CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On a tree-lined avenue, between shops, cafes and row houses about a half mile from Harvard University, sits a uniquely high-tech school in a narrow storefront. Kids don’t spend time in front of screens, though. In fact, they never even see them. Instead, the tech is embedded into the environment almost invisibly. Cameras record students, who range in age from two to six, as they move around the room, and sensors in their matching green slippers track their exact location and the objects they touch.
This is the flagship location of Wildflower, a 21-school Montessori network that spans multiple states, including a handful in Puerto Rico. But as compelling as the technology is, it might not be the strangest thing about Wildflower. A close contender might be its flexible operations model, which fully embraces what education reform advocates call “school choice,” and blurs the lines between public, private and charter schools.
Founded in 2014, Wildflower was borne out of an idea from Sep Kamvar, a professor at MIT’s Media Lab, who was looking for a school for his son as a new resident of Cambridge. Not finding anything he liked, he enlisted a handful of veteran Montessorians who, together, created the outline for the micro-school, which has locations serving kids as young as three-months old through to grade 12. Along the way they picked up a clutch of supporters, including the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), the Walton Family Foundation and various venture capital firms, which have given more than $10 million in grants (CZI also provides grant support to EdSurge).