District ready to expand Montessori

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The Steamboat Springs School District is moving ahead with plans to offer a second Montessori class next year.

The parents of almost two dozen rising third-, fourth- and fifth-graders have committed to enrolling their students in an upper-elementary Montessori class for the 2005-06 school year, Superintendent Donna Howell said Tuesday. As of late last week, the district had commitments from seven third-graders, eight fourth-graders and seven fifth-graders.

"As long as those (numbers) hold, we'll advertise and go ahead with hiring (a teacher)," Howell said. "We're pretty comfortable it's going to go."

The district will continue to offer a lower-elementary Montessori class for students in grades one and two. Howell said she expects at least 26 students for the lower-elementary class.

The district's Montessori program began this school year with one lower-elementary class at Strawberry Park Elementary School. The class serves first-, second- and third-graders. The Montessori program is open to all interested families, regardless of where their student currently attends school.

Creating an upper-elementary class is a natural progression for the young Montessori program, Howell said.

"We've always said that an upper-elementary class would be ideal," she said.

Howell decided against creating an upper-elementary Montessori class last fall because she didn't think there was sufficient interest from families. The decision upset some Montessori advocates who thought there were enough students for a second class.

On Tuesday, parent Tony Requist said the increased interest from parents for an upper-elementary class is good news for the Montessori program.

"We're really excited by the interest," said Requist, a member of the parent group that initially pushed the district for a Montessori program. "Hopefully, the Montessori program is on its way to just being a part of the district."

Strawberry Park Principal John DeVincentis said students and parents have been happy with the first-year program. Adding an upper-elementary class is essential for the long-term success of the program, he said.

But some of the program's success will have to be measured by how well Montessori students perform on state-required assessments such as the Colorado Student Assessment Program tests, DeVincentis said.

"It will be interesting to watch, as time goes by, how successful those classes will be based on state standards," he said.

In the meantime, the district will search for a teacher certified to teach an upper-elementary Montessori class, Howell said. The district also will have to purchase a new set of Montessori classroom materials, which cost about $30,000.

Montessori is a century-old education method that emphasizes self-directed learning using a variety of hands-on materials. Montessori classrooms are multi-age, a setting intended to foster collaboration and respect between older and younger students. Montessori students typically work alone or in small groups. The method also encourages active learning and self-discovery.

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