State and city administrators joined Elm City Montessori School students in semi-structured playtime Wednesday morning, during the school’s official opening six weeks after classes had begun.
Organizers of the local charter magnet school invited the community to join them in dedicating their new space at 375 Quinnipiac Ave., which formerly housed Benjamin Jepson School. Parents, staff, and administrators gathered to share their experiences with the school so far and to see the Montessori method up close.
Seventy children between the ages of 3 and 5 attend the school in three mixed-age classrooms, narrowed from a total pool of more than 600 applications. The school will grow by a couple of classrooms each year until it is a preK-8 school of 300 students, said Eliza Halsey, a school founder and the board president.
“There’s no standing in Eliza’s way, so we may as well ride that wave,” Superintendent Garth Harries said, joking at the event. “But we should ride it in a way that we can learn from.”
As the first public Montessori school in New Haven, Elm City Montessori emphasizes independent, individualized learning, encouraging students to take a hands-on approach when exploring new topics. The philosophy comes from Italian physician Maria Montessori, who opened the first of the schools in 1907.
Uma Ramani, a Montessori consultant, explained the theory behind the different learning stations to interested groups. “Children are taking in everything from birth, and now they want to explore it,” she said, pointing out the station with “sensorial materials” to teach concepts of color and sound.
“It’s not about teaching the curriculum, but about truly teaching students,” said state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor, who was also on hand..
Principal Alissa Levy called up a series of parents to explain why they had sent their children to the school.
Teachers made home visits to their students’ families at the beginning of the school year. Parent Jennifer Schleif, who works with truant kids, said at the event that getting involved with families is a key part of engaging students.
Veronica Douglas-Givan said she grew up in Newhallville but attended elementary schools in Branford and Hamden through Project Choice, because her parents thought there wasn’t a good neighborhood option. (She graduated from New Haven’s Lee High School.) She knew she wanted something different for her 4-year-old son Jayvon. At Elm City Montessori, a viable neighborhood option, he is learning to become more independent, she said.
“I never felt connected to the community until now,” parent Lauren Perley said. She and her husband have been in Fair Haven for seven years, and are only now beginning to meet their neighbors through the school.
Before the crowd dispersed, Elm City Montessori students punctuated the opening with their own tiny parade. Four kids stood in a line, each holding up a colorful paper with a golden cursive letter representing the school’s acronym. “Elm City Montessori School,” they chanted, mostly in unison, and then scattered out the door.