We recognize February as Black History Month and how the month honors those who have endured centuries of struggle and continue to fight for civil rights.
Negro History Week (as it was initially known) originally spanned the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two figures pivotal to the abolition of slavery in the U.S. While the first original celebration of Negro History Week was in February 1926, Black History Month was expanded to the entire month of February in 1976. Author, journalist, and historian Carter G. Woodson spearheaded the initiative to establish a whole month of honor. He is known most notably as the "Father" of Black History due to his influential work (Scott, 2011). Today, there are 48.2 million African American people in the U.S.; from 2020 to 2060, Black Americans will contribute to more than 20 percent of the total U.S. population growth (Nielsen, 2020).
At Alcuin Montessori, we put great effort into being inclusive and diverse in teaching Black history throughout the year. Still, Black History Month is a time to shine extra light on all Black Americans' outstanding accomplishments and contributions.
Research has shown that children form ideas and opinions about race by the age of three, including racial biases due to exposure to media and day-to-day experiences with unconscious segregation (Seville, 2020). Positive and diverse messaging ultimately creates a more empathetic and caring environment, leading to confidence within each child as they get older. At Alcuin, we follow Dr. Maria Montessori's teaching in introducing topics of culture and diversity to promote positive messages on race and differences.
Black history is present throughout the entire Alcuin curriculum, Infant through Middle School. Black musical artists are resounding from the classrooms. Amadou and Mariam, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Joseph Bologne, and more are making our heads bounce. Hanging on the walls is art inspired by Charles McGee and Elizabeth Catlett. At the Infant and Toddler levels, language and picture cards are displayed of ethnicities worldwide. Filled bookshelves are in every classroom with diverse characters and authors. Works on the shelves are curated to offer various nationalities to represent our world.
We design field trips at Alcuin to highlight a variety of cultures and experiences. We may make our way to the DuSable Museum to immerse ourselves in Black history or take a walk over to the public library to admire the stunning work by Kehinde Wiley. The Chicago History Museum has a fantastic exhibit on remembering Dr. King and highlights his time in Chicago. The upper grades have explored the American Writers Museum to read the powerful words of Frederick Douglass.
Food is an impactful way for children to connect with history and cultures. Food tells a story and has a history. Sharing the history of soul food is a way to connect to our past. It also highlights the resiliency and creativity of the enslaved of our past and the African Americans of the present. Rice, pork, okra, and greens are the four staples that anchor the Black history of soul food. Preparing and sharing food is a cornerstone of Alcuin's culture. The smell of food from around the world, wafting from different classrooms, is enjoyed many a day.
Let's loop it back to books for a minute. Resources have gone digital, but we purposefully expose the children to as many physical books as possible at Alcuin through Middle School. Primary and Elementary classrooms are filled with beautiful picture books with diverse characters and authors. Infant and toddlers have a variety of multi-skin colored board books. Middle School gets into the more profound and complex texts in their literature studies.
Some favorites are:
At Alcuin Montessori, we speak truth to the past and use it as a learning opportunity to grow in understanding and expand our minds. Black History Month puts Black history into the forefront and highlights the powerful and extraordinary achievements of the immeasurable contributions of Black Americans, present and past. It lifts the future generation of Black Americans to reach the skies.
Junior Elementary Teacher
Nielsen, (2020). Nielsen’s 10th Year African American Consumer Report Explores The Power of The Black Community From Movement to Movement. PR News Wire.
Scott, D.M. (2011). Origins of Black History Month. ASALH website.
Seville, J. (2020). Adults Delay Conversations About Race Because They Underestimate Children’s Processing of Race. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. APA.org
Morning drop-off at our Roosevelt campus is always a whirlwind of activity as the infants and toddlers begin their day. Gia smiles and waves shyly but walks in with ease. Elli stops to point everything out in the lobby, enjoying the stroll to his room. Tiny Phia grasps at her own hands and becomes more alert as she begins to drink in the world around her. Each child settles into their routine within a space they see as welcoming and safe.
Alcuin Montessori has had an infant or toddler program of some sort since the 1990s, but our full-time, all-year program officially launched in October 2019 at our brand new Roosevelt campus. Apart from all-star care, this DCFS-licensed program provides learning experiences in an environment that is cheerful, inviting, and rich with opportunities to explore. Alcuin is not a daycare, but rather a school with a full Montessori curriculum.
Toddlers explore their burgeoning independence while they work on care of self and their environment. Classroom shelves are low and easily accessible with beautiful works that encourage exploration. They learn to dress themselves, help one another with zippers and coats, bus their dishes, tend to the classroom plants, and lovingly wash the baby doll. There is a steady hum of activity as busy hands get to work. Toddlers develop their cognitive skills while they focus for long periods and sit, wholly engaged, in whatever lesson they are receiving.
For infants, the setting is homelike with soft rugs, a rocking chair, books arrayed on low shelves, and toys in baskets. The space is organized and uncluttered. The infants explore the cylinder blocks, push toys, and manipulate objects. They begin to work on drinking from a cup—not a sippy cup, but a child-sized cup. Gross motor work includes bars for pulling up, mirrors to reflect body movement, a sleeping area with individual cribs, and child-sized tables and chairs rather than high chairs. It’s a beautiful world curated with them in mind.
Infant and toddler’s brain develop more quickly during their first three years than at any other time, and this incredible time in their lives sets the foundation for their absorbent mind and all future learning. Their minds absorb! The children watch and grow. They form strong relationships with their teachers and the other children, and learn to love their community.
Part of my time spent at Alcuin is checking in the infant and toddler children every day. I do their health screenings and walk them into their classrooms. It is my favorite part of the morning. Vair waves goodbye to his father as he rushes to class to take off his outside shoes all by himself. Cleo insists on carrying the heavy snack bags, even though it is quite the feat. Zel, who is still somewhat new, strides in—her confidence growing more and more each day. Oh, to have the amount of self-trust, enthusiasm, and strength our infants and toddlers display—the smallest of role models; small but mighty. We could learn a lot from them.
Director of Admissions and Advancement
To learn more about our infant and toddler program, please contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 1961, Alcuin Montessori School was founded by six local Oak Park families looking for a different way of educating their children. The group was driven, innovative, curious, and without fail stopped at nothing to provide a level of Montessori education and excellence like no other. They did not let setbacks get in their way, nor did they take no for an answer. They did not follow what all other educational systems were doing, and they created a plan based on what they knew was best for the children and then set out to put the plan in place. Our founders insisted on the absolute best teaching staff, an incredibly beautiful and meticulously designed classroom, and an exceptional curriculum to meet the needs of all their children’s individual learning styles.
Fast forward to 2020, Alcuin is still going strong and providing in-person Montessori excellence during a pandemic. These words may surprise some or worry some. It may make you question the decision of the leaders of our school. However, I am here to share our story of continued focus and diligence in meeting the child’s needs. In early summer, we were provided with the reopening guidelines, just like every other school, daycare, and business in Illinois. We put a plan in place for how we would follow those guidelines, how we would keep our children and staff safe and healthy, and how we would meet the increased financial obligations with a decreased enrollment capacity. More importantly, we planned for how we would continue to provide our Montessori pedagogy to the highest degree with all of the new regulations and health concerns. We surrounded ourselves with a team of people dedicated to this process, and after countless hours, we presented this plan to our families and welcomed them back to our school community.
Many were thrilled to be back to in-person learning, and others were not quite ready to return. We’ve made a plan that worked for almost all of our families and had a deep respect for any family’s decision during this time. We entered those first few school days with slight trepidation as we didn’t know what to expect. How would the children feel about the changes to their physical environment? Could even our youngest 2-year-olds keep their masks on? Could we all adapt to keeping close while staying a safe distance away? What was most important was that our entire community of staff and families were on board. We held an open communication line between staff and families and insisted on a “we are all in this together” mantra.
We are so fortunate and pleased to say that Alcuin being open for in-person learning is truly a beautiful, and successful, story. Our children are happy to come to school every morning. They are thriving in their academic journeys, and they are immersed in much-needed social and emotional development. It’s been an incredible time for our school over the last eight months. We’ve grown and adapted in ways we’d never imagined.
The children are, and always will be, our top focus; COVID has not changed this. Our routines are slightly different. There’s additional cleaning and sanitizing, but that’s not such a stretch for a Montessori classroom to begin with. Our children easily follow the health and safety guidelines that we put in place, and our staff are the most amazing humans you will ever meet. It seems that the new norm is now the norm, and we are comfortable in our process and confident in our decision to remain open and provide this learning experience for our students.
We have had two positive cases so far, and both children presented mild symptoms for just a couple of days and easily recovered. None of the positive cases were spread to any other students, or staff, in our school community. Upon learning of a positive case, or exposure, our staff moves quickly into action for quarantining and beginning remote learning. It’s an entirely seamless process, and our children don’t miss a beat.
We have a few remaining spaces in some of our levels and are always happy to share more information and answer questions about Alcuin. We have a rich history in the Oak Park community, and we will continue to put our roots deep into the ground. We’ve embraced the challenges of COVID and found a way to rise above and continue our Alcuin journey. This is the world we live in. We’ve chosen to embrace it and make the most of it, and live our lives of commitment to providing our Alcuin students with the best possible Montessori education.
The adolescent years are a complicated and confusing time, and most traditional schools are not equipped to provide the level of social and emotional support that adolescents need to thrive. Alcuin Montessori incorporates traditional Montessori philosophy and current best practices, while placing a strong emphasis on independent, project-based, and student-driven work. Alcuin's middle school provides a safe learning environment; key elements in the classroom that create this type of environment are the daily community meeting and low student to teacher ratio.
Students apply high-level critical thinking across all areas of the curriculum. Classes consist of formal lectures, interactive presentations, student-led research, group projects, and more. Students manage daily and weekly homework, take formal assessments and receive quarterly grades in preparation for high school. With our individualized support, they cultivate the executive functioning skills needed for future success.
Alcuin’s Director of Admissions, Alejandra Valera, recently sat with Alcuin Middle School Director, Lisa Klus, to share more information and what makes the Alcuin program so special...
AV: Let’s get started by talking about remote learning since it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Can you tell us the plan for your middle school students, if we had to revert back to remote learning?
LK: Our plan is to keep our remote learning schedule as close to their in-person schedule as possible. We send our students a schedule for the week on Monday morning. The schedule outlines our day, just as it would be if we were together at school. The schedule is color-coded with lessons in different areas, has links to our work or lesson meetings, and all information is duplicated on their Google Classroom, so the students can organize their time.
We will begin our day with a community meeting and then break off into various lessons. Our lessons are live or prerecorded, and students are given a follow up activity to the lesson, usually due the next day. The prerecorded lesson gives teachers time to plan individual or small group meetings as needed. If students have presentations or small group discussions, we have the flexibility on Zoom to create breakout rooms. The teacher can circulate in between those rooms.
We will also continue to give percentages for student work and the option to retake quizzes or tests for higher grades. Additionally, just like our regular school days, students are invited to "stay after school" to get extra help or meet with a teacher during an open work time during the day.
At the end of each week, we will send home a short progress note and checklist to communicate with students and parents about how the week went. Our hope is that this consistent weekly communication will help our students be the most successful at home.
Last spring, many of our students shared that they liked that the remote learning schedule was organized like a normal day. Some expressed that it helped them stay organized, some said that it was good to see their friends.
With summer camp just around the corner, our Junior Elementary teacher, Ms. Nicole, put together a blog post for us with face mask reviews for children. Please note, CDC recommendations should be followed primarily, and the masks listed below are reviews from one parent to another.
Face protection is not going away anytime soon, but it shouldn’t be a scary or stressful thing. There are so many options out there that it can be overwhelming. No worries, I weeded it down to some of my family’s personal favorites and top-rated. During summer camp and in the fall, I plan to do a blend of face masks and face shields. I know my face and head will need a break from both at times, so having options throughout the day will be important, the same goes for your child.
Everyone can tolerate different things on their faces for various amounts of time. Face shields are a great alternative to masks if your child cannot tolerate a mask on their face. The most important quality of a mask for comfort is the material it is made from and the breathability. Additional features like ties vs loops and a nose wire are all hackable!
It's important to think ahead so your child had time to practice with their masks and shields, as well as shipping may be delayed due to increased demand before the school year. It may seem weird to think of your child in a mask or shield throughout the school day, but remember, once they see all their friends and teachers in face protection too, it will just become the norm. Children feed off the energy around them, so if you feel okay about it, so will they. Calming reassurance can go a long way when it comes to children and any obstacle.
Here is a list of personal favorites and top-rated masks and face shields:
Mask Hacks and Tips
- Nicole Cochrane, Junior Elementary Teacher
Did you know that Alcuin Montessori has a new partnership with Rogers Park-based Redwood Literacy? Beginning in the fall of 2020, Alcuin will expand its Montessori program to provide students with learning struggles the option to receive a specially tailored curriculum through Redwood Literacy right here in Oak Park.
This full-day, academic year program, for children in kindergarten through 8th grade, will feature Alcuin’s long-standing nationally recognized Montessori education, an educational curriculum with Wilson-certified teachers, as well as Alcuin-led enrichment such as art, Spanish, swimming, and theater allowing students to become fully immersed in the Alcuin community.
There are currently no programs in Oak Park, and the surrounding areas, that offer this opportunity to children with learning challenges. Seeing a demand that wasn’t being met, Alcuin and Redwood worked together to create a seamless collaboration.
Our Director of Admissions, Alejandra Valera, chatted with Kait Feriante, from Redwood Literacy, and put together an FAQ for those wanting to learn more about the program.
Alcuin Montessori is pleased to announce a new partnership with Rogers Park-based Redwood Literacy. Beginning in the fall of 2020, Alcuin will expand its Montessori program to provide students with learning struggles with the option to receive a specially tailored curriculum through Redwood Literacy. This full-day, academic year program, for children in kindergarten through 8th grade, will feature Alcuin’s long-standing nationally recognized Montessori education, an academic curriculum with Wilson-certified teachers, as well as Alcuin-led enrichment such as art, Spanish, swimming, and theater allowing students to become fully immersed in the Alcuin community.
Redwood Literacy offers research-based reading and writing intervention programs for children with dyslexia, dysgraphia, and other learning struggles in kindergarten through 8th grade. Often, most schools are not equipped or properly trained for the support, or specialized instruction, necessary for the success of these students. There are currently no programs in Oak Park and the surrounding areas that offer this opportunity to children with learning challenges. Seeing a demand that wasn’t being met, Alcuin and Redwood worked together to create a seamless collaboration.
Alcuin’s executive director, Gina Gleason, states, “We recognized that the ideal educational mix for students with learning challenges was not being offered in our area and knew that the Montessori Method, partnered with specialized instruction, would be the best answer. This partnership allows students to continue to learn at their own pace and offers a balance of extensive one-on-one instruction to address their learning challenges while nurturing the child’s love of learning, creativity, social and emotional needs.” Additionally, Kait Feriante, founder and executive director of Redwood Literacy, adds, “We are thrilled to be expanding to the Oak Park area and partnering with an incredible institution such as Alcuin. We are confident this is going to provide a needed opportunity for many families across the community and are grateful to be a part of this new adventure.”
Virtual admissions, tours, and assessments for the program, which will begin in the fall 2020 school year, are currently taking place. For more information on programs, tuition, and the admissions process, please visit www.alcuin.org.
Our Primary team is working hard with their distance learning plans. Not only are they working on Practical Life, they are also bringing math, culture, art, Spanish, science, and sensorial into the fold as well as sending articles and much needed emotional support to families.
The children could paint with spices, they could make “Kindness Notecards” as part of the Giving Artfully Kids program, they built a bird feeder then kept track of the different birds that visited, they had simple drawing and handwriting games, or created their own Land, Water and Air Containers. These are just a few of the things that the children had the opportunity to work on.
Of course, their favorite part is spending virtual face-to-face time with their teachers. Hearing their voices and seeing their faces is beneficial to both the children and the teachers who are all missing one another terribly. It's lovely to still have that community connection during these uncertain times.
Here is a sample lesson you can try at home with your children...
Sensorial - Rough vs. Smooth
● Find 10 things that are rough. Take a photo, gather, draw, write a list or do all four!
● Find 10 things that are smooth. Take a photo, gather, draw, write a list or do all four!
● Sort something (clothes or found objects outdoors, maybe) into order: rough, rougher, roughest
And a sample recipe:
Quick Cucumber Pickles
● ¼ c sugar
● ½ cup apple cider vinegar
● 2 teaspoons salt
● 2 large cucumbers (or mini Persian ones), thinly sliced
● Dill (or basil leaves) about1 tablespoon chopped (½ Tbs if dried)
1. Put sugar, apple cider vinegar and salt in a bowl.
2. Whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved.
3. Add cucumber and dill (or basil) to the mixture.
4. Cover the bowl and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours.
5. Serve chilled.
Our teachers are hard at work, bringing Montessori to the home, connecting with their students, and continuing the Alcuin tradition of community. Junior Elementary teacher, Nicole Cochrane, shares with us what the elementary team has been doing during this new normal...
Our elementary team worked tirelessly over spring break to produce a system that will best support our Montessori learners, while also understanding this unique situation we are currently facing. In talking with families to determine their needs, we found a wide variety and set out to develop a system that would support everyone based on their individual needs.
Another major goal was to coordinate our resources in order to enhance the ease of use for the children, parents, and staff but to do so in a way that most effectively replicates the effective nature of the Montessori environment, albeit, in a digital medium.
That said, we have developed a comprehensive program constructed of three independently useful platforms for the elementary community to center around.
1. We have created a comprehensive library using Google Drive. It’s a one stop location for all your classwork needs and includes extensive work options, materials the children can create, passwords, Zoom links, parent resources, templates and more. This is a dynamic resource that the teachers are continuously working to expand and curate.
2. We have upgraded our Seesaw subscription level which allows students and teachers to interact directly through assigned activities. The upgrade includes new features allowing the children to post from home making Seesaw into a 2-way interactive tool!
3. We will be introducing the IXL personalized online learning platform as an option for those families who are comfortable with online learning. As the third leg of our new educational structure, this platform will additionally support the children in their learning through a highly diverse, and personalized curriculum which automatically self-adjusts to the child’s level. The program allows the children to explore different concepts of interest, but also for the teachers to assign recommended works, providing along the way general activity oversight and guidance. The teachers will have to ability to see exactly what the students are working on and their level of proficiency within each skill.
Lastly, there are daily Zoom class meetings at 11:00 am for updates, expectations, sharing, and community.
Did your vacation get cancelled? Already cleaned your room and played five rounds of Monopoly? Maybe try some of these…
Practical Life/Care of the Environment & Self
- Written by our Middle School team
A blog by various Alcuin staff members.