The Montessori Society invites families interested in having their child attend Montessori during middle school – no matter how old they are now – to attend a parent information session on May 30th at Lord Tweedsmuir Elementary (Room 108) from 6:30-7:30pm and express their interest. During the session, the Society hopes to shed light on what a Montessori middle school program would look like, and the benefits of such a program. Some of the current district teachers will be available to answer questions, and special guests from the very successful Coquitlam Montessori Middle School Program will also be on hand. Child minding is available – and they ask that you email to let them know your child’s age to firstname.lastname@example.org before the session.
If you cannot make the session but have an interest, please email the society to tell them – they need expressions of support from New Westminster families in order for the District to fully appreciate if there is an appetite for a Montessori program in the middle school (much like how there is Late French Immersion already). The more voices, the better.
This info session is the culmination of a lot of work by Montessori teachers and the society and it’s a critical part of making sure District staff fully understand there is an appetite and a need for a program expansion such as this. If parents speak up, it may happen – the District is responsive (well, as responsive as is realistically possible) but they really, truly, need to hear it. This is one of those times where advocating for your child’s education makes you a squeaky wheel.
My child is a Montessori kid in the district, and my husband is the New Westminster Montessori Society president, so I’d say we are a fully-immersed Montessori family. I believe in the benefits of learning through the methods developed by Maria Montessori, which focus on self-directed, hands-on, collaborative and creative learning and thinking. (Resources, if you’re interested: What is Montessori?, Does it Work? Recent Research on Montessori Methods, and Montessori Teaching ‘Better Than Traditional School’.)
In New Westminster, the Montessori kids learn the regular, public stream of curriculum, but learn it using Montessori methods and have teachers who have taken additional training in Montessori methods. The Montessori Society is responsible for funding all of the specialized learning materials, usually made from wood or other long-lived materials and usually from only one or two suppliers in the US, of course, so they aren’t cheap. A typical, single classroom is $15,000 to initially outfit.
We’ve written a few times about programs of choice here before on Tenth, but truthfully the lens the authors have worn for these posts was usually French Immersion. There are big changes happening to the enrolment process for programs like Montessori and French Immersion in our district, changes that will make the programs accessible to a wider range of people, and the District needs to know there’s an appetite for even more changes beyond enrolment process.
So what is changing? For years in New Westminster, the district asked for parents to sign up for both Montessori and French Immersion as soon as they knew they wanted their child to be in a “Program of Choice”. (As an aside, I find “Programs of Choice” to sound a bit elitist. I’d rather they just called it “Outside Regular Stream” but this is a whole other game of semantics.) For most families this meant that as soon as they received their child’s birth certificate, they needed to go to the District’s office, in person, Monday to Friday 8am-5pm, provide all sorts of identification, fill out a form at the counter (you weren’t allowed to take it with you), have it dated and time stamped and witnessed by one of the administrative staff, and then hope that your child was born early enough in the year to be one of the few kids who got in five years later, AND that you remembered to keep updating the personal information contained therein for all that time. What happened was that every person wrote down every school and every program on the form – how were you to know what environment your five month old was going to learn best in when they entered kindergarten? – and so it made for a lot of unnecessary administration of requests. And if you moved into the district when your child was, say, 4 or 5, lured by the promise of New Westminster being a family-friendly community, well, good luck. “First come, first served” is an awful way to determine placement in a program that is outside the regular stream, such as French Immersion or Montessori, especially in a community that has waitlists oodles longer than spaces.
But that’s changed, thankfully. A few years ago, the District announced overdue changes to the process and moved to a lottery system to determine placement and what’s more, they also have an online application system for the programs outside the regular stream. These changes go into effect starting this coming Fall, which means the kids entering kindergarten in September are the first cohort of children chosen by a supervised, random draw. There are still some reasonable constraints that make it sensible, like allowing for siblings to jump the queue and considering catchment, as the programs are offered in more than one school, but generally, moving away from the first come first served system is a huge step forward for the programs of choice. If you’re interested in the current official document outlining French Immersion’s system, check here. For Montessori, check here.
What a relief. By acknowledging that a) not everyone knows when their child is born that they would like to see them in French Immersion or Montessori, b) not everyone who wants their child in a New Westminster School District lives here from their child’s birth, and c) not everyone can take a morning off work to show up at the office in person to get onto the list, the District is, in my eyes, acknowledging the popularity of the programs and the need for a more equal and fair system that supports modern families.
So, on May 30th, New West families, show up, and if you can’t make it, speak up. It doesn’t matter if your child is but an eye twinkle or is 2, 4, or 10 – the Montessori Society needs you to show your interest so the District has a complete picture about what people want for their kids’ educations in New Westminster. The most important families to hear from are the ones whose children are in grades four or five now, so that there is a clear cohort of families interested in being in a middle school Montessori program, but anyone should feel that their voice matters.