The Montessori School of Englewood

Chicago, Illinois, September 12th

Kelly, the Director of Social and Emotional Support, gave me a tour of the school. She explained that the school has 250 students (up from 190 the year before, and 95 the year before that). There are headstart/preschool classes, kindergarten classes, 6-9 year old classes, and a 9-12 year old class.

First I observed a kindergarten class. The children—some on their own and some in small groups—were doing a number of different activities around the room. One drew on a canvas, some arranged puzzle pieces, another filled a bucket with soapy water to use for cleaning a table. There were lots of activities and materials available in the room, and the students chose what to do (Montessori practitioners call it “freedom within limits”). The teacher sat with three or four students, showing them how to put together a certain type of puzzle. Once they were working on their own, the teacher went to check on other kids. In addition to the teacher there was a teacher’s assistant helping some of the kids. Some of the students talked while working, some sang.

The Montessori materials seemed to involve a lot of tasks involving sorting, arranging, and ordering. For example, a little girl had a bunch of pictures of things and had to sort them into two groups: one of ‘living’ things and one of ‘non-living’ things.

In the older class of (6-9 year-olds), kids were reading individually when I entered the room. One boy was flipping through pages of pictures books, making up stories that corresponded with the pictures. Then a teacher’s assistant came over and helped the boy to actually read the words of a different story. To get all the students’ attention, the teacher tapped a gong three times—which seemed like a very calm way to capture attention.

The Montessori School of Englewood is a public charter school, meaning it’s open to the public, who apply for a ‘lottery,’ and the winners get to enroll. The school is partially funded by Chicago Public Schools and partially funded by private donors. As a charter school, they have control over the structure and activities of the school. However, their contract with CPS requires them to administer standardized tests to the students at points throughout the year.

In the past, the school did not make any effort to integrate testing standards into its curriculum. This year though, they are trying to think of ways to softly introduce some standards into the Montessori activities—but they are adamant that they will not change the Montessori approach. Simply put, the test scores are not the priority. The intellectual, social, and emotional development of the children is the priority. The best path to aid in that development, the administrators are convinced, is through the Montessori way.

You can read a very thorough Q & A about Montessori education on The Montessori School of Englewood’s website.

Kelly told me about a number of social-emotional development programs they use in the school. Below is a list of some resources Kelly gave me (with links). Anyone interested in the social-emotional side of education would benefit from looking into these programs/books:

No Nonsense Nurturing

Conscious Discipline

PATHS (Providing Alternative THinking Strategies)

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

Power Struggles

It was very refreshing to see a school so focused on the social and emotional needs of its students. It seems that many charter schools serving underprivileged areas don’t focus on this aspect of education. With a few exceptions, the larger charter school movement has made raising test scores its priority, often to the neglect of students’ social-emotional development.