To kick off our series profiling Atlanta schools, we’ve tapped Maureen Walter, Founder and Educational Director at Montessori In Town. With campuses in Poncey-Highland and Grant Park, Montessori In Town offers a Montessori education for children 2 1/2 – 6. Learn a little bit about what they’re all about, and why it’s a special school:
Q. What’s the history of Montessori In Town?
A. Montessori In Town was established in 2005 by myself. I started with 7 students, and we quickly grew to 20 to end that school year.
I have lived in the in town neighborhoods my whole time here in Atlanta (August, 1977 till now). As you might expect, the neighborhoods were quite different then. But what I love and still do about our neighborhoods were/are the people, the diversity, the creativity. I came to Atlanta as a recent Montessori teacher graduate, and from the get go commuted to outer Atlanta to teach. Over my 30 plus years in the field I did marry, have two children and now reside in the home my husband bought after graduate school in 1979, in Inman Park. I took my children with me to attend Montessori schools (each having attended Inman Park Coop PreSchool) in the one year old class, before being eligible to start Primary Montessori classes. It was always my vision to serve our in town neighborhoods, but with young children and having much to learn about how to make a truly good school, I knew it wasn’t the time yet….I helped over these years to establish (being the founding teacher) 4 other A.M.I. Montessori schools in the metro area, as well as served as Educational Director and of course as classroom teachers in those many years.
Q. What is a Montessori School?
Dr. Montessori established the first school (in time to be called Montessori schools) over 100 years ago in Italy. Through her scientific training, she developed and expanded on others who were studying children and human development. Her theories of human development, similar to Piaget, center around cycles of learning, breaking down the development into 6 year cycles. Based on these cycles, we generally know what children are experiencing and can pin point heightened times where learning is very easily absorbed. She refers to the child from birth to 6 as being in an Absorbent Mind stage: their minds are like sponges and as they learn through senses, and these impressions are the formation of the intellect that the child will grow into as an adult. In other words, this time is the most important time in learning. Thus, she established a beautiful, logical and very common sense approach to helping the young child maximize this potential. A Montessori Primary learning environment (for ages 3 to 6 years of age) is an inviting, beautifully prepared setting (including indoors and out) for the child to explore. Her work is supported and advanced in cutting edge scientific studies of brain development. There are groups of materials- most all designed by Dr. Montessori herself- throughout the classroom that are child sized, didactic, with self-correcting features, to support skills of daily living, education of the senses, math, language, geography, botany, biology, music, art, and other cultural areas.
For more information, our web site describes the basic areas of the classroom. Fundamentally, we serve to support the child’s development, each at their own rate, including Independence, building self confidence and integrating a clear sense of connectedness to others (Community) in an environment designed especially for them.
Q. What makes Montessori In Town special?
A. I think the fact that I have been a resident here my entire time in Atlanta (native of Washington D.C.–and I mean the city, not the suburbs). I am a dedicated urbanite. I enjoy and exult in in-town living. I am dedicated to serving the families of in town Atlanta. My years and experience of teaching, supporting teachers, families in Montessori schools and my other work (pre-natal exercise, education, infant massage, yoga for children and adults, creative movement, et al.) led me to do what I knew I wanted to do and what I clearly identified as a need to be filled: offer quality education and support to families in our in town communities. There was no Montessori school in these neighborhoods and as my first child was moving through her senior year at Paideia, I knew it was the right time! The existing schools all had long wait lists. There weren’t enough spots for the swelling growth of families in our neighborhoods. There was not only a need there was a space as Montessori was not here. With the help of my husband and many friends and colleagues I was able to develop my vision into this reality. Now we have 3 classrooms, 2 campuses, a staff of 10 and serve 67 children.
A. The children love to come to school. They have a sense of ownership and take great pride in their accomplishments! The technical description of Montessori pedagogy might sound, on the surface, somewhat dry and academically oriented. But we serve the child in their total development and yes, while children are engaged in activities that might appear advanced it is because we offer them in a typical day’s time the opportunity to work in all areas of the classroom, choosing and following through to their own time frame, that which is absorbing to them. For, say, a 3 year old, this would include gardening, preparing their own snack, tracing sandpaper letters in preparation for forming them with chalk on a chalkboard, taking out and working with pieces of a puzzle map of the world’s continents, playing daily on the playground. The children love to learn from each other and while it might seem obvious how the older ones guide and teach you’d be amazed and delighted to see how the younger ones teach and support one another and the older ones, too. More parents tell us when their children wake up on Saturdays they are disappointed that it is not a school day!
Q. How involved are parents in the school?
A. Parents are invited to come to many different school sponsored events over the course of their time with us: socially, we have several school wide pot lucks in the year to just be together as we do have 2 campuses my vision is to always see us as one school! Parents help out with volunteers opportunities that vary from working in the garden twice a year on Saturdays to helping out with a class or school celebration such Valentine’s Day, International Day, and other seasonal celebrations. Parents are invited to attend a number of educational offerings throughout the year: Back to School Night, Teacher led Information Nights, Coffees with our Educational Director, and we host guest speakers to which our families and the larger community may attend. Attendance is requested, it is not a requirement. We hope that over the 3 or 4 year time here families will not only feel supported, but always welcomed and we know that ties and friendships with each other is an important part of a good school community. We do require that parents come in 2 times a year to observe their chid’s class as well as sit down 2 times a year with their child’s teacher at conference time. Our parent involvement is strong, but it might look different from one family to the next. The parent who might be able to come during school hours to help with a function might not the same parent who might come out the garden work day. We hope to not only offer many different times of involvement, but a variety of opportunities. Parents tell us they like that–they appreciate our understanding and support of them–that is certainly our mission! They also tell us they like the feel of our school: warmth and openness.
Q. How can a prospective parent find out more about Montessori In Town?
A. Come and see the school in action. Our Open Houses provide plenty of good information; we love to meet parents. But the next step is coming to observe during the school day. We schedule observations daily. Besides finding out what the Montessori philosophy is based on: developmental stages of humans, precisely designed materials to feed those stages, children of mixed ages learning side by side for 3 to 4 year cycles, supported by trained guides in a safe, respectful environment where individual choices and resulting responsibilities are built upon, etc. Web sites, books, we have a recommended reading list on our web site, for example, one has to come and see it to understand. You will have questions prior to coming and you will have answers and hopefully more other questions after a morning observation.