January 10, 2005
Not everyone thinks traditional schools are the right choice. Deborah Summers, assistant principal for Scottsdale’s Mission Montessori Academy, believes the nearly 100-year-old Montessori method educates best because it focuses on the "whole child."
The Montessori method was founded by an Italian physician named Maria Montessori who stressed the importance of educating the senses and then the intellect.
The method was popular in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century when Alexander Graham Bell founded the Montessori Education Association and Thomas Edison opened one of the first U.S. Montessori schools.
A main component of Montessori is that children within three years of each other are grouped together in the same classroom.
"You get a wonderful dynamic in that the younger children model the older ones and the older children learn to be mentors," Summers said.
Instruction is carried out in a child-centered environment. The teacher, or adult in the classroom follows the child so that learning is more of an active experience than passive.
Children have opportunities to experiment and choose what they like to work on.
That doesn’t mean Montessori schools aren’t focused on the basics of reading and writing, but the approach is different with children working more at their own pace and lessons disguised as play.
Grades aren’t the main consideration. Selfdevelopment is the prime motivation. Still, Montessori students tend to be academically successful, Summers said.
In Arizona most Montessori instruction is carried out in charter schools that are aligned to state standards.
But the Kyrene Elementary School District opened a Montessori school for students 3 to 6 years old earlier this year, and the Mesa Unified School District also offers Montessori programs through sixth grade at Sunridge Learning Academy and Johnson Elementary School.
All in the East Valley are labeled "performing" to "excelling" according to the Arizona Learns program.