Small Towns with Big Montessori Plans
This article appears in the Fall 2019 issue of MontessoriPublic — Print Edition.
Three west Texas towns adopt Montessori for college readiness
Here in Texas, we have over 3000 cities and towns. Almost anywhere you go in Texas you will drive through a small town, the kind of place that if you blink, you will miss it. 20% of Texas’ schools are in rural areas—2,000 in all, more than any other state. Rural schools in Texas typically serve lower-income families with very limited funds, and face all the challenges that come with that territory. Children in these areas will at times remind you of the children that Dr. Montessori told us about when she started the Children’s House in Rome. This is a story about three small towns using Montessori as part of a plan to better the lives of the children they serve.
Roscoe, Texas is about an hour west of Abilene, Texas, population 1,293 in 2017, down from 1,378 in 2010. A Roscoe native who returned to the area as an educational leader, Superintendent Kim Alexander has been working with the school board and the community to develop model that would allow all students to succeed and to graduate high school with a higher-level education.
In 2009, Roscoe Independent School District became Roscoe Collegiate ISD, preparing students for college, building partnerships with businesses and Texas higher education, and offering students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school. The model takes a “P-20” approach, an extension of the K-12 model which sees education as a continuum from preschool through college and graduate school. Roscoe has received funding to develop its “Collegiate Edu-Nation P-20 System Model for 21st Century School Transformation” and share it with other rural schools in Texas and across the county.
While creating this model, Dr. Alexander and his colleagues visited a PK-8 Montessori school in Houston ISD. Dr. Alexander said, “After visiting with two PK-8 Public Montessori Schools in Houston ISD, I am convinced that Montessori just produces a smarter 8th grader, especially in numeracy and literacy, which is an area in which students struggle!”
During the back to school professional development, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Alexander and his co-writers Dr. Gary E. Briers and Dr. Glen C. Shinn of the Collegiate Edu-Nation P-20 System Model for 21st Century School Transformation. This document is right in line with what Montessori educators strive to achieve. One of the requirements of becoming an early adopter of the P-20 Model is to implement Montessori programs in the elementary level of the school districts. “Curiosity and self-directedness increased when students experienced Montessori Methods.”
Roscoe implemented Montessori PreK classes last year, with six classrooms serving 25 three-to-six-year-olds in each. Two other nearby small districts are adopting the “P-20 System” and are launching Montessori programs this year.
I spoke to the superintendents of early adopters of the P-20 model. Dr. Randy Burks, Superintendent at Hamlin Collegiate ISD, told me that the reason this program was important to the Hamlin community is that “people in rural communities are at a 75% disadvantage and it is important to break the cycle of poverty. Rural America is the new inner city and we are looking for pathways and avenues to better life. If we educate our children, they may hope to aspire to things that have not been thought of before.”
When I asked Dr. Burks about the challenges of adopting this model and adding Montessori to the early childhood program, he said “the concerns were if we could afford the modifications needed. There are also financial challenges associated as well as teacher training and raises and stipends.” Even with these challenges, Hamlin CISD plans to implement Montessori through the sixth grade.
Michelle Jones is the Dean of Elementary Education at Hamlin Collegiate Elementary. Mrs. Jones said that they “became part of this initiative in February and made trips to other schools for observations of Montessori classrooms. In April, the decision was made that Hamlin Collegiate Elementary would implement Montessori in the early childhood program.” Jones also stated that the motivation was for “school to be successful, the town to be successful, and that something different was needed. The district would like for school to be a central hub for families.” Some of the challenges that we spoke about were that training teachers was going to be difficult because the closest training centers are in Dallas which is 175 miles away. Some staff members decided to move because of the change. It was important to get the staff and community to buy in to the big changes. Hamlin is starting with three classes of 73 three-to-six-year-olds, and Jones anticipates that the Montessori Program will spiral up through the sixth grade.
Later, I was able to meet with Dr. Michelle Cline, Superintendent at Throckmorton Collegiate ISD. Dr. Cline said, “The motivation is to create researchers and thinkers.” She also mentioned that as early adopters of the program, they will receive a charter school grant that will help fund the new method of education. Part of the process that Dr. Cline spoke about was that they discussed Edu-Nation all year. In July, the community became aware due to newspaper articles and social media and information at the senior center. The teachers were all on board and went to visit other Montessori schools. The biggest challenge was that there were parents that were not supportive and publicly disagreed on social media. However, Throckmorton is launching with two classes serving 28 three-to-six-year-olds and plans to implement the Montessori program through eighth grade.
We face a lot of challenges when implementing different forms of education in small town Texas. The people of the communities are generally set in their ways because they were born and raised in the community and do not want to see anything different come along. However, times are changing, and we have to prepare our children for a new life of innovation and technology. The only way to stop the generational poverty that is so prevalent in our communities is to start with our youngest children and give them the tools to be thinkers and innovators rather than followers. I think we are on the right track. Now we just need to get more school districts on board.
- “Curiosity and self-directedness increased when students experienced Montessori Methods.”