Kansas City, January 30, 2020: The scholars and educators at Harold Holliday, Sr. Montessori School are now part of an international family focused on growing children into well-rounded, fulfilled adults.
On Jan. 16, Principal Kalinda Bass-Barlow was informed that her school had officially earned a membership in the Association Montessori International/USA (AMI) organization. Holliday Montessori is now one of just five public schools in the U.S. to achieve this prestigious recognition.
It’s been a long, hard road to a worthwhile goal, according to Holliday Montessori teacher Mary Newman-Dowd. She knows because she helped start the first Montessori program more than a decade ago in Kansas City Public Schools in the building that is currently Faxon Elementary School.
“It’s the result of a lot of hard work,” Ms. Newman-Dowd said. “Montessori training and preparation is expensive and extensive. But it’s worth it because it leads to a rich understanding of child development for everyone in the school.”
AMI is an international organization that grew from one started by Dr. Maria Montessori, according to the group’s website. She was a pioneering educator who, in 1907, launched a school in Rome, Italy, to serve orphan children, many of whom were deemed incapable of learning.
Montessori developed her approach around the basic concept that “children teach themselves.” Today, Montessori schools are structured to identify and leverage the natural strengths of each child and give them the time, resources and support they need to learn at their own pace and proclivity. Teaching and learning are often hands-on, experiential and interactive. Traditional grade and subject divisions are blurred so that students of different achievement levels can support each other and make new discoveries together.
Membership in AMI requires aligning the campus and classrooms, curriculum, materials and professional development with the standards set by Maria Montessori, Ms. Bass-Barlow explained. That process started when she took the helm of the school at the start of the 2017-2018 academic year.
“It’s been a transformation for me and for the entire school,” Bass-Barlow said. “I really wasn’t that familiar with the Montessori method when I came here. I was nervous about it, but I committed fully to seeing this through and making this one of the premier schools in the nation.”
Bass-Barlow’s willingness to be transparent and do the hard work herself inspired the entire staff, according to Vice Principal Janita Webb.
“For our leader to step up like that, it was very powerful,” Ms. Webb said.
Bass-Barlow credits Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell, Deputy Superintendent Marla Sheppard and Chief Financial and Operations Officer Linda Quinley for fully supporting the investment of time and resources required to gain AMI membership.
Among other things, the Holliday Montessori campus had to be altered physically to create a more collaborative and engaging culture and climate. School leaders, teachers and classroom aids attended Montessori training for two summers in a row. New, Montessori-endorsed materials had to be purchased. The school’s curriculum and schedule had to be brought into alignment.
Students who have been at Holliday Montessori for a number of years are noticing the difference, and they like what they see, according to sixth-graders E’Lecia Coleman, Ky’Ree Harbin and Tori Bowles.
“It’s been a big change since Ms. Bass-Barlow came,” Ms. Coleman said. “I can say that we really are learning.”
“They just treat us with a lot more equality,” Mr. Harbin said. “Now, if a little kid says something, we all listen and work together to find an answer. I feel like we matter more as students.”
The trio of students all shared how much they appreciate having two- or three-hour blocks of uninterrupted time to explore their lessons, the collaboration with other students and the experiences they have during field trips.
“We’re learning something new every day, and it’s never boring,” Ms. Bowles said. “My teacher is making me strive for a better education.”
Those types of holistic Montessori educational experiences have historically been rare for many children in Kansas City and the nation, according to Holliday Montessori teacher Martha Dean. The vast majority of Montessori schools are private and very expensive, making them inaccessible for most working-class families.
Having both Holiday Montessori and Border Star Montessori as public schools open to any family that lives within the KCPS system is a valuable resource for the entire community, Dean said.
“It levels the playing field,” she said. “When you enroll your child at Holliday, you become part of a family and a community. It’s a spiritual shift. They discover their own strength and intelligence. Together, we uncover learning. That’s powerful and that’s something every child deserves to experience.”