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Montessori Makeover

Montessori Makeover
By France Griggs Sloat

Two afternoons a week, Dr. Shawn Ross leaves her pediatric practice in Maysville, Ky., takes her son home and revs up her 8-year-old BMW for the long drive up the AA Highway to Xavier. For an hour and a half each way, she mentally reviews the chores waiting at home, the work at the practice she shares with her husband and the assignments for her Montessori education courses.

Grueling, perhaps, but it’s truly a labor of love for Ross. The physician is spending what little extra time she has earning a master’s degree in Montessori education in an effort to offer the children in her hometown the option of Montessori.

As the board president of the preschool her children attended, Ross fretted as the school’s enrollment declined along with its endowment. With the opening of two new preschools in the area, the school’s enrollment dropped to barely 40 in 2002. Nearly half were on scholarship. The school was dying. The endowment was hemorrhaging. Ross and another board member decided if the school was to survive, it would have to offer something unique. They discovered Montessori.

“We went to look at a school in Lexington, and I was blown away,” Ross says. “Here were children taking work off the shelves and working quietly. I was just gaga. I read everything I could find about it, and I said this is what education should be. It teaches children to be independent, to think for themselves and to have confidence in their abilities. I wish my kids had had it.”

The board renovated and reopened Nativity as a Montessori preschool in 2004 with two veteran teachers newly trained in Montessori. But when one was out with a lengthy illness, Ross realized how fragile the program was. She decided to earn an MEd herself in order to take over any duty that arises—from administrative to teaching.

“Most people around here haven’t heard of Montessori, but they have heard of Xavier, and that will help lend credibility to our program,” Ross says. “The word is out that we’re doing something people like.”

Indeed. Enrollment numbers, though small, are up this year, indicating the school is making a comeback. More are signed up for next fall. It appears Ross’ prescription is working.

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