Let’s say you’re someone who has discovered Montessori, and experienced its transformative power for children, and you’ve begun to ask yourself, how can this model of education be available for all children, not just the relative few who can afford it? What can you do with that realization?
Well, you could go work at a public Montessori school, if there’s one nearby or you’re willing to move. Or you could start your own, as a charter school — although, as anyone who has done that, or reads MontessoriPublic, can tell you, you can count on a year or more of planning, hundreds of volunteer hours, and tens of thousands of dollars in grant money. Or, you could lobby your school district to include Montessori — but will they listen to just one person?
Or, you could do what Annie Frazer has done in Atlanta, Georgia, with the help and support of the Montessori community there: found Montessori Partnerships for Georgia (MPG), an organization dedicated to “supporting and promoting high-quality Montessori schools and family centers for Georgia’s under-served communities.” (You might have read about MPG at Montessori for Social Justice in 2014: Seeds of a New Georgia Montessori Movement.)
This is a new direction in Montessori. Historically, Montessori organizations have existed to support Montessori teachers and schools, which has largely meant private school teachers and private schools. It’s not that AMI-USA, AMS, and NAMTA (among others) haven’t also worked for and supported public Montessori. All three organizations supported the NAMTA-founded, now-defunct, Montessori Public School Consortium in the 1990s; AMI-USA has hosted an annual Public School Forum; and AMS launched the now-independent National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector in 2012. But we’re starting to see the growth of organizations dedicated specifically to public Montessori — outfits like the Montessori Partners Serving All Children in St. Paul, the Oglesby Foundation in Chicago, Montessori Works in Delaware, and Montessori Partnerships for Georgia.
Atlanta, Georgia, is a big place, and it’s a big Montessori town. Atlanta proper is about 500,000, but the metro area is nearly 6,000,000, 9th in the U.S. That’s more than half of Georgia’s 10,000,000 or so people. Fulton County School District, which is everything in the surrounding county except Atlanta proper, holds a million people and serves 94,000 students, while Atlanta Public Schools serves another 55,000.
Montessori-wise, the region supports about 50 Montessori schools, comparable to (smaller) Montessori hubs such as Portland, Oregon and Minneapolis, Minnesota. This includes two of Georgia’s four public Montessori programs Briar Vista and Huntley Hills. The Montessori Institute of Atlanta (MIA), an AMI teacher training center here since 1968, claims Atlanta as “home to the largest AMI community in North America.” Montessori Administrators of Georgia (MAG) lists 39 schools by affiliation: 26 AMI, ten AMS, one IMS, and two with nothing listed. A second AMI training center, the International Montessori Training Institute (IMTI) opened in 2011, and an AMS training program, the Montessori Teacher Education Institute (MTEI) opened in 2013. The Pan American Montessori Society, an AMI-offshoot Montessori organization and training center, has been operating in the area since 1973.
This was the environment in which Frazer launched MPG. Montessori is well known, and excellent private schools abound, yet the public programs operate under the restraints found everywhere: challenges to fidelity, school leadership, maintaining Montessori age-groupings, funding for children under five, and more. Driven by her mission to support high quality Montessori for all of Georgia’s children, Frazer assembled a small board of Montessori teachers and parents and a larger advisory council of Montessori teachers, teacher trainers, and community leaders, and incorporated as a non-profit in 2015.
The Partnership’s first big project was a two-day community outreach workshop this March for 60 teachers and childcare providers on Montessori Principles and Practices for Early Childhood Educators. MPG is also consulting with Fulton County Public Schools to support the opening of not one but two district Montessori programs, and with a group of parents in south Atlanta, a predominantly African-Amercian community with many struggling schools, to explore a charter or district option.
Looking forward, MPG plans to extend its outreach and advocacy work, providing more support for teachers and more parent workshops. “We want to get fundamental Montessori principles out in the community, for parents to know more about child development, and to support joyful learning for children.” The Partnership is in the early stages of taking on teacher certification, aiming for recognition like what’s happening in South Carolina, where a diploma from a MACTE certified course grants teacher certification for working in public Montessori school. (Including AMI courses as well, which have not always been MACTE accredited, would help bring in experienced teachers already working in the community.) A lab school, or “Montessori Family Center”, would serve as a model and an inspiration for public programs statewide.