Wednesday, November 14, 2012

what makes it montessori?

I was inspired to share these thoughts by Kylie's most recent post at How We Montessori.  One of the things I'm so excited about in our neighborhood is the Montessori school.  It is a primary class only, meaning they accept the traditional Children's House ages of 2 1/2 - 6.  Children who continue all the way through would then typically start their new schools in first grade.

Knowing how popular this school is, how small the enrollment space is, and how much I love Montessori education, I scheduled a tour at the end of summer to check out Montessori East.  What I found there checked all the boxes for me:  AMI trained directress and head teachers, authentic materials, totally mixed-aged classrooms, and long periods for uninterrupted work cycles with the children free to choose their own work.

Some of the materials I saw there that clued me in to authenticity:

The color tablets.

The knobbed cylinders.

The pink tower.
I went right ahead and filled out the application and gave our application fee.  I do so hope that there will be room for Vicki next October when she is the proper age.  Also, it gives me incentive to get her using the toilet, since a requirement is that all children must be fully trained toilet educated.

In our public school system, there are also two more options.  These are magnet schools with Montessori as their magnet focus.  They accept children in the Fall who are aged three, and then go up through 4th grade.  They do retain mixed-age classrooms.  The obviously huge benefit is that they are essentially free (there is a small enrollment fee, like $50) - paid for by our taxes.

But I need to visit and see how much they are able to retain the Montessori focus while they must also adhere to state standards and annual testing.  I need to find out about the teachers, their training, and how much they incorporate Montessori.

The big downside is that both of these schools (Stanford Montessori Design Center and Hull-Jackson Montessori Magnet) are outside of our "cluster," which means I have to apply by lottery and I am pretty far down the list to start with.  Nashville's school lottery is fairly confusing, but the bottom line makes sense:  the closer you live, the more priority you get.  So, the "geographic preference zone" is the closest.  This is what we would call the "neighborhood school" - you live close enough to walk.  We are actually in the GPZ for an amazing elementary school, but it's not Montessori at all.  The next circle out is the "cluster" - this means which high school you are zoned for.  Everyone that feeds that high school is in the same cluster.  After that is a preference for siblings.  If you already have one child at a school, you get some preference to have your other children there.  Next, a classification for parents who work nearby - makes sense to bring your child to a school near where you work.  And then the final concentric circle, "county-wide."  Essentially, everyone else.  And that's where we are for these two schools.  There's no downside to trying your luck in the lottery, but I'm not holding my breath.  I checked the results from last year, and only a small fraction of the county-wide families got into either of these schools.

The other issue I bemoan with any of these Montessori options - public or private - is that I would pull Vicki for Kindergarten.  The Montessori environment greatly benefits from having children from the full age spectrum (2 1/2 - 6), because the older children naturally serve as leaders and mentors.  They really ask that you keep your child there for the full term.  And I totally get that.

But there's that other school I told you about!  Lockeland Design Center.  This school is literally three blocks away, has some of the best testing scores in the city, gets rave reviews from parents, and is a strong neighborhood and community connection.  I want in.  Problem is, there are so many young families in our neighborhood that even kids who live in the GPZ didn't make it in last year!!  That is very unusual.  That means that all those other concentric circles I described above got zero consideration.  I checked out their lottery results from last year too, and your best chance by far is to apply for your child to start in Kindergarten.  Every year after that, there are fewer and fewer spots that open up each year.  I want the best chance to get into this school, so that would mean pulling Vicki from her Montessori room before the full cycle is up.  Boo.

What to do?  Still not sure.  I need to tour those other two Montessori magnets, see what I think, then wait and see what happens next October with Montessori East.  We also need to figure out how to afford it . . . double boo.

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