"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" said the little blue engine as she chugged faster and faster to the top of the mountain. And she could, of course. She did. The little blue engine saved the day by successfully pulling the stranded train full of good things for girls and boys over the mountain and into the valley where the children lay sleeping. Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could, published in 1930, was my favorite picture book as a child and the little blue engine my favorite heroine. Sure, she was kind and a lovely shade of blue, but more importantly she was a strong female character. She was useful! She did important stuff that helped children! And she did it at the end of a long day even after all of the self-important macho engines said, "I pull the likes of you? Indeed not."
It never occured to me until preparing this post, that The Little Engine That Could, which was read to me over and over again - as many times as I wanted, by my devoted babysitter Arnetha Trent - might have been key to the formation of my beliefs about society. Perhaps it was this determined little engine that opened my eyes to the truth that not everyone wants what's best for children. After all, if three out of four engines are not willing to pull a train filled with fresh milk, veggies, toys, and candy (just enough for an after-dinner treat, mind you) over the mountain to the children in the valley? Something's not right in the world. Four-year-old girls notice things like that.
I use this newly discovered self-knowledge as a metaphor because our school, the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL), has been called by some, "The Little School That Could." We are small and we operate on a tight budget, but do a lot with what we have. We offer 10 different programs for over 200 children, ages one to nine years, and we make it all happen in seven classrooms on our five-acre campus. We are a non-profit, parent-owned school which means when something needs to be done, whether it's adding an elementary program or building a new sand box, the families and staff work together to make it happen. This willingness to collaborate and create the best possible environment for children is the source of our strength. It's why we are known as the scrappy little school that's brought respect, independence, and a love of learning to the girls and boys of the Wabash Valley for over 42 years.
Clearly, I'm proud of our little Montessori school. It's been my extended family since my daughter started preschool here in 1998. And it has chugged its way up more than a few metaphorical mountains. But I'm especially proud today as I share news that not only is MSGL still making a difference in the lives of its families, it's poised to make a difference in the lives of families across the country. Our accrediting organization, the American Montessori Society (AMS), delivered three such helpings of good news this week. First we learned that we were featured in the quarterly publication Montessori Life for our parent development program, "Bringing Montessori Home." This event took place in January and will be offered again this year. You can read it here:
Then we learned that we were selected to present "Bringing Montessori Home" at the AMS National Conference in March. All of MSGL's lead teachers will be traveling to Chicago, March 11 - 13th, 2016, to take part in this presentation to other Montessori teachers, administrators, and parents from all over the United States. You can read more about the conference here:
Finally, the AMS Board of Directors officially approved our school reaccreditation this week. The two-year reaccreditation process involved a lengthy self-study of our educational philosophy and practices, business practices, and plans for growth and improvement. An on-site team visited the school in March to verify that MSGL's practices are in-line with the AMS standards and our own self-study documentation. The team reported that their visit to MSGL was the most organized they have experienced mostly because of the work of our own Lena Atkinson, Office Manager and Parent/Infant Teacher. Lena organized all of the school's documents online so the reaccreditation team could simply follow links to view documents instead of sorting through file cabinets. Now, Lena has been asked to host a webinar to show other schools how she used tech to improve the tedious reaccreditation process. Reaccreditation with AMS occurs every seven years. Congratulations to the staff, board, and families who have been working toward reaccreditation since August, 2013 and to all future MSGL families who will benefit from it! You can read more about the value of the AMS accreditation process here:
So, it's been a big week and we are pleased with the school's good work. We are excited that others in the Montessori community appreciate that good things can come in small, scrappy packages. But I can't say we are surprised by the news. Just like my favorite little blue engine, we always thought we could.
Thanks for reading, Heather
These class photos from 1973 and 1974 were recently shared by Jan Dilley who, along with Jan Knote, is a founding mother of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. MSGL opened in 1972 with one preprimary class. Unfortunately we are unable to find a class photo from that first year. These two photos represent the second and third years that MSGL was in operation inside the Temple Israel in West Lafayette.
1973 - MSGL preprimary class
1974 - MSGL preprimary class
Do you know anyone in these photos? We would love to hear from you in the comments section.
AMS Accreditation Visiting Team: Brenda Huth, Laura Bowen-Pope, Heather Gerheim-Gladden, Micah Earle
We are pleased to announce that our two-year re-accreditation process with the American Montessori Society (AMS) is finally behind us and MSGL performed very well. Although our re-accreditation will not be officially announced until later this summer, all indications are that we met or exceeded the standards. Those standards include the areas of: Vision and Purpose, Leadership and Governance, Teaching and Learning, Documenting and Using Results, Personnel, Facility Resources, Records and Support Systems, Stakeholder Communication and Relationships, and Commitment to Continuous Improvement.
The AMS onsite team arrived on Sunday, March 29th. Members included Brenda Huth, Ft. Wayne, Indiana; Micah Earle, Chantilly, VA; Laura Bowen-Pope, Woodinville, WA; and Heather Gerheim-Gladden, Brecksville, OH. The team toured the school and conducted interviews with the administrative staff, current and alumni parents, and the MSGL Board.
Angie and Somdatta charm the visiting team in the Birch Room
We are so grateful to the parents who took time Sunday afternoon to share stories of their experiences with our school. Thank you to Tiina Jaagosild, Melissa Law-Penrose, Melissa Fraterrigo, Ginette Roos, Janet Lee, Genevieve Wang, Tony Harvey, and Gretchen Freese. We were especially honored that MSGL’s founders, Jan Dilley and Jan Knote, shared their stories of how they started MSGL back in 1971. “The Two Jan’s,” as they are affectionately called, are very proud of the continued success of the little school that grew out of their dreams and the dreams of the eight families who initially pooled their resources to open its doors in 1972.
Jan Dilley and Jan Knote, founders of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette
Current and alumni parents share experiences of MSGL with the visiting team
MSGL alumni parents Mary and Dwight McKay hosted a welcome dinner Sunday evening in their home for the board, staff, and visiting team. The evening was the perfect opportunity for the team to see how important MSGL is to our community and for us to learn about the hometowns and Montessori schools of the four team members.
Hilary Cooke and Fay Mentzer at the welcome dinner
Brenda Huth and Mr. Dilley share a joke
Monday and Tuesday allowed little time for socializing as the team was busy observing classrooms, interviewing teachers, and reviewing documents. Some of our families provided homemade goodies for the team to snack on during the day. Thank you to Amy VanHorn, Joni Lane, and Abby Christiansen for the treats! In the evenings, the team wrote up reports about all they had learned during the day.
On Wednesday morning, the team presented its exit report to the steering committee. The report was comprised of commendations and recommendations for the continued excellence and growth of the school. The team was moved by the level of parent involvement and the joy shown by the MSGL children. Team chair Brenda Huth praised the teachers for their willingness to “wear many hats” and work where they are needed. Lena Atkinson was also commended for her work in preparing all of the school’s documents so they could be accessible online. Lena’s work made this the most organized onsite visit the team has ever experienced and they hope she will share her ideas at the 2016 AMS National Conference in Chicago.
Angie Shamo and Anita Trent discuss spring plans for the Oak Room Garden.
The AMS re-accreditation process takes place every seven years. When completed, families can be assured that the school operates according to the high expectations set by this national organization. We are currently one of only five Montessori schools in all of Indiana that are accredited. We could not have completed this process without the help of the staff and families who have worked for the past two years preparing themselves and the campus for this visit. Have you helped inventory library books or helped mend classroom materials? Have you shoveled mulch and washed windows at parent workdays? Have you swept sidewalks and helped maintain the buildings on your days off? Have you made donations to our classrooms or scholarship fund? You are one of the generous MSGL family members who continue to make this a great little family-run school. MSGL can’t happen without all of you. Thank you for the love and support you show MSGL. We look forward to seeing what the next seven years will bring.
Here are some very familiar faces from around 2000. They are posing with Miss Terri, former ADP assistant teacher in classroom A at the Morton Community Center.
Chloe Garwood, Molly ?, Grace Harvey, Miss Terri C, Melina Pajor, Cami Brown, Nikolas Gamarra, Roxanne Harvey
Thanks to the timeless quality of Montessori materials, it seems that only the faces have changed in these photos from MSGL classrooms in 2000.
It's a genuine Polaroid photo and the genuine Mr. Jeff presenting abstract computations with the Stamp Game.
We still use the same dishwashing stands in the classroom today.
Miss Chloe has been preparing the environment at MSGL for a long time.
The Unifix Cubes are not a Montessori material but they allow for counting, sorting, color recognition, and provide a clear control of error.
It just feels good to put the colored pencils in their matching holders.
Taking the spindles out of the boxes reinforces the counting activity used to put them in - and it builds concentration.
Two friends can work together on the Teen Boards. They are matching the quantity with the symbol and witing the numerals.
Using scissors is classified as a language activity because it builds hand-eye coordination and strengthens the hand muscles required for writing.
A comfy chair is better when it's big enough for two.
And finally, what is Steve building?
I hope that was as fun for you as it was for me! Have a warm and wonderful Wednesday. ~Heather
Let's recap our Building MSGL series on Wayback Wednesday. Montessori Parents, Inc. purchased the Calvary Baptist Church on Soldiers Home Road in 1999. Demolition of the interior began in September, 2000. Now it's December, 2000 and the stud walls are in place so that wiring, plumbing, and drywall work can begin.
Looking toward the Oak Room in Building B.
Standing in Catalpa looking through the wall into the Oak Room.
Looking out the door of the Maple Room into the office hallway.
Here's the view walking in the office door.
Here's that same view just a couple of months later.
This is the Maple Room looking toward the stairs.
This is the Willow Room looking toward the kitchen area.
And here is the Spruce Room filled with drywall supplies.
The Harvey & Son Construction crew. Steve, Don, Nolan, and Tony working over Thanksgiving Break.
That's all for this week. Have a terrific Wednesday!
If there truly is a flashback movie that plays in our heads just before we die, the remodeling of the MSGL buildings will certainly be a part of mine. And the sweaty people covered in dust will be in it too, smiling (mostly) like they were in these photos from the first week of demolition.
The following pictures represent some of my favorite memories of the building project because we were all so young and optimistic. We didn't truly grasp what working for six months through the winter with no electricity and no toilets and no babysitters would be like. So many parents, teachers, spouses, and extended family members gave their days off and their nights and weekends to prepare this space to be our new and improved Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. They did it for free and, most importantly, they did it with a sense of humor.
Dragging the folding partitions out of the basement.
The above photo brings to mind a particularly disheartening day. The church basement was divided up into classrooms by these heavy, orange, folding partitions. Before we could start cutting into the concrete floors and tearing out the ceilng, we had to remove all of these partitions. Did I mention that they were extremely heavy? So heavy, in fact, that we couldn't move them once we got them detached and rolled up on the floor. I recall seeing Craig Lamb, Beth Nichols, and Tony Harvey pushing on them with all of their might and they just weren't budging. The wise, manly men in our group decided to drag them out of the basement using the Bobcat. Don Harvey did just that. As Tony, project manager, recalled, "That part of the demolition was really brutal. You would go in and see what was going to beat the heck out of you that day."
Just like in a Montessori classroom, every volunteer found a niche. Some of the parents didn't want to see anything go to waste, so they took out the light fixtures and the doors and anything that might be of value and marked it for a remodeling sale we had a few weeks later.
Ellie's mom is organizing the salvaged items in the future toddler room.
One of the reasons we had such a dedicated group of volunteers is that demolition work is really fun! After a long day we could put on our grubby clothes and work gloves, grab a Wonder Bar and tear into the drywall and studs.
Ron and Cathy Stier.
Beth working in the future River Birch room.
Beth and Cathy take out nails so we could re-use the studs.
Tools like the Sawzall made the job a lot more fun. This volunteer is standing in what is now the Willow room.
Tony unloads another wheelbarrow of debris.
Water girls, Gaia and Grace.
The author was concerned about lawn maintenance.
I was really worried that the lawn would grow too long and we would look like bad neighbors. This was the first and last time I mowed the entire campus with a push mower.
That week was lots of fun, but I'm glad it's done. Have a great Wednesday!