One of Apalachicola’s oldest churches is embarking on a new challenge: A pre-school in the mold of Montessori education.
Trinity Episcopal Church is working to attract up to seven 3-to-5 year old students to take part in their St. Benedict pre-school, modeled after the teaching approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori a century ago.
Montessori’s philosophy and practice was to emphasize freedom within limits, and to nurture a respect for a child’s natural psychological, physical, and social development. The approach has been tested over the last 100 years, and features student-driven choice of activity from within a range of options, uninterrupted blocks of work time, ideally three hours; a constructivist or “discovery" model, where students learn by working with materials, rather than by direct instruction; and specialized educational materials developed by Montessori and her collaborators.
Familiar with the success of Montessori education, which in some places can be up through high school, the church’s rector, Rev. Martha Harris, favored bringing it here, but it was a remote possibility until this past year, when two key factors came together.
Tricia Henderson, who ran a Montessori school in Port St. Joe that attracted Apalachicola students, was forced to tend to her own health issues, and so had to close the school there. In addition, Trinity was able to enlist the services of a trained Montessori teacher, Tammy Farmer, who was moving back to St. Joe after years in Atlanta.
Henderson, now director of the Apalachicola Montessori program, and Farmer have been instrumental in helping set up the Apalachicola program. The church transformed the former library and Sunday School space at Benedict Hall into the Montessori classroom, painting the room and adding a door that leads out to a fenced-in play area.
“We’re looking at it as a ministry, as community outreach,” said Gloria Austin, chairman of the church’s preschool board.
Over the past few weeks, Henderson and Farmer were busy putting in place all the school materials the church has acquired for the pre-school. Montessori and later her son developed specific teaching tools, such as geometric shapes and beaded mathematical configurations, that offer a tested approach for shaping learning activity. The church’s new place incorporates beauty, order and harmony, and enables the teacher to foster independence within an environment that facilitates movement and activity.
The days of the pre-school, which is open to children who are toilet trained, up to kindergarten, are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. The monthly fee is $150, and there is a registration fee and supply fee as well. Austin said the cost is in keeping with other area schools.