CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Preschool children sat in several separate clusters on the floor at Mountaineer Montessori School. Some were reading, others were setting a dinner table at the "practical life" station.
A 3-year-old cried in the corner, seemingly unnoticed by his teachers and young peers.
"Do you see how they are just leaving him be? There's probably something he's got to work out," said Dana Gilliland, head of the school. "Here, we try to encourage as much independence as possible."
Like other Montessori schools, Mountaineer Montessori works to foster individualized learning and allows children to follow their own interests and curiosity.
As Gilliland puts it, at Mountaineer Montessori, "learning means more," with a special focus on time management, self-control and organizational skills.
"Here, we make really advanced concepts much easier to understand, so that students can really intuit it. A child as young as 3 learns the concept and meaning of what zero means and what a noun really is, rather than just labeling it," she said. "They're able to understand them much better and apply them and evaluate them."
There are 99 students enrolled at the school, with four lead teachers. There is a waiting list for each class level, and enrollment increased by more than 20 percent since last year, according to Gilliland.
The school extends to sixth grade, but a feasibility study is already being conducted to see about adding seventh and eighth grades.
"We definitely want to expand to middle school. It's just a question of when," Gilliland said. "People are looking for alternatives because public schools are struggling so much. It's getting harder and harder to meet the needs of children."
Tuition costs about $6,000 a year. The area also has another Montessori elementary school -- Charleston Montessori, which currently enrolls 56 children. Tuition at Charleston Montessori is $5,500.
However, while interest has grown in Montessori education in the area, it's not enough, Gilliland said.
The Montessori method is "very underrepresented" in West Virginia, and Gilliland -- who just came from a Montessori school in Indonesia -- is working to change that.
"Clearing up some of those misconceptions is one of our main priorities, especially in the Charleston area. We want to educate people on what Montessori is really about," she said.
Some of the misconceptions Gilliland has heard are that the school has lax policies or is only for special children.