Montessori program grows

School district plans to start upper-elementary classroom

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— Although spring break starts this afternoon for Steamboat Springs students and staff members, teacher Linda Stansbery will spend much of next week inside a classroom.

Stansbery, the Montessori teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School, plans to visit at least four Montessori classrooms on the Front Range during her break. She'll be gathering information about teaching "upper elementary" Montessori to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The Steamboat Springs School District plans to start an upper-elementary Montessori classroom in September.

Strawberry Park Principal Mark MacHale said the Mont--essori program, now in its second year, is ready to grow.

"We feel really confident that there is enough interest to make (upper-elementary) a viable program. I think next year at this time we will probably have too many students," MacHale said. "We already have a fairly significant waiting list for the lower-elementary."

There are 30 children enrolled in the school's first-, second- and third-grade Montessori class. Montessori is an alternative education method that promotes independence, choices and responsibility for students. Stansbery said her role is more of a guide than a teacher. Although her students must complete one grammar and one math exercise each day, they choose when to complete the exercises as well as how and where to focus their learning through interdisciplinary projects.

"Everyone works at their own pace. If someone takes all morning to do something, it takes all morning," Stansbery said. "The kids love that they are in charge. Some of them take that responsibility very seriously."

Montessori students do most of their academic work in the morning, Stansbery said. Afternoons are for "specials," including music and art.

MacHale said specials could be a challenge next year. The two Montessori classes -- upper and lower, with between 20 and 25 students each -- will take specials together because of scheduling constraints.

"It could be a tough row to hoe for teachers who do specials, because their curriculums are not multi-age," MacHale said. "We'll kind of have to be light on our feet and ready to be flexible."

The lower-elementary class will be for first- and second-graders, and the upper elementary class will be for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. The school district has hired teacher Karen Kutska to teach the lower-elementary class so Stansbery can teach the older students.

The Montessori program is not limited to students at Strawberry Park.

"This is a districtwide option for students from both elementary schools," Soda Creek Elementary School Principal Judy Harris said.

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