Rapid transitions in technology and increasing globalization present new and continuing challenges for today’s students. Innovation, critical thinking and collaboration are the skills that will separate young people who are prepared for increasingly complex life and work environments in the 21st century and those who are not.
As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained, “It will be vital to have more of the ‘right’ education than less ... The winners won’t just be those with more IQ. It will also be those with more PQ (passion quotient) and CQ (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.”
Fortunately, a blueprint for education that meets the needs of a changing world already exists — in Montessori schools, where many “new” education reforms and innovations have been successfully implemented for more than a century.
The Montessori system is a powerful 21st-century aligned model that develops the competencies demanded in the information age. Montessori educates the whole person, fostering independence, curiosity, critical thinking and a love of learning, preparing students to be engaged, productive and successful global citizens.
The Montessori method is named for Maria Montessori, one of the first female physicians in Italy and a pioneer in child development. Montessori developed a holistic system for educating children from infancy through adulthood based upon her research that she described as “scientific pedagogy.”
From the founding of the first “Casa dei Bambini” in Rome in 1907, Montessori has stood the test of time. Today, there are an estimated 20,000 Montessori schools around the world, including 4,500 in the United States. Honoring its roots serving the working poor of Rome, 450 free, public Montessori schools, located primarily in low-income, racially diverse communities, have opened in the United States in the past two decades. South Carolina is home to the largest number of public Montessori schools in the country.
Research confirms the advantages of Montessori in both private and public settings. A three-year study of public Montessori schools in Hartford, Connecticut, found that Montessori children rated higher in academic achievement, social cognition, mastery orientation and school enjoyment than students in traditional classrooms. Even more important, the study found that Montessori closed the achievement gap between low income and more advantaged children. In South Carolina, a five-year study found that public Montessori students outperformed on standardized tests as well as in measures of emotional development and maturity.
Montessori works because it is embedded in the science of learning, not passing education fads. Dr. Stephen Hughes, a past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Neuropsychology, calls Montessori the original “brain-based” education because it is based on scientific principles of human development.
Montessori observed that children are “wired to learn” and believed that the purpose of education was to empower each child’s unique potentialities. As she explained, “free the child’s potential and you transform him into the world.”
The Montessori system is engineered around the cognitive, social, emotional and physical needs of students at each stage of their development. When these needs are met, Dr. Montessori said children can “explode into learning” — a phenomenon I am honored to witness every day within the classrooms at my school.
In Montessori schools, children learn in multi-age groupings with research-based, hands-on materials during extended, uninterrupted work cycles. Subjects are not studied in isolation, but in a cross-disciplinary approach that provides context and deep understanding. Learning happens in classrooms and throughout the community, state and even outside the United States. Students work at their own pace and are freed to take their education as far as they can — learning without limits.
Some of America’s most innovative companies, such as Amazon, Google and Wikipedia were founded by Montessori students. “I think it was part ... of being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently,” says Larry Page of Google.
Montessori schools are recognized as assets to their communities, because they are preparing the next generation of business leaders, innovators, community builders and engaged citizens and connecting today’s youth to their city through public service, the arts and entrepreneurial activities.
Montessori schools can also contribute to economic and community development by attracting new residents and educators to our city. Montessori schools, public and private, are a strong draw to families seeking locations with high quality education options. At Mountaineer Montessori School, it is not uncommon for a family to travel across the country to tour our school before accepting a job in Charleston. We’ve attracted numerous faculty members from outside West Virginia, including teachers from Paris, France, Bali, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Florida, Texas and Wisconsin, who’ve become Charleston residents in order to be a part of our world-class learning experience.
Founded in 1976, Mountaineer Montessori is West Virginia’s original and largest Montessori school. Now into our fifth decade, we’ve served more than 1,000 Charleston children, with 142 students, ages 3 to eighth-grade currently enrolled at campuses in the University of Charleston and South Hills neighborhoods.
To sign up for a tour to experience the Montessori difference yourself, or for more information, please visit our website: www.mountaineer montessori.org.