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Montessori Academy begins raising money for new building

July 03, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Tables, chairs, shelves and other furniture crowd the sanctuary of the former church that serves as the Montessori Academy in Chambersburg, helping to illustrate its need for a new $2.5 million building the school hopes to open by the fall of 2004.

Although the rented church on Scotland Avenue serves more than 50 students from kindergarten through eighth grade and a similar number in a separate early childhood program, the furniture was moved upstairs because of flooding in the basement from recent rains, according to Executive Director Catherine Thompson. The need for more space, however, still exists.

"We've pretty much outgrown our facility," Thompson said last week, hours before the kickoff of its campaign for a new home. The school, to be built on eight acres on Ragged Edge Road in Greene Township, Pa., will allow the school to enroll up to 250 students, she said.

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That would be a far cry from the program Mary Jane Bittle started 15 years ago with just four students. She and her husband, Harry, still own the early childhood program for children as young as 3, but the academy that operates the kindergarten through eighth-grade program is now a nonprofit corporation and is raising the money for the new school.

Board members have contributed $320,000 for the project and the land has been purchased, according to Thompson. Another $450,000 is needed for the down payment on the mortgage to move the project forward.

Last week's kickoff at Penn National Golf Course in Fayetteville, Pa., featured Jeff Moredock, the chief operating officer of the National Association of Independent Schools, as the guest speaker.

What the academy hopes to open next year is the first phase of a three-phase project. The second phase, which Thompson said will take another three to five years, will be a wing for arts, sciences and music, subjects the academy already offers, but would like to expand. The final phase will be the addition of a gymnasium.

Thompson said the $2.5 million covers only phase one of the building, designed by Voith and Mactavish Architects of Philadelphia. She said cost estimates have not been developed for the other two phases.

Rather than rows of desks and a rigid course schedule in classes ranked by grades, the Montessori Academy has a more fluid structure based on the philosophy of the movement's founder, Maria Montessori, who died in 1952. Students in the independent, nondenominational school are grouped by ages, such as 3 to 6, 6 to 9, and 9 to 12.

"A child can be moving right along in math, but may be having trouble in geography and we meet that need," she said.

The curriculum integrates one subject into another, showing how one discipline relates to another.

Students who excel in one area can assist others in subjects in which they need help, Bittle said.

"They become teachers of each other," she said.

The Montessori philosophy is designed to inspire students to explore their universe, instill a lifelong commitment to learning and foster character, according to Bittle.

The new academy building will provide that environment with state-of-the-art wireless technology inside, according to Thompson. The larger campus also will allow students to work more closely with the environment outside as well, according to Bittle.

For more information about the academy and its campaign for a new school, call Thompson at 717-261-1110.

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