The Press-Citizen Guest Opinion

Read our guest opinion in The Press-Citizen.

Update:  The link has expired.  Here is the text of our guest opinion:

The Montessori Elementary School Steering Committee (MESSC) is a group of parents, teachers, and administrators working to create a public Montessori option in the Iowa City Community School District.

The Montessori method is based on the work of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator.  Through her direct observation of children, Montessori developed classroom and instructional practices that promote the optimal academic and social development of the child at critical sensitive periods in their individual development.

Key features of the Montessori method include independent choice, multi-age grouping, the prepared environment, and the Montessori materials.

The Montessori classroom is a carefully prepared environment designed to offer students a variety of works in the curricular areas of language arts, mathematics, practical life, cultural and physical geography, history, astronomy, chemistry, botany, physics, zoology, sensorial, art, music and movement.  It includes Montessori materials specially designed to appeal to the children.

Students are free to choose their own work as long as they are respectful of the materials, the other students, and the classroom environment.

Independent choice allows children to spend as much or as little time as they need to master a material before they move on to something else.  Children are not required to struggle to keep up or wait for others to catch up.  Self-pacing allows the needs of every child, from students who need more time to those who need more challenge, to be met every day within the classroom.

The freedom to choose also allows children to develop their powers of concentration and self-discipline, as their work activities are not interrupted or controlled by the teacher.  They work out of internal motivation and self-satisfaction rather than becoming dependent upon external motivations.

Multi-age groupings are an important feature of a Montessori classroom.  They permit the child and teacher to develop a three-year relationship and allow three years for the children to complete the curriculum at their own pace.  Additionally, multi-age groupings allow the children to learn from one another.  Older children serve as models and leaders for the younger children, creating a positive learning community rather than an atmosphere of competition among the children.

The Montessori curriculum combined with the positive habits of mind instilled by the Montessori method create a solid foundation of content knowledge, skills, and curiosity to support future academic endeavors and life-long learning.  The Montessori method presents a viable alternative to meeting the mission of the Iowa City Community School District.

Iowa City area parents have been able to choose a Montessori preschool education for their children since 1962.  Three areas schools currently serve approximately two hundred and sixty students in Montessori preschool classrooms.  This represents a significant Montessori community that could support a Montessori public option.

There will never be a perfect time to discuss schools of choice.  However, as the ICCSD School Board looks at long-range planning, a Montessori public option should be part of the discussion.   Montessori options are popular where offered in other public school systems (like Des Moines, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis).  In Superintendent Murley, we now have leadership experienced with public charter schools, including a Montessori school, and we have the Montessori community to support a public Montessori option.

Fifty years ago, a few people envisioned a Montessori school to benefit their children that has grown into a community of Montessori schools that benefit hundreds of children each year.  Our committee envisions expanding access to the Montessori method through building a public Montessori program that could serve and benefit many more Iowa City area children in the future.

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