By Joanna DeStefanis, Oak Meadow Montessori School (OMMS)
Welcome. My name is Joanna DeStefanis and I am the assistant head of school here at Oak Meadow. Congratulations to you for choosing Oak Meadow for your child’s education! I am confident that your son or daughter is going to thrive here. If you are new to Oak Meadow, welcome to the beginning of your Montessori journey. I’d like to take a few minutes to share with you my personal journey.
The image above was on Google’s homepage on August 31, 2012 to honor Dr. Maria Montessori’s 142nd Birthday.
My first experience in a Montessori classroom took place when I was an undergraduate student training to become a teacher. I spent a number of weeks observing in a Children’s House classroom. I knew immediately that something very different was happening, like nothing I had ever seen before. There was definitely something special happening in that classroom. The first thing that I noticed was that there were children of different ages in the same classroom. Some children worked happily with a partner, others independently, and two with the teacher. Even though the teacher was working with just two children, every other child was working, focused and happy.
Later, as a parent, I made the decision to send my two children to a Montessori school. Although they have very different personalities and academic profiles, they both thrived here at Oak Meadow. The three year program cycle allowed their teachers to thoroughly understand them, helping them to always achieve their potential. They also knew what ignited my kids’ passions, and helped them to discover and develop their talents.
At Oak Meadow, my children acquired a love for learning that they will never lose. They developed a social maturity and confidence that served them well as they navigated their teenage years. Oak Meadow has certainly had a profound influence on who my children have become.
Now, years later, I am once again a student. I am working on a graduate degree in educational leadership. Although the program is time consuming and demanding, I love the stimulation of being a student and discussing current research and topics in the field of education. Time and time again, I find myself in class listening to the challenges that teachers and school leaders face. I feel affirmation that we do at Oak Meadow what other schools know they need to do, but don’t know how or where to begin to change. The impact of NO Child Left behind has shifted education to a high stakes environment of accountability and testing. Critics claim that the impact of NCLB has caused teaching content that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The phrases “teaching to the test” and “drill and kill” are common in educational circles and have a negative connotation. Those in education and industry contend that in our quest to raise test scores we are short changing our students and leaving them unprepared for institutions of higher learning and future employment.
I have taken several courses in the past year, and I can tell you that Maria Montessori was way ahead of her time. Current thinking suggests that teachers are responsible for setting up problems and allowing students to investigate, inquire, and solve problems. At Oak Meadow, students engage in project based work, allowing them to collaborate, create, and problem solve. These are the skills that students will need to be successful in the workplace.
Project based learning, creativity, and collaboration cannot be measured via a standardized test, which is why it is challenging for large schools to shift their thinking and behavior to this educational model. At Oak Meadow, students are assessed in a variety of ways including, but not limited to, daily observations, dialogue and discourse, essay writing, rubrics and traditional testing. Spring portfolio presentations give students the opportunity to be reflective of their learning and their growth during the year.
In closing, I leave you with this: On August 31, you may have noticed that Google honored the anniversary of Dr. Maria Montessori’s 142nd birthday. If you googled anything last Friday, you would have seen the dedication to her on Google’s homepage. Both Larry Paige and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, were Montessori graduates. This is significant for all of you here tonight. The Montessori education that Paige and Brin received was the beginning of a journey for two entrepreneurial spirits. What difference did that make for Paige and Brin? Montessori environments encourage curiosity and reward risk taking. Students are encouraged to be independent and think outside of the box. We know that the solutions to the world’s problems rest in the minds, hearts, and hands of our students. It is their destiny to create, innovate and provide solutions to the challenges we face. Just like Paige and Brin. Oak Meadow students are being prepared for the future – just like Paige and Brin.