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Maple Ridge parents want Montessori expanded
Parents of students learning in the Montessori method in the Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows School District want their children to have access to the specialized teaching beyond fifth grade.
The Montessori Method requires additional training by teachers, and the board is fortunate enough to have a surplus, as Montessori-trained educators will be ready to return from maternity leave next year. There is also an unused classroom available at Hammond elementary, which houses the district’s Montessori program. The timing is perfect, say parents who want approval from the school board.
“It’s a great idea to extend it for as long as we possibly can,” said Jennine Brennan, chair of the Hammond Montessori Parent Advisory Council.
The support from parents is virtually unanimous. The PAC conducted a survey that went home to 112 homes. Ninety surveys were returned, and of those 98 per cent want the program expanded.
“It was an amazing response,” said Brennan.
The only opposition comes from parents who want their kids back into the mainstream school system before they enter high school, she said.
Patricia Patrick teaches Grades 1-3 at Hammond – Montessori classes are mixed. As she explains a bit about the program, she sits on the floor with a child who has a big checker board, placing beads inside the squares, learning about multiplication.
Another boy is at a table, putting plastic animals of all species onto the appropriate continent on a map: lion on Africa, a penguin on Antarctica, and so on.
A pair of girls are reading from a page on an iPad, doing a research paper about cheetahs. They, not Patrick, chose to learn about cheetahs.
“Because they’re really fast,” little Karley Carruthers explained simply.
When they are done, she and Michela Chalmers will read what they have discovered to the class.
“That’s what it’s all about – if they’re interested, they learn,” said Patrick.
Talia Van De Kerkhof is fitting nobbed cylinders into holes that are the right size for them – an activity from the “sensorial area.”
Other kids can do “practical life” activities, which include dusting shelves and washing chairs.
“Maria Montessori was based in real experiences,” explains Patrick.
The Kindergarten Montessori teacher at Hammond, Jennifer Williams, is also a mother of two boys in the program. Her oldest, Kaden, is in Grade 3.
“He’s thriving here. It’s amazing – he loves to learn,” she said. “He has a big interest in geography, and he’s able to just run with it. He knows almost all of the countries of the world. I tell him, ‘You’re officially smarter than mom.’”
Patrick said people around the world pay thousands of dollars to have their child educated in the Montessori method, so having a public education program in Maple Ridge is “amazing.”
She has been at the school 11 years, and there has always been talk of expanding the program beyond the fifth grade, as far as Grade 8.
“Parents are so keen. They just see their children doing so well,” she said. “Parents have always mentioned it [expansion], but this year there’s a lot of momentum.”
As she talks, Karley and Michela come over to ask whether the word “with” is spelled with one “h” or two. Patrick settles the discussion, and they’re back to their cheetahs.
Brennan said parent concerns about students transitioning to “regular” school are needless worries.
“They have transitioned very easily in the past,” she said, adding that Montessori promotes time management skills, and makes students responsible for their own learning in a way that is a big benefit at the secondary level.
“I really like the choices. If my daughter finds she has a hard time learning one way, she can choose another,” she said. “And, also, I like to have the older kids in the classroom to help.”
She said the mixed-class aspect of the Montessori method is one of her favourite parts. She remembers being a little nervous about having her daughter, Cealan, who was small even for a Grade 1, go into a classroom with the comparatively “big kids” in Grade 3. She soon found the older students are quite willing and able to show younger ones the ropes.
“Watching them in the classroom, I was in awe. The older kids are so caring of these little kids who are in their class.”
Now her daughter is in Grade 4, and is the “big buddy” to a “little buddy.”
“She loves it. Her little buddy is her favourite little kid.”
Brennan said parents would like to see the program expanded as soon as next year.
“I can’t see a reason not to. The parents are so for it, and the teachers are for it.”
School board chair Mike Murray said no decision has been made, but noted the board is once again facing a budget year that is expected to involve a shortfall in the millions, and can’t afford to take on additional costs.
Maria Montessori was one of the first women to become a doctor in Italy in the late 1800s. She worked with mentally disabled children at asylums in Rome, developing methods and special materials, letters, beads and puzzles, to educate them. Soon theses children were able to read, write and pass public-school tests.
In 1906, she was asked to oversee the education of children with working parents in a low-income district of Rome, and used the methods and materials she developed, combined with her study of psychology.
In her first classroom, Montessori watched the children, noting their periods of deep concentration and attention, their repetition of activities, and their sensitivity to order in their environment.
She observed that when the children could choose their activity, they showed more interest in practical activities and her teaching materials, rather than toys provided. Her central theory was that children working independently become self-motivated and reach new level of understanding. To her, independence must be the aim of education.
The children in her classes gained literacy beyond expectations for their age, and showed self discipline.
Because of the success of her students, by 1911 Montessori education had spread to public schools across Italy and Switzerland. The next year Montessori schools were opening around the world, as she toured and lectured.
Montessori was three times nominated for a Nobel Prize, and her face is on the 1,000 Lire bill in Italy.
Michela Chalmers, 8, and Karley Carruthers, 9, work on a project about cheetahs. They are enrolled in the Montessori program at Hammond Elementary.