Kalispell Montessori to Add Middle School

By Beacon Staff

One of the valley’s Montessori schools has plans to expand its program to include middle school students, making it the only one of its kind in the state.

Kalispell Montessori Elementary, located on Willow Glen Drive, is starting to emerge from a recessionary slump. Though still not back to its 2007 high of 105 students, the school is back to nearly 70 kids and growing.

“Now we’re looking to grow the program,” David Cummings, a 13-year employee at the school, said last week.

Cummings will be spearheading the Montessori school’s next phase of development: a middle school program, for seventh and eighth graders. Currently, Kalispell Montessori teaches kids from first to sixth grade. The children are delineated into two groups, with first through third grade in one part of the building, and fourth through sixth on the other side.

The plan for the upcoming 2014 fall semester is to add the seventh- and eighth-graders to the mix, with their own space on the far end of the building.

“We will be the only (Montessori) middle school in the state,” Cummings said.

Montessori education is based on the ideas developed by Italian physicist Maria Montessori at the beginning of the 20th century. The philosophical tenants are based on an emphasis in independence, freedom within limits, and respect for each individual’s natural, psychological, physical and social development.

Typically, students take part in Montessori education at an early age, especially around the Flathead Valley. Programs for older kids are harder to come by, Cummings said, which is part of the reason his school wanted to consider the idea.

He had been tossing the concept around for some time, but the school wasn’t ready to move on it until about a year ago. Cummings traveled to Houston to get his first period of training, spending two months there last summer. He will head back to finish up his training this summer.

When he came back, Cummings said he had a better idea of what the curriculum would look like, and could adequately promote it. Montessori middle school has only been in development since the 1980s, he said, which is a relatively short time in education years.

This program will be structured specifically for adolescent minds, Cummings said, which are in a great state of flux as they continue to mature. It will be an individualized curriculum, just like the elementary education, but there will also be a great emphasis on the changing social development in the teenage students.

“It’s a very connected curriculum,” Cummings said.

In the middle school program, there will be five sections touched on throughout the year: math, language, social studies, science, and the individual. Each year will have a common theme running through each section, he said, such as “forces,” which can be applicable in all five areas of study.

Renee Boisseau, principal at Kalispell Montessori, said one of the biggest challenges she expects to face during the integration of the new middle school is finding an adequate replacement for Cummings.

“We’ll have to advertise nationwide,” she said.

Otherwise, Boisseau believes a middle school program will only enhance the school and its students.

“In terms of curriculum and the structure of the middle school, I don’t have any qualms about that at all,” she said.

So far, four students have signed up for the inaugural seventh grade class, and Cummings said he would have room for about 16 students. Boisseau said one of the questions new parents most frequently ask is what happens after their children complete sixth grade, and many parents she’s talked to are excited about the possibility of staying with a Montessori education until high school.

Students from outside Kalispell Montessori who wish to be part of the middle school will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Boisseau said, and not having a previous Montessori education doesn’t automatically discount any potential student.

For more information, call 406-755-3826, or visit www.kalispellmontessori.com.

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