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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

Coming Home: Schools’ affordable housing and community partnerships are helping fulfill Wildflower’s purpose

The Virginia Coffee House, permanent housing for former residents of Lydia’s House and named after Cincinnati Civil Rights activist Virginia Coffey, sits above Azalea Montessori.

How do you bring an affordable Montessori education to communities that historically haven’t had access to it? 

 

It’s a question at the heart of Wildflower, and one that innovative Teacher Leaders grapple with regularly. Through the years, Wildflower schools have addressed the tension by embracing strategies such as city and state-subsidized tuition vouchers, creating tuition-free public charter schools, and pursuing school district partnerships. But recently, various teachers across the network have unlocked a piece of the puzzle that they hope will pave the way for an even greater number of students to access a Wildflower education. They are co-locating their schools in the epicenters of the communities that need them most: affordable housing complexes, shelters for women and children, and transitional housing. 

 

Creating deep and lasting partnerships with existing organizations in a community isn’t new for Wildflower. As Teacher Leaders have sourced buildings for their microschools in the past, they have followed a common Montessori practice of co-locating with houses of worship, as is the case for Marigold and Allium, both of which are located inside churches in Massachusetts.

 

The new co-location partnerships Teacher Leaders have forged with various providers of affordable housing are the sort of exciting and mutually beneficial relationships that will help the network make Wildflower schools more accessible to all families. In each partnership, the Wildflower school rents space from a housing nonprofit at a below-market rate, and enrollment is prioritized for children who live there. Taking advantage of the subsidized rent allows higher salaries for the teachers and, in schools with tuition, more affordable fees for enrolled families.

“It’s really meaningful to everyone involved; we’re forming partnerships with organizations who know and have been serving their communities for many years,” said Ali Scholes, a Wildflower Foundation partner spearheading efforts to grow more co-location partnerships. “Part of why families are so excited to send their children to co-located schools is because of the schools’ explicit commitment to centering families who have been historically marginalized.”

Jeana Olszewski, founding Teacher Leader at Azalea in Norwood, Ohio, said co-locating with apartments for former residents of the women’s and children’s shelter Lydia’s House has created a warm community. Jeana tells the story of two single mothers who likely would not have met if not for Azalea, but whose bonds have grown outside the classroom. One woman is a former resident of Lydia’s house, and the other lives in a neighboring community, and was drawn to Azalea. From playdates to sleepovers to helping navigate each other’s work schedules, they have both grown to appreciate the sense of family the small school provides.

“Our school community feels like a really organic and genuine expression of the Wildflower principles. Our students love each other and they’re so close; it’s like having 25 cousins 

together,” Jeana said. “We’re physically located in this urban neighborhood, there’s always a bit of a ruckus outside, but we also have a children’s garden across the street with chickens and a bunny. When we’re walking down the street to the several nearby parks, people who live in the neighborhood are looking for us. They’re always waving.”

 

Norwood, a city outside Cincinnati, is full of Montessori schools of all types: private, public, faith-based. But Jeana, a longtime local educator and a veteran Montessori teacher and parent, said that before Azalea opened its doors, Montessori schools may have been plentiful, but a Montessori education was anything but accessible. 

 

“We have all this Montessori in the city, but it’s often the wealthy, privileged kids who get it,” she said. “Even the public Montessori schools are mostly located in the nicer neighborhoods.”

Karla Vasquez-Torres, a Teacher Leader at Mariposa in northern Puerto Rico, agrees. Her school is located inside a shelter for women and children called Hogar Ruth. The exact location is not public in order to protect the safety of their students, who all either live at the shelter or have parents who work there. A Wildflower veteran, Karla previously ran Flamboyan, a Montessori school in partnership with the local public school district. 

“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.”

With Snowdrop’s opening, Wildflower leaders like Ali are hoping that the model becomes a pilot for future collaborations. Currently, the Wildflower Foundation is in the process of making connections with other affordable housing nonprofits to support new Teacher Leaders who want to pursue similar opportunities. 

 

While the natural diversity that results from these co-location partnerships is undoubtedly positive for the students, Nicole Randall, the Teacher Leader who will run Snowdrop starting in September, said she is also grateful for the opportunity it will give her.

 

“I’m excited for myself, to learn and to grow,” she said. “ I’m really excited about the exchange of ideas.” 

CO-LOCATED WILDFLOWER SCHOOLS

Azalea

Location: Norwood, Ohio

Co-location: Permanent housing for former guests of Lydia’s House, a shelter for women and children 

Opened in: September 2019

 

Snowdrop

Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts 

Co-location: Coalition for a Better Acre, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing 

Opened in: Anticipated opening September 2021

 

Marigold

Location: Haverhill, Massachusetts

Partnership: Trinity Episcopal Church 

Opened in: 2015

 

Mariposa

Location: Puerto Rico

Partnership: Hogar Ruth, a shelter for women and children 

Opened in: January 2021

 

Miramelinda

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts 

Partnership: Just-a-Start, an affordable housing nonprofit

Opened in: Fall 2018

 

Sundrops 

Location: San Jose, California 

Partnership:  El Rancho Verde, an affordable housing community located in northeast San Jose

Opened in: February 2021

 

Water Lily

Location: St. Paul, Minnesota

Partnership: The Family Place, A day shelter for families experiencing homelessness

Opened in:

Students at Azalea wear rain suits while participating in the school’s outdoor program, “Azalea Outdoors.”

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