Locals Look to Open Sussex Montessori School

Photo from https://themontessorischool.us.

By Terry Rogers

The Montessori Method of education was developed by Dr. Maria Montessori more than 100 years ago, according to Linda Zankowsky, Board Chair of the Montessori Works organization. The program is a child-centered approach to education based on the scientific observances of children from birth to adulthood by Dr. Montessori. Currently, Montessori schools are only available in New Castle County, although there are a few daycare centers in Kent and Sussex who may offer versions of the program. Ms. Zankowsky and her organization are beginning the process to bring a Montessori school to Sussex County.

“Right now, Montessori schools in Sussex are only available in independent schools where people must pay tuition,” Ms. Zankowsky said. “This means that many low-income families are unable to access this type of education for their children. We had some opportunities for funding with the Longwood Foundation and we saw this as an opportunity to expand into southern Delaware.” The group hopes to have the school operational by fall of 2019.

In order to achieve their goal, Ms. Zankowsky said that the organization must apply to the State and prove that there is an interest for the program in Sussex County. They have set up a website and Facebook page to provide information. In addition, anyone interested in seeing a Montessori program developed in Sussex County can complete a survey online. There is no commitment required to complete the survey and the organization hopes to have between 300 and 500 signatures by the end of the year.

According to the American Montessori Society, there are specific hallmarks of Montessori education. The program must have multiage groupings which means younger and older children learn in the same classroom. The younger children learn from older children and, as the older children help the younger ones, they confirm their own learning, according to Ms. Zankowsky. The program must also have uninterrupted blocks of work time and guided choice of work activity. This means that children are allowed to continue working on subjects without being told to stop because it is time for math or reading or another subject.

“The program began in Italy in communities of poverty,” Ms. Zankowsky said. “As Dr. Montessori watched children, she noticed what children accessed in classrooms and that what a child chose to access seemed to activate certain areas of the brain. She developed a program that is child-centered, not teacher-centered. What we now know from brain research is that Dr. Montessori was right. When doctors have monitored brain activity in children in a learning environment, they found that when they are doing things with their hands, it activates more areas of the brain.” Ms. Zankowsky said that students who complete Montessori programs have better time management, are more innovative and work better with others. They are also more likely to be active with a strong sense of community.

The organization has not yet chosen a site for the new school, although they would like to see it as centrally located as possible. Jessica Bradley, a board member for Montessori Works, said that there seems to be more of a need in the western area of Sussex as there are some options available in the eastern part of the county.

“We are also willing to work with public schools to see if offering a program that way would be more beneficial,” Ms. Bradley said. “However, before we can consider a location, we must formalize the application with the State and must demonstrate an interest in the program.”

Jim Purcell, who is a consultant on education working with the organization, said that there is a definite interest for more quality programs for young students. The Montessori school in Sussex would serve children in Kindergarten through third grade initially with fourth, fifth and sixth grades being added over time as children moved into those grades.

“Research has shown that the issue of choice is important in Sussex County,” Mr. Purcell said. “You see more families now choosing home school, Christian and private schools. Currently, about 10 percent of the population are choosing alternatives to public school for their children.”

To learn more about Montessori Works, families are encouraged to visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/montessoriworksde/ or their website at www.montessoriworksde.org. To complete the survey in support of a Montessori school in Sussex County, individuals can visit http://montessoriworksde.org/support-sussex-montessori/.

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