Montessori move 'a dream come true'

September 06, 2004|by DON AINES

The Montessori School of Chambersburg opened 16 years ago with half a dozen students in a former church on Scotland Avenue.

On Tuesday, the school starts a new year in a new $2.5 million building with 116 children ranging from toddlers to middle-schoolers.

The building at 875 Ragged Edge Road actually encompasses several programs under two owners - the Montessori School, which runs the Toddler Community and two Children's Houses, and the Montessori Academy for elementary students, run by a nonprofit corporation, according to Mary Jane Bittle.


"It was a dream come true for me. That's been my vision since I started the school" in 1988, Bittle said of the new building. She is the owner, administrator and a teacher at the Montessori School. The school includes the Toddler Community for ages 18 months to 3 years, and the Children's Houses for ages 3 to 6, she said.

In 1995, the school added an elementary program for ages 6 to 9, and an upper elementary program was added two years later, she said. The elementary program was sold to a group of parents who formed the Montessori Academy in 1999, Bittle said.

The Montessori School is a tenant in the building, which is owned by the academy, Bittle said.

Maria Montessori (1870-1952) was Italy's first woman physician and creator of the educational method that bears her name, according to The International Montessori Index Web site, In the early 1900s, Bittle said Montessori began working with a group of street children in Rome and "observed what they naturally liked to do" in developing her philosophy, Bittle said.

"The hands are the instrument of their intelligence," Bittle said.

In the Toddler Community and Children's Houses, students do not sit in rows of desks with classrooms ranked by age.

Instead, students work together or separately to learn different tasks and ideas with math, science, geography and other subjects integrated into the process, Bittle said.

"We guide and direct, we don't actually teach," she said of the faculty.

"They learn to make decisions and be committed to those decisions," she said of the students.

Because students are not all the same age, older students can work with younger ones once they have mastered a skill, Bittle said.

"There's a lot about independent learning ... Teaching kids to be lifelong learners" in the Montessori Method, said John Krebs, head of school for the academy. "It leads to kids who can function on their own."

"Things are not taught in isolation," Krebs said of the effort to relate one subject to another.

While his 36-year background is in public education, the retired principal of Waynesboro (Pa.) Area Middle School said he has seen some of Montessori's theories incorporated in public schools.

Krebs said he still has "a lot to learn" about the Montessori teaching method, but was impressed by the 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

He was also impressed by the "overwhelming parental involvement" in the school, including those who were helping move furniture and put finishing touches on the building last week.

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