Bluestem Montessori Elementary

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Bluestem Montessori Loves Public Schools

Yesterday I met with one of my top fundraisers.  She was a little discouraged.  “I don’t know, Laura - as soon as I say we’re starting school, I am told that they support public schools, so they can’t support us.”  I understand her frustration.  I have run into this time and again as well - “Oh, but I support public schools.”  So today I thought I’d tackle this head-on.

Here’s the honest deal:  we at Bluestem Montessori support public schools.  We love Lincoln Public Schools.  We really, really do.  Personally I have been a vocal - my brothers might say obnoxious - supporter of public schools since I was in high school and a bond issue came up in my local election.  I read about educational equity in my spare time.  I absolutely 100% believe that we need quality public education for our children.  But I do not believe that founding a private school is in any way contradictory to this support.  I’ve got two main arguments here: first, that Bluestem Montessori provides a critical service which is missing from our public schools, and therefore should not be viewed as competition; and second, that Bluestem Montessori can be a part of a wider educational system in Lincoln that supports our public schools and makes them better.  So let’s take these points one at a time.

First: Bluestem Montessori provides a critical service which is missing from our public schools, and therefore should not be viewed as competition.

Currently, if your child is not thriving in the traditional model of education provided in Lincoln Public Schools elementary schools, you have very few options. 

  1. You can enroll them in one of the private religious schools in Lincoln.  Currently, all private schools in Lincoln are religious.  This is obviously problematic if you are not religious, or if your religion is not represented in the offerings (ie, if you are not Christian).  This is also problematic if you do share the religion of the private schools but simply do not want your child’s education to have a religious bent to it.  However, the bigger problem here is that the model of education - the traditional top-down model we all know - is used in these schools too.  If your child isn’t thriving in LPS schools because the system isn’t serving him, the private schools in Lincoln may not serve him well either. 
  2. You can enroll them at the one Montessori elementary school - the only alternative elementary of any sort - within driving distance of Lincoln, Prairie Hill Learning Center.  This is a fantastic school.  It is also not within city limits, which poses a problem for some families.
  3. You can homeschool your child, if you have the resources, time, and ability to do so. 
  4. You can live with it and watch your child struggle because there is exactly one model of education offered in Lincoln and it doesn’t work for your child.

Enter: Bluestem Montessori Elementary School.  We watched our kids and other kids struggling.  We knew it was not because of a poor school, or poor teachers.  (I legitimately LOVE my daughters’ teachers and have enormous respect for them.  For real, they are extremely talented superstars who have more empathy in their pinkies than most people have in their whole bodies.)  We thought about homeschooling, but that wouldn’t solve the wider problem of having no options in Lincoln.  We wished there was an alternative model in place in public schools - one that would be available to all Lincoln children.  We learned that there used to be a Montessori school in LPS, but it was shut down years ago; and we learned that most cities our size or bigger DO have Montessori or other alternative models of education available, either publicly or privately.  The Omaha area, for example, has a thriving Montessori community, including public Montessori schools in the Millard Public Schools.  We couldn’t see another alternative, so we decided to make our own - to build a Montessori elementary school and to make our mission to be available to all Lincoln children. 

We know all the concerns about private schools - and especially charter schools - taking resources (funding, teachers, and the best and brightest students) from public schools, which widens the gap between haves and have-nots, and which further impoverishes our already stretched budgets at public schools.  We strive to take these concerns into account.  In Nebraska, of course, there is no charter system - so there’s no threat of us taking state money from public schools.  Nor do we advocate for that; we seek to operate on private donations.  Montessori teachers require a specialized training, so we would not be ‘poaching’ teachers from the public school system - our teachers teach Montessori because the Montessori method speaks to them, just as many teachers in traditional schools teach because they feel a calling there.  As for students, Bluestem Montessori does not seek to serve ‘the best and brightest’ - we seek to serve any students who think Montessori will work better for them than the traditional model.  Students who are ahead, students who are behind, students who struggle with focus, students who struggle with the pressure of testing - whatever the reason your student is not thriving, we want you to be able to consider if Montessori will work better for you.  If your student is thriving in LPS, we are thrilled - please, stay there.  It does not make any sense to leave an environment in which your child is truly thriving. 

We seek the alienated; the students who will lose their love of learning by the time they get to experience the many wonderful options LPS has for secondary education.  We seek these children before they ‘learn’ that school is boring because they have checked out - because the system doesn’t work for them.  We seek my daughter, who spent hours in first grade literally staring out the window because she was so far ahead of the class, but differentiated learning wasn’t offered in first grade.  We seek the child who struggles with reading in second grade because she has been passed on already, and there simply isn’t time to go back and work with her more.  She is already tuning out and simply memorizes her reading texts so that she can move on.  We seek the child who cannot sit still in kindergarten but who loves everything to do with tigers and can tell us everything about them.  We seek the child who loves to cook and listen to music but thinks math is boring; the child who is so focused on her math that she gets upset when she has to switch to reading; the child who has trouble making crafts in class because he keeps adding to it and takes too long “not doing the assignment”.  Those children - those children will thrive in Montessori.  And if they thrive in Montessori, they will learn that school is fun, and engaging, and that they are responsible for their education - and when they go back to LPS for middle school, they will thrive there too. 

And that brings me to my second point:  Bluestem Montessori can be a part of a wider educational system in Lincoln that supports our public schools and makes them better.

The obvious thing here is that our students will be in Bluestem Montessori only for their elementary years, and will then transition into LPS middle schools and then high schools.  If we give them a strong foundation, they will have the tools they need to be true leaders in their secondary schools. 

However, we want our partnership with LPS to go beyond that.  There is no reason that we cannot work with LPS to make our wider educational community stronger.  Many individual LPS teachers have shown us support as we’ve been learning the ropes, and we are very, very grateful for that.  We would really like to return the favor by helping LPS teachers discover ways they might implement elements of Montessori education into their classrooms, or offer a workshop on the Montessori philosophy.  It is presumptuous, at this early stage of our existence, to suggest that we can offer something to LPS teachers - but as we become more established, we would love to offer what we can.  We’ve already shared cool classroom ideas we’ve found with our teacher friends and would love to continue this on a wider scale as our expertise grows. 

We also see ourselves as a true community school - and this has been something we have emphasized from the very start.  Not only do we want to be accessible to the entire community for enrollment, but we want to participate in the community beyond the school day.  We want to offer workshops to parents and families about integrating Montessori practices into their homes.  We want to offer camps or after school programs to any Lincoln children - not just Bluestem families - where we experience city nature, or teach coding, or quilting, or I don’t know what because I’m literally just brainstorming right now.  But the idea stands - we want to bring the benefits of Montessori to Lincoln, and not just through enrollment in our school.  I have written more about this here and here

So there you have it.  We at Bluestem are not anti-public schools.  The dichotomy between public and private schools does not have to exist here in Lincoln - we all have the same goal, which is to provide quality education to all Lincoln families.  LPS provides an absolutely critical service - to educate all Lincoln children.  And we love them for all the amazing work they do.  But LPS doesn’t work for all children, and Bluestem Montessori seeks to fill the smaller but just as critical role of providing a space for those who would otherwise fall through the cracks of the top-down education system.  We can only make the educational community in Lincoln stronger.  We want nothing to do with the political discourse of public vs. private education; we want only to provide quality Montessori education to Lincoln children, so that Lincoln families have more educational options to ensure their children’s success.

Until Next Time,

Laura

Adam Erickson