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
The DCFS-licensed Infant and Toddler programs, at our Roosevelt Campus, provides learning experiences in an environment that is cheerful, inviting, and filled with opportunities to explore. There is always a hum of activity from the teachers and children. The natural routine in these classrooms includes a rich Montessori curriculum that includes exposure to music, outdoor time, and fun in our large muscle activity room.
Materials in the Infant program have been mindfully selected to meet developmental milestones in order to nurture and support the learning opportunities of each young child. Low shelves and tables make the materials easily accessible to the infant that is mobile. The classrooms, with its large windows and abundance of natural light, promote a balance of peaceful comfort and engaging stimulation in a caring, nurturing environment.
The Toddler program is composed of three elements: the prepared environment, observation, and non-directive guidance. Classwork focuses on practical life exercises, sensory exploration, and vocabulary enrichment to help children acquire a sense of order.
The Toddler classroom allows children to move easily from large muscle movement areas to fine motor exercises, including pouring, sweeping, dusting, buttoning, zipping, and table setting. A child's inclination for independence is respected by giving him skills to accomplish tasks independently. This provides opportunities for freedom and exploration in a safe and loving atmosphere. The children learn to take care of themselves and their surroundings and develop skills to communicate with one another. Lessons of Grace and Courtesy help the children develop respect for themselves, for others, and for the (class) environment.
A program this special deserves a space that is specifically designed with the infant and toddler needs in mind. At our Roosevelt Campus, the Infant and Toddler programs help to prepare your child not just for school, but also for life.
“Of all things love is the most potent.” – Maria Montessori
The days leading up to Thanksgiving Break are always quite busy at Alcuin, but the busy hum of activity is one that reminds us that community, friendship, and love are all around us. We celebrate our classrooms, our communities (both large and small), and we celebrate our families---wonderful moments spent together before we all go home and give thanks for our many blessings.
Last week, the children at the main campus finished their week-long Thanksgiving celebration. An Elementary classroom was paired with a Primary class, and the two sister classrooms partook in shared experiences. On Monday morning, smiles and stories were exchanged as the older children eagerly read to the younger. On Tuesday, they did a craft together cutting and gluing and laughing as they worked. On Wednesday and Thursday, the classes worked on food prep for their feast, and the week ended on a delicious note as the children feasted together with their partner class. What a lovely week!
Earlier today, the Middle Schoolers visited the Infant and Toddler classrooms as they surprised the littlest members of our community with a song (“Five Little Pumpkins!”) followed by a selection of board books read to the children. The infants and toddlers sat quietly and listened wide-eyed and filled with excitement. Their morning visit was rounded out with some shared pumpkin bread made from scratch especially for the infants and toddlers. It was so sweet seeing the 7th and 8th graders gingerly interact with them and offer up their baked goods.
Finally, to round out the festivities, the Main Campus hosted its annual Extended Family Day. Extended Family Day provides aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and neighbors to spend the morning with their favorite Alcuin students. The day began by performances in Spanish by Primary and Junior Elementary who both sang songs. The Junior and Senior Elementary also recited poems in Spanish. After the maravilloso entertainment, coffee and donuts, our guests visited the classrooms and were treated to lessons, lessons, and more lessons from the children.
As everyone left, with a souvenir Alcuin coffee mug, a smile, and a tummy full of donuts, it was a wonderful reminder of the power of community. No matter the child’s age, whether they are four months or fourteen years, connections and community do, in fact, remind us that love is all around. They are supported by their family at home and at Alcuin. It's such an amazing thing we are truly thankful for.
For more photos, visit our Instagram!
A blog by various Alcuin staff members.