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.
Children in the program were given a note in their backpacks to take home last Wednesday signed by Claremont Principal Jessica Panfil and the school’s early childhood education coordinator, Kate Graham. The letter says Claremont’s overcrowding has forced the move.
“Because of the capacity constraints at Claremont Immersion, we are delighted that the two Primary Montessori classes have found a wonderful home at Hoffman-Boston with other Montessori classmates,” the letter states. “Our Montessori teachers, Ms. Katy and Ms. Sylvia, will continue to teach the Primary Montessori classes at Hoffman-Boston, which has a strong early childhood program and currently has two Primary Montessori classes located there.”
According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Jennifer Harris, the decision was made by Superintendent Patrick Murphy and didn’t require School Board approval.
“This is standard practice,” Harris told ARLnow.com. “Capacity is evaluated all the time to see whether some classrooms need to be relocated. They’re going to be over capacity at that school next year in the K-5 classroom space. If they keep the Montessori program there, they will not have all the room to accommodate the incoming K-5 students.”
Caryn Winkler has a 4 year-old in the Montessori program. He’s one of 30 students — out of the program’s 46 — who will have to take the Montessori program at Hoffman-Boston next year. The other 16 will enter first grade at Claremont Immersion.
“Siblings will be separated, Montessori cohorts divided, and parents will be scrambling with differing start and end times,” Winkler wrote in an email to ARLnow.com. “Parents moved into the Claremont zone to attend Claremont just like North Arlington parents move into their selected neighborhood for their chosen school.”
Winkler said the school has been “secretive about this,” and Harris said no parents or community members other than those of the 46 current students have been notified. Parents of prospective Montessori students will be informed of the move at an upcoming pre-kindergarten information night when they register for next year.
“My son had a playdate with a friend this morning and I told her mom about this,” Winkler said. “Her sister moved to the neighborhood so that she could specifically attend Montessori at Claremont and then enroll in the Immersion program. I just don’t understand how this wasn’t a community discussion — or at least make us aware that this will happen and that we have a transition plan.”
Harris said moves “happen like this every year.” The school held an information session for parents last Friday morning at 7:40 a.m., just two days after the letter was placed in backpacks. Since then, Winkler and two other parents spoke out at the School Board’s Capital Improvement Plan community forum this week, and she said Murphy has agreed to meet with her and address her concerns.
Photos via APS
The Arlington Montessori Action Committee (AMAC), a six year old group of parents and educators, has launched a campaign to convince Arlington Public Schools to build a brand new school devoted to Montessori education.
As part of its ongoing capacity planning process, APS has been narrowing down its options for keeping up with rising enrollment at schools countywide. The options for adding capacity include building new schools and making additions to existing schools.
Montessori advocates have seized upon an APS proposal to build a new PreK-8 countywide magnet school between Carlin Springs Elementary and Kenmore Middle School. AMAC says the school would be ideal for a central Montessori “choice” program, hosting between 600 and 750 Montessori students either from PreK-5 or PreK-8. Currently, there are almost 600 PreK-8 students in 31 Montessori classrooms at schools across Arlington, with hundreds more on waiting lists, according to AMAC.
By drawing Montessori students away from already-crowded schools, the new Montessori choice school could efficiently help mitigate the school system’s looming capacity crisis, AMAC says. The group created a PowerPoint presentation to make their case.
In addition to helping relieve the capacity crunch, advocates say Montessori programs have educational benefits. AMAC cites the county-wide Montessori program at Drew Model Elementary as proof that a Montessori education can “[close] the achievement gap for minority students.”