Montessori, public school system to wed

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At least one classroom in Strawberry Park Elementary School will take on a whole new look come August, when the district expects to begin a multi-year Montessori strand pilot program.

The Montessori method, created by Italian Dr. Maria Montessori about a century ago, emphasizes a sense of community, mutual respect among students of differing age and ability levels, hands-on learning materials and independent and small-group learning.

Montessori classrooms typically don't have desks or textbooks, and students often don't receive traditional letter grades. Students usually are free to move around the classroom as they work with different learning materials, and multi-age classrooms help older students reinforce knowledge through sharing it with their younger peers while providing the younger students with instructional assistants besides the teacher.

Steamboat Springs School District officials are unclear exactly how the strand will be implemented, mostly because they're not sure how many students will be interested in the method and how the multi-age classroom or classrooms will be set up. A minimum of 22 students will be required before the strand is created, and the district plans to gauge enrollment interest quickly. The strand won't reflect a pure Montessori method but will incorporate many of its techniques.

Superintendent Donna Howell and Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis say they're bringing a proven educational method to the district, which will offer a new instructional system for students who could benefit from something other than what' s provided in a traditional classroom setting.

The district hopes to recruit an elementary school teacher from either Strawberry Park or Soda Creek to attend Montessori training in Boulder during the summer. That teacher will be paid a stipend for his or her time in training.

"Having a teacher from within our staff take the Montessori position" would help limit the possibility of staff and student isolation, DeVincentis said. District officials in Carbondale say its staff feels as though the division of traditional and Montessori classes has resulted in an uncomfortable feeling of separation. DeVincentis said he doesn't expect anything but positive results from bringing a Montessori strand to his school.

"The staff was very receptive," DeVincentis said Monday night after sharing the possibility of a strand with his teachers earlier in the afternoon. "I hope we will get a teacher from our building, and I think it will be something that will go over well at our school."

Soda Creek teachers also will be given the opportunity to apply for the position.

School district officials and Montessori supporters will begin work immediately to communicate to parents the differences in Montessori methods and those of more traditional classrooms in an effort to give parents the information needed to make the most informed educational choices for their children.

The strand will be aligned with state content standards, and Montessori students will take all district and state assessments.

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