebrating the achievements of these education entrepreneurs throughout their opening year with the inaugural edition of Wildflower Seedlings – a special publication highlighting the first year of our newest class of Wildflower schools. Please join Wildflower in welcoming the 14 new schools that opened their doors to families this year and their founding Teacher Leaders who transformed their lifetimes of learning and dreaming into their schools in their own communities.

 

Download Wildflower Seedlings

 

In these pages, you will meet the exceptional Teacher Leaders behind these schools and see what they have to say about what inspires and motivates their work as educators. To read more about their stories, backgrounds, and the beautiful schools they have created, please check out our first edition of Wildflower Seedlings.

Hub Spotlight: Wildflowers Grow in New Jersey

infants smiling working with sensorial materials
Despite a challenging year for childcare centers overall, and certainly new obstacles created by the global pandemic in the creation of new programs, Wildflower’s budding New Jersey hub has continued to plant and tend to its seeds.

 

We started off this year with the exciting news that Dr. Erika McDowell agreed to come on as our new New Jersey state Site Entrepreneur. Before joining Wildflower, Erika served as an Executive Director and Director of PBIS (positive behavior intervention and supports) and Youth Court for The School District of Philadelphia. She has also been an assistant principal and teacher. Her in-depth experience includes restorative practices, equity, positive behavioral supports, conflict resolution, classroom management, bullying prevention, and behavioral data support. She has a Superintendent’s credential, a EdD in from Drexel University in Educational Leadership and Management, and began her career as a drama teacher in Paterson, NJ, which is where she grew up. Erika will now be supporting New Jersey’s new and existing teacher leaders, as well as developing strategy and funding relationships to support Wildflower’s growth across the state.

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Deepening roots and sprouting new growth: Wildflower’s 2018 Year in Review

We’re excited to share with you this recap of our past year and fill you in on where Wildflower is headed. If you’re reading this note, you are likely already a member of our community in some way. As we approach the end of the year and this season of thanks, we want to extend our sincere gratitude to you for believing in authentic, teacher-led Montessori, and for continuing to support our journey to bring Wildflower schools to more children, families and communities.

We hope you enjoy reading about our annual report. As you’ll see, we’ve been growing. Whether it’s launching new regions or starting new schools, we are heartened by the enthusiastic response from families and communities. With an 82% Net Promoter score from families and a 96% teacher retention rate, we feel we’re onto something special here at Wildflower.

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Tiger Lily Montessori: Bringing Southern Roots to New England

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.

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Wildflower seeds spread to a Massachusetts school district’s classrooms

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.

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A Journey of Educational Equity: Lirio Montessori opens doors in South Minneapolis

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.   

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Building a Coalition for Racial Justice

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

A Look Inside Mixed Age Groups at Wild Rose Montessori

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.

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Teacher-Leader Q&A with Janet Begin: ‘Montessori education should be welcoming and accessible’

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.

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