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Fall opening is goal for new Montessori

The Nevada City-based Twin Ridges Elementary School District plans to open the area’s first Montessori elementary school in the fall.

The district last week approved a charter for the Sierra Montessori Academy, and the school’s founders said Monday that families of more than 100 students have expressed an interest in enrolling in the K-8 school for the 2005-06 school year.

It’s the latest charter school venture for Twin Ridges, which has charter and conventional schools in Nevada County and nearly two dozen charter schools in the north state and the San Francisco Bay Area.



While most Montessori schools are privately run, this is the first in the county that will be free, said Twin Ridges Superintendent Stan Miller.

The Sierra Montessori Academy employs a teaching method first popularized by Italian physician Maria Montessori in the early 1900s. Montessori was the first Italian woman to receive a medical degree.




The Montessori method is characterized by grouping children based on their educational abilities, organized to include several ages.

It is a largely student-driven curriculum, with the learning directed primarily by each child’s interest as opposed to a teacher-driven curriculum, said Jason Marsh, Sierra Montessori’s executive director.

“We feel that it offers an opportunity for people who want a Montessori option,” Miller said.

The school plans to enroll 180 students in nine grades for the 2005-06 year and will cap enrollment at 20 students per grade. Parents wishing to enroll their children in the school must do so by March 1. A lottery for the remaining spots at the school will be held March 3.

“We really believe that having small classes keeps kids from dropping through the cracks,” said Marsh, a software developer whose two young children have attended Montessori schools in the past.

Marsh said he came to Nevada County after being turned down in neighboring Placer County for a Montessori school.

Tulum Dothee, owner/director of Oakhaven Montessori, a preschool/kindergarten campus in Rough and Ready, said giving her parents the chance to continue their children’s education with the opening of the new campus sounds appealing.

Oakhaven traditionally teaches 3- to 6-year-old students.

“We follow the children and their interests,” Dothee said. Students are generally asked to develop their own problem-solving techniques. The curriculum is generated by their interests, as well, she said.

Marsh described the Montessori curriculum as the chance for “children to take responsibility for their own learning.

“The emotional attachment to your learning works,” he said.

Sierra Montessori Academy plans to hire eight full-time teachers and four aides. The school is looking for space near Lake of the Pines to attract students from both Placer and Nevada counties, Marsh said.

Under state law, charter curriculum must meet California standards and hire teachers with California credentials. Unlike conventional school districts, charter schools are each governed by a school council, with final financial oversight provided by the sponsoring district.

WHAT IS

MONTESSORI?

Montessori schools were pioneered by Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952), an Italian physician. The Montessori approach focuses on child-centered learning as opposed to learning that is teacher-directed. Students generally are grouped in relation to age and ability, not grade level. Conflict resolution and problem solving are prominent, as well. In many cases, the interests of the children form the curriculum for students in Montessori schools.


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