CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's a new middle school coming to the Kanawha Valley.
It won't look like the rest of them in Charleston, though. This one will look a lot like the program already in place for elementary children at Mountaineer Montessori School in Kanawha City.
That school, founded in 1976, uses the Montessori education method, an approach that emphasizes experiential learning, independence and childhood development. In essence, children are given a lesson but largely left to their own devices to learn in the way that suits them, with subtle guidance and assessments made by teachers largely in the form of observation, not tests.
The Montessori method applies to children of all ages, through graduation from high school, but it's most common for small children and the elementary school years. Many schools don't have programs for older children -- after they reach a certain grade level they're sent off to a traditional school.
Right now, Mountaineer Montessori has programs in place for students up to grade six. But its administrators are responding to requests from parents who want to leave their children in Montessori longer -- the school plans to launch a middle school program for grades seven and eight, and potentially nine in later years, in the fall.
"It's ambitious," Dana Gilliland, the head of school, said of the plan to build that program by fall. "We have to work quickly here."
"But doable," Laurie Ewert-Krocker chimed in.
Ewert-Krocker is the founding head teacher of the Hershey Farm School in Ohio, one of the premier schools for adolescent Montessori programs in the country. She's also a consultant for Montessori schools around the country who are looking to develop their own middle school program.
She was in Charleston this week to advise Mountaineer Montessori on the transition. She gave a talk for parents and faculty at the school, and went with administrators to visit a potential site for the school.
"It's just a huge undertaking with so many factors to consider -- a site and financing and curriculum and all this -- and Laurie has a lot of experience in this," Gilliland said.
One of the largest and most important hurdles is a location for the school, both because of practical concerns, and because location plays into the middle school Montessori curriculum in a big way.
"It's place-based in that the projects that integrate their studies are based on their locale, their neighborhood, their community, their property, their building, their site. You can make meaningful work for adolescents who need their work to be meaningful and relevant this way," Ewert-Krocker said.