Montessori gains at Norte school

By Doug Snover

Some of the youngest students at Kyrene del Norte Elementary School are a good two years from kindergarten.

Yet every school day, approximately 45 youngsters barely past the toddler stage file in to Norte alongside their more mature schoolmates.

They are taken to class by parents who want their kids to get a head start on their education and to foster their individual creativity, initiative, inner discipline and self-confidence.

These youngest students, many as young as three years old, fill two special classrooms at Norte, 1331 E. Redfield Road, under the Kyrene School District’s Montessori program launched in August.

With two classrooms filled, Kyrene is adding a third for the 2005-06 school year. Registration for the Montessori program is under way but there still is space available for the fall semester, according to Shannon Andress, “directress” of the Kyrene Montessori program.

“We have availability, but it changes daily,” said Andress.  The program is open to three-, four- and five-year-olds, and Andress tried to balance the age groups, she said.

Cost for three- and four-year-olds is $500 per month for five full days per week or $350 per month for five half days per week. Cost for five-year-olds is $250 per month. Five-year-olds must have previously participated in a Montessori program to be eligible.

More information is available on the Kyrene website--www.Kyrene.org/montessori--and parents can call (480) 783-4054 to register their children.

Montessori is a popular alternative to traditional public school education, according to Andress.  Montessori “looks at the whole child” with a goal is to allow each student to develop to her or his potential, she said.

Kyrene began its Montessori program in the 2004-05 school year with a plan to offer three classrooms. Construction delays forced the district to offer only one classroom in the fall, however, and a second classroom was added in January 2005, Andress said.

The third Montessori classroom will be ready for the fall 2005 semester, she said.

According to the Kyrene Montessori website, Montessori operates on the principle of freedom within limits. Every program has its set of ground rules, which differs from age to age, but is always based on core Montessori beliefs-respect for each other and for the environment.

Each Montessori classroom has a full complement of authentic Montessori materials, Andress said. Classrooms will also have direct access to an outdoor environment that encourages children to use their senses to explore nature and interact with one another.

Kyrene’s Montessori teachers are “triple-certified” by Montessori, the state of Arizona and the No Child Left Behind Act, according to Andress. Each classroom has one teacher and an instructional assistant for a teacher-student ratio of 1:11.

Students also are instructed in physical education and music twice a week.

The Montessori educational program is named for an Italian educator, Maria Montessori. who lived from 1870 to 1952 and, according to her biographers, was Italy’s first female medical doctor.

Maria Montessori began forming her educational theory in 1897 while working with children she thought would be better treated by improving schools than with medicine.

By the early 1900s, Montessori was implementing her educational theories while directing daycare centers for working- class children in one of Rome's worst neighborhoods.

She has been quoted as saying:

“I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them.”