When contemplating locations for Urban Garden Montessori, we considered primarily two very different locations: either downtown Little Rock or a large piece of land outside of the city. As this article explains, the model of middle and high school Montessori education on a farm, called Erdkinder, provides for so many of the unique needs of our older students through work on the land. From the social skills involved in building and running a viable farm business, to the practical life experiences of repairing a tractor, to the academic pursuits that come from solving problems such as irrigation, it is a wonderful model. We chose, however, a city school - in downtown Little Rock. Our neighbors a few blocks away are homeless citizens of our city. Traffic sometimes makes us tap our steering wheel anxiously, as we make our way into the heart of the city along with everyone else. Our building is scarred with broken windows and graffiti (though not for long!). And yet, there is no place else on earth we would want our school to be.
Being an urban school was so important to us for several reasons. The downtown of our city is alive - so many exciting things are happening right now in this city of ours! And from that, comes unlimited possibility for our students. As our students begin to explore the possibilities of their future careers, what they will find around them is community. And that is what I want for our school - that we become an integrated and vital part of Little Rock's community. Business leaders in Little Rock will know that from our school come hard-working and exceptional young people who will serve as interns and research assistants. In turn our adolescents will discover that Little Rock is a vibrant business community and their connections to excellent law firms, an academic medical center, the state's capitol, fantastic restaurants that are directly connected to local farmers and butchers... the list goes on.
And that list must include all the things that make downtown Little Rock the treasure that it is. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Clinton Library, Heifer Village, the Rivermarket, the Central Arkansas Library System Main Library, the Witt Stephens Jr. Central Arkansas Nature Center, the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, the Arkansas Arts Center, the Old Statehouse Museum, again the list goes on. Our school is not a building - it is a community. Our walls are porous. And our students
will soon discover that when they step off of our campus, a world of learning opportunities and connections awaits them.
Rather than turning away from downtown because downtowns can be dirty, our school will do its part to create beauty in an urban environment. Saving a beautiful old warehouse rather than tearing it down, planting a garden in the middle of the city, we claim this space and join the many others who are bringing life into the heart of our city. Can we help the homeless shelter grow their own garden? Can we bring families down a little-traveled street, so that perhaps that other empty building will
find its new owner? Can we bring others here, to claim their downtown for themselves, and discover all that it has to offer?
Our location will connect our students to so much. But our location is also an opportunity to live out our guiding principles.
(P.S. Stay tuned to find out the exciting ways in which we will bring the farming experience to our students in another way!)