The First Montessori Public Charter School Opens in Baltimore
By Amy Landsman
The first thing staffers at the new Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School
did when they took over the former Mildred Monroe Elementary School building in
Baltimore this summer was rip out the green carpeting and replace it with new,
environmentally friendly tile floor.
And that’s good, because instead of spending the day sitting at individual
desks, Montessori students spend a lot of time on the floor. In fact, the
school’s 170 students either sit at group tables or simply plop down on a rug
and do their work at ground level.
In addition to the new floor, wooden cubbies replaced the battered lockers and
the chalkboards disappeared. Finally, the classrooms were de-cluttered as the
staff moved in lots of comfy rugs, added low shelves, and installed sturdy
blonde-wood tables and chairs. Slowly but surely, this rather grim-looking
building (and one-time homeless shelter) is being transformed into a cheerful
home for the City’s first Montessori public charter school.
The school currently consists of a
preschool class through fourth grade. Grades five and six will be added over
the next couple of years. In the classrooms, the kids work individually or in
small groups. Some sit at tables, others on rugs on the floor.
One student, 9-year-old Russell, is working on math. Using small cubes to learn
the concepts of number groups, he appears focused and attentive.
“I take the longer [group of cubes] and put it with the 10 and so on,” Russell
says, adding, “I really like to do it.”
In another classroom, some of the students munch on pretzel sticks as they
work. A boy wearing headphones plays a keyboard. Another student, 10-year-old
D’Jah, circulates around the classroom asking his fellow students if they would
like parts in the play he’s writing.
“My play is about a bounty hunter. It’s about a few people who are looking for
the prince, and they’re searching all over the world in their time machine.
They run into lots of weird people, and they help them on their journey. They
run into a sheriff, a bounty hunter, a mad scientist, Shaquille O’Neill, Jedi,
LeBron James, and some of the X-Men,” D’Jah cheerfully explains.
He hopes to present the play to the entire school.
In the same classroom, about a half-dozen kids sit on a rug, working on
“Most of these children are in a passage from the concrete to the abstract,”
says their teacher, Betsy Wimbrow. “They’ve had lots of experience with
materials, lots of hands-on experience, and now they’re transitioning to doing
it on paper. They can do addition without materials. Now they’re doing
Along with employing hands-on materials such as the cubes Russell uses, the Montessori
method features daily peer tutoring, group work, mixed-age classrooms, and
freedom- within-limits, for the children to move and talk. Each child works at
his or her own pace and stays with the same teacher for three years. There is
The school’s seven teachers are all Montessori-certified, and each classroom
has a teacher and an aide.
In a typical private Montessori school, by the time the students are 7 or 8,
they’ve probably been in the school for two or three years and are used to the
Montessori method of teaching. However, since this Baltimore school just opened
in August 2008, the students have had to adjust to a new way of learning.
“It’s definitely been an adjustment for the children. A good adjustment, but it
really took some time. The children were not used to making choices,” notes
Allison Shecter, founder and principal of Baltimore Montessori.
She explains that, upon entering the school, many students’ communication and
social skills were not well developed—perhaps because in their former schools they had
less opportunity to talk casually to each other in class. Plus, the kids were used to moving at the pace set
by the teacher, rather than being guided by their own interests and needs.
“We spent a long time building their trust,” she adds.
According to Shecter, the teachers also found that many of the students were
behind academically, and so they have been working intensively to get the kids
With a Some Help
Signing up their children for the
Montessori school was a leap of faith for many of the parents, especially those
who were not 100 percent familiar with the Montessori approach. Plus there’s an
emphasis on parent education, and all parents are asked to put in some
Shecter says, “There’s just a natural family feel—a lot of collaboration
"I love it," says Raven Calloway, mother of a 7-year-old girl, Zion,
a student at the school.
Calloway says the teacher met with Zion even before school started to show
her the classroom and to get to know her. She says Zion is a
self-motivated learner who has adapted very nicely to the Montessori style.
"She's very into science and reading right now...she's always
engaged," Calloway says. "I wish I was her age again!"
Calloway also praises the open communication between the parents and principal:
"If you have an issue, you don't necessarily have to schedule a meeting to
see her—she is very open and free to communicate."
The Montessori School receives funding from the Baltimore City Schools, as well
as donations and grant money from private foundations. Loyola College in
Baltimore (soon to be renamed “Loyola University Maryland”), which has a
Montessori training program, has been extremely supportive.
All Maryland public school students in grades three through eight must take the
Maryland School Assessments in reading and math. And Shecter says that the
children at this Montessori public charter school will be as well prepared as
students at any typical elementary school.
“There’s usually a question on the MSA, ‘What is poetry?’” she says. “Instead
of studying the definition of poetry, in Montessori, the children are immersed
in poetry and using all the vocabulary they need to understand poetry. So, when
they get to that question, they really know how to answer, because they
“You’re giving them a deeper understanding, so they can demonstrate what they
know,” she continues. “Granted, we have to do some test prep. In Montessori, we
like to look at it as [teaching] practical life skills. Kids in our society
need to learn how to take a test.”
Shecter says visitors arrive skeptical and leave convinced.
“They’ll say to each other, ‘Can you imagine seeing kids working on the floor?
It would just drive me crazy.’ But, in the next breath, they’ll also say, ‘Look
at how engaged they are!’” BC
For More Information
To learn more about the Baltimore
Montessori School, visit the website www.baltimoremontessoriinc.com.
For information on charter schools, go to www.marylandpublicschools.org/MSDE
and click on “charter schools.”
What is a Montessori School?
Montessori schools are named after Dr.
Maria Montessori, the first female doctor in Italy. Born in 1870, she studied
child development and developed educational materials.
In a Montessori classroom, teachers provide guidance to help the children learn
self discipline and work toward independence.
What is a Charter School?
A charter school, defined by Maryland law,
is a public school that is non-religious, is chosen by parents for their
children, and is open to all students on a space-available basis. Admission is
done through a lottery.
The local board of education must approve any new charter school. And, just
like any other public school, charter schools must comply with all federal
state and local anti-discrimination laws and must follow all applicable health
and safety laws, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Charter schools have the freedom to use innovative ideas, while still being
accountable to the local school board.
Charter schools can be found throughout Maryland, although most are in
Baltimore City, which has 25 in all.
© Baltimore's Child Inc. March 2009