I was excited to capture this video of a preschool friend doing the 9 Layout recently. The 9 Layout is a Montessori math activity that presents the ideas of place value and increments. Beads representing ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands are counted and matched with the numerals. Here, my friend has completed the ones place and has started the tens. She is adding bars of ten until she makes ninety. (You might turn down your volume. The background is a bit noisy.)
What I noticed when I reviewed the video is how she stops to reflect after each increment. She moves the bars up, adds one, then sits back to review or reflect on the work. This is one of the beautiful aspects of Montessori - or really, just scientific pedagogy in general - the child doesn't need a teacher to step in and say, "Great! That makes 60!" All she needs is to see how to do the work then be allowed to do it. When she is all finished with the tens, then she looks up at me. My mentor, Don Czerwinskyj, made sure I understood the importance of offering a child a reflection when they were finished with work. He told me to wait for the child to finish and watch her face when she looks up. Is she pleased? surprised? excited? confused? Wait for her to assess her own work before offering any feedback. In this child's case, when she looked up at me and seemed satisfied, I said, "Ok. You did it! You completed the tens. Are you ready to count the hundreds?" She said she was and she continued.
A friend of mine told me recently about visiting a preschool where every child's work was praised lavishly. Every painting or block structure was met with, "Oh my! That's the most beautiful picture/castle/birthday cake I've ever seen!!" Montessori educators try to avoid empty praise because it causes children to look outside themselves - rather than inside - for affirmation. Just like adults, kids have opinions about their work and their performance. If a child is happy with her work then we can be happy for her. If she is unsatisfied with her work or feels she doesn't understand it, we can offer empathy, advice, or suggestions - depending on what's needed.
When this student was finished with the work, I snapped this photo just as she added the last thousand cube. She was pleased with herself, as the photo shows.
Now, because my job is to observe and assess her understanding of the concepts she was learning, I noticed that she had only stacked 8 cubes, instead of 9. This was no time for criticism - look at that beaming face! So I commented on how pleased she was with her work. I asked her if we could count all of those cubes. When she got to 8 thousands she realized that she needed one more. She added one more cube, we counted them again together, and I said, "There are 9 thousands and this says 9000. Is that correct?" She said it was, and together we determined that her work was complete. She then put all of the materials away.
Sometimes we think our grown-up words are essential to motivate children to learn and to keep them on track. But most of the time, we could get by with a few words and more time simply observing and offering reflections. Rather than saying, "That's a beautiful painting," we could say, "Wow! You used 5 different colors in this painting. Do you have a favorite?" It requires more work for us to look so carefully before commenting, but it shows the child that we are truly interested in her work. And, we are interested in the process and not just the product.
If words fail us, we can always try those three little words everyone loves to hear, "You did it!"
"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
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
MSGL Summer Camp is open to Preschoolers through 1st Graders who are currently enrolled or recent alumni and while it is a really great time for all of those kids who have been here before, it is especially helpful for children new to MSGL and for the toddlers who are graduating to preschool. For these children, Summer Camp is the perfect way to ease into the routines of preschool and to set the stage for a successful start in August.
The absolute best part of being a Montessori directress - or ANY teacher, anywhere, I imagine - is watching the children develop and grow. We spend time with your children each day, observing and guiding them, and we get to see them just as they are in that moment. And what they are, as Grace Harvey says, is "totes amazeballs" (totally amazing). They grow in strength, wisdom, and courage right before our very eyes.
Today I will just speak to their courage because courage is the thing that gets your child through his or her day without you. In more stuffy circles it might be called confidence, but when you are only 28 inches tall and mom or dad just drove out of the parking lot, you’ve got to be brave to pull yourself together, to turn to face that great big green space filled with people you don't know and sally forth through the rest of your morning.
Maya Angelou said, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistenly without courage." During last week's Summer Camp, there were many examples of children developing their courage and I will share a few.
During Friday's Bike Day, a 4-year-old friend who enthusiastically embraces everything at school stopped his bike right at my toes, looked out at the cars going by on Sagamore Parkway, and said, “I miss my dad and my mom. And my little brother. And our dog. And they are missing me, too.” I listened and commiserated and soon he took off speeding around the course. His courage waned for only a moment then he got back on his bike.
The 5-year-olds are totally courageous (one might even say fearless) out on the bike course and they consider their turn during Bike Day to be a race even though there is no starting line and no trophies. As they put on their helmets, their talk is all about who will win. When D missed his turn to ride with his fellow 4-year-olds, he got to ride with the 5's (a truly courageous decision) alonside his big brother. After the race, D was a little upset that he didn't "win." His big brother reassured him, "No, you DID win, D! Did you see all those people going by you? That’s because you won!” (Just a note: We have a lot of siblings at camp this year and even though we know sibling rivalry is a real thing, you couldn't tell by watching these brothers and sisters interact at school. Whether it's inviting a little sister to play or feeding a little brother apples during snack, your children take good care of each other when they are away from mom and dad.)
The exploding paint activity required all different types of bravery, especially from the teachers. For this activity, the children put a scoop of baking soda and some colored vinegar in a plastic baggie, sealed it and shook it up before throwing it on the ground to watch it explode. If there was no explosion the child could take a pin-puncher and pop the bag. Loud noises, spraying liquids - it's not an experiment for the timid.
Courage hung thick in the air under the willow tree on Friday as children experimented with the log seesaw. Little ones who started out holding our hands as they walked the length of the log until it dropped to the ground were able to do it by themselves after seven or eight attempts. One group of brave 5 and 6-year-old girls inspired their younger sisters and friends to walk the seesaw and soon there there were eight girls waiting in line for a turn. These are some of the same girls who regularly show others how to draw pictures of princesses and fairies in the classroom. For me, this experience was a reminder that when we worry that a child is "only drawing" or "only playing" it's time to take a break and get a cup of coffee while the children follow their interests.
Maria Montessori observed that by using their senses and their big, beautiful brains, children can naturally learn everything they need to about their world. All they need is a caring community of adults to prepare an environment where that learning can occur. She described it this way, "The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
MSGL provides such an environment in our classrooms and on our beautiful campus that has been created by you and other parents like you. When you bring your child to Summer Camp next week or to Preschool this fall, you are allowing her to bravely conduct her own experiences apart from you. And that requires real courage from both of you.
See you soon!
February in Indiana is tough. It’s 28 days of Arctic cold, howling winds, and brown slush everywhere you turn. The air hurts your skin and the gray sky steals your hope. Do you know why February is only 28 days long? Because no one would survive if it lasted even one day longer. February is the Chuck Norris of our calendar year.
I think February brings out the worst in everyone, even the sweet little children at the Montessori school. So it's often in February when I remind myself that the primary purpose of preschool is socialization. Sure, our Montessori classrooms have these beautiful materials and teachers trained to present them, but our primary goal is for each child to develop naturally into a well-rounded and well-adjusted individual. And for that to happen, each child must learn many, many social skills. Here’s a partial list. Lucky for me, blog inches are cheap!
Preschoolers do all of this really challenging work surrounded by 23 other children who are all trying to do exactly the same thing. (Twice that many, if enrolled for a full day.) Preschool can be very hard work!
Sometimes a child will do something inappropriate to another child and a well-meaning parent will ask me, “Did you tell them not to do that?” Of course. Every day our teachers remind children that hands are not for hurting and to use their words. But listening is not the way young children learn morals and social skills. (Although it IS the way they learn language.) Preschoolers learn by doing and that means that sometimes - lots of times, actually - they do inappropriate things. And gradually, they learn from them.
So, since young children are not born knowing the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and they can’t simply follow our instructions, the grown-ups have to give them lots of opportunities to figure it out with other children. We must provide them with an environment that allows them to safely - with close supervision - make many, many bad decisions. In our preschool classrooms, the teachers expect inappropriate behaviors and respond to them consistently with each occurrence, knowing that they will lessen over time. A child’s “bad” behavior might keep us on our toes, but it rarely surprises us.
And thank goodness for that! Imagine if doctors were shocked to see so many sick patients every day. Or if plumbers were bewildered by clogged pipes. Or firefighters were stymied when houses caught fire. They would not be very effective at their jobs. In order to be effective at my job as a teacher in a Montessori classroom of three to six-year-olds, I have to first: like children, and second: understand that all of the terrible things that children can do to each other are not failings, but simply a natural part of their development. A child who hits or bites or kicks is showing me that she is upset about something and has not yet learned to respond without hurting. It’s my job to help her develop a new, appropriate response while doing my best to keep the other children safe.
I admit that my best isn’t always enough. And it’s not easy to watch these children suffer through the process of dealing with separation anxiety, or a friend’s harsh words, or simple frustration at being unable to dress themselves. I love the children in my care and it hurts to watch them hurt themselves or others when their anger literally comes out of their fingers and toes.
Recently, I was sitting next to two children who had been playing very actively all morning. I will call them Danny and Sandy. They were having trouble working together but they just couldn’t stand to be away from each other. They are each learning how to be friends with someone who drives them a little bit crazy. I stayed close to them so I could intervene and help them resolve the issues that were bound to arise when things got out of hand.
At group time the children got to talking about which animals they liked the most. Danny laughed and said, “My favorite kind of animal is Sandy.” I turned to them just as Sandy pulled back her arm and punched Danny squarely in the face. Danny was really surprised. He thought maybe he was hurt for just a moment, but quickly regained his composure.
Seeing that he wasn’t hurt, I said, “I don’t think Sandy liked it when you called her a name. What do you think?”
“I was just saying it to myself,” he said.
“Well, I'm pretty sure she heard you," I responded.
Having made herself clear already, Sandy had nothing to add.
Did Danny deserve to be hit? No. But he did need to know that Sandy didn’t like the way he treated her. Should Sandy have hit him? No. But she did need to let him know that it wasn’t okay to call her a name. Did either of them “get in trouble” by me? No. We talked about other possible responses and there was no more name-calling or punching that morning. But it’s not over. I will keep those two on my “Watch List” for the rest of the year and when I hear their voices get loud or see them chasing each other I will do my best to be right there to help them work through their next disagreement. That’s my job. Not to punish or shame children, but to help them learn to express themselves and to be good listeners and… ah, just refer to the previous bulleted list.
I have read about preschools with zero tolerance policies for hitting and biting. My question is always, "Where will they send all of those children?" If a 4-year-old is banned from preschool because she has not yet learned to get along with others, what’s next for her? Reform school? Prison? Dr. Phil?
Preschool is THE BEST place for young children to learn how to get along with others. Sometimes it’s tense, sweaty, gritty, even frightening work. But the mis-steps children make in preschool prepare them for a future that is much less secure. A time when they won’t be surrounded by loving adults waiting to step in and guide them to resolve problems peacefully. A time when using hands to hurt can have lifelong consequences.
I am not complacent about children hurting each other and I put myself between thrown punches and sweet little faces every time I can. But I also know that "bad" behavior is not a fault in a child, it signals an important learning opportunity. A child who lashes out is showing us how we can help her. Maria Montessori put it this way,
“The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not being told he is naughty. Discipline is, therefore, primarily a learning experience and less a punitive experience if appropriately dealt with.”
“The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not being told he is naughty. Discipline is, therefore, primarily a learning experience and less a punitive experience if appropriately dealt with.”
Please try to be patient with your children and other people's children as we all wait for the Earth to travel just a little further around the Sun. February will become March, winter will become spring, and children who are not yet peaceful will develop a little more self-control and gradually, gracefully learn to cope with the many frustrations of being a small child.
Thanks for reading,
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.
A recent photo of Shriya in 2016
As a preschooler, Shriya Samavai Manian appreciated spending her days surrounded by colorful, beautiful things in her classroom at MSGL. Now, twenty years later, she spends her days creating beautiful things for others.
The West Lafayette native works as a photographer, writer, fashion designer, and DJ on New York’s Upper West Side. And that’s just her freelance work. After graduating from Columbia University in 2015, Shriya was hired by designer Ellen Van Dusen to assist her at Dusen Dusen, a womenswear and homegoods studio in Brooklyn.
“The team is really small, just the designer, myself and a salesperson, but the output is really large,” Shriya said. “It’s nice to be working on a small team and learning about clothing design from the ground up.”
Being one-third of the team requires Shriya to participate in all aspects of the production of Dusen’s colorful and boldly-patterned fabric designs, which are manufactured in New York’s garment district.
“I picked up 100 yards of elastic yesterday and delivered it to a production house,” she said. “I have unloaded giant bolts of fabric into a factory. We just did a lookbook shoot last Saturday and I assisted the photographer, steamed the clothing, and helped the models get dressed.”
Shriya has always wanted to run her own business, which is evidenced by the number of entrepreneurship competitions in which she competed in high school and college. She placed in the top three at the Columbia Engineering Fast Pitch Contest, the Edens SmART Retail Challenge, and Purdue’s Entrepreneurship Academy. She understands that this wide variety of experience in New York’s fashion world is helping her organize her own design company.
“Every week I’m learning something completely different. I’m thinking, okay, when it gets to this point for me, how do I want to do this?”
That point looms just around the corner for Shriya and her friend, Lauren Field, a senior at Barnard College. The duo is collaborating on a clothing line right now that should be ready for launch in April, called Studio Lucien. They both have a deep interest in art history and want to make clothes inspired by works of art. Their first project is a rain jacket with Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s painting, “Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (Great Wave),” printed on the inside lining of the jacket.
“We’re working with a factory in the garment district that is currently in the process of sewing all the jackets,” she said. “We started with a sample, which was made by a pattern-maker in New York. We sketched out the idea of what we wanted and worked with her to create the initial jacket. We bought the fabric in New York and got it printed at a factory in New Jersey. Hopefully, the first round of jackets will be delivered to us in March.”
Studio Lucien's Hokusai Jacket coming out in April 2016.
Shriya didn’t set out to be a fashion designer. She always presumed she would be an engineer. She graduated from West Lafayette High School in 2011 and moved to New York to study engineering at Columbia. While studying subjects planted firmly in the STEM department, she spent her free time going to museums, galleries, and concerts and hanging out with friends who were studying art history.
“It wasn’t until college that I even learned that art history was a viable major,” she said. “I thought, what is this thing where you get to sit in class and look at paintings all day? I was friends with a bunch of artists but was going to class and studying engineering.”
When she began to visualize herself studying something besides engineering, she talked with her parents about changing her major to art history and business management.
“Everybody in my family has done engineering. My brother did engineering at Purdue, my father is a professor of chemical engineering, my mom has a masters in engineering,” she said.
But her parents could tell she wasn’t really happy or excited about what she was studying at Columbia and they encouraged her to follow her interests.
“I just had to convince them that it (art history) was a real thing to study and a real thing to pursue after school,” she said. “Now, they are so supportive. Really supportive of my photography and writing and my design. I think they just had to come around to it because it was so new to them. Studying art isn’t common in India, and honestly it’s not a big field in the midwest, either,” she said.
Shriya and her dad celebrate her 3rd birthday in the Toddler Room in 1996.
In April, 2015, her parents’ doubt was erased for good when Shriya and Lauren won first place in Columbia Venture Competition’s Undergraduate Challenge with their idea of taking art history and translating it into clothing. They competed against six other teams in the final round and every other team’s project was based on science, medicine, or engineering.
“We were stressed out because we thought nobody probably cared about this idea besides us,” she said.
Winning first prize was a big confidence booster for the team and for Shriya personally. “It’s good to have that validation when you’re working with an idea and you’re not sure how other people will respond to it,” she said.
The validation included a $25,000 prize that Shriya and Lauren tapped into to make Studio Lucien a reality.
“We’ve spent very little of the money so far,” she said. “It’s only gone into the jacket.”
In most start-up business ventures, inexperience is considered a liability, but Shriya credits her lack of design experience with keeping her mind open to creative - and now successful - ideas.
“It’s nice when you don’t know what you’re doing because you’re willing to try anything,” she said.
Shriya attended MSGL toddler and preprimary classes in the late 1990’s. Although she left before her Kindergarten year, she has memories of the time she spent here.
Shriya celebrates her 4th birthday in Maureen Northacker's class at MSGL in 1997.
“I have great memories of playing in the gym with those little scooters. I recall having a very long scroll of paper and writing every number. I loved counting beads. I remember learning how to wash my hands,” she said, laughing. “There were lots of practical things I learned at Montessori. I loved that building (Morton Community Center.) I thought it was so beautiful. I remember Maureen, I remember Zainab, I remember Suman, I remember Durga. Honestly, I wasn’t there for very long, maybe 3 or 4 years max, but I have really good memories of being there. And I loved how hands-on everything was. I remember you could learn how to zip a zipper, braid, button stuff up, and tie your shoes. I think that really is the best way to learn. It’s not boring and it shouldn’t be.”
Accurately self-described as “having more than one thing happening,” Shriya is simultaneously working on a separate clothing line set to launch in late 2016 or 2017. It is a line of unisex outerwear that she describes as “really nice jackets that are made for anyone of any gender.” Shriya enjoys the many creative directions her life is spinning off into right now, and she plans to continue her design work in the foreseeable future.
Alyeesha Puri, Shriya, and Sejal Sheth on the MSGL
playground at Morton Community Center in approx. 1997.
“Ideally, I would love to be living in some metropolitan area, whether it’s New York or a different part of the world, and making clothes or being somehow involved with art,” she said. “I think that’s what really drives me the most. Being able to create something that evokes some kind of visceral reaction. And I like to collaborate with people.”
Best wishes from all of your old friends at MSGL, Shriya! We can’t wait to see what you do next.
Photos courtesy of Shriya.
This post is part of a series "I Am MSGL" featuring alumni of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in this series, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love the article Heather and my former little student. Such a proud girl and with good reason 😊