Learn about the Montessori method at http://www.ssmontessori.com/
Steamboat Springs When Lesa Radford started a small Montessori school on Pine Street in 1996, she embraced a big challenge.
With an inaugural class of 11 students, Radford said she had to work hard to promote and grow the alternative form of education that remains foreign to many parents in the Yampa Valley.
“I often thought I paid too high of a price too soon,” she said about starting the campus.
Montessori's tenure in Steamboat Springs since the inception of Radford's Yampa Valley Montessori Education Center hasn't gotten much easier.
Some Montessori parents still lament today that the teaching method is misunderstood and unknown to many.
There also are some financial hurdles to overcome.
Parents can send their children to Strawberry Park Elementary School's full-day kindergarten program for a fraction of the cost of a private Montessori kindergarten education.
And in March, the Steamboat Springs School District announced it was cutting its upper elementary Montessori program in part because of the program's low enrollment.
But inside a house at East Maple and McKinley streets, the 15-year-old Montessori program Radford founded is ready to launch another school year with 22 students and new energy.
On Sunday, teachers at what is now Steamboat Springs Montessori showed off their school's new greenhouse where students will grow produce and learn about healthy eating habits.
They watched as children tested out the improvements to their playground.
They also gave tours of the schoolhouse that will open with new cubby spaces and a renovated classroom.
“It's time this school took off,” Radford, the lead teacher at the campus, said at the open house on the eve of the first day of classes.
The school's founder recently took a six-year break from the campus, but she said she's excited to resume a teaching role and be part of the program's growth.
“We've been here going on 16 years. It's time the school made these changes,” Radford said. “It's past time. It's time to get things rolling. “
The open house provided a window into the alternative education program named after the Italian physician Maria Montessori.
Student Camden Weinress quietly worked on his reading skills by plucking plastic farm animals from a basket and matching them with the piece of paper containing their names. He only came over to a nearby teacher to ask what the plastic sheep he was holding was.
Students like Camden go through their lessons at their own pace and learn in a multi-age classroom with their classmates, who are ages 3 to 6.
Kristen Rockford, the school's greenhouse director, said the independent learning promoted by the Montessori method creates an interesting environment.
“You would think a preschool would be loud,” she said. “But when all of the students are focused, all you hear is a hum. People always say they are surprised at how quiet it is.”
Teachers at the campus said they were disappointed to see the Steamboat Springs School District cut a level of its Montessori programming this school year, but so far they have seen no impact in enrollment at the campus that serves as a feeder school to the public school's Montessori program.
Clare Berkey, Steamboat Montessori's new head of school, said she plans to work this year to strengthen her campus's relationship with the Montessori program at Strawberry Park.
There also are plans to continue educating the public about the programs.
“I think once people really understand (Montessori), they're hooked,” Berkey said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com