Peace in education and Montessori roots at Newtown School
When invited to write for the current and past Newtown community, I immediately thought of personal experiences with teachers, staff and peers who were a part of the very formative eight years as a boarder at Newtown (1973 – 1981). The unique childhood experiences growing up in Newtown are far too deep and dear to be given justice in this short forum. Perhaps the path and passions in which I am now engaged will illustrate the relationship between my past at Newtown School and my present in Montessori education. It is also of interest that Newtown has a long history and important connections to the Montessori movement in Ireland. In 1926 Newtown’s Head Master, Arnold Marsh, invited two Montessori trained sisters, “the Netells,” to open Montessori classrooms in Newtown Junior School. On May 12, 1927 Dr. Montessori visited Newtown School in person.
Montessori has since influenced education all over the world and some of Montessori’s ideas can now be seen integrated into crèches, day cares, and also public, private and progressive primary and elementary education. With Newtown’s history, my family’s interest in education and my immersion in the Quaker ethos, it was not so surprising that I developed a passion for social justice and was greatly attracted to Montessori’s idea that humanity could progress toward a more effective and peaceful society. I took the Montessori training through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) in Dublin which is the rigorous and specific kind of training that was authenticated by Dr. Montessori herself.
I then established new schools and taught in diverse socio-economic environments in the United States for twenty years. It renews my passion for the work to witness how, when given the right environment, children learn in accordance with their human developmental needs and thus grow without deviation. When in authentic Montessori programs, that offer the full integrity of Dr. Montessori’s work, children develop the ability to make good choices, pursue their interests with full engagement, deep concentration, creativity, strong problem solving skills, a love of community and a keen motivation for learning. Their contribution to society will surely diminish the causes and need for war.
I am currently Head of School at Hershey Montessori School near Cleveland, Ohio. This A.M.I recognized school serves 240 children from infancy through age fifteen. Hershey Montessori School was one of the first schools to develop Dr. Montessori’s vision of education through the continuum from infancy through adolescence and to fully retain the integrity of all practices outlined in her books and AMI training at every level. The Hershey Montessori’s farm school opened for the Adolescent Community (currently between the ages of 13 and 15 years) in 2000. It is a boarding and day school designed to fully implement the principles outlined in the appendices of Montessori’s work From Childhood to Adolescence.
The developmental characteristics and psychological needs of adolescents are still the guiding map for the farm school practices. Students spend time exploring real life adult roles, public speaking, critical thinking, creative and physical expression, and classical and rigorous education in context of a deep empathy for local and global environmental citizenry. Leadership and valorization are an integrated outcome of the farm school experience.
Hershey hosts part of the annual AMI Orientation to Adolescent Studies. Over 60 teachers from around the world come annually to learn about the principles of the adolescent work as it is practiced at our farm school and at the neighboring Montessori high school of University Circle. The school also hosts monthly professional visitor’s days for the many superintendents, school boards, teachers, researchers and professionals from fields such as pediatric and neuro-psychology who visit from every continent.
The unique experiences that comprised my own formative years growing up through Newtown School and many of the characteristics within the culture of the Friend’s community are also consistent in my current work at Hershey Montessori School. I am profoundly grateful for both opportunities and to work with a community of professionals with such high expertise and a shared vision for the child.
Other useful links for Hershey Montessori School or other AMI Montessori work:
“It is not good will alone which will help us forward. Neither does it depend on agreement or on the problems. In my opinion there is only one remedy by which future generations can be protected against the woe which burdens us: let us forget the problems and concentrate on the person!…the whole person, and this person begins at birth.” – Dr. Maria Montessori, speaking at UNESCO 1951