COLUMBIA CITY — A learning environment where students help lead their education — this partly describes the Montessori education model, a model that Whitley County Consolidated Schools is considering adding to its education offerings.

School superintendent Laura McDermott appeared before the WCCS board of trustees with a proposal to implement a Montessori learning approach for the district. It would be a program offering at Mary Raber Elementary School.

McDermott noted to the board that in the last seven years attendance at Mary Raber had dropped approximately 20%. Hoping to save the school from the risk of closure, school officials began to consider new options the district could provide for its families. After becoming more acquainted with the Montessori learning model, McDermott said it felt like a good fit.

“We feel like it aligns with the educational values of Eagle Tech Academy,” she told the board.

Several years ago Eagle Tech Academy opened its doors to high school students who wanted a different learning environment than the traditional school model. Eagle Tech is structured with teachers offering the tools and questions to guide students, but the learning and research is conducted by them.

Montessori takes a similar approach. It’s named after Maria Montessori, an Italian woman, who was looking for a teaching method that would meet the needs of the students in her community. She developed her method, which, as explained by McDermott, emphasizes the independence of the child as they follow and learn about their environment based on their interests.

Curriculum is led by student choice. Classrooms are designed to be quiet, calm environments with neutral colors that doesn’t distract from student focus. Instructional materials are laid out for the children to see, allowing them the opportunity to choose the work they want to focus on.

“It’s encouraging independence and student ownership of their work,” said McDermott.

This is a place to start for the younger students, between the ages of 3 and 5 years-old, and McDermott noted the classrooms would have multiple ages in them — 3 to 5 in one, 6 to 9 in another and 9 to 12 in another.

“The older kids can help teach the younger kids,” said McDermott. “It has a family feel because these students are together for three years.”

By the 6 to 9 age group, McDermott students will begin to learn more about planning, setting up weekly calendars of what they want to do and expanding on it. By the ages of 9 to 12, McDermott said the classroom will put a greater emphasis on student’s doing their own research, learning to work both independently and with others, as well as how to set goals.

Mary Raber would continue to offer traditional instruction, but if approved by the school board, the school will offer the Montessori path of learning to families across the district. McDermott said families would apply during normal registration, and once classes are full families would be put on a waiting list.

The school board is expected to vote on implementing this learning model by next month, and if approved McDermott hopes that the district will be able to offer the program in the fall to incoming younger students.

She added that only early education students would be able to sign up at first, and McDermott hoped that by the end of six years the program would be in full operation, adding an additional class each year.

Costs for this program, McDermott told the school board, would be similar to the other elementary education programs, teachers could begin training this summer.

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