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First Montessori Public School in Virginia Opens in Arlington

At a ribbon-cutting yesterday (Thursday), Arlington’s Montessori community celebrated the landmark ribbon-cutting for Virginia’s first standalone public K-5 Montessori school.

For years, the Arlington Public Schools’ Montessori program operated as an entity within Drew Model School. But now, the program has launched its own school inside 701 S. Highland Street — formerly Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Faculty, parents and students all celebrated the new opportunities that come with having their own school. School Board member Monique O’Grady compared the change to a metamorphosis befitting the new school’s mascot: a butterfly.

The Montessori Method is an educational philosophy that emphasizes nurturing a love of learning by offering students more educational freedom than what’s found in a traditional public school.

“Our teachers have always done a great job, but here we can carry the Montessori philosophy out of the classrooms and into the halls or outside,” Principal Catharina Genove said. “It adds to their community and it encourages collaboration throughout the hallways.”

The school currently has close to 500 students, selected through a lottery system held every spring. Students in the school traditionally stay with the same teachers for three-year cycles.

The path to the Montessori School’s independent opening was fraught with some controversy, most recently with parents from the Patrick Henry Elementary School saying they felt betrayed by the School Board’s decision to break up that school population.

“No project planning is smooth, but you persevered,” School Board Chair Tannia Talento told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting. “You have advocated and made all the efforts to get us here.”

Students at the opening sang a modified version of the Lil Nas X hit “Old Town Road” before proceeding inside to tour their new classrooms. Inside, teachers greeted old students and helped calm down children who were stressed about the new location.

“As of today, there are 502 public Montessori schools across the country, and [around] 300 of them opened in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Katie Brown, Director of Professional Learning at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. “This shows an increasing demand for a holistic and child-centered approach. It’s [a program] that’s gone from the margins of education into the mainstream.”

“Montessori has been traditionally viewed as a program accessible only to the wealthy due to the high cost associated with it,” said Mrinal Oberoi, a PTA member. “It has been made especially famous by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stephen Curry, etc. MPSA makes Montessori education accessible to all.”

Students at the opening said they were excited to feel less cramped than in their previous school.

The change also comes with a handful of new transportation changes. Residents will likely notice more busses in the area since the school is a countywide program, according to a press release from APS.

Other changes include:

  • The entrance on S. Highland Street will be bus-only and one way, with buses exiting on Walter Reed Drive.
  • The south entrance to the building, next to the library, will not be available to entry from 7:30-8:30 a.m. to accommodate bus traffic.
  • Parent drop-off is in the nine spaces between the 15-minute parking signs on Highland Street with queuing on 9th Street S.

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