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Montessori builds for the future

By Amber Marra

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Charleston Montessori School has spread its operations to a modular classroom as a step toward moving to a more permanent location.

The $23,000 structure, which school officials refer to as an "extended classroom," is used as a primary education room, or where the children who are 2 1/2 to 6 years old spend part of their day.

The school's Director Paige Payne said the new 1,200-square-foot building is a "stepping stone" toward where Charleston Montessori needs to be in five years, but that's not to say they want to move far away.

"We really like being on the West Side," Payne said.

Charleston Montessori is housed in the Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church at 805 Price St. and has 35 students ages 2 1/2 to 12.

The Montessori method calls for students to learn through experiences like practical life lessons, exploration of sensorial and mathematical concepts and cultural exposure.

The students choose what they want to pursue as long as they've had a lesson in that particular area.

Charleston Montessori has been open since the summer of 2010, and the school's board of directors has been working since then with parents and the community to raise money for the new classroom.

About $3,000 in donations came from community members who have no direct affiliation with the school but support Montessori educational methods.

"There are families out there who understand why Montessori education is important but don't have kids here," Payne said.

The new classroom contains ample space, but there's a noticeable lack of the technology that tends to dot public school classrooms. There are no Smart Boards or laptops here.

"While Google is a wonderful tool, that is not where we want our kids to go for information first," Payne said.

Instead, the room includes stations where students can focus on lessons that use the five senses to help them learn. Young ones might trace letters made of sandpaper, for example. Students also can use the "brown stairs" tool, in which brown blocks are stacked in configurations that demonstrate depth.

There is also an area for life lessons, such as how to serve a snack, how to button, tie or zip clothing and how to fold a washcloth.

That's not to say there is no place for technology at Charleston Montessori. One of the former primary classrooms in the church building contains three laptop computers. Three iPads are on the way. The room also contains a modest library, for which the school is taking book donations.

On Wednesday, students used the laptops to research Africa, which is the continent they currently are studying. Each month they use a variety of sources, including books and the internet, to focus on a different continent.

Students even used Skype, software that lets users make voice and video calls over the internet, to interview someone living in Ghana.

Another former primary room in the main building is now used as a Spanish, art and music room, furthering the school's emphasis on cultural learning.

Eduardo Canelon, who moved to West Virginia from Venezuela, teaches Spanish as well as hand percussion and guitar. The added space makes his job much easier.

"Now I can leave all of my instruments here; I don't have to haul them back and forth between classes," Canelon said.

Qian-Wen Yau, the lead primary instructor at the school, is also finding life a little easier now that all her students can be in the same room at the same time.

Before, the primary students were divided between the two small classrooms in the main building, making it difficult for Yau to gauge their educational interests - a vital part of Montessori education.

"It is good to be in this classroom where they are learning as a community," she said. "I can see what is happening with everyone. When we were in two classrooms, it was hard to see what was going on with all of the students."

Payne also would like to see the spacious front deck of the new classroom used once it has aged a bit and is stained. An observation room also could be added so prospective parents can see what a day in Montessori school is like.

While the extended classroom is indeed a "steppingstone" for a more permanent home, she still doesn't see the school moving too far from its current location.

"We have several different strategic plans, but the future will take us on the path we need to go," Payne said. "But we would really like to stay on the West Side."

Charleston's other Montessori school, Mountaineer Montessori, was established in 1976 and is on the city's south side, near the University of Charleston.  

Contact writer Amber Marra at amber.marra@dailymail.com or 304-348-4843. 


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