CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In her letter to the editor Sept. 17, Sister Mary Pellicane asks whether the Montessori approach to education, developed a century ago, can benefit public schools today.
The answer is a resounding "Yes." More than 400 American public schools have implemented Montessori to improve academic performance and develop the "executive skills" needed in a 21st century workplace: critical thinking, problem-solving, self-initiative, collaboration, tenacity and a lifetime love of learning.
Many are located in some of the nation's most challenged neighborhoods. But despite their disadvantages, Montessori students outperform peers on standardized tests and in measures of social and emotional intelligence.
The benefits of Montessori education were verified in a study published in the April 2006 issue of Science magazine. In the study, children were entered into a lottery for admission to a public Montessori school in an inner-city Milwaukee neighborhood. By age 5, the Montessori students had a clear advantage in reading and math over peers in a nearby public school. At 12, they wrote "significantly more creative" essays using more sophisticated sentence structures. Some of the biggest differences were seen in social skills and behavior, which are increasingly being recognized as important as grades to professional and personal success in the adult world. Montessori children displayed a greater sense of "justice and fairness," interacted in an "emotionally positive" way and were less likely to engage in "rough play" during break times.
Why? Montessori works with -- not against -- human nature to tap into a child's natural desire to learn.
Dr. Steven Hughes, President of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology, calls Montessori "the original brain-based method of education" because it is based on scientifically recognized principles of human development.
Unfortunately, Montessori is largely unknown -- or misunderstood -- in West Virginia. There are no public schools that implement the method and no accredited Montessori teaching training programs in the state. Those who have heard about the method -- even educators -- often possess a superficial or flawed understanding or base their opinions on a fifth-hand story about a neighbor's child a decade ago.
Mountaineer Montessori School knows Montessori, and is eager to lend a hand and voice to the state as it contemplates changes to elevate education for all children. We believe our experience can contribute to the education conversation guiding the state's education reform efforts.
Founded in 1976, MMS pioneered Montessori education in the Mountain State, and today is the largest and most-established in West Virginia. More than 1,000 students have passed through our doors in the last 38 years. Currently, we serve nearly 100 students ages 3-12, and are evaluating facility expansion and addition of middle school and toddler programs to meet the demands of a growing number of Charleston families seeking alternatives to one-size-fits-all education. Our faculty members have a combined 150+ years in authentic Montessori classrooms and are certified by one of the two most recognized Montessori training programs worldwide. Every day, we hear success stories about and from our alumni. Just last week, we were delighted to learn that four of the National Merit Semi-Finalists at George Washington High School got their start at MMS.
On Oct. 23, MMS will hold a reception to introduce our new Head of School, Dana Gilliland, to the community. Dana is a global educator with more than 20 years of program director and Montessori classroom experience in the United States and Bali. We issue a warm invitation to Sister Mary Pellicane, policy, business, civic and education leaders and everyone committed to quality education to join us at 5 p.m. at the Charleston Area Alliance for an inspiring gathering that we hope will spark innovation and transformation in education. To experience the Montessori magic for yourself, please call the school at 304-342-7870.
JoEllen Zacks is vice president of the Mountaineer Montessori Board of Directors.