Maria Montessori developed her globally recognized teaching method at the Casa dei Bambini in Rome 100 years ago. In 1976, the method came to Mt. Lebanon for the first time when Mt. Lebanon Montessori School opened its doors at St. Winifred’s Church. For Mt. Lebanon Montessori, those 40 years represent growth, happy teachers and administrators and students who are excited to learn.
Sister Barbara Popchak and Father Bernard Hrico founded the school in 1976. In the beginning, the school comprised 25 students, one teacher and one assistant in the preschool program. Now called the Mt. Lebanon Montessori School and Academy, it’s still at home in St. Winifred’s.
Today, the school has 24 students in its Toddler Program, 92 in its ages Three to Six Program, 18 in kindergarten and 46 in the Montessori Academy, meant for students from grades one to six. “We’ve taken on additional space, improved the facility and teacher qualifications, and our finances are in better shape,” says former board president James Frazier, who has been on the board since its inception in the ‘90s. “Overall, things have improved through the years.”
“They have a lot of respect for the children here,” says parent Tanya Broaded of Sunset Hills, who has one child in the Academy and another in the Three to Six Program. When she drops her children off at school, at least one person, either a teacher or an administrator, always greets them and helps them from the car. “They are taught to shake hands with every person who greets them and to look them in the eyes. It teaches our kids how to respect others.”
She and her husband, Josh, selected Mt. Lebanon Montessori for their children after visiting other schools because they noticed a clear difference in the education offered by the Montessori method. In particular, they both mentioned the “energized hum” of the students, who are engaged and enjoying the learning process.
Mt. Lebanon Montessori recently became a Middle States Association Full Member, a qualification normally required for public schools and universities. It is also an American Montessori Society Affiliate School, meaning that its program meets a standard of excellence in Montessori teaching recognized by the AMS.
What is Montessori teaching? Megan Steen, Three to Six Program head teacher and director of the school, and Kitty Lang, Montessori Lower Academy head teacher, explain the keys to the method:
• Multi-age groups that allow older students to teach their younger peers
• Teaching new concepts beginning with the concrete and moving into the abstract
• Permitting students to set their own schedules as they work through their subjects
In the Montessori Academy, students have a three-hour work cycle in which they must complete tasks for various subjects. The teachers help and guide, while the students which tasks to work through individually or with the help of peers at their own pace. This concept is designed to reduce struggling after absences or needing to spend more time on specific subjects. It also allows students to pursue a more advanced understanding of the subjects they enjoy.
“I don’t feel like I’m going to work. I feel like I’m going to have fun,” says Lang, who is in her 11th year at Mt. Lebanon Montessori. In fact, most of the teachers at the school have been there for many years, and both Lang and Steen agree that it may have something to do with the positive environment shared by everyone at the school.
“I worked in a public school for 12 years, and I spent the majority of my time preparing students for tests,” says Steen. “I didn’t feel like I was teaching, and I felt that students were wasting their time once they grasped concepts. Here, there is no cap or ceiling on what kids can learn.”