Here is the MSGL team after presenting “Bringing Montessori Home” at the American Montessori Society national conference at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on March 12, 2016. Pictured from the left: Executive Director Daphne Wiles, and teachers Emily Frazier, Kelly Sallee, Ana Ramirez, Lena Atkinson, Anita Trent, Dena Saunders, Machelle French, Heather Harvey, and Angenette Shamo.
On Saturday, March 12th, ten MSGL teachers came together to present their original parent development event, "Bringing Montessori Home," to 150 teachers and administrators from around the country at the American Montessori Society's (AMS) Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
Bringing Montessori Home is a parent development course on practical life in the home. It was designed by the team to empower parents to create home environments that allow their children to be independent and successful in the activities of daily life, much as they are in their Montessori classrooms. The team worked throughout the year preparing the 90-minute presentation that took place on the last full day of the three-day conference. The presentation gave educators and administrators specific information for organizing this type of parent education event at their own schools.
Many attendees were eager to praise the group's presentation not only for its content but also for the obvious bond between the staff members. When one audience member asked how the teachers worked together to present the various components of the program, one of the MSGL staff responded that they met one-on-one and also used Google docs to bring it all together. "Yes," the audience member responded, "but how did you get everyone to work together to make this happen?" It became apparent that ten teachers in matching blue shirts at the front of the room supporting each other and having a good time was, to some educators in the audience, a most impressive feat.
Group hug! There were lots of good feelings at the culmination of a year's worth of work.
When not presenting, the teachers attended workshops about Montessori philosophy, classroom management, child development, learning differences, school administration, and exciting presentations from all areas of the Montessori Toddler, Early Childhood and Elementary classrooms. Each day a different key note speaker was featured, including psychologist Mitchel Adler, lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, and poet Sarah Kay.
The teachers also had time to shop in the vendor hall where they could see and touch the classic Montessori materials as well as supplemental materials. Each class received $180 from the Payless/Kroger Cares fundraiser that they could spend on materials at the conference. Several classrooms also received generous donations from families that they used to buy new materials.
Dena and Lena with the giant pink tower at the Nienhuis booth.
Everyone was thrilled to be chauffeured to the event by Epic Limo of Valparaiso, Indiana. Teacher Angie Shamo's brother Brian Sheely owns the transportation company and made sure the ladies had a safe and fun trip to and from Chicago in the party bus.
Ana, Angie, and Kelly are ready to go on the party bus!
A few of the teachers enjoyed presenting at the conference so much that they have submitted proposals for next year's national conference in San Diego. Good luck, Ladies!
We Love Our Teachers!
The lovely ladies of MSGL, August 2014
It's Teacher Appreciation Week and it's the perfect time to give a shout out to the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette's amazing teaching staff. Our teachers come from all over the world and from many different backgrounds, bringing their experiences, understanding, and love of children to share with our Montessori families. Did you know that West Lafayette is the most culturally diverse city in the Midwest? This is largely due to the population of Purdue University which is ranked 2nd in the nation for total international student enrollment. Since over 60% of our families have a connection to Purdue either as staff or students, it's not surprising that MSGL's teaching staff is also diverse.
One way we measure this diversity is with a tally of languages spoken by the staff. Over 26% of the staff speaks English and a second language fluently. And 10% of staff members are trilingual, allowing MSGL to offer students daily exposure to Spanish, Russian, and Korean language and culture. Here is a breakdown of staff languages.
The teachers' love for their work shows in the number of years they have been with the school and their eagerness to enroll their own children here. Over half of our staff members have been with the school for over 10 years. And 61% of the staff currently have children enrolled at MSGL, are parents of MSGL alumni, or are MSGL alumni themselves.
Some of our teachers came to Montessori after studying education. Many others followed their children here before deciding to become a teacher with backgrounds including art history, biology, interior design, psychology, anthropology, nursing, journalism, medieval studies, philosophy, history, and chemistry. However they discovered Montessori, we are grateful they found us and chose to stay. Here is a look at these hard-working ladies over the past year.
Mary Dyrenfurth and Cathy Stier
Somdatta Datta Roy
We salute you, beautiful ladies of MSGL! Thank you for bringing your dedication, your love of children, and your sense of humor with you each and every day.
A car full of goodies is ready to be delivered to a local family sponsored by MSGL families.
A Lafayette mom got a big surprise Thursday night when Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL) teacher, Kelly Sallee, and her husband Randy delivered a car full of holiday cheer to her front door. Evelyn (not her real name), a 33-year-old mother of four who was recently diagnosed with cancer, knew the Sallees were bringing dinner and a few surprises for her older children, but she wasn't expecting armfuls of gifts and personal items for her 10-month-old baby, her husband, and even herself.
"She knew nothing about this," Sallee said of the mom's reaction. "She said she feels so grateful and blessed."
After being diagnosed with cancer in the fall and going through two surgeries, Evelyn worried that she and her husband would not be able to give their children a happy Christmas. Her husband works full-time and also helps her get to her treatments in Indianapolis every week. The travel expense and taking time away from work has made it difficult for the family to pay their rent and other bills, so Christmas presents were out of the question. When Evelyn reached out to local assistance groups in early December, she learned she had missed the deadline to apply. So she turned to a local Facebook group to see if anyone knew of an organization that could help her give her children just a little something to look forward to on Christmas morning, and that's where Kelly found her.
A basket of items just for mom.
"I called two local agencies to see if they knew of a family that my family could sponsor for the holidays but they didn't respond," Kelly said. "So I thought, I'm going to go find my own family."
When she saw Evelyn's post on Facebook, she sent her a message and they started talking. Kelly was moved by the young mom's situation and decided this was a family that could really use some help. When she shared the young family's story with the families of her Willow preprimary class at MSGL, they were eager to help. Teachers and families from other classes and Kelly's mom and sister also joined in, and that's when the fun really started.
Taylor and Kelly preparing to wrap packages.
"I am so overwhelmed with the great response," Kelly said. "I received so many gift cards in my mailbox and there were new items in the collection box every day. I am thankful for the classroom families and teachers who have contributed to this cause."
The box Kelly put in the hallway to collect items for the children was soon overflowing and the items had to be stored in the school's conference room. Although Evelyn was only hoping to have a few items for her 6, 8, and 11-year-old children, the outpouring of love from the MSGL community included items for the baby, a gift card for dad, and a basket filled with lotion, fuzzy socks, and candles to pamper mom. The family also received gift cards for gas to help with driving back and forth to Indianapolis for Evelyn's treatments. Classroom parents and Kelly's mother and sister wrapped all of the gifts and made stockings personalized with each child's name.
MSGL families sponsored a local family that could use a little extra love this year.
The family celebrates Christmas, so families donated gifts and stockings.
On Thursday, Kelly and Randy packed up the gifts, picked up pizzas for the family's dinner, and delivered them to their home. The children had to stay in their rooms until everything was hidden because mom and dad want the gifts to be a surprise on Christmas morning. Evelyn had just returned from having a port implanted for chemotherapy that day and was not feeling well, but she thanked the Sallees over and over again for everything they had done. She was especially touched by the handmade cards made by the MSGL children.
Cards made by the children of Willow class.
"She said she was surprised that the kids had made the cards just for them," Kelly said. "And she hung them up with all of her other Christmas cards."
Kelly hopes the MSGL family can reach out to a local family again next year and she intends to start planning in the fall.
"Not only did it bring so much joy to my family and myself to be able to help this sweet family this holiday season, but it was equally priceless to see how well-received this endeavor was at Montessori. I signed one of the cards on behalf of the school so that the family knew our community came together to make a magical morning for this very deserving family."
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.
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.
The best kind of snow day is when you can actually play in the snow.
Last week provided a miserable welcome to the new semester. Snow, high winds, and bitter cold meant that the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette was in session for only 20 out of a possible 40 hours over four days. Our staff did its best to maintain communication with the families and those families were very understanding. There were, however, a few questions about how we respond to Indiana’s volatile winter weather at MSGL.
The question of the week was “If the weather continues like this, can we expect to continue having so many delays and closures?” The short answer is, "yes." But how are decisions about school delays made? That's a longer answer.
I would have thought this to be a very elementary understanding. Doesn't everyone know when it's too dangerous to take the kids to school? But when I found myself working as MSGL's "Weather Delay Intern" last week, I discovered that many factors contribute to a closing or delay, and they are not always obvious to everyone.
First, there are no hard and fast rules for determining if conditions are too dangerous for school. Everything depends on timing. Temperatures below -12F are a general cut-off if people are going to be outside for more than a few minutes. However, if the roads are clear and the temperatures are on the rise at 8 a.m., then -12F might be acceptable at arrival. High winds could change that, of course. Roads that are clear now may not be clear when morning classes dismiss. Or they might be passable in town, but dangerous out in the country. And all of this has to be considered over the course of our 10-hour day.
MSGL can't follow the determinations of local school districts because they have special considerations - such as bus transportation and a large number of students who walk to school. Generally, MSGL can be in session more frequently than the public schools.
The weather is just one component of a weather-related school delay. Preparation of facilities and the safety of our staff are two others. And our families themselves are an important consideration.
Facilities: The parking lot and sidewalks must be clear of snow and ice before staff and families arrive. Our school is a small, not-for-profit, parent-owned school. A small core of people manage the day-to-day operations of the school and the needs of over 500 people. This is why we rely on a private company to clear the parking lot, sidewalks, and steps of snow and ice. That company serves several other businesses each day AND it needs two hours to clear MSGL after a snow or ice event. As an example, if the snow stops falling at 6 a.m. on a school day and we are third on the list for snow removal, school cannot open at 7:30. The ability of our snow removal contractor to clear our lot and paths before we arrive is a major determinant of our start time.
Cultural Considerations: Another little-known factor is our region's cultural relationship with winter weather. As one parent said, "I grew up in Vermont. We don't cancel school there." Indiana's threshold for tolerating winter weather might be a bit lower than other cold places because we don't see as many snowy days and our street departments are not equipped for a large quantity of snow on a regular basis. And because the majority of the West Lafayette community is made up of faculty or students from Purdue University, we also have a lot of families who come from places with absolutely no snow, ice, or cold temperatures. It can take these families a few snowy days to get the hang of dressing for the weather and driving in it. We are more comfortable with snow than Los Angeles, but less comfortable than Montpelier - and that makes a difference in how we respond to it.
Staff: Teachers and staff need to be able to travel safely and arrive at school before the children. Our staff are dedicated to their jobs and they want to be at school. While it’s easy to imagine teachers being excited to have a snow day, the reality is that the majority of our teachers have school-aged children of their own. Just like MSGL families, the teachers have to scramble to get their children safely to school in case of a delay or to arrange other care if public schools cancel and MSGL is in session.
Many of our staff live outside of city limits and travel county roads to get to work, so their ability to arrive safely is always a top priority. Delaying the start of school allows them to get out of their driveways and travel potentially hazardous roads in daylight so they can be here when the families arrive. We could call on substitute teachers to work for staff who cannot make it to school, but our substitute teachers are also home with their children on these days. Operating without adequate staff is not an option so we need to be sure all of our teachers can get to school.
Forecasted weather: Conditions throughout the day, and not just at arrival, need to be considered to determine closures and delays. The weather may be clear at morning arrival, but if incoming snow and/or ice and wind threaten later in the day, staff and children could become stranded at school or out on the roads. The administration must take into account the anticipated timing of dangerous weather and sometimes cancel classes in advance of this weather (even if that bad weather never fully materializes.)
Our early arrival and after school programs are the first to be cancelled because MSGL is a school and not a daycare facility. We do offer before and after-care programs that can function as full-day care for families, but our primary function is that of a school. This means being open during class time from 8:30 - 3:00 takes priority over being open before and after class.
We understand that it is frustrating to wake up to a school delay or cancellation. Our Montessori parents have jobs, commitments, and plans and not being able to leave their children in our care causes real problems for them. That being said, MSGL is a parent-owned school. We were started by parents over 40 years ago and all current MSGL families are the current owners of the school. If you are reading this and you have children enrolled at our school, you are one of the owners of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. With that ownership, come some responsibilities.
What can MSGL families do to help?
1. Stay informed - before school and during the day. We announce delays, cancellations, and early dismissals through many different sources. Here is a listing.
2. Offer help, if you can. If you have some time after bringing your child to school on a wintry day, you might:
If possible, we would prefer to be able to control the climate and prepare the outdoor environment as carefully as we prepare our students’ learning environments. But the realities of winter weather require our staff and families to be vigilant, flexible, and patient with weather events - and the timing of those events - over which we have no control.
And if you, like me, are curious how the large, public school districts determine delays, this video from Louisville, KY is interesting.
Thanks for reading, ~Heather
"Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek with Carissa Pekny during the 2016 College Championships.
Photo courtesy Jeopardy Productions, Inc.
Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL) alumna Carissa Pekny appeared this week on the “Jeopardy! 2016 College Championship.” A senior studying environmental science at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Carissa was one of 15 contestants competing this week on the TV game show for a chance at a $100,000 prize. Carissa graduated from second grade at MSGL in 2002.
You can watch the contestant preview video here: https://www.jeopardy.com/tournaments/2016/college-championship
Carissa almost didn’t take the call the day an unknown number from Culver City, California showed up on her phone. She gets a lot of phone solicitations and was going to ignore it, but she answered and heard, “Hi, this is Amy from ‘Jeopardy!’” That call was the end of a two-month process that started with an online test in November. Approximately 3,000 students took the online test and Carissa was one of the few who moved on to the regional audition.
“They tell you (at the regional audition) that if you get a call in a few weeks, you will be on the show. If you don’t get a call and you don’t see yourself on the “Jeopardy! College Championship” episode in February, you’ll know you didn’t make it,” she said.
Carissa did make it to the show and she took her parents Joe and Chris, her sister Chelsea, and a West Point friend along to Universal Studios when the show was filmed over two days in January. There were fourteen other contestants and they filmed five tournament episodes each day. She described the “Jeopardy!” studio as being much different than she expected.
“You watch them on TV and think the studio is massive, but the studio is actually really small. There is room for maybe 100 people in the audience,” she said.
Carissa has always liked trivia and she and her mom would compete against each other while watching the TV show at home.
“Jeopardy has been my mom’s dream, too,” she said.
In fact, Carissa was surprised to hear just how excited her mom really was. When she told her parents she was accepted into medical school in November, her mom was happy. But Carissa wasn’t prepared for her response to the spot on “Jeopardy! College Championship.”
“When I called to tell her, I said, ‘Wow, you didn’t even act this happy when I called you a month ago!’” she said.
Carissa started out strong in the first round of the quarterfinals on Monday answering questions about science, history, and popular music, but ultimately it was Emily Sun, a freshman from Columbia University, who advanced to the semi-finals. Carissa said she was a little nervous at first, but her experience as an athlete helped her concentrate on the task at hand.
"Just like any sports game, I was able to focus my nervous energy into focusing on answering the questions and buzzing in on the buzzer," she said.
Carissa’s natural curiosity might be at the heart of her love for trivia. She discovered an affinity for research when she was in Marshall Overley’s chemistry class at West Lafayette High School. After graduating in 2012, she moved on to West Point where she started doing malaria research in her sophomore year. That interest led her to spend 3 ½ weeks in Australia working at the Australian Army Malaria Institute.
“This was a way to do things that I liked doing that had implications for medical research,” Carissa said.
Carissa Pekny, second from left, during Ring Weekend at West Point.
She plans to continue in the field of medical research next year as she begins medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.
In high school, Carissa was an accomplished athlete who played on the WLHS soccer, basketball, and softball teams. When she arrived at West Point in July of 2012 for Beast Barracks, West Point’s Cadet Basic Training, she thought she was physically fit but discovered she wasn’t really prepared for that level of physical conditioning.
“I’m not much for quitting things so I decided to stick it out until the school year and not do anything too brash,” she said.
That decision paid off when it became clear that even though she may not have been physically prepared for basic training, she was academically prepared for a challenging course load. On top of becoming a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army, every West Point graduate receives a Bachelors of Science degree, no matter what their major, because of the required core of math and science classes.
Carissa Pekny playing rugby for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Photo courtesy of West Point.
Once she made it through Beast Barracks, Carissa went out for the women’s rugby team. She had never played rugby before, but was selected for the West Point team in her freshman year and currently plays inside center. Carissa was named to the USA Rugby Academic Honor Roll in 2015 for being a consistent starter on the team and maintaining a 3.9 or greater cumulative grade point average. The team travels around the country for both a spring and a fall season. She expressed some ambivalence about ending her rugby career at West Point by saying,
“It is rough on the body. I think I’m gonna miss it a lot because my teammates are my best friends here,” she said.
Carissa Pekny pulls a friend on a sled at Morton Community Center in 2000.
When asked what she remembers about her five years at the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette, she recalled her kindergarten year, when the school was located in the Morton Community Center near Purdue’s campus.
“I remember Kindergarten with (teacher) Ginny Meyer pretty well. We used to do this Thanksgiving feast and all the parents used to come and have a feast with us. That was pretty cool,” she said.
Carissa said Meyer had another lasting impact on her life by always making time to listen to her read and making sure she understood what she was reading.
“I always really loved to read. Having teachers that cultivated that skill and made sure that I understood the words I was reading has benefited the rest of my academic career,” she said.
In 2000, she attended the Montessori Elementary I class with teachers Linda Bolam and Jeff All.
“I remember singing with Jeff and his guitar in the circle all the time,” she said. “That was a lot of fun.”
She also appreciated being able to choose her activities from around the room.
“In Elementary there were certain things we had to learn, there were milestones we had to reach,” she explained. “But we had a lot of free activity time and we could just do whatever we wanted. Then the teachers would come around and make sure, first off, that we were being productive,” she laughed. “If we needed help with anything they would help us.”
Carissa Pekny, in blue, looks on as Jeff All and a friend play for the MSGL Kindergarten class in 2000.
One specific subject she remembers learning about at MSGL is the history of the U. S. Presidents.
“This is gonna sound totally crazy, but the reason I like to study the Presidents is because (the Elementary class) had this placemat and that’s how I memorized the Presidents,” she said. “I remember learning a little bit of Spanish, too. I don’t remember it now, but I remember trying to learn it. I think it was with Ana (Orizondo).”
Carissa’s parents were involved in the MSGL school board and helped with the transition from the Morton Center to the current campus on Soldiers Home Road. Her siblings were also MSGL alumni. Her brother, Andrew, now works for an accounting firm in Indianapolis and her sister, Chelsea, works as a pharmacist in Kenya. Carissa is open to where her life after West Point and medical school might take her.
“The great thing about the Army is, if you want to go somewhere you can pretty much go anywhere,” she said. “I’m just really excited to go out there and see what’s out there and serve our country wherever I’m needed.”
This is the first post in the series "I Am MSGL" featuring alumni of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. If you or someone you know would like to be featured in this series, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.