Soft music pipes through the airy and open ‘children’s house’ classroom. Pre-K and kindergarten students are quietly completing work individually or in small groups. Some are creating patterns with blocks. Others are practicing addition. Some are reading BOB story books. All are working diligently at their own pace.
Upstairs, small groups of first through third graders are taking virtual tours of other cultures, working with math manipulatives and checkerboards, or analyzing graphs in small tables around the classroom. Some students are curled up with a book on a large sectional couch in the center of the room. A teacher moves from group to group, student to student, answering questions and checking on their progress.
No, these aren’t scenes from a charter school. It’s just another Tuesday morning at Garrett Heights Elementary and Middle School, a zoned neighborhood school in Lauraville that’s transitioning into Baltimore City’s first public Montessori school.
When Omotayo Abiodun accepted the role of principal at the school eight years ago, she knew there was a negative stigma attached to the school. It was a school that had served multiple purposes in the district and struggled to define an identity as a community school.
That had to change.
Transitioning to a Montessori curriculum is not only helping the school re-establish community roots, it’s energized the community around a common vision — from teachers, to parents, to district administration, to local businesses. Abiodun credits the support of Baltimore City School CEO Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises and her predecessor Dr. Andres Alonso for helping to make this program a reality.
“They were looking to establish different types of schools in different neighborhoods,” said Abiodun. “We knew by talking to our community that Montessori would be a good fit here.”
Parents of babies and toddlers showed up to initial community meetings and supported the program. They wanted to ensure that Montessori education became a reality for Lauraville kids.
District endorsement, coupled with a dedicated teaching staff and strong community support, has made year one of the transition successful (albeit not without learning curves!). Currently, 28 students are in the Children’s House classroom and 27 children are in the 1-3 grades Montessori classroom. Next year, all 125 prekindergarten and kindergarten students will be enrolled in the Montessori program. Within the next 9 years, the entire school will be Montessori-based.
According to the American Montessori Society, the goal of Montessori education is to “foster a child’s natural inclination to learn. Montessori teachers guide rather than instruct, linking each student with activities that meet his interests, needs, and developmental level. The classroom is designed to allow movement and collaboration, as it also promotes concentration and a sense of order.”
For Abiodun, transitioning to a Montessori curriculum is about giving students choice, providing hands-on learning, and allowing children to work at their own level. She loves that the curriculum meets all modalities of learning.
“It’s personalized learning and the curriculum is already there,” said Abiodun. “It’s already aligned to common core and we’re investing in software to track and assess student progress.”
Currently, Garrett Heights is accepting students for the 2017-2018 Pre-K and Kindergarten Montessori program. If you are interested in the enrollment process f, please contact Katy Kahl for additional information.
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Photos by Laura Black.