Making Montessori for Everyone
It seems appropriate, this month, to talk about a part of our mission “to foster creativity, independence, and ingenuity by providing a child-centric learning environment, hands-on activities, and integration with the community.” December tends to be a time of year when we think a lot about our fellow humans, so this month let’s get into part of what we mean by “integration with the community”.
From the very beginning, we have stressed that we want to make Bluestem Montessori affordable and accessible, and that we want Bluestem to be a community school.
The reality is that, even in Lincoln, we face stark economic and social inequalities. There is a large body of research which shows that quality education is one of the most effective tools we can deploy to close economic gaps. At Bluestem, we believe that quality education must include choices. Students who do not thrive in the traditional educational model provided by public schools should have access to alternate models. Unfortunately, it is usually the case that only the relatively privileged families have access to any alternative - private school requires money and homeschooling requires a stay-at-home parent. We want to provide an alternative to families from all walks of life.
Before I get into the specifics here, a couple caveats (because remember, I come from academia and we love caveats):
Please understand that we are NOT trying to criticize the public schools in Lincoln - many of us have children enrolled in public schools now, and are products of public education ourselves (in Lincoln or elsewhere). I strongly support public education, and I seriously love both of my daughters’ teachers at their current elementary school. Our thought has always been that sometimes the model of education used in public schools does not work for a child. Montessori education works so well for so many children who feel frustrated in the top-down model of education used across American public schools today, and we want to provide that alternative.
It’s also important to note that most of what I'm going to talk about are long-term goals. In the early days of planning, I had naively hoped that we would be able to provide all of this immediately, but as it turns out, that’s not the way things work. When we open in August, we will necessarily be focused on the first part of our mission, which is to provide quality Montessori education to our students.
Our goal is to keep tuition as low as we can. Currently, our tuition is $750/month. This is completely in line with Montessori elementary tuition in our state, but I have made it no secret that I would like to see our tuition lower. Right now, though, it is the lowest we can go with the expenses we have in opening while still ensuring quality. Believe me when I say that there aren’t any extravagances to cut! My hope is that as we get established, we will be able to address this. Keeping tuition low while providing the best education we can will always be a priority.
The other way that we will be affordable is through scholarships. It is our goal to have a large scholarship fund, from which we can provide full-ride and partial scholarships every year.
The most obvious way we want to be accessible is through our location. We want our long-term home to be close to downtown, so that it is central for all Lincoln families. Ideally, we would also like to be situated close to a bus route so that children can bus to school (and easily get around town on their outings!)
As we grow, we also need to make sure that we are visible to lower income families and immigrant families. Having spent a year living abroad with a baby myself, I know from experience that when you first move to a new country you are so busy trying to learn to negotiate a new culture - maybe in a new language - that finding the best educational fit for your kid is not going to be high on your priority list. It probably won’t even be on your list. You simply trust that the free public schools will be good, and go with it. Similarly, and again speaking from my own experience, when I have been living paycheck to paycheck, I can guarantee it would not have occurred to me that there were other options for educating my children. Our responsibility at Bluestem, then, will be to reach out to these communities and let them know about our scholarships.
A Community School
So what does this mean? A “community school”? First, we will of course try to serve families throughout our community. But more than that, we want to be involved with our community. We want to host family learning nights that are open to all families. We have thought about having Montessori parenting education nights, or low-cost family fun nights that are open to everyone. We’ve thought about summer camps. Maybe we could provide a night of babysitting for cheap so that nearby parents could go on a date night. One of my own dreams is to have Little Library out front that our students maintain. I don’t know exactly what form our involvement in the community will take, but it will always be central to who we are. Happily, this is something that we can do from the start, and build on as we grow.
So there you have it. That’s the social justice part of our mission. We believe that education for everyone makes the world, and our community, a better place. We want to make sure that there is an alternative model of education in place which is available to any kid who needs or wants it. My hope is that we can get this part of our school set up as quickly as possible, but that hope cannot be fulfilled alone - the more fundraising we can do, and the more money we can raise from those in the community who are in a position to help, the faster we can provide this quality educational alternative to any Lincoln family who wants it. If you are interested in helping to fulfill this part of our mission, please contact us - we love volunteers and would love your input on our community involvement, scholarship fundraising, or whatever ideas you have!
Until next time,