Here is the MSGL team after presenting “Bringing Montessori Home” at the American Montessori Society national conference at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on March 12, 2016. Pictured from the left: Executive Director Daphne Wiles, and teachers Emily Frazier, Kelly Sallee, Ana Ramirez, Lena Atkinson, Anita Trent, Dena Saunders, Machelle French, Heather Harvey, and Angenette Shamo.
On Saturday, March 12th, ten MSGL teachers came together to present their original parent development event, "Bringing Montessori Home," to 150 teachers and administrators from around the country at the American Montessori Society's (AMS) Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
Bringing Montessori Home is a parent development course on practical life in the home. It was designed by the team to empower parents to create home environments that allow their children to be independent and successful in the activities of daily life, much as they are in their Montessori classrooms. The team worked throughout the year preparing the 90-minute presentation that took place on the last full day of the three-day conference. The presentation gave educators and administrators specific information for organizing this type of parent education event at their own schools.
Many attendees were eager to praise the group's presentation not only for its content but also for the obvious bond between the staff members. When one audience member asked how the teachers worked together to present the various components of the program, one of the MSGL staff responded that they met one-on-one and also used Google docs to bring it all together. "Yes," the audience member responded, "but how did you get everyone to work together to make this happen?" It became apparent that ten teachers in matching blue shirts at the front of the room supporting each other and having a good time was, to some educators in the audience, a most impressive feat.
Group hug! There were lots of good feelings at the culmination of a year's worth of work.
When not presenting, the teachers attended workshops about Montessori philosophy, classroom management, child development, learning differences, school administration, and exciting presentations from all areas of the Montessori Toddler, Early Childhood and Elementary classrooms. Each day a different key note speaker was featured, including psychologist Mitchel Adler, lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, and poet Sarah Kay.
The teachers also had time to shop in the vendor hall where they could see and touch the classic Montessori materials as well as supplemental materials. Each class received $180 from the Payless/Kroger Cares fundraiser that they could spend on materials at the conference. Several classrooms also received generous donations from families that they used to buy new materials.
Dena and Lena with the giant pink tower at the Nienhuis booth.
Everyone was thrilled to be chauffeured to the event by Epic Limo of Valparaiso, Indiana. Teacher Angie Shamo's brother Brian Sheely owns the transportation company and made sure the ladies had a safe and fun trip to and from Chicago in the party bus.
Ana, Angie, and Kelly are ready to go on the party bus!
A few of the teachers enjoyed presenting at the conference so much that they have submitted proposals for next year's national conference in San Diego. Good luck, Ladies!
We were happy to see former Willow Class assistant teacher Jessica Flaherty when she visited from her new school in Indianapolis. With Lena Atkinson.
By Heather Harvey
Our school has had many special visitors lately. Teachers and parents from A Children’s Habitat Montessori School in Indianapolis toured campus and met with our staff last month. They described MSGL as “a model of excellence” and returned to Indianapolis with lots of ideas for increasing and updating their programs, classroom spaces, and administrative processes.
Preprimary teachers Ana Ramirez and Melissa Valencia had their second classroom observation in February, as part of their Montessori Early Childhood practicum, and their field visitor was impressed not only by Ana’s and Melissa’s calm and kind demeanor in the classroom, but also by the large size of our “little” school.
Visitors from A Children's Habitat Montessori visit with MSGL staff.
Of course, we can’t overlook the important visitors who attended our February open houses. Dozens of new families were excited to tour the campus and register their children for classes in the fall.
Seeing MSGL through the eyes of these visitors, I realize that there is nothing “little” about us. We serve 150 families in three buildings here on our five-acre campus and we staff seven different programs with approximately 30 full and part-time staff. We have programs for children ages 12 months to 12 years. We're not small at all, but we are close-like a family-thanks to the teachers, staff members, and parents who are willing to step in and help when and where they are needed.
We have a history of hiring from within, so when experienced teachers retire or move away from the area we turn to the dedicated teachers we know and love to fill those spots. And many of those teachers started out as MSGL parents who signed up to work as volunteers and substitute teachers!
Our accreditation by the American Montessori Society requires us to have trained and certified Montessori teachers leading our classrooms. So it is our vision to have a sustainable program with qualified teachers available at each level ready to lead if a teacher needs to step away from the classroom permanently or just for a few weeks.
This winter we were grateful for this long-term vision when Mary McKay - a parent, board member, friend of the school, and Early Childhood teacher-in-training - stepped away from the Catalpa classroom. Veteran teacher Somdatta Datta Roy left her position as River Birch assistant to take on the leadership of Catalpa while also leading the 3-day afternoon Canoe Birch class. Spruce class assistant Ana Ramirez was happy to take Somdatta’s spot as Angie Shamo’s assistant in River Birch in addition to leading the Globe Willow Spanish class. And Melissa Valencia agreed to keep her position as Globe Willow assistant and also fill Ana’s spot in Spruce. Admittedly, our staffing arrangements can get complicated! But we always try to look within first to minimize disruptions in the classrooms and to maintain our high standards for a compassionate, well-trained staff that is in tune with our school culture.
In addition to classroom changes, there is also a new face in the office. MSGL parent Amy VanHorn was hired to work in accounting in January when our long-time parent and bookkeeper Beth Nichols took a new position outside the school. Amy is the person to talk to when you have questions about your tuition statement.
We can expect to see more new faces as MSGL grows during the coming school year. We will remodel the Elementary House this summer to add space for an Elementary II program (4th-6th grade.) We are adding a second Parent/Infant class which will take place on Tuesday mornings. Families of children ages 12-24 months can sign up for Tuesday morning, Friday morning, or both. Three-year-olds will have the opportunity to lunch with Machelle during Toddler Tea Time in the Spruce Toddler class. Other exciting new offerings are in the works, so stay tuned for those details next month. And thanks for being part of our growing family.
These new faces, Pierce and Katie, look happy in their MSGL
Suman Harshvardhan, Executive Director of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL) since 1999, is stepping down in October.
Suman was hired as an assistant teacher in 1989 and she worked as lead teacher for the Toddler and Parent-Infant programs from 1990 - 2012. During Suman’s 16 years as Executive Director, the school added several new preprimary programs, expanded to include lower and upper elementary programs, and moved from the Morton Community Center to its current campus on Soldiers Home Road.
Board Member Hilary Cooke said, “We are sad to see Suman leave this position, although we are whole-heartedly grateful for her many years of loyal service to MSGL and this community. We also know that Suman will continue to remain connected to MSGL.” Suman looks forward to spending more time with her children and their families.
The MSGL Board has formed a search and hiring committee. Interested applicants should contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" said the little blue engine as she chugged faster and faster to the top of the mountain. And she could, of course. She did. The little blue engine saved the day by successfully pulling the stranded train full of good things for girls and boys over the mountain and into the valley where the children lay sleeping. Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could, published in 1930, was my favorite picture book as a child and the little blue engine my favorite heroine. Sure, she was kind and a lovely shade of blue, but more importantly she was a strong female character. She was useful! She did important stuff that helped children! And she did it at the end of a long day even after all of the self-important macho engines said, "I pull the likes of you? Indeed not."
It never occured to me until preparing this post, that The Little Engine That Could, which was read to me over and over again - as many times as I wanted, by my devoted babysitter Arnetha Trent - might have been key to the formation of my beliefs about society. Perhaps it was this determined little engine that opened my eyes to the truth that not everyone wants what's best for children. After all, if three out of four engines are not willing to pull a train filled with fresh milk, veggies, toys, and candy (just enough for an after-dinner treat, mind you) over the mountain to the children in the valley? Something's not right in the world. Four-year-old girls notice things like that.
I use this newly discovered self-knowledge as a metaphor because our school, the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL), has been called by some, "The Little School That Could." We are small and we operate on a tight budget, but do a lot with what we have. We offer 10 different programs for over 200 children, ages one to nine years, and we make it all happen in seven classrooms on our five-acre campus. We are a non-profit, parent-owned school which means when something needs to be done, whether it's adding an elementary program or building a new sand box, the families and staff work together to make it happen. This willingness to collaborate and create the best possible environment for children is the source of our strength. It's why we are known as the scrappy little school that's brought respect, independence, and a love of learning to the girls and boys of the Wabash Valley for over 42 years.
Clearly, I'm proud of our little Montessori school. It's been my extended family since my daughter started preschool here in 1998. And it has chugged its way up more than a few metaphorical mountains. But I'm especially proud today as I share news that not only is MSGL still making a difference in the lives of its families, it's poised to make a difference in the lives of families across the country. Our accrediting organization, the American Montessori Society (AMS), delivered three such helpings of good news this week. First we learned that we were featured in the quarterly publication Montessori Life for our parent development program, "Bringing Montessori Home." This event took place in January and will be offered again this year. You can read it here:
Then we learned that we were selected to present "Bringing Montessori Home" at the AMS National Conference in March. All of MSGL's lead teachers will be traveling to Chicago, March 11 - 13th, 2016, to take part in this presentation to other Montessori teachers, administrators, and parents from all over the United States. You can read more about the conference here:
Finally, the AMS Board of Directors officially approved our school reaccreditation this week. The two-year reaccreditation process involved a lengthy self-study of our educational philosophy and practices, business practices, and plans for growth and improvement. An on-site team visited the school in March to verify that MSGL's practices are in-line with the AMS standards and our own self-study documentation. The team reported that their visit to MSGL was the most organized they have experienced mostly because of the work of our own Lena Atkinson, Office Manager and Parent/Infant Teacher. Lena organized all of the school's documents online so the reaccreditation team could simply follow links to view documents instead of sorting through file cabinets. Now, Lena has been asked to host a webinar to show other schools how she used tech to improve the tedious reaccreditation process. Reaccreditation with AMS occurs every seven years. Congratulations to the staff, board, and families who have been working toward reaccreditation since August, 2013 and to all future MSGL families who will benefit from it! You can read more about the value of the AMS accreditation process here:
So, it's been a big week and we are pleased with the school's good work. We are excited that others in the Montessori community appreciate that good things can come in small, scrappy packages. But I can't say we are surprised by the news. Just like my favorite little blue engine, we always thought we could.
Thanks for reading, Heather
AMS Accreditation Visiting Team: Brenda Huth, Laura Bowen-Pope, Heather Gerheim-Gladden, Micah Earle
We are pleased to announce that our two-year re-accreditation process with the American Montessori Society (AMS) is finally behind us and MSGL performed very well. Although our re-accreditation will not be officially announced until later this summer, all indications are that we met or exceeded the standards. Those standards include the areas of: Vision and Purpose, Leadership and Governance, Teaching and Learning, Documenting and Using Results, Personnel, Facility Resources, Records and Support Systems, Stakeholder Communication and Relationships, and Commitment to Continuous Improvement.
The AMS onsite team arrived on Sunday, March 29th. Members included Brenda Huth, Ft. Wayne, Indiana; Micah Earle, Chantilly, VA; Laura Bowen-Pope, Woodinville, WA; and Heather Gerheim-Gladden, Brecksville, OH. The team toured the school and conducted interviews with the administrative staff, current and alumni parents, and the MSGL Board.
Angie and Somdatta charm the visiting team in the Birch Room
We are so grateful to the parents who took time Sunday afternoon to share stories of their experiences with our school. Thank you to Tiina Jaagosild, Melissa Law-Penrose, Melissa Fraterrigo, Ginette Roos, Janet Lee, Genevieve Wang, Tony Harvey, and Gretchen Freese. We were especially honored that MSGL’s founders, Jan Dilley and Jan Knote, shared their stories of how they started MSGL back in 1971. “The Two Jan’s,” as they are affectionately called, are very proud of the continued success of the little school that grew out of their dreams and the dreams of the eight families who initially pooled their resources to open its doors in 1972.
Jan Dilley and Jan Knote, founders of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette
Current and alumni parents share experiences of MSGL with the visiting team
MSGL alumni parents Mary and Dwight McKay hosted a welcome dinner Sunday evening in their home for the board, staff, and visiting team. The evening was the perfect opportunity for the team to see how important MSGL is to our community and for us to learn about the hometowns and Montessori schools of the four team members.
Hilary Cooke and Fay Mentzer at the welcome dinner
Brenda Huth and Mr. Dilley share a joke
Monday and Tuesday allowed little time for socializing as the team was busy observing classrooms, interviewing teachers, and reviewing documents. Some of our families provided homemade goodies for the team to snack on during the day. Thank you to Amy VanHorn, Joni Lane, and Abby Christiansen for the treats! In the evenings, the team wrote up reports about all they had learned during the day.
On Wednesday morning, the team presented its exit report to the steering committee. The report was comprised of commendations and recommendations for the continued excellence and growth of the school. The team was moved by the level of parent involvement and the joy shown by the MSGL children. Team chair Brenda Huth praised the teachers for their willingness to “wear many hats” and work where they are needed. Lena Atkinson was also commended for her work in preparing all of the school’s documents so they could be accessible online. Lena’s work made this the most organized onsite visit the team has ever experienced and they hope she will share her ideas at the 2016 AMS National Conference in Chicago.
Angie Shamo and Anita Trent discuss spring plans for the Oak Room Garden.
The AMS re-accreditation process takes place every seven years. When completed, families can be assured that the school operates according to the high expectations set by this national organization. We are currently one of only five Montessori schools in all of Indiana that are accredited. We could not have completed this process without the help of the staff and families who have worked for the past two years preparing themselves and the campus for this visit. Have you helped inventory library books or helped mend classroom materials? Have you shoveled mulch and washed windows at parent workdays? Have you swept sidewalks and helped maintain the buildings on your days off? Have you made donations to our classrooms or scholarship fund? You are one of the generous MSGL family members who continue to make this a great little family-run school. MSGL can’t happen without all of you. Thank you for the love and support you show MSGL. We look forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring.