By Mark Nardo
George Washington Carver School 87 – Montessori is one of three elementary schools and nine K-8 magnet schools in the Indianapolis Public Schools district. IPS is one of the largest urban districts in the state of Indiana and serves 30,000 students Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade. George Washington Carver, along with IPS #56 and IPS #91, are Montessori magnets within IPS and have offered this option to parents for 35 years.
IPS ensures equal access of its magnet programs for all students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or socioeconomic status. The Montessori magnet program in IPS is available to any student in the district who has a desire to participate.
Montessori Education is guided by the work and writings of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). Dr. Montessori believed that a truly educated individual continues learning long after the hours and years she/he spends in the classroom because she/he is motivated from within by a natural curiosity and love of knowledge. She believed that early education should not fill the child with facts from a pre-selected course of studies but rather to cultivate the child’s own desire to learn.
At its core, the philosophy is simple, to follow the child, which assumes that every child is a unique individual who is naturally driven to grow, develop and learn. The educational goals include instilling in children a love of learning, the ability to make appropriate learning choices, and respect for oneself, other people, and their physical surroundings.
The Montessori Method of instruction aims for the fullest possible development of the whole child. Montessori challenges not only the intellectual and academic development of the child, but the emotional, moral, spiritual and physical characteristics as well. According to Montessori, “A child’s work is to create the person she/he will become.” A Montessori classroom provides this freedom within limits in an environment that develops a sense of order and self-discipline that allows the student to cultivate her/his own natural desire to learn.
The Montessori teacher’s purpose is to stimulate the child’s enthusiasm for learning and to guide it, without interfering with the child’s natural desire to teach herself/himself and become independent. Each child works through her/his individual cycle of activities, and learns to truly understand according to her/his own unique needs and capabilities. Programs such as Reading A-Z, Raz-Kids and Accelerated Reader permit the “self-teaching” and “independence” throughout the work cycle and increase learning and understanding at his/her own unique needs and capabilities.
Children are placed in multi-age classes. These mixed age groups provide for peer teaching, role models and leadership experience, and an enhanced sense of community within the classroom. By interacting with children of varying ages, a child learns to understand and respect her/his place in a community that extends beyond the students in her/his same “grade.” As a younger member of the classroom community, the child learns from observing and interacting with older classmates. By the time the child becomes an upperclassman, learning is reinforced by providing an example to younger children. Multi-age classrooms permit a child to build a special, longer-term relationship with teachers, which cultivates a sense of belonging to a learning community.
The classroom is a community where children learn skills of cooperation and negotiation as they work together. They learn to work independently and structure their time by developing weekly and monthly learning goals. Children at this age develop and seek to understand their social selves, relationships with others and the environment. They are better able to reason, to ask and search for answers to questions. The Montessori curriculum and classroom materials give children the tools and methods to explore and discover the world. The environment is designed to maximize independent learning and exploration, thus the need for expanded programs and differentiated resources.
Parents who send their children to the Indianapolis Public School’s Montessori Magnet Program often regard it as one of the best-kept secrets in Indianapolis. This popular program was established in IPS some thirty-five years ago when the district sought to provide options for parents within IPS.
Mark Nardo is the principal at George Washington Carver School 87 Montessori.