Steamboat Springs Tristan Fischer wasn't shy to admit he's "a little nervous" about attending the sixth grade next year in a traditional educational setting.
The 11-year-old, one of four students who began their first-grade education as part of the Steamboat Springs School District's first Montessori class, finished school last week. In all, nine fifth-graders completed their Montessori educations when the school year ended last week.
Although Tristan admitted his apprehension about next year, he's confident the more than century-old Montessori method has prepared him for sixth grade at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
Tristan said Montessori allowed him to evolve in math, language and other subjects he'd receive instruction in through a normal classroom setting. But it's in a different way, he said.
"Montessori is basically a family where you work together to accomplish things together," he said. "One person who completed an assignment would help another person who was having trouble."
Tristan's mother, Camille Fischer, shared her son's confidence in him taking the next step to traditional education, partly because he attended all-day kindergarten in Yampa before their family moved to Steamboat Springs.
Camille Fischer said the Montessori program allowed Tristan and the other children to learn by working as part of a community, a group. She said the fact that it made her son an independent thinker before the age of 10 was "amazing."
"I just can't say enough positive things about it," she said.
The program began before the 2004-05 school year after a group of parents lobbied the district to add the program. One of those parents was Carrie Requist, whose daughter Melissa was one of the four original students in the program. Requist said the local Montessori group felt strongly about the educational model and thought it was a better method for some children than traditional education.
The other two students who began first grade as part of the Montessori program are Alida Patterson and Jackie Poirot.
Montessori teacher Linda Stansbery, who moved from the lower to the upper level to stay with her original class, said that despite the fact some of her students will be attending traditional school for the first time next year, they're more than ready.
Stansbery has taught for 39 years, including more than 30 in a traditional classroom setting in Arkansas before moving to Steamboat. She said many of her students are educated above their grade levels because the program is set up to allow them to work at their own pace. She said Montessori education gives students more control of their individual learning.
"It's amazing what kinds can accomplish when they take responsibility for their goals, when they're intrinsically motivated," she said.
Stansbery added that even though the curriculum in her Montessori classroom is different than that of traditional education, her students still are required to take Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP, testing. And they're on the same grading system as students who attend Strawberry Park Elementary School, where her classroom is located, she said.
Last year, 47 students attended Montessori in the district's first- through fifth-grade programs in Stansbery's upper class and Karen Kutska's lower class. Demand for the program has grown throughout the years, Stansbery said. Space is limited because there are only two teachers, and students have been placed on waiting lists.
Michele Miller, Strawberry Park co-principal, said 16 children are on the waiting list for the 2009-10 school year. She said it's not clear how many of those children would move into the program after the school year began, but their parents expressed interest in Montessori during the May sign-up period.
Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the advantage to having Montessori is being able to offer alter an alternative program for students who learn in different ways.
She understands the demand and said there have been discussions about expanding the program.
"We'll just see if there's room or ability to do that in the next few years," Cunningham said.
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