Wheaton Montessori News
Many of our newer families may not know that I’ve only been on the Wheaton Montessori School staff for a little over a year now. Before that, I volunteered to help when I could, but mostly I was “Amelia and Henry’s mom” – another WMS parent that was lucky to find the school when my children were the right age.
At this time of year, many Wheaton Montessori School parents start thinking about the next school year. Their children are at an age where they have to decide if they’re going to stay for either the Elementary or Junior High Program. I hope that each child stays. But as an “official member” of the staff, that’s not a surprise to anyone reading this.
Before I started working for the school, Ms. Lingo asked me to write down my thoughts on how we decided to enroll at Wheaton Montessori School and later to have our children stay for the Elementary program. I never addressed the idea of staying for Kindergarten – it never entered our minds to leave before Amelia had completed the Primary program with Ms. Chiste. Our dilemma came when we had to decide, “Should we stay or should we go now….?”. We obviously chose to stay. Here were my thoughts why, from way-back-when.
This is the second of three posts by Suzanna Mayhugh, parent of two Wheaton Montessori School students, on the topic of choosing to stay at Wheaton Montessori School despite the good reputation of (and tax dollars paid to) the local public schools. For Part 1, please click here!
Jeff and I were preparing ourselves to help our daughter transition to our local public elementary school for First Grade. After all, we were already paying for it through our property taxes. We signed up at Wheaton Montessori School for the Primary program, fully intending to stay through Kindergarten and then leave, mostly based on the reputation of the schools and the associated financial considerations.
Which Elementary Program?
This past fall, our son Henry started in Ms. Chiste’s primary class. I saw this little “baby” of mine master puzzles, begin to express himself rather than relying on his older sister, and become more independent.
During the same short time and in the same classroom, Amelia started reading, she started helping younger students and feeling important within her little community. She loved math. It made sense to her. Sidenote: I don’t math. Ever. “Mathing” terrifies me. So to have a child that is excited about math, numbers, and “number sentences” is worth any amount of tuition in my mind.
Our daughter is an exuberant and joyful little girl. She is constantly moving, looking for the next challenge, wondering what her neighbors are doing (she’s a bit of a busy-body), and has flourished in the Montessori environment.
At our first Parent-Teacher conference for Amelia’s Kindergarten year, we asked Ms. Chiste about “the next year,” and what we would need to do to help prepare our child for whatever transition we would be making. We wanted to be prepared whether we enrolled her in nearby traditional school for first grade or stayed at Wheaton Montessori School. Ms. Chiste’s response “hit home.”
She told us during that conference that whatever we chose, she had a different path to help our family get ready. She wanted us as parents to have realistic expectations and be prepared to support our daughter if we switched schools.
If we were going to enroll her in public school, Amelia would have to start printing, rather than writing in cursive, as it’s not embraced in traditional schools until much later (if at all). But as a family, she wanted us to be prepared for the innate curiosity and excitement in our daughter quieting over time. We needed to be prepared for her not to be invited to move freely throughout the classroom, to be sitting for long periods of time, to be working according to a different curriculum.
Hearing that at age 5, we would already be putting our daughter on a path to endure education, rather than jump into it with all of her innate excitement and curiosity, made the choice for us. My husband’s response was instantaneous – “She’s staying.”
I understand that it seems like a hastily-made decision. I assure you, it was not. I heard from family members and neighbors how bored their kids were at traditional schools, how the flames of curiosity had flickered away, and heard how the stress of grades and standardized testing had taken over their education. I repeatedly saw comments on Facebook about the death of cursive writing – something that I’d like my children to know how to do. (For one thing – I’d love for them to walk into the National Archives one day and be able to READ the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence – written in script.)
Over the next year, I spoke with Ms. Lingo and Ms. Chiste at-length about the elementary program. They encouraged me to observe the Elementary classroom. I asked parents of Elementary students why they stayed. The answers almost always were, “Why would you LEAVE?” or “Just observe. You’ll see.” I cannot stress enough for prospective parents, current parents, and current parents wondering about continuing: OBSERVE. Call the school and set up a time to watch these amazing teachers and students in action. Nothing that can be said in a brochure or a parent night can come close to comparing to what you’ll experience and see in 30 minutes in the classroom observing.
All of the current elementary parents and Wheaton Montessori said, “Just observe.” So I observed. And I was stunned. I couldn’t believe the level of work the elementary students were doing. I love listening to Ms. Fortun giving a lesson on sentence analysis. (That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.) Ms. Searcy gave a lesson on the tri-nomial cube. And the kids LOVED IT.
What I really love about the elementary classroom is that “the world is the classroom.” Unlike the Primary program, where children concentrate on developing their skills and abilities within the class, elementary students are able – and encouraged – to explore the world around them. Camping trips, field trips (“Going Outs”), and class trips are an enormous portion of the curriculum. Classroom research may lead to a day out at the Frank Lloyd Wright studio. An interest in Native Americans may lead to building a teepee in the backyard of the school. The students use, frequent, and love the library. Last week, I drove two girls to the grocery store to buy the materials needed to mummify a chicken. You read that right – they’re MUMMIFYING A CHICKEN. I’m not sure that I want my own kids bringing home a mummified chicken, but I love that if they become that interested in Egyptology, Ms. Searcy and Mrs. Fortun will go with it.
I want my children to learn about the world around them – IN the world around them. I want them to learn as much from experience as they do from the classroom, perhaps more.
Okay. So we’ll see you in 7th grade neighbors. Because we’ll be here through 6th grade in the Elementary program.