Montessori FAQ's

GR Montessori

About this FAQ

On May 3, 2011, over 70 GRPS parents, teachers, administrators and Board of Education members attended our Montessori stakeholders’ event. This outpouring of interest and the presentation of concrete plans and ideas have provoked excitement about the future of public Montessori in Grand Rapids Public Schools. It also caused our parent community to ask more questions about how all of this will happen over the next few years.
This document tries to answer as many of those questions as possible and may will inspire a few more. If you need more details or want to join our effort, there are contact details at the end of this document.

What is the Montessori Method?

Trained as Italy's first female physician, Dr. Maria Montessori is best known for her creation of an educational system, introduced in 1907, that was a revolutionary approach to the way children were educated. Through her pioneering research, she created a system that addresses the development of the whole child and is rooted in the belief that all children possess an intellectual and creative potential, a drive to learn and the ability to be self-directed.
Montessori developed a system of learning for all students, disabled and otherwise, in large open classrooms with low shelves, tables of different sizes and chairs sized for children of different ages. Montessori classes often group children in three levels with the older students helping the younger.
A strong body of evidence in developmental psychology supports Montessori's major conclusions—among them, that there is a close relationship between movement and cognition, that the best learning is active and that order is beneficial for children.
The Montessori Method uses hands-on lessons and experiences to help students gain skills and knowledge that prepare them for the real world. It is academically rigorous and student centered. The method values and uses diversity within the classroom and school to create a respectful community where all people are appreciated. With built-in character education, Montessori students grow personally and academically and progress through elementary, high school and college as engaged learners and leaders.

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What is Grand Rapids Public Montessori?

  • It is a district-wide program located on two campuses with two elementary schools, a middle school and a high school serving more than 700 students from PK3 to 12th grade.
  • Grand Rapids Public Schools has a 40-year history of public Montessori education, one of the longest-running public programs in the US.
  • Our elementary schools in the program consistently outperform other GRPS and neighboring districts on all standardized tests.
  • The current Montessori High School has one of the best graduation rates in the region, graduating more than 90% of its students.

Montessori Adolescent Program  [7th to 12th grade]

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Is there a long-term plan for Montessori High School?
Yes. Since 2009, the Montessori Task Force, commissioned by Superintendent Dr. Taylor, has undertaken a study of the current secondary program. Data was collected from several sources including staff, students, parents, community and administration to inform the future of the program. The data indicated parent and student interest in a Montessori secondary program. However, the program will need to have parent commitment, district support, program focus and targeted marketing to compete with other viable options.
In March of 2011, Montessori consultants Gena Engelfried and Benedict Moudry delivered their report, which led to the development of 13 recommendations that are guiding the secondary school effort. Over the next four years, GRPS will implement a 360 to 460 student Montessori adolescent program.

  • Configured as grades 7–12 program, it will be organized as three, two- year Montessori cohorts, grades 7/8,9/10 and 11/12. This is typically referred to as Montessori Adolescent 1, Adolescent 2 and Adolescent 3.
  • The GRPS will offer this program as an open enrollment theme school.
  • A completed theme school application will be required for enrollment for grades 7–10 only.
  • When there are students with no Montessori experience, they will be required to participate in a multi-day orientation.
  • It will continue to be located within Central High School with a dedicated space for a 7th–12th grade program.

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How is the Montessori High School set up for Fall 2011?
2011 is a transitional year for our program. For the current school year, the middle school is configured as a two- year Montessori cohort of grade 7/8 students. Currently, our two teachers are Ms. Emily Lawrence and Ms. Carley Wallen.
They have both received professional development in adolescent Montessori teaching methods. Montessori students in grades 9–12 are blended with traditional Central HS and Health Sciences and Technology (HST) students in several subjects, including math, science, social studies and non-core classes. English and science are taught exclusively to Montessori students.

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What changes are planned in Fall 2012?

The adolescent program will continue to be located within Central High School with the secondary program for 7–12 grades, organized in two-year cohorts for a grade 7/8/, 9/10 and 11/12. Our recruitment goal is to have 225-250 students in grades 7–12, up from our current 155. Each year after 2012, we want to gain a net +75 students.
Montessori adolescent curriculum development is already underway, led by the Montessori Coordinator, Ms. Nikki Jones. As teachers are hired or trained for adolescent Montessori, they will assume this responsibility, bringing their experiences and expertise to the program.

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What happens in the grades 7–12 Montessori classrooms?

Dr. Montessori’s vision for adolescent education can be summarized as the clear application of school knowledge to practical contexts.
Adolescent Montessori education uses a team teaching approach that integrates core subjects to individualize instruction. Students work on assignments in a cooperative learning environment where discussion and collaboration are encouraged through a process known as the Socratic Seminar. The Socratic Seminar is designed to provide repeated opportunities to practice and develop logical, higher order thinking skills and to reflect abstractly which, in turn, allows students to integrate exploratory experiences into their lives. This process brings about high levels of academic achievement and development of key social skills so that students will be prepared for college and/or work/career.
Framed with core Montessori principles, our curriculum team is at work on materials for our students to conduct meaningful work with a focus on stewardship of the community (family, academic, civic); of culture (literature, music, art); and of the environment (natural and built). Upon graduation our students will have developed a sense of responsibility and sustainability for themselves, their classroom colleagues, their families and their communities.

Elective courses, where necessary, will be shared with other programs co-located at the Central Campus. An example might be a world language instructor. Elective teachers will be provided an orientation on Montessori by school staff.
Results will be measured in accordance with district and state requirements, including standardized state assessments (MEAP, MME, and MAP tests), and the program will comply with the Michigan Merit Curriculum.

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How will we bring new students into the program that have no Montessori experience?

Because our program has an open enrollment, we will be accepting students from other GRPS elementary programs through grade 10. New students to the Montessori secondary program will be required to participate in a multi-day orientation session prior to entering the program to experience the Montessori Method. Staff will be required to engage in training to adapt Montessori Methods to accommodate students with limited Montessori experience.

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With all of these new students, we will need more Montessori teachers.  Is there a professional development plan?

Yes. The plan is to train or hire Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (“MACTE”) certified teachers at all levels--not just the high school. MACTE is a nationally recognized training certification recognized by the US Department of Education and the two leading Montessori professional organizations, the American Montessori International-USA (AMI-USA) and the America Montessori Society (AMS).

Ms. Jones is presently reviewing adolescent training options, with a focus on public Montessori expertise. We will also be looking into hiring newly trained staff from these programs as an alternative to training if there are no current GRPS staff available.
Our staff and our program will also maintain a membership in one of the national professional Montessori organizations. Eventually, as we succeed and mature, we will seek Montessori accreditation as well.

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How will these changes impact our current students and teachers in Grades 7–12?

Current students
Our goal is to strengthen and grow the entire Montessori program, with particular emphasis on the secondary grades. This starts with Montessori training for teachers in grades 7-12 as well as the continued development and improvement of our Montessori curriculum. Current students will begin to see the positive changes and improvements.
Current teachers
The current teachers serving grades 7-8 already participated in a Montessori training in November 2011. Additional trainings will be scheduled for 2012-13 school year. The focus is to continue to build capacity and professionally develop highly qualified, Montessori trained teachers.
Certified Montessori adolescent teachers will be given preference for open positions in core-classrooms (i.e. math, science, English, social studies) as long as their credentials match the grade-level and subject matter. Currently, there are a number of Montessori teachers scattered across the district. We hope this renewed effort around stability and program integrity will draw these teachers back into the program.
Teachers in non-core classes such as music, performing and visual arts, world languages and other electives will receive Montessori orientation. This will be developed by our program leadership and led by our teaching staff. For example, a Spanish language teacher would receive a Montessori orientation to better work with our students while also meeting this new state curriculum requirement for a second language.

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Montessori Elementary Program [Children’s House to 6th grade]

What is Children’s House?

‘Children’s House’ is a term used to denote the preschool and kindergarten Montessori classroom where students ages three to six are combined. The classrooms are well-planned environments, and the Montessori teacher is the link between the child and the environment. Special materials, largely manipulative in nature, are suited to the pre-school child’s developmental needs. Each piece of material used at ages three and four will develop coordination, power of observation, concentration and work habits, which are the foundation for the more abstract learning that will occur at ages five and six.
Dr. Montessori observed that children experience sensitive periods, or windows of opportunity, as they grow. As their students develop, Montessori teachers match appropriate lessons and materials to these sensitive periods when learning is most naturally absorbed and internalized. The teachers respect each child as an individual and allow the child to develop physically, socially, emotionally, and intellectually. The child also develops problem solving skills and interpersonal skills through grace and courtesy lessons.

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What does a Montessori elementary classroom like?

When your child enters the elementary class from the Montessori primary, he will find much that is familiar in this new setting. The elementary classroom environment is prepared to support independent learning; it is child-centered, not adult-centered. Many of the beautiful, inviting Montessori materials from the primary classroom are also found in the elementary, where your child will use them in new ways suited to her expanding mind and make his own discoveries in language, math, and science. Perhaps most importantly, the other children in the class have a similar background of being treated with respect and support and have developed into confident, competent students.
The starting point for all courses of study is the “Great Lessons”; these impressionistic and scientific stories are presented every year and give the students the “big picture” of cosmology, astronomy, earth science, geography, chemistry, physics, biology, history, anthropology, cultural and social studies, language, math, music, and art. Subsequent lessons offer the children keys for exploring these areas of human knowledge in more detail. While Common Core National Standards are taught and measured, Montessori teachers know that meaningful learning happens when children are inspired by a lesson and begin to explore the subject and work on their own. Research is a large component of the Montessori workday.

Elementary children have a strong drive to be social and to collaborate. For this reason, most of the lessons and follow-up projects in elementary are done in pairs or groups of children. Each day, your child will practice the social skills necessary to plan and carry out his projects: delegation and division of labor, sharing resources, making group decisions, taking responsibility for actions, and celebrating the success of peers. Conflict is not uncommon, but the motivation to resolve it comes from the children and their engagement with their projects. The Montessori teacher models and supports constructive and respectful problem solving. Learning how to work well with the different personalities and characteristics of other children in the classroom community is a significant life lesson with practical applications in the “real world” of high school, college and the professional workplace of the future.

At the end of the Montessori elementary program, 12 year olds are ready for a very important transition: becoming an adolescent. Their elementary years have given them the freedom to develop as unique individuals. They have experienced the challenges and rewards of working with a group of other children of different ages and have seen their skills and talents put to use in many group projects. They have developed proficiency in all areas of academic endeavors and looks forward to the new opportunities beyond Montessori elementary. They love and trust the adults with whom they work. Above all, they are flexible and adaptable.

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Can you share a few facts about our elementary schools?
Our elementary program is currently in two schools with about 580 students enrolled for Children’s House to 6th grade. Both programs adhere to a key tenet of the Montessori method- three-year cohorts. Each school is organized as Children's House (PK3/PK4/K5), lower elementary (G1/2/3) and upper elementary (G4/5/6).

GR Montessori @Fountain
Fountain School is located in Heritage Hill in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids. Our Children’s House to 6th grade program has approximately 360 students enrolled for 2011—a stable enrollment level for the past several years—and is currently meeting Michigan AYP standards. Children’s House and lower elementary classes are held in the Fountain School. This includes three Children’s House classrooms and five lower elementary classrooms (grades 1/2/3). We also have three upper elementary classrooms in the first floor of Central HS.
A very engaged PTO supports the school. Another parent group, led by an MSU Certified Master Gardener, maintains the numerous plant and vegetable beds dotting the campus as part of our students’ classroom experience.

GR Montessori @North Park
GR Montessori @North Park located in the Northeast quadrant of Grand Rapids, currently educates 220+ Montessori students from Children’s House to 6th grade. The school enrollment has grown by 62% since 2006 when there were only 136 students. We offer two Children's House classrooms, three lower elementary and two upper elementary. Our average mobility (student changeover/ during the school year) is less than eight students.
Several teachers are guiding students in developing a horticultural plan for the 20-acre campus. A very engaged PTA supports the school.

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How have we organized and staffed Children’s House for 2011?

We are fully staffed for the 2011/12 school year. Fountain has one new teacher, Miss Lauren Haboian. At North Park, Miss Sybil Botting has joined us full time. She is American Montessori Society trained. We are now able to offer four, half-day sections, two days each, of Children’s House/Kindergarten at North Park Montessori. Fountain Montessori has five, half-day sections, two days each, of the Children’s House/Preschool.

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When will GRPS be able to offer a four-day Montessori Preschool again?

With the combination of the state funding environment and state accreditation, we can only offer what we have at the moment. Because of State of Michigan requirements, GRPS must manage Children’s House as PK-3/PK-4/ kindergarten with a 10/1-teacher student ratio in PK 3/4 and a 10/1 student ratio in K5.
It has been suggested that the GRPS form a study group to assess Children’s House at both schools and develop a long-term solution for a stable and mature offering. This was the same process that started the high school effort we are now undertaking. If you are interested in participating, let your school administrator know.

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What about all day Kindergarten? Other schools offer it, why not GR Montessori?
The district is reviewing state requirements and staffing/funding impact of all-day kindergarten on Montessori PK3/4 for Fall 2012.

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Who is doing all of this work?
Elves. Just kidding. The re-invigoration of our Montessori program is a long-term, multi-year collaboration of Montessori parents, Montessori teachers, our Principals and GRPS Cabinet Officers.

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What is the role of the Montessori Coordinator?
The Montessori coordinator, Ms. Nikki Jones, works to ensure quality education for all students in the Grand Rapids Public Schools who are interested in the Montessori Method of learning. The coordinator works closely with parents, teachers and other district staff to set up systems that will ensure ongoing quality instruction and rigorous learning in our classrooms. The Coordinator also helps administer the Montessori program at Central Campus.

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What is the Montessori Advisory Council?
Its purpose is to support the GRPS Montessori program. We are beginning with a focus on the adolescent program but over the next few years we will expand our scope to support the entire program.
Meeting on a monthly basis, the Council is made of up of parents, teachers, district leadership and community members. They serve in an advisory capacity to assist the schools and district with the development and growth of the GRPS Montessori schools, including public-private partnerships, fundraising, student retention/recruitment, and more.
It is co-chaired by Central Campus Principal Dustin Gill and Thom Bell, a Montessori parent at North Park Schools and a member of the original GRPS Montessori Task-force. There are currently three committees developing strategies and implementing solutions in key areas identified for improvement:

  • Curriculum and Professional Development
  • Marketing and Recruiting
  • Partners and Fundraising

If you would like to participate, see the end of this FAQ for contact details.

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What is MontessoriGR?
‘MontessoriGR: The Friends of Montessori Education in Grand Rapids, MI’ is a parent-initiated community group. This group is organized specifically to support successful, high performing Public Montessori Education in the Grand Rapids Public Schools. By increasing access to the Montessori method our community maximizes its opportunities to foster self-confidence, independence, personal and social responsibility, and a passion for lifelong learning in our children.

MontessoriGR was created about a year ago to share information with the GRPS Montessori community about the secondary program consulting effort, to survey parents and to raise funds for underwriting the adolescent program report. With that work complete, MontessoriGR is evolving into a ‘Friends of’ organization to provide the means for our parent community to raise funds for any program-level initiatives.
The mission of MontessoriGR is to further the awareness and integration of Montessori-based learning within the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). MontessoriGR also raises and contributes funds to enhance GRPS Montessori programs and provides support to the teachers, parents, and administrators at its participating schools: GR Montessori @Fountain, GR Montessori @North Park school, and
GR Montessori @Central HS.
Learn more at

I’m inspired—how can I help?

Volunteer at your school
Being a parent in the classroom is the best way to insure your child is inspired to learn and that the school is meeting their needs. Volunteering keeps you informed about other enriching activities at your child’s school. Here are the contact details for our three schools:

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Work with your school’s PTA/PTO
The North Park Schools PTA meets the fourth Thursday of every month at 6:00pm in the school library. You can contact them via email at
The Fountain PTO meets the second Tuesday of every month at 5:30pm in the Fountain School Auditorium. You can contact them via email at

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Volunteer with the Montessori Advisory Council
Contact the co-chairs,Dustin Gill or Thom Bell
Lend a hand to MontessoriGR