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Montessori School of Northampton expands enrollment (with correction)

Workers from Williams Scotman remove concrete blocks stored in a portable building recently at Montessori School of Northampton. The building is one of three sections that will be combined to make two classrooms and two bathrooms with a total of 1800 square feet. The concrete blocks are used to support the structure.
JERREY ROBERTS

Workers from Williams Scotman remove concrete blocks stored in a portable building recently at Montessori School of Northampton. The building is one of three sections that will be combined to make two classrooms and two bathrooms with a total of 1800 square feet. The concrete blocks are used to support the structure. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

A portable “learning cottage” was installed last month behind the school’s building on Bates Street. The cottage consists of two classrooms that will house a fourth Children’s House class for students in preschool and kindergarten, and a second* Lower Elementary class for students in grades 1-3.

Head of School Susan Swift said the expansion is the third* the school has undertaken since it moved from Florence to Northampton in 1986. That addition, completed in 1997, allowed the school to extend its program from the early grades to children in grades 4-6.

The latest expansion has been planned for at least two years, Swift said.

“We’re very lucky to have made it through the recession of the past few years and our Lower Elementary has been big enough so we wanted to break it into two classrooms” to reduce class sizes, she said.

Montessori is an educational approach developed in 1907 by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori that emphasizes individualized, self-directed learning. More than 1,300 schools and 100 teacher programs are members of the American Montessori Society, according to the organization’s website, http://www.amshq.org/.

The portable classrooms, which the school is leasing, will allow enrollment of 20 additional children in September, Swift said. The Montessori school, founded in 1978, enrolls about 120 students from pre-K through 6th grade.

The Amherst Montessori School has also expanded in recent months. In April, construction was completed on a new $2.6 million building on Pomeroy Lane that will allow all of that school’s classes to be brought under one roof.

Swift said the Northampton Montessori school’s new classrooms will provide space for more arts and after-school offerings. School leaders are plan a redesign of the playground, which was built in 2005 with a grant from the national nonprofit KaBOOM and is open to the neighborhood after 5 p.m.

“This is an opportunity for us to step back and have a three-year plan for what our playground will look like,” Swift said. “We’re working with staff and parents to envision that.”

In addition, the school is redesigning its parking lot, adding spaces and creating a drop-off area in front to ease traffic congestion at the start of the school day. The cost of the expansion is $200,000, Swift said.

The bulk of the Northampton Montessori school’s annual operating budget of approximately $1 million is funded through tuition, Swift said. Families pay $12,800 annually to attend the 10-month school program. About a third receive scholarships.

Northampton resident Celia Pastoriza, whose son Russell will be starting fourth grade at the school in September, said students should benefit from the smaller classes the expansion will make possible in the lower elementary grades.

“There have been 24 or 25 students in that class for my son’s last three years,” she said. “The teachers are fabulous but that’s a big class to have. I think having two separate classrooms will enable them to relax a little more.”

Pastoriza said though many parents might be put off by the idea of portable classrooms, she’s been pleasantly surprised by the design of the new learning cottage. “There’s lots of light and space,” she said.

Although Montessori education is most often associated with very young children, Swift said the percentage of students who remain at her school through the elementary grades has risen from about 50 percent to closer to 70 percent in recent years.

Eventually, school leaders would like to add a middle school program, though no concrete plans have been developed.

*The previous version of this story gave incorrect information about the number of expansions and Lower Elementary classes at the school.

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