Mountaineer Montessori students are rarely assigned homework, and they don't receive letter grades on their report cards.
"Discipline is maintained really, really tightly. It doesn't look like it, though, because you see them all doing their own thing," Gilliland said. "There's a lot of freedom, but there has to be a lot of structure or otherwise it doesn't work. The children learn from an early age that they have to do things very precisely -- exactly the way they were taught, and they're really gently guided to do that."
In lieu of homework, teachers encourage students to become involved in "meaningful" activities after school, and, instead of traditional report cards, the school provides detailed progress reports that include commentary on students' work and social habits.
Students are able to work at their own pace. If they finish a project, they move on to the next lesson, regardless of their classmates' status.
"No two children have exactly the same path through the whole curriculum," Gilliland said. "They can work on big projects without being interrupted, and they can really do beautiful, amazing things. In a traditional classroom, they don't always have the chance."
The older children also often make trips out into the community, volunteering to read to younger students at other schools or serve food at shelters.
Professional artists and musicians frequently visit the school to teach new lessons.
While Gilliland, 54, has a background in education, her passion for Montessori came from her own experiences with her three daughters, all of whom went to Montessori schools in Ohio.
Her eldest, a recent graduate of Cornell University, is a software engineer for Facebook.
"I taught for 20 years, and I walked into a [Montessori] classroom and I fell in love," Gilliland said. "The children that leave here are so well-grounded and tend to grow up to be very successful adults."
Gilliland says the most important belief driving the Montessori method of teaching is the building of self-respect for students.
"Public schools are much more teacher-centered. In a Montessori classroom, a child is their own guide, and who better to guide their learning? Children want to learn -- they're anxious. They're hungry for it," she said. "Let them follow their passions and interests rather than imposing something on them.
"It's much more logical, and the results are that learning is much more meaningful."
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.