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George Bannerman Dealey Montessori

All children benefit from an education that helps them develop into capable people who are lifelong learners and doers. The Montessori method, developed by Dr. Maria Montessori a century ago from her work with underserved children in Rome, delivers that education. But in America, Montessori historically has not been accessible to all children. Available mainly through expensive private programs, Montessori has often eluded lower-income families. However, Montessori leaders are working to change that by making their programs a part of public school district offerings, expanding the approach to reach more children and meet demand for affordable developmental education.

The approach is based on the idea that children naturally and eagerly learn from their surroundings, aligning with the Ideal Learning Principles that emphasize the importance of the classroom environment, power of exploration, and value of teachers guiding students into new areas of growth. In addition, a mix of different-aged students in the classroom lets younger children learn from older peers and helps older children reinforce their learning by teaching concepts they have already mastered while developing leadership skills. For early learners, activities are based around the senses and hands-on exploration and experimentation. For example, young children learn math concepts through multisensory Montessori materials—leading the students from concrete manipulations to abstract thinking—and reading using three-dimensional letters that are moved around to make words. Other characteristics of the method include self-directed learning, which helps children build confidence; a deep-rooted appreciation for discovery; and respect for children’s ability to make their own choices, which helps them develop independence.

In Texas, a collaboration between a public school and a private Montessori teacher training program is bringing developmental early learning to children from many different backgrounds. In 1990 Shelton Montessori Training helped the Dallas Independent School District determine which of their existing schools could house the Montessori program they wished to open. Teachers from George Bannerman Dealey Montessori now work with Shelton Montessori Training to obtain Montessori credentials. Dealey, an elementary school serving children in pre-K through sixth grade, is economically and racially diverse: 28% of students are Hispanic, 10% African American, and 20% identify as “other.” Overall, a quarter of the students come from low-income backgrounds. Shelton also coaches teachers from Dealey and other schools to help them spot early signs of learning differences, use assessments to determine what strategies will work best for each child, and adapt their Montessori teaching in ways that facilitate learning concepts and work for all students.

Montessori makes a visible difference for public school students. Dealey significantly outperforms the rest of the Dallas Independent School District: in 2017, 94% of Dealey students had kindergarten-ready scores, compared to 51% at the district level and 60% at the national level. Most importantly, the students exhibit a zeal for learning that is essential for creating lifelong learners who thrive in childhood and throughout adulthood. Co-Director of Shelton Montessori Training Gulzar Babool observed on a recent visit to a Dealey classroom that learning was truly coming alive. “Lightbulbs were going on. Students were making lots of connections. Children were really enjoying the process of learning. And they didn’t want to leave their work,” she noted.

Recent studies of public Montessori programs show that Dealey’s success is not an anomaly. Angeline Lillard’s long-term study of a high-fidelity Montessori public preschool program in Hartford, CT found that the public Montessori preschool produced positive outcomes for all children, regardless of socioeconomic background or executive functioning at the outset of the program. In fact, both the Lillard study and the results from Dealey show Montessori students outperforming their peers in traditional education programs.

Dealey is bringing Ideal Learning to families that otherwise could not afford it and to children with learning differences. As a result, the school is meeting the needs of parents with young children by offering an education that helps develop children who are morally, emotionally, and intellectually prepared for the real world. Trust for Learning’s recent parent research found that parents want early childhood education experiences that prepare their children to become capable, well-rounded members of society. The success of children at Dealey illustrates how Montessori offers a whole-child education that prepares children for success in school and life.

Photos courtesy of American Montessori Society. All rights reserved.

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