Montessori classrooms provide a popular, hands-on, student-driven approach to education. Several East Valley schools offer the option for young children.
But nowhere in Arizona is there a Montessori high school.
The Tempe Union High School District is exploring what it would take to make that option available.
Parents interested in the idea can learn more 6 p.m. Wednesday during a community meeting at the district office, 500 W. Guadalupe Road.
"When you look at the surrounding Valley and Phoenix metropolitan area and East Valley, there are many Montessori schools through eighth grade, some private, some public, some charter," Superintendent Ken Baca told the Tribune this week. "Knowing Montessori families, I know many do choose to drive their kids to Montessori programs that might not be in their general area."
So a Montessori high school could attract parents from districts other than Tempe Union, he said. In fact, Baca said this wouldn't just be a district endeavor, but a community one.
"We don't come in with a perceived notion of, ‘How is this going to be?' It's more. ‘How can we build it? Is it a viable option, not only for Tempe Union community but the wider community and if it is, how do we want to create it?'"
The meeting will include a presentation by a group that traveled recently to Cleveland, Ohio, to see a Montessori middle school and high school in action.
Jennifer Bowen of ADM Group, Inc., a Tempe-based architecture firm that does a great deal of work in education, took the trip on her own dime to learn more and what other school designs look like.
The first surprise, she said of the Ohio trip, was the middle school, which is housed on a working farm outside of the city.
About 50 students attend the private school, she said. There, they do laundry, grow the food they eat, help run the farm's honey business and make products out of wood.
They also take tests, just like a regular classroom, she said.
Bowen said she was impressed with how well spoken the young students were. She saw the activities made an impression with the students, a sometimes tough task during adolescent years.
The high school the group viewed was located in a highly cultural area of the city. The private "campus" was located in three separate residences on a city street. The students used the surrounding colleges, museums and libraries as extensions of their classrooms.
For the most part, she said, teachers gave them ideas or questions to explore, then the students went out and researched the ideas on their own, even attending college lectures.
"Some of their projects, you could tell they were real world. One class had to create Facebook pages for students in another culture. They had to study other cultures, find out what they might be interested in," she said. Then they had to create, either on the computer or through hand drawings, what a Facebook page would look like.
"They didn't have textbooks. They used primary resources. Instead of using a literature book covering Shakespeare in a chapter, they read Shakespeare," she said.
While both schools were private campuses, Bowen said the school leaders in Ohio pointed the group to public Montessori high schools in Colorado that could also be explored.
The meeting Wednesday is open to the public and the presentation may be online following the event, Baca said. Ideas to explore include, not only what the school would look like, but where it could be located and how it could be funded, he said.
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