By Sam Elliott
An education alternative that has already been serving Fishers and Geist area families for nearly 20 years is expanding into new grade levels for the upcoming 2016-17 school year.
Community Montessori School currently serves approximately 75 area students across its toddler, primary and elementary programs, and is now launching a middle school program for seventh and eighth graders.
“We’re super excited. The opportunity to teach teenagers the Montessori program is my passion,” Middle School Directress Anne Slamkowski said. “That’s why I’m here.”
Community Montessori was founded by Kate Bender with a starting class of four students operating out of a home basement in the fall of 1997 with just a primary program for children ages 3-6.
“We had a mom who wanted to have a Montessori for her children and there wasn’t any Montessori around,” Bender said. “She and four other parents decided to fund having me, fresh out of Montessori training, as teacher and they helped getting materials. I was a Montessori child growing up in Kentucky, so I went back to my school there and repainted and upcycled materials from the school there that they gave us.”
By the following January the school moved into a space inside St. Louis de Monfort, and moved again the following school year to a larger space in Castleton to accommodate three primary classrooms before an elementary program was added in 2004. A custom facility was built for the school in Fishers in 2008, and a toddler program was established for children as young as 18 months in 2011.
This fall’s middle school program plans to launch with approximately six students, although elementary teacher and Head of School Carrie Wisser said the CMS phone has been ringing regularly to schedule as many as five tours to prospective new students and their families per day.
Slamkowski recently finished her accreditation to teach Montessori middle school, a feat she said was spurred on by her own children’s’ experiences with Montessori schooling.
“As I talk to families about this endeavor, the one question I always hear is, ‘Why should I send my kid to Montessori?’ The best thing I can offer them is we need our teenagers engaged in learning,” Slamkowski said. “So many of us have heard our kids say before, ‘Do I have to go to school today?’ What I find in Montessori is we don’t hear those words anymore. We hear that they want to go to school and engagement is so powerful, especially in those teenage years.”
CMS had been eyeing expanding the middle school grades, but it wasn’t until Wisser and Slamkowski connected that the initiative was able to move forward.
“It’s like we were both searching and we found each other. It worked out well really,” Wisser said. “It was kind of perfect luck with Anne, just because we didn’t have anyone we could send for training for adolescents and we didn’t know how we would do it … Anne came to observe my room and she knows one of the moms in my room, so we were thinking maybe her daughter would come, and then she approached us about starting a middle school here.”
“The need is definitely here in the area,” Slamkowski added. “Our hope is to provide them with those social skills and the academics before they hit high school since there isn’t a Montessori program here in the Indianapolis area for high school.”
Not yet, at least, although CMS doesn’t have plans or anticipate expanding into the high school grades, it would be an initiative they’d fully support and be a part of should the greater Montessori community plant an Indianapolis high school in the future.
For more, visit CMSIndiana.org.
The Montessori method of teaching and learning was developed Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy, near the turn of the 20th century.
“She observed children and she based her curriculum on the characteristics of people,” Community Montessori Head of School Carrie Wisser said.
Montessori worked with 60 children in Rome and founded the Casa dei Bambini — which translates to “Children’s House.” She observed students’ natural ability to absorb knowledge from their surroundings and their interests in manipulating physical materials.
“You design an environment to fit the needs and the curriculum fits the needs. That’s how we’re different and it’s tailored to the child. They still need to do all the things other children in other schools do, but they use materials to help them see a concept so it’s not abstract,” Wisser said. “If you’re doing squaring or multiplication or division, you’re taking it step by step with the material that makes it clear why you’re doing what you’re doing. We hope children learn on their own, they extract information through materials rather than us saying, ‘Here it is, now learn it or memorize it.’”
Lessons at Community Montessori are given by teachers in one-on-one or small group environments and given at exactly the pace each student is ready for them. The design if for no student to feel behind others or to need to wait for others to catch up before continuing onward with a lesson. Students are encouraged to “drive their day” or “hang with their work,” choosing what they want to approach to ensure concentration and staying focused on tasks at hand.