Choosing a Montessori School
How can you know whether a school that calls itself a Montessori school is providing an authentic, quality Montessori education? Because the term "Montessori" can be used by anyone, it is not always clear whether a school is faithfully following Maria Montessori's teachings to provide all of the proven benefits of the method.
Here are some important questions to ask.
1. Is the school affiliated with the American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori International (AMI)?
By becoming a full member of or accredited by AMS or gaining recognition through AMI, a Montessori school must certify that it meets the organization's standards. Because anyone can use the term "Montessori," these organizations provide a level of accountability and assurance that the affiliated school is actually providing a Montessori education. These standards include requirements that the classroom teachers have completed a recognized Montessori training certification and that the school is adequately equipped with a Montessori curriculum and Montessori materials. Accreditation further shows that a school has committed to maintaining a strict standard of operations. Urban Garden Montessori is pursuing accreditation through AMS, which includes a long self-study process that ensures the school's academic, ethical, and management standards comply with AMS requirements. The self study phase is followed by site visits, which provide valuable feedback from trained consultants. To see whether a school is a Full Member or Accredited school with AMS, search the AMS website. To see whether a school meets AMI recognition, search the AMI website.
2. Are the classrooms made up of mixed age groups, based on Montessori's planes of development? Are these classrooms led by Montessori credentialed faculty?
Montessori classrooms should be divided into the following age groups, as applicable to the ages of children served by the school: Birth-3 (divided into smaller sections), 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-15 and 15-18 or 12-14 and 14-18. Each classroom should be led by at least one teacher who has received a Montessori certification to teach at that grade level. In the 2015-16 school year, Urban Garden Montessori has three classrooms: 3-6, 6-9, and 9-12. Each classroom is led by faculty who have the Montessori credentials to teach their age group. Additionally, Urban Garden believes that Montessori teacher training is so integral to the quality of the education we offer, that no lead teachers who have received their Montessori training through an online training program will be hired. All current and future Urban Garden lead faculty must hold a minimum of a Bachelor's degree and receive their training through AMS, NCME, or AMI teacher education programs that are not distance education programs. Additionally, Urban Garden faculty receive continuing education through seminars, webinars, school training, and written materials.
3. Does the school protect a 3-hour uninterrupted work period for students?
The uninterrupted work period is a protected time that allows for teachers to give lessons to individual students or groups of students and for students to practice their work without the interruption of enrichment programs or other activities. At Urban Garden Montessori, students are provided with a morning work period in the Primary, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary classrooms from 8:00 a.m. until 11:00 a.m. Additional work time is provided in the afternoons, as appropriate and required for each age. Transition times, recess, and time for classroom jobs are provided for outside of the main work period.
4. How does the school track student progress, what student records are maintained, and how is this information shared with parents?
Adequate record keeping is vital to ensure student progress is tracked, both for the benefit of the student and for evaluation of the school's academic performance and improvement. Presentation of lessons as well as student mastery of the curriculum should be documented. A system for review of classroom progress should be in place for the school, and individual student reports should be shared with parents. Parents should have the ability to review student records as well as ask questions and address concerns with their child's teacher. Urban Garden Montessori utilizes a web-based program called Montessori Compass, which allows teachers to record lessons and student progress and generate progress reports to be shared with parents. Progress reports also include general information about the student's progress and social development. These are sent to parents a week prior to teacher conferences, allowing adequate time for families to review the reports. At conferences, both the student and the parents meet with our classroom teachers to review the student's progress, allow parents to ask questions, and address any concerns.
5. Is the governance of the school set up to ensure longterm success?
When looking at a Montessori school, ask how the school's governing body is set up and what succession planning exists. The school's governance structure should provide for longterm sustainability of leadership and governance and a plan for carrying out the school's mission over time. Urban Garden Montessori has a Board of Trustees, which is entrusted with the longterm strategic planning and oversight of the school. The Board has delegated operational management of the school to the Head of School, who is an employee of the Board (and can be replaced by the Board). The Board's members are committed members of the community, who are independent of the school's administration and employees. This allows for clear delineation of responsibilities, oversight and accountability within the school, and a sustainable governance structure that will outlive any current members of the faculty and administration. Although there is parent representation on the Board, the Board is not primarily made up of parents of currently enrolled students. This helps ensure that the Board maintains its focus on longer term planning and mission oversight, rather than operational management of the school.
6. Is the school well-equipped, safe, and in compliance with regulatory and legal requirements?
As with any daycare or school, it is a good idea to view the facilities and ask about safety and applicable regulatory licensing requirements. Schools should have written plans in place to address natural, medical, and other disasters as well as ensuring the safety of students by being adequately staffed. Urban Garden Montessori has developed and implemented an Emergency Response Plan, received feedback from emergency response experts, and all of its employees have all received training on emergency procedures as well as CPR, first aid, administration of rescue medications such as EpiPens, asthma inhalers, and Diastat. Fire extinguishers, exits, and first aid supplies are checked monthly. As required by Arkansas law, Urban Garden conducts monthly fire and tornado drills. We are proud that in every fire drill we have conducted, we have completed evacuated the school in under two minutes! Urban Garden is licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education. Classroom ratios meet or exceed state requirements for each age group, and there are always at least two adults present anytime children are present at the school.
Of course, these are only the minimum requirements that ensure the school is an authentic Montessori school and meets basic educational standards. Review the school's mission and facility and talk with school admissions personnel or administration, as well as classroom teachers, to ensure the school is a good fit for your family and that it provides a nurturing and suitable environment for your child. Some areas that you may wish to address, depending on your family's needs, are religious affiliation or policies about religious observations, parent involvement at the school, ability to accommodate dietary restrictions, presence of a school nurse, approach to discipline, ability to accommodate students with learning differences, and after school programing.