Tell people you work with seventh and eight graders and almost certainly your audience will pipe in opinions about the young teenager. You may get comments resembling, “You’re a brave soul. I don’t think I could ever work with teenagers.” Many parents of adolescents struggle to understand the new personality that emerges at the middle school level.
Dr. Maria Montessori observed many of the misunderstood and defining behaviors of adolescents, and designed a classroom environment prototype that specifically meets the adolescent’s needs. Dr. Montessori was a 20th century Italian physician, anthropologist, and educationalist whose philosophical and practical strategies to working with children focused on meeting the developmental needs at each stage of human development.
Last June, ground was broken at the Montessori School of Maui on an expansion project of the Middle School, that entailed constructing and outfitting a building dedicated exclusively to the seventh and eighth graders. The students moved into the completed building in January 2016, thus fulfilling the culmination of a vision the school had held for many years. Designed using Montessori principles, the 30-student capacity environment contains a kitchen, single, small, and large group work spaces, library, recreation area, bathrooms, personal cubbies, indoor/outdoor eating spaces, a large covered lanai, herb and flower gardens, and all the fixings from high quality art to a strong technology infrastructure.
The education that middle school students receive at the Montessori School of Maui emphasizes character development in tandem with integration of the academic disciplines. These disciplines are balanced between purposeful, community-beneficial practical work (everyday skills) and intellectual study. One example of this integration would be the Middle School’s school store. This real-life operation of a “microeconomy,” in which all aspects of running a business are meaningful parts of the adolescent’s education, give the students exposure, understanding and hands-on experience.
“Valorization” is the process of an individual being strengthened internally through personal and community shared experiences. One’s work is valued, others cherish the contribution, and the individual’s voice is heard. In this structured yet open space, MOMI’s adolescents are encouraged to make choices of work based on personal passions and motivations, thus achieving liberty. In Dr. Montessori’s words, “liberty is not to be free to do anything one likes, it is to be able to act without help.”
By viewing the school day as individuals attending to the work of personal growth in an ohana environment, graduates move into high school and life as confident, problem-solving leaders ready to face all kinds of challenges and opportunities.
Image Credit: Montessori School of Maui