Local Montessori school marks half century

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 30, 2024

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By Sophia Sousa

For the Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — The Winston-Salem Montessori School, based in Clemmons, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. The private, non-profit school is divided into two campuses, the main and north campus (2019). 

The main campus contains ten classrooms: three toddler, five Children’s House, one Lower Elementary and one Upper Elementary classroom. The north campus is the home of the adolescent program, located one block down from the main campus. The toddler program is for ages 18 months to 3 years old; the Children’s House is for ages 3 to 6 years old; the lower elementary consists of children ages 6 through 9; upper elementary is for children 9 to 12 years old, and the adolescent program is for ages 12 to 13 years old. Currently, 216 students are attending the school.

The Montessori method was developed by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, in the 1900s. Here, Maria observed each student and crafted a hands-on learning experience. She taught her students with unique materials that were in the environment and concentrated on the development of each child carefully. Her method, however, was not allowed and she was kicked out of Italy. She then moved to India, teaching other students and women her method. 

This method became popular in the United States with several Montessori schools opening up, but was short-lived because of World War I and the movement died down. Maria was not dispirited, and she continued to teach her method. By the 1950s, Maria came back to the United States and schools began to use her method again. 

Located in Winston-Salem, the first Montessori school was founded in 1968 with 24 students. Shortly after, Forsyth Montessori and Reynolda Montessori (1973) were opened. By 1984, these two schools came together and retitled their institution Montessori Children’s Center, Inc. In 2006, Montessori Children’s Center moved to their current building and changed its name to The Montessori School of Winston-Salem. 

The board of trustees was then created to polish, reexamine, and uphold the school’s mission, core values and beliefs. This is all incorporated into the Blueprint they created, which includes additional details. 

The entire community came together and discussed what they believed in schooling and what responsibility the community has to children. The blueprint discusses the values of the educational program, the curriculum, discipline, human resources, facilities, finances, recruitment and admissions, building community, administration, governance and fundraising. The members of this board can adjust their policies as they see fit and make decisions that align with the blueprint and Montessori method

The Outdoor Play and Learning Environment committee (OPLE) was created, and they partnered with N.C. State’s organization called the North Carolina Natural Learning Initiative. This organization helped design the current campus to be friendly for plants and children to learn about plants and gardening. The school upholds a commitment to teaching the students about environmental needs.

The Winston-Salem Montessori school offers various classes such as fine arts, science, mathematics, language arts and literature, history, foreign language and culture, economics and leadership, philosophy, ethics and spirituality, politics, civics, law, geography and physical education. They additionally offer engineering, architecture, anthropology and myth, research and problem-solving skills and environmental studies. 

Students also learn practical life skills that encourage a sense of independence. They learn grace and courtesy, how to produce and manage spending money, eye-hand coordination, personal hygiene, and how to utilize phones, computers, and household appliances they will encounter in everyday life. A current after-school program is teaching children how to cook safely. 

The teachers are called “guides” and lead the students through the coursework and their time at the school. By doing this, students become independent and develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Guides observe their students and provide aid when needed. Children will move on to the next lesson when they are ready, no matter the pace. In the classroom, children work alone for independence but also in pairs and groups for collaboration. Throughout the years in school, children learn how to think critically, be independent and act compassionately. 

Margaret Borrego Brainard, the executive director of program and curricular support and Frank Brainard, the interim head of school, joined in January 2022 as interim leaders as the administration searched for a new head of school. Margaret discussed how the school and method thrive on independence because the students will become members of society one day. Two years ago, three eighth graders were interested in grants and the process of receiving a grant. The students received a grant from N.C. Greenpower, which ended up putting solar panels on the adolescent program building. Along with the grant, N.C. Greenpower asked the students to also raise around $12,000 to pay for the installation. 

A considerable part of what Montessori schools teach and implement in their everyday life is that learning should involve joy and wonder. Frank Brainard talked about how appreciative he is to see these children throughout the week and watch them learn and grow. Simply taking the time to sit down and watch the students reminds him of how gratified he is of the children. 

As a former stringer for a newspaper, he said, “The joy you feel when your first photo is printed with your name is the same way I look at the children.” 

The sense of accomplishment the students, guides and administration feel is irreplaceable.

“It’s hard work, but it’s been worth it watching the children grow and implement different programs that other schools don’t use,” Margaret said. Because it is costly to learn to be a Montessori teacher, the school supports two teachers a year to take the training while they are working with them.

On June 15, Rebecca Little will be joining as the new head of school. Margaret and the staff are optimistic they can continue to grow the school and create more classrooms in the upcoming years.