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Does education have a future?

Posted by on 20 May 2016
Does education have a future? That is the question that guides the film project that Jan Selby and I embarked on several years ago. Now we are in full swing, working to bring to life the beautiful stories we are discovering about what Montessori education has to offer our shared future.
 
We’ve come a long way since the first spark of inspiration to make a film that tells the story we have experienced through our own children.  We took time to research and learn about the work of Montessori schools and leaders throughout the country. We shared our vision with so many who listened, believed, and became our first supporters. Now we are in production, filming in some (but not all) beautiful Montessori programs – independent, charter, and public schools. 
 
It was hard to decide how to tell this story – and it is still unfolding as we continue filming. I have learned through this process of making my first documentary film the humbling power of observation and letting the story emerge
 
There are some things we are committed to doing through this film and those goals have guided us:
Embrace the vision we all share of Montessori schools being available to all children, 
Correct the myths people hold about Montessori education, and 
Help guide the discovery of Montessori for the broader audience who has yet to discover its power to change lives.
 
We are committed to sharing what is beautiful, unique, and necessary in Montessori education, including multi-age classrooms, highly trained teachers, thoughtfully prepared environments, developmentally appropriate materials, and the power of strong communities. 
 
We believe that what we have chosen will build a story we can all embrace as a narrative to guide the Montessori movement. These stories, taken together, will help illustrate what so many parents, children, and educators have embraced in Montessori communities everywhere. Here are the building blocks:
 
Lumin Education, Dallas, Texas. At the core of the Lumin Education philosophy is a commitment to start early and engage parents.  For the children whose lives have been touched by Lumin Education schools in Dallas, gaps in education are closing and graduation rates and college attendance are growing significantly. 
 
Through the inspiring leadership of founder and executive director Terry N. Ford, the Lumin schools have transformed the lives of families in some of the lowest wealth communities in Dallas. The program starts with home visits to parents of infants that are led by peer educators. Although the schools only go through the third grade, Lumin has demonstrated the increased success of students who attend their schools by tracking them through high school graduation and beyond. 
 
City Garden Montessori School, St. Louis, Missouri. This charter school demonstrates how a community’s intentional commitment to fighting racism intersects with its Montessori philosophy, transforming students, families, teachers, and the community beyond the school. The racial tension and segregation experienced in St. Louis led City Garden’s executive director Christie Huck and her colleagues to establish a racially integrated Montessori program that practices the grace, courtesy, and cosmic learning that grounds the Montessori approach. 
 
In this school community, children learn the skills of collaboration and problem solving as they master traditional academic knowledge. Children and families work with school staff to practice both the racial healing that is necessary to address historic oppression and the activism to build a more just community.  The success of this program has created new opportunities for leadership as the school staff initiates conversations with the broader community to preserve affordable housing for their families.
Lake Country School, Minneapolis, Minnesota/ Land School, Glenwood City, Wisconsin. Lake Country is a 40-year-old independent Montessori school that serves children from Children’s House through eighth grade. This story will focus on how the school empowers adolescents.  The Lake Country junior high program is highly regarded as a model for applying the Montessori methodology to adolescent education, focusing on the developmental needs of the adolescent and nurturing their nascent adulthood.  Beyond academics, the junior high program offers opportunities for every student to experience working with their hands on a Land School in rural Wisconsin, as well as experiential learning through an end-of-year 100-mile bike trip. 
 
Another significant thread of this story is Lake Country’s role as an independent school and catalyst for the growth of Montessori programs in the greater Twin Cities community, including the development of several charter schools that are thriving in diverse neighborhoods. These include Bright Water Montessori, located in an under-resourced part of the city, and Great River School, which draws students from elementary through high school in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. 
 
Montessori Center of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota. The Montessori Center of Minnesota (MCM) offers AMI teacher-training programs for the primary and elementary levels, and has been an anchor for the growth of Montessori in Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond. Led by internationally recognized Montessorian Molly O’Shaughnessy, the MCM has also committed to expanding culturally grounded Montessori opportunities in communities that have not had access to high-quality (Montessori) education in the past. 
 
The MCM has been instrumental in the founding of a Spanish language Children’s House in South Minneapolis, an American Indian program that offers both Dakota and Ojibwe language, the first Hmong Montessori program in the world, and Cornerstone Montessori situated next to a public housing development as well physically connected to the training center.  Students and families connected to these schools are enjoying measurable, positive outcomes. All of these environments demonstrate the unparalleled adaptability of the Montessori approach as it respects and builds on the cultural experience of children and their families.
 
Milwaukee Public Schools – Montessori Programs, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Public Schools is home to the largest district Montessori program in the country, with seven schools serving students from Children’s House through high school. 
 
The history, growth and success of public Montessori schools in Milwaukee demonstrate how key elements, including the availability of training (both AMI and AMS), internal school district support, and a strong parent and educator advocacy community have come together to make widespread Montessori education possible. This success has come with challenges, from securing public funding for early childhood programs to the push for licensure through Montessori training. 
 
This story will explore the policy strategies that make public Montessori possible, and offer lessons for other communities working to make Montessori education available to all children. 
 
What’s Next? We have accomplished so much yet still have a big part of the journey to complete before we deliver a finished film.  Our goal is to deliver the final film in 2017. 
 
Our final big challenge is to secure the balance of the funds needed. Our Indiegogo campaign aims to raise $100,000. This will support completing all filming in 2017. 
 
We will then move into the post-production phase when we will edit the hours of content into a beautiful feature-length film that can be shared by the entire Montessori community. We will need to raise funds to support this final significant stage of the process.
 
We would not be here without the support of Montessori leadership and organizations.  We are deeply grateful for your belief in us and the value of this project from the beginning.   We look forward to working together to continue making Montessori available to more children.  Education does have a future, thanks to you. 
 
www.donatepinktower.org

Vina Kay

May 20, 2016

 

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