Getting into Elm City Montessori School is no walk in the park — from 600 applicants for its first class, the school accepted just 69.
A month after opening its doors to become New Haven’s first public Montessori school, Elm City Montessori welcomed parents, teachers and others involved in its founding to a gathering yesterday to celebrate the opening of its newly renovated building on Quinnipiac Avenue.
Founder Eliza Halsey ’01 said that the new school intends to follow education goals outlined by Maria Montessori, namely emphasizing student independence and social development. According to the American Montessori Society, Montessori schools feature mixed-age classrooms and interrupted blocks of work time, ideally lasting three hours. Halsey said that ECMS’s founding has been a community effort aimed at providing all New Haven children access to a new type of education, one that helps them reach their full potential.
“What a district needs is different types of schools,” Superintendent Garth Harries ’95 said. “Our portfolio model aims at working for a proximal development in each child by combining challenge and interest.”
Using a “portfolio” model, New Haven can test out different types of charter schools to find the best method to accommodate all types of students. Situated just across the Quinnipiac River from downtown, ECMS is the latest component of the overall plan to revitalize New Haven schools.
“Montessori is egalitarian by nature,” ECMS Principal Alissa Levy said. “It emphasizes every area of learning (art, English math, science, outdoors, history, etc.) equally, but, because of federal funding requirements, Elm City will have a slightly larger emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”
Levy added that, because the school emphasizes “mastery learning” — whereby a child is not permitted to move up until he or she has mastered a subject — the school will combat achievement gaps. Because students are admitted through a lottery system, ECMS hopes to attract students from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds to come together in the same classroom. Malcolm Dickenson, a staff member at the school, said that while sometimes it can be difficult because children from different background behave differently, the first month at the school has gone well.
“The most difficult aspect of sustaining this type of school is finding enough qualified teachers,” said David Low, an educator on the board of ECMS.
Dave Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said that he believes ECMS’s status as a local charter sets the school apart from others in the area, considering that the teachers are all actively involved in local unions.
According to Halsey, the community among teachers contributes to the overall school atmosphere. Cicarella added that he believes the base of school reform will be teachers and parents collaborating, in the same way that the new school encourages the children to collaborate.
Veronica Douglas-Givan, the mother of a current ECMS student, said she has noticed that her son has developed a sense of independence and a desire to do things by himself as a result of the emphasis the Montessori method places on individual learning and experimentation.
Jackie Cossentino, director of research at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, said she is happy with ECMS’s success and said it “serves as a fine example of how family, state and community come together.” She added that pulling in federal, state and city grants can be difficult, but ECMS has secured enough funding.
The first public Montessori school was opened in 1975 in Cincinnati. Today, there are 482 schools documented by the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector.
Correction: Oct. 9
A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Eliza Halsey ’01.
Correction: Oct. 10
A previous version of this article misstated the positions and titles of Malcolm Dickenson, Veronica Douglas-Givan and Jackie Cossentino.