This fall, New Haven parents will have the option to send their children to a new type of elementary school —a Montessori School.
Elm City Montessori, located on Quinnipiac Avenue, will be New Haven’s first public K-5 Montessori school. Unlike the centralized instruction that mainstream public schools typically offer, the Montessori model relies on a philosophy of hands-on, independent learning. Though most Montessori schools across the country are privately operated, the founders of Elm City Montessori have committed to keeping the school public.
The school’s creation was largely spearheaded by three New Haven mothers — Kia Levey, Eliza Halsey and Joan Bosson-Heenan— who were seeking an alternative to the city’s current elementary school offerings for their children.
“Montessori schools are especially important because they combine two necessary elements for learning to take place, which are engagement and a specific level of challenge,” said Alissa Levy, the principal who has been chosen for the school by the school’s board.
Elm City Montessori will have many of the hallmark features of a Montessori school: classrooms with a mix of three grade levels, individualized lessons and two home visits for each child per year.
The idea started when a group of New Haven parents, including Levey, Halsey and Bosson-Heenan who had previously been working on making information about New Haven primary education more accessible, discovered that the public Montessori model was already in place in Hartford, Conn. In the fall of 2012, the group created a petition and presented it to the Board of Education, which expressed strong interest in the idea, according to Halsey.
After receiving the Board of Education’s green light, the team applied for a local charter application, which granted the school unionized teachers and admissions through a lottery system that any child in New Haven can enter.
The school currently has room for 69 students from New Haven, although there will be a few spots open for children residing outside New Haven as well, according to David Low, an educator on the Board of Elm City Montessori.
There are currently three classrooms in the school, each with one full-time “guide” and one assistant. The school’s growth plan calls for hiring staff for one to two additional classrooms each year over the next five years. The school’s board would also like to eventually expand to include grades 6-8, Halsey said.
“What we’re really hoping to build with this is a real community school, said Levey. “[A place] where the educators, parents, children are rallying around educational promise.”
One of the board’s goals is to make the school accessible to harder-to-reach children who may come from low-income neighborhoods, said Low. The board will attempt to achieve this by sending mailings to houses, informational sessions, the annual magnet fair and the help of community partners, Halsey said.
Members of the board expressed the New Haven Public School system has been very helpful and supportive throughout the entire process.
“One thing is that we don’t want to present ourselves at all in opposition to the existing New Haven Public School system,” Levey said. “This school is about expanding educational opportunities for all families in New Haven.”
The Montessori system was designed by Maria Montessori, an Italian educator who opened her first school in 1907.