Last summer, I found inspiration in a book entitled “Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children.” The authors identified 6 key skills that will help children become the thinkers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow: Collaboration, Communication, Content, Critical Thinking, Creativity, and Confidence. Time and time again, I found myself categorizing 2018 milestones as they apply to the 6Cs which I would like to share with you in this year’s “state of school address.”
Targeting instruction to meet the needs of each student is demanding and requires a great deal of collaboration among teaching teams, which is natural to the Montessori learning environment. However, this area specifically was the focus as we began the 2018-2019 school year. Our main objective was to provide an opportunity to collaborate between grade levels which we have successfully implemented by restructuring the all-school admin meetings. We now come together once a month to evaluate the curriculum and share best practices, allowing us to collectively achieve our goals and support our students as a whole. In turn, all school “housekeeping” correspondence is shared on Google drive to be easily referenced as a running record, making effective use of our time during the meetings.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It is a skill that constantly needs refinement, especially in a team teaching relationship where time is a precious commodity. To that end, the staff attended a workshop in August which provided us a common language and effective tools when communicating and building relationships. It also became evident that we need to do more of it. As a result, Kim and I attend grade level meetings each Tuesday, meet with each classroom team once a month, and observe the classrooms more frequently. Ms. Ariel, Student Services Coordinator and a newly created position in 2018, also attends grade level meetings as necessary and observes classrooms routinely each week to provide support where needed to staff and students alike. Being more present and establishing consistent connections has fostered thoughtful, purposeful, and introspective dialogue to ensure we are meeting our students’ needs. Additional practices were also implemented to foster the home-school connection such as increased parent/child nights, school newsletter showcasing campus happenings, and all school use of the Remind app. Lastly, we value feedback from families regarding the challenges of half-days and in-service days. You will notice marked changes in the 2019-2020 school year and we are committed to increasing instructional time within the 180-day academic calendar and offering additional care opportunities for our dual working families.
A Digital Information Technology course was newly added for this school year to all 8th-grade students in partnership with FLVS. This online course will allow our students to earn 1 full high school credit. In addition, learning the practical life skills of navigating a blended learning environment is essential as students move on to higher education and we are exploring further opportunities for our students to earn HS credits for the 2019-2020 school year. Although the curriculum is what naturally comes to mind when considering content as a school, the prepared environment is crucial when implementing the Montessori Method to ensure our students and teachers have the resources they need in a conducive aesthetically, calming learning space. Therefore, we are continually updating the classrooms and work environment. Improvements in 2018 included Montessori material shelves in primary and lower elementary, flooring in the primary classrooms and multi-purpose room, laptops and projectors for the lower elementary teachers to host presentations, projectors for upper elementary and middle school, and 20 additional Chromebooks for the lower and upper elementary students.
The key to engaging in critical thinking is to question, and not just accept an answer as correct. FMS’ mission is to foster life-long learners in our students and faculty alike, which leads us to consistent questioning. Math across all grade levels was dissected and best practices evaluated which resulted in the addition of the Sadlier math curriculum in upper elementary as a precursor to 7th-grade pre-algebra. Ms. Amy and Ms. Danna (4th-6th-grade head teachers) also attended a Mindset Mathematics Workshop at Stanford University led by Jo Boaler. Key principles of Mindset Math are the process of unleashing the math potential in each student through rich mathematical activities opposed to rote learning, and turning mistakes/struggles into valuable experiences. Ms. Amy and Ms. Danna then presented these strategies to all grade levels upon their return, providing insight to why children often fear math. Mindset Math is a natural fit to the kinesthetic Montessori classroom, and the students’ excitement is contagious when the inevitable ‘aha moments’ come.
Ms. Kerri (4th-6th-grade co-teacher) has a passion for gardening and was the driving force behind our partnership with Green Our Planet. The program has definitely added a new twist to math, science, practical life, nutrition, and botany studies. It was a slow start and a labor of love, but we finally reaped the rewards after the courtyard remodel. A huge “thank you” to our parents and the PTO board for contributing to the success of this project. As a result, students were able to harvest ample crops which were sold by the 6th-grade class at the Green Our Planet Farmers Market in November. In addition, upcycled products such as coasters and purses made from plastic bags earned FMS the award of “Most Unique Item” for originality from Green Our Planet. The program embodies many of the 6Cs as students (K-6th grade) plan, calculate, predict, research, measure, observe, imagine, and create under the guidance of Farmer Danielle and the FMS faculty.
We understand the importance of social/emotional learning as it develops the whole child, fosters good citizens, and strengthens our children’s social, moral and cultural awareness. Our goal is for our students to have a strong internal compass, demonstrating confidence in their choices to do what is right. It is our responsibility to provide opportunities to make a positive contribution to the local and wider community. To this end, the upper elementary students (4th – 6th grade) have attended the Project Homeless Connect event for the past 6 years distributing clothing and toiletries to the homeless population of Las Vegas. A highlight of 2018 occurred when I was contacted by Nancy Maseng (Soap for Hope) who interacted with our students during the event (Nancy’s letter is cited below). It was a full circle moment for the FMS team, as this process starts from the time a child enters at the primary level and carries through to the middle school.
Lastly, this year is quite monumental, as we will be celebrating our 20th year in operation with the commencement of the 2019-2020 school year. From 3 trailers in the open desert to a beautiful campus serving over 300 students, what an evolution it has been! None of which would be possible without the dedication of the most amazing team I could wish for, and the supportive families who have believed in our vision for the past 2 decades. We are incredibly thankful you are a part of our FMS family and humbled to share in your child’s journey. Cheers to the “becoming,” and we wish you all a year of growth and discovery!
My name is Nancy and I met several of your students at the Project Connect event on November 20th. I was there with my son’s charity, Soap for Hope. It was our first year at Project Connect and we were not informed that we would not be getting any help at our booth. So, when 3 charming young men came to our table and started setting up and organizing the table, I was completely taken off guard.
After some introductions and clarifications by Brooke Wahlquist, we got underway. As a parent of a 25-year-old and a 16-year-old, I have some experience with children. I was also a cub scout leader for 4 years and a Sunday school teacher for 10+ years. I have run many of my own businesses and done more conventions then I can list here. So, with some experience with children and conventions, I just want to say how IMPRESSIVE your group of students were. Nolan, Ben, Grace to name a few, outstanding! The way they interacted with myself and our Soap for Hope team was courteous and professional. They quickly grasped a new system of doing things from last year, incorporated it and executed it. And then their dynamic with the homeless population and the dignity with which they served the clients was heartwarming. Their help was so excellent we actually left the booth to go help with the event where they were short volunteers.
I am sure what I am telling you is not a surprise. That level of intelligence and competence must be fostered and instilled at your facility. I just want you to know how impressive and helpful all the children were from Foothills Montessori. And I wish I could remember all their names as each one was so earnest. Thank you for allowing your students to help with Soap for Hope and making our event so smooth. The students really made a difference.