Montessori students think globally through model UN

A dozen students from Jacksonville, North Carolina’s Montessori Children’s School recently trekked to New York City to present their research on the world’s problems and negotiate solutions with students representing different countries, an experience that offered lessons in both civics and character.

The 4th- through 6th-grade students served as delegates for Israel, Algeria, and Monaco at the Montessori Model United Nations (MMUN) New York Conference in late February, when they convened with students from across the globe to discuss issues like poverty, sustainable development, international security, and others, The Daily News reports.

Preparation began months before, with students researching the culture and pressing issues of their assigned countries, and crafting presentations and solutions for negotiation at the MMUN.

Student delegates followed the UN structure and procedures to navigate committees, where they worked to draft resolutions that they later voted on during a mock General Assembly at the actual UN in New York.

“Karalyn Marsh and Caleb Conklin, . . . fifth graders representing Israel, have found world issues are also complex ones,” The Daily News reports. “Karalyn’s research on the rights of indigenous people has included the topic of the Israel-Palestine conflict while Caleb is ready to discuss the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

The Montessori Children’s School representatives for Algeria focused on the country’s issues with military spending, poverty, and health care.

“They are spending a lot of money on the military and people are suffering and don’t have health care, food and basic essentials,” 4th-grader Grace Mayer told The Daily News.

The school’s MMUN coordinator, April Kennedy, described the conference and preparation as a global education with a real-life experience—one that’s been “eye opening” for many students studying problems like poverty and war.

“Preparing for the conference they’ve had to put themselves in others’ shoes and it has helped to broaden their perspective,” she said.

The MMUN is part of a tradition of cultivating global citizenship that is fraught with complexity.

Jeffrey Dill, a scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture wrote in The Longings and Limits of Global Citizenship:

Schooling is the context in which society tells stories about itself . . . Education has the goal of creating a certain kind of person—a character in a story—with the values, characteristics, and skills a particular society holds as ideals.

Montessori education in general, and the MMUN in particular, tell an important and specific story.

Montessori education is based on assumptions about the nature of persons, and how they learn. And the MMUN places students as characters in a global story in which they need both skills and virtues to understand a problem, take another perspective, and work constructively with others. The Montessori community is a particular society, with unique practices that sustain a vision of their ideals of civic engagement.

The MMUN has a thoughtful preparation process that ensures the model UN experience is more than a fun field trip. The process sets a strong foundation with classroom lessons and after-school programs many months before the students arrive at the UN.

SC Montessori schools outperform their peers

A study of South Carolina’s public Montessori schools shows students outperformed their peers across demographic groups in reading and math, but the results also revealed something more important.

An Evaluation of Montessori Education in South Carolina’s Public Schools, funded by the state’s Education Oversight Committee and the Self Family Foundation, found students in the state’s nearly 50 Montessori schools not only scored six to eight percentage points higher on state tests, they “also bested their non-Montessori peers in the soft skills inherent to Montessori education: creativity, good behavior, and independence,” The74Million reports.

The study collected information between 2012 and 2016—principal surveys, 126 unannounced observations, state testing data, attendance and disciplinary records, and creativity assessments—and compared data with students in traditional public schools, taking into account race, gender, and income.

“Low-income, non-low-income, black, white, male and female students in Montessori schools were all subgroups that showed significantly more progress than their non-Montessori peers,” according to the education site. “The researchers didn’t find significant differences for Hispanic or ‘other race’ students, but this could be because of the small sample size.”

The findings are a sign that the Montessori approach to educating the whole child, including social and emotional needs, both improves academics and fosters responsible, self-directed learners.

“Nationally, we’ve been fighting the achievement gap for years and have found few things that close that gap, so the fact that low-income Montessori kids fared better than their low-income peers . . . that says a lot,” said Ginny Riga, Montessori consultant for the South Carolina Department of Education.

“It’s hard to measure enjoyment of school and responsibility and independence, but anyone who has worked for any length of time in Montessori will tell you that’s what happens to the children.”

In The Content of Their Character, a summary of research into character formation in a wide variety of schools published by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, sociologist David Sikkink notes in that “The Montessori model views ‘the child as one who is naturally eager for knowledge’ and ‘values the human spirit and the development of the whole child—physical, social, emotional, cognitive.'”

“Montessori pedagogy places a strong emphasis on student participation and ownership of their education,” he explains.

The more personalized approach means students can choose their learning materials every day, from blocks to drawing or reading, with teachers working as guides, rather than leading the way with structured lessons, The74 reports.

While the South Carolina Montessori schools are mostly attracting attention for academic achievement, what is really noteworthy is the distinct focus on the whole person and commitment to nurturing responsible learners. It’s a very intentional ethos and culture that cultivates responsible children who demonstrate good behavior and meaningful learning.

The Montessori Academy offers a video that explains how Maria Montessori’s pioneering vision for early education came to life, and how it’s since impacted millions of students across the globe.

Wisconsin K3-12 Montessori school builds community

A Milwaukee public Montessori school’s multi-age classrooms—and one-building K3-12 approach—is creating a unique learning community that allows older students to mentor their younger classmates.

MacDowell Montessori School Principal Andrea Corona told the Shepherd Express that MacDowell started in 1976 as the first public Montessori elementary school in the state. She discussed how a decision to expand to a charter high school in 2006, and merge it with the elementary school in 2012, is building a stronger learning community.

“The nice part about being a K-12 school is we have a prime opportunity for vertical alignment of our curriculum. We’re all here in the same building and we can talk,” Corona said.

“It gives you the opportunity to build community in a way that most schools don’t have. Some of the students that are graduating this year were here since they were 3 years old, and that’s really special . . . We try to build opportunities for them to be leaders and for them to showcase their skills,” she said.

Corona explained that the school is structured based on Montessori founder Maria Montessori’s focus on the three-year developmental plans, with students with the same teacher for three years to build consistency, community, and leadership skills.

“For example, in our K3 through K5 classroom, the K5s are the stewards of the environment and the community,” Conora said. “The younger students have to ask them for help and guidance. Each time students transition to a new developmental level, they get to work to become leaders again.”

The community building extends well beyond the classroom, as well.

“For example, last year, two of our varsity boys basketball players coached the elementary basketball team,” Cornoa told the Shepherd Express. “We also give older students opportunities to work as tutors with the elementary level students; and we have a Big Brothers-Big Sisters program.”

The principal said the Montessori curriculum requires students to work independently and in small groups, while encouraging them to take control of their own learning.

“For example, if I’m giving you a lesson about currents in the ocean, you may get extraordinarily interested in the science of currents, you may get interested in the doldrums and how ships used to get trapped for months, and you might start researching historical stories about how that happened. Each individual student has the opportunity to follow their interest and explore content in a way that’s most meaningful for them,” Corona said.

The approach, combined with traditional offerings like the International Bachelorette program and partnerships with local arts and science groups, is leading to impressive academic results at the small school.

“Two years ago, we were recognized for academic rigor by The Washington Post,” Corona said. “We were really pleased to be ranked number 27 in the state of Wisconsin for academic outcomes—especially considering that we graduated a class of 32 students that year, and we don’t have an admissions requirement. We just couldn’t believe it. We felt like the Little Engine that Could.”

MacDowell Montessori is a prime example of successful pedagogical schools that use strong traditions and a focused vision to guide students.

David Sikkink, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame and lead researcher of pedagogical schools for the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture’s School Cultures and Student Formation Project explains the impact on teachers and students in the book The Content of Their Character:

[O]ften teachers were viewed as custodians of the moral tradition of the school and its place in a larger movement, as journeymen in the daily playing out of the school society. Students entered not only the school doors but the larger traditions in which the school organization was given meaning and direction.

At MacDowell, students are living a tradition of developing deep content knowledge while actively mentoring younger classmates.

Skikkink’s research into character and citizenship formation in pedagogical schools is featured in the new book The Content of Their Character, available in February. The Content of Their Character, which also highlights research into nine other sectors of American high schools, is currently available for pre-order at a discount.