Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My letter to that Montessori School

The following is the letter that I sent to Summit Montessori School in Framingham after my visit to their open house and the conversation I described in my notes posted earlier (notes and letter have been edited to conform with my standards for using initials of names only on my blog).

This was not the kind of situation that was "complaint worthy" in terms of making a formal complaint and actually requesting that something specific is done about it and expecting results. I feel pretty certain that I am uninterested in submitting an admissions application for M. in this school, largely because of that particular experience. However, I did feel like it might be useful for the school to be aware of the situation, whether or not they chose to do anything about it. I felt that at the very least, they ought to have the privilege of hearing my experience so they could do with it what they like.

Dear Summit Montessori School,

As the parent of a prospective student who will turn three this week, I came to your open house today. Your Director of Admissions, J.M., noticed and kindly complimented me on a form I made to use in my visits to Montessori schools. She asked me what my source was for this form. It was a form I had created for my own use. I’ve enclosed a copy in case you would find it useful in any manner.

I want to thank you for the time your staff took with me during my visit to the school. I had many questions, and I really appreciated that you were all so patient with me, giving me plenty of time to ask my questions.

The visit to the school was enlightening. I am a parent in [name of city], and we are considering a move to [name of city] if we find the right school in the area. As I am sure is the case with all parents, decisions I am making about my son’s education are deeply important to me and have already involved many hours of research, touring schools (all Montessori, as I have chosen this method because of my background and commitment to the model and my son’s responsiveness to it), and reflection. The decision about the school my child will attend is one I will not enter into lightly.

This was also one of the saddest days in my life as a parent.

I have been a parent for a number of years now. Before adopting my son, and having my younger foster daughter placed with us as a foster-adopt placement, my partner and I had foster parented children up through the age of fifteen. As you can imagine, I have had many profoundly sad and profoundly joyful times. This day will be among the saddest days of parenthood for me because it is representative of the “no admission” sign on so many doors that my son will encounter through his life.

I’ve enclosed some notes from a conversation I had with J.M. toward the end of my visit. I hope they are helpful for you.

Before you read these notes, however, I would like you to know the following things. I have experience with Montessori. My mother formerly taught in a Montessori school. Though I did not attend a Montessori school as a child, my mother brought some of Montessori’s approach into our home life (and also modeled parts of the method for me in the year she homeschooled my younger brother). As an adult whose vocation is Religious Education/Family Ministry, I have studied educational models in great depth, and developed an ever-growing and cherished commitment to Montessori’s method.

I have been trained in a Montessori model of Religious Education (Spirit Play, a version of Godly Play), and prior to moving to Massachusetts, as head of [a Religious Education/Family Ministry in name of city and state], I worked to start a Spirit Play program that tripled in size by its third year. I watched a certified Montessori teacher who had additionally been trained in Spirit Play, as well as teachers trained only in Spirit Play, transform the culture of that ministry. I spent a minimum of one-and-a-half hours per week in a children’s Spirit Play classroom, which included children with special needs.

The “Montessori way” is integrated into my own children’s home life. In fact, I took my son to visit one Montessori school where a teacher commented, “Wow! He takes right to this model. Look at his response, with virtually no orientation from me. He could start tomorrow! What a sweetie!”

My son is a loving, sensitive, gentle, affectionate, curious child with an incredible memory and a strong ability to creatively solve problems. He has experienced a lot in his short life, but demonstrates tenacity, courage, persistence, resilience, and a will to not only survive but to thrive. He has a great sense of humor, and is a delightful human being. He is very loved by a diverse group of kids and adults alike. He wants to learn, and like all people, he wants to participate in the world in meaningful ways.

My son also has developmental delays. He is slightly “behind” other children his age in all areas of development, and significantly delayed in language development. He isn’t able to communicate everything that he understands, and the signs that he is paying attention are not always obvious (for example, he may not make eye contact because the convergence and divergence of muscles in the eyes is tiring), but he is observant and interested in the world. Because his birthparents both require assisted living, it is possible that he will experience some lifelong challenges. Despite this, some days it is possible to forget he has special needs altogether. Like all three year olds, my son is a wonder-filled, observant individual striving to create meaning in his little world.

Though I am not convinced all these things should matter, my son, by the way, can fairly-independently dress and undress himself, can drink out of an open cup, can feed himself (though he struggles some with the use of flatware, which can be tough for him to manipulate, and does tend to resort to finger foods), can walk and run and climb (though he can’t jump), can manage stairs with railing independently, can open and shut doors with care, and is learning to use the toilet. [All of the above are important skills children are taught in a Montessori setting.]

Thank you again for your time, and I do very much hope the enclosed items [primarily the notes from my conversation with Director of Admissions] are useful to you as you continue to grow your lovely school.



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