Renaissance School: Nurturing Curious, Creative and Gifted Thinkers
Aug 01, 2011 08:34AM
● By Linda Sechrist
Infants through sixth graders benefit from the Montessori trained staff at Renaissance School.
As early as 1897, Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori began developing her philosophy and methods for the Montessori educational approach, now practiced in 20,000 schools worldwide, including the Renaissance School, in Fort Myers. Montessori’s method of free activity within a prepared environment is based upon thousands of hours she spent observing children’s interactions with their surroundings, materials and lessons.
“Maria’s method has withstood the test of time, because it creates a learning environment that values a child’s unique contributions and treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve,” says Renaissance founder Kathleen Leitch.
After 10 years of firsthand experience with Montessori’s methods, intended to turn out original thinkers able to produce creative solutions, Leitch saw a need for a Montessori school within her community. In 1992, limited education options in Lee County turned the network of families already familiar with Leitch’s teaching reputation into an enthusiastic group of promoters that helped her recruit seven students for her mixed-age classroom that opened in Bonita Springs.
Within five years, the classroom reached maximum capacity and Leitch had to look north for property in Fort Myers, because zoning ordinances limited expansion on her two-acre site. “The move was good for us, because we expanded from one to four classrooms,” advises Leitch, who reports that the school today has 50 students—infants through sixth grade—five certified teachers and a support staff. Prior to the recent recession, it had 135 students.
Leitch waxes enthusiastic whenever she has an opportunity to elaborate on why an alternative to public education is necessary. “Few individuals understand that the present universal compulsory system can’t be fixed, because it’s doing what it was consciously designed to do,” she explains. “To comprehend the history of public education is to recognize that its earliest reformer, Horace Mann, was heavily impacted by Andrew Carnegie, an American industrialist. Mann and Carnegie were upfront about their ultimate intention: to create a patriotic, obedient and pliant workforce that would work in factories,” notes Leitch. “The Industrial Revolution is gone, replaced by a technological one that requires critical thinking, creativity and innovation, which the Montessori model is designed to nurture.”
Although talking about a Montessori education excites Leitch, she becomes more enlivened by conversations with the students she encounters during her accreditation visits to schools for the American Montessori Society. Speaking with students in grades six through eight, Leitch reports that it isn’t uncommon to hear students say they want to attend a Montessori school because it gives them a chance to do more research and work on more projects with other students. “Most people are surprised to discover that Montessori students really want to learn and do more than just get by or study only what is necessary to pass a test,” she enthuses.
At the Renaissance School, learning is an engaging voyage of discovery of the world and one’s self. Children are taught valuable problem solving and time management skills necessary to live in the real world. “They learn such things as how to make phone calls and properly introduce themselves,” explains Leitch. At all levels, authentic assessment is part of an ongoing process. Based upon observation of the child, assessment of learning stems from direct observation of children working with materials, mastering skills and applying their learning to new or real-world situations.
Leitch notes that in our rapidly changing world, it’s difficult to predict which specific skills children will need. If they are parented and educated to be vibrant, well-rounded, curious, imaginative human beings, with diverse interests and capacities, they may be better equipped to deal with the future. “Many people I know don’t believe that everyone is meant to learn, grow and become the best they can be; instead, they believe human beings are limited and only motivated by material possessions,” says Leitch.
“The reason I love Montessori so much is because, though academically oriented, it celebrates the human spirit and helps unleash a child’s unlimited potential, as well as the unique gifts that he or she is born with. It’s why I wouldn’t teach any other way.”