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Everything Worth Doing is Difficult

For the past two weeks I have thought often of writing this post and simply have not been able to bring myself to do it, but today is the day: It is with great sadness that I must announce that Humboldt Park Montessori School is not able to open its doors for this school year. Though we spent the entire summer diving deep into the licensing process for our school, we finally came to an insurmountable wall involving the building we were leasing. 

Without going into a lot of details, the building we were leasing simply was not suitable to meet all the necessary city and state codes required for licensing. In this past week we have moved out of the building and returned all prepaid tuition.  

However, we are not giving up. We are taking this year to do more research, more planning, and more preparing in order to create an even better program for the 2014-2015 school year. We are on the hunt for a building that will meet all the necessary requirements. We are working with key community members to help develop a public Montessori school in the neighborhood. We are doing some serious fundraising. 

Because Humboldt Park needs Montessori education. Our children need great education and parental support right from the start. There are an estimated 6,258 children in Humboldt Park needing early education or childcare and only 2,000 slots available for those children in programs like Head Start. 

Every day as I'm walking and driving around my neighborhood I keep envisioning the school and the children and families that will one day walk through our doors and develop their minds in our classrooms. Myself, our board of directors, the committed families, and many volunteers will continue dreaming and working.

To all those wonderful people who are building this school, I want to say THANK YOU. I couldn't even begin to list the names of all the folks who have painted, moved furniture, refinished furniture, and scraped and scrubbed. What an incredible gift you have given our school. I am forever grateful. 

 

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New Location

It's been awhile since I've posted anything new about school happenings, but that doesn't mean we've been at a standstill. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. I've found that starting a school means wading through endless laws and making sure that we meet every possible standard. It's a lot of paperwork and question-asking and revising our plans and making sure that we never lose sight of our vision through it all. I won't lie: it's a lot of work.

One of the benefits, however, is that I've met amazing people along the way who are willing to go out of their way to help us. So THANK YOU! To all the people who have helped our school so far. Thank you to all the parents in our school who have supported me by providing babysitting for my kids while I wade through paperwork. Thank you to the schools like Peaceful Pathways Montessori, Lincoln Park Preschool, Seton Montessori, and Creative Corner Montessori who have offered advice and donated materials. Thank you to our board members for their unending hard work. Thank you to the people in our community who have volunteered their services and given generously to see our project get off the ground. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

My big announcement is that we have an official new location at 1410 N Springfield. We have two classrooms in New Life Community Church, and we are so grateful for their partnership also! 

We are moving July 1st starting around 11am, so please contact us if you'd like to help with the move. Also, we will be having work days to repair some wall damage and the baseboards in the classroom,  paint, and put up window coverings. Work days will be July 20th and August 3rd, 10am-3pm.

 

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CPS School Closings

It has been a difficult, emotional week for our friends, neighbors, and families all around Chicago, as more than 50 schools are closing and many more will be going through relocation or programming transitions. We are all wrestling with what the future looks like for education in our city. I personally cannot seem to make a wholly positive or wholly negative response to the school board's choice to close these schools. I believe that the dialogue around this issue is what is most important. The school board has thrown this discussion in our face: there are haves and have-nots in this city and we cannot ignore that fact or protect only our children from the realities of the environment around us. 

I hope that all of our school families and all those who are even remotely interested in what we are doing here at the Humboldt Park Montessori School will start talking about these issues: poverty, equal education, equal access to resources, what does a good education look like? This panel discussion from WBEZ's Afternoon Shift is a good place to start.

I believe that at its core, this is a discussion about poverty. It is clear that the majority of the closed schools are located in poor areas of Chicago, Humboldt Park being one of those areas. Where there are fewer financial resources, it is just a fact that we need more resources to be able to help our children fight that battle out of poverty. They have the potential in themselves to succeed, but it is education that makes the difference. If I believe that my child's education makes the most impact on his future happiness and success, I must believe that education can destroy the forces of poverty and crime weighing down on other children. 

We want the resources. We want affordable housing in our neighborhood. We want health clinics and parenting classes. We want libraries, computers, music, and art programs. 

I promise that at Humboldt Park Montessori School we will not become a place in isolation from our community, but that we will put forth our greatest effort to making the education of all Humboldt Park children the best that it can be. We will offer Montessori classes in public schools. We will welcome in low-income families. We will knock on doors and search out the funds to provide as many scholarships as we can. 

Let's keep the discussion and the work going. In the midst of this huge storm surrounding education, let's continue on as a small peaceful force hoping and working for a better education in Humboldt Park. 

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Early Education Brings Success

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men.” - Maria Montessori

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What we are doing at the Humboldt Park Montessori School is an investment. When the problems of crime and the economy are screaming at us from every news headline, our little school is hoping to tackle these problems at their very foundation. We believe that each child carries with him or her the potential to do something great in the world. We believe that there comes a point in a child’s life where that potential can be stifled or even crushed, and there is only a very small window of opportunity.

Thousands of beautiful, intelligent little children live in our neighborhood. These children can build the businesses that will enrich the Humboldt Park economy. They can become the policy makers that will shape Humboldt Park’s future. Alternatively, to be honest, many of them can become the next gang members and drug dealers on our corners.

Any day now, $900 million could be cut from Head Start. Our nation is allowing itself to be distracted away from the children, the most important individuals for the future of our survival and success.

Research shows that low-income students who receive early childhood education grow up to be adults who:

  • have higher IQs

  • earn more

  • commit fewer crimes

  • stay off welfare

  • go to college

  • do not have children during adolescence

  • own their own homes

  • pay more taxes

If you simply want to look at the bottom line, a study by MIT says it all: “Failing to invest sufficiently in quality early care and education shortchanges taxpayers because the return on investment is greater than many other economic development options” (Early Childhood Education for All: A Wise Investment). When we choose, as members of society, to make an investment in early childhood education, we are actually doing ourselves a big favor. Many studies have analyzed the financial returns on funds given to preschools for low-income students, and the results are that we are getting back 10-18 times the amount we are putting in. When we spend money on colored pencils and little chairs, the little folks sitting in those chairs are growing up to become happy, successful, contributing members of society, even if the odds are stacked against them.

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It is in those little chairs that our children work so diligently to grow their minds and become the world-changers of tomorrow. Investing in them is a smart choice even if you are only looking at the numbers, but it is an even better choice when you are looking into their eyes and seeing that you are providing the hope for their futures.

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We Can Do Hard Things

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There are many days when I ask myself why I’ve taken on this enormous task to start a school. Why do the work?

An answer to that question is one thing that we work hard to teach our students. It is important to be motivated.

Observers in Montessori classrooms sometimes ask why the class is run in this way? Why do we let the students pick their own work? What if they just want to wash their hands for two hours straight? What if they keep wandering from work to work and never settle down and focus? Wouldn’t it be easier to sit them down and teach them their A,B,C’s and 1,2,3’s?

Montessori classrooms allow this freedom within limits for precisely this reason: because it is not the easy way. A child has to really want to learn to find work and use their energy at that work. A child has to be motivated to learn. That’s not something they can learn from a teacher telling them about motivation. A child learns motivation from experience.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, says it like this: “Selecting a challenge and meeting it creates a sense of self-empowerment that becomes the ground for further successful challenges.”

We, at HPMS, believe that children are born with the motivation to learn and it is up to us to create a place where that motivation is encouraged to develop. Studies show that students who develop character traits like motivation are the ones that are the most happy and healthy later in life (check out How Children Succeed by Paul Tough). Our work is for the long haul.

Motivated kids can do hard things. They can become motivated adults who keep learning and growing and becoming amazing members of our world.

Motivated adults can do hard things. Like start schools.

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The Montessori School of Englewood

I recently visited the Montessori School of Englewood with our wonderful assistant, Lorena. They are doing something ground-breaking in Chicago – running the first Montessori charter school in the city in an extremely low-income neighborhood. If you’ve heard anything about Englewood, it probably had to do with gang, drugs, violence, or poverty. Rita Nolan, the principal of MSE, is hoping to bring change to the families of her 91 students.

Read more about the Montessori School of Englewood from a recent Chicago Tribune article.

We, at the Humboldt Park Montessori School, are partnering closely with MSE because they are going before us. They are serving kids who would not otherwise receive a Montessori education. It is a huge part of our vision that we would also serve children in our community, regardless of family income. Montessori education should not just be for the very rich.

Instead, Montessori education provides the tools that studies are only recently showing may be the key to breaking free from poverty. At HPMS, we are starting early with parent-child classes for 18-month old children because Montessori education and recent students that early childhood education and parent education are essential to having a healthy, successful childhood. I (and our board of directors) believe that supporting parents from the beginning through the difficult process of raising a child is the best thing we could do with our time and resources. Not everyone grows up in a healthy family, and thus, not every parent is equipped to handle the intense needs of a toddler or preschooler. It is our job as the HPMS community to assist those parents to better understand their child’s development and help prepare those children for school.

There are families in our neighborhood that struggle with everything from homelessness to unemployment to mental health. We are already partnering with community organizations to meet those needs. The Montessori School of Englewood has developed what they call the Village Action Committee as a way to involve families in the school. All families are required to have one member volunteer at the school 3 hours a month and attend committee meetings. These meetings educate parents on Montessori education, update them on what is going on in the classroom, and inform them on resources (like counseling, computer classes, and healthcare) available to them in the community. I hope to see something similar set up at our school.

Just like the MSE, we chose our name – the Humboldt Park Montessori School – because our emphasis is and always will be on our community. There are so many strengths and services available to our families living near the park (just check out humboldtparkportal.org). It is our goal to tie our school into that network and work alongside our amazing families and community activists for the common goal of serving all children.

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