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.
Dr. Maria Montessori once stated, “Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.” It’s a lovely sentiment, where we, as caregivers, do all we can to make sure our children have the kind of environment that will give them the world. A world they will one day become a part of as adults. It is important, however, in these times, that when we look toward the children and their future, we ask are we doing all we can for them? Are we freeing their ultimate potential?
At Alcuin Montessori, we pride ourselves on adhering to the basic Montessori tenet of following the child. What this means is taking their lead, meeting their needs, and advocating for them. As such, we recently introduced our “Alcuin Montessori School Policy Regarding Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Non-Binary Students and Staff Members” policy. While Alcuin has always been a safe space, we felt it was important to have this policy in place.
According to Trans Student Educational Resources, “80% of trans students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression.” Our policy is meant to foster an educational environment that is safe, welcoming, and free from stigma and discrimination for all students and staff members regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Yes, the policy facilitates compliance with local, state and federal laws concerning bullying, harassment, privacy, and discrimination, but it also achieves so much more. It ensures that all students (and staff members) have the opportunity to safely experience and express themselves, and live authentically. Dr. Montessori stated, “To assist a child we must provide them with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.” At Alcuin, we strive to provide that environment for each and every child.
We could list the countless facts and data about the positive impact acceptance has on trans youth, but as with everything else we approach at Alcuin, ultimately it is about people, not statistics. Alcuin Montessori promotes acceptance throughout our school and provides a safe space as a support network for all. We strive to create an environment in which it is safe for people to express themselves and their individuality without consequence or judgment.
We hope to both educate and cultivate an attitude towards others marked by a generosity of spirit and acceptance, and welcome all students and families to our community. By instating this policy, we are not changing what we already do. We’re merely reinforcing our ideals that all children deserve recognition, respect, and love---and at Alcuin, they receive just that.
Throughout the school year, we hold various Institute Days where classes are closed, and our faculty and staff come in for a full day. What is the purpose of our Institute Days? For the faculty and staff, it’s additional time for everyone to discuss school-wide events, work on conference reports, freshen up our environments, and plan and prepare curriculum for the upcoming months, but Institute Days also serve to reconnect as a community professionally and personally.
Often during Institute Days, we have professional development for everyone. In the past, we've had talks about food allergies, gender, childhood development, and social media—to name a few topics. These discussions not only serve as a springboard for more in-depth conversations but also to keep teachers abreast of current topics in order to better serve the children.
Institute Days also give time for intra-level connections. Coworkers who may not have an opportunity to interact during the school day have time to chat and build relationships on these days. They discuss new ideas and bounce them off one another, seek guidance or advice. All of this affords everyone time to see things from different points of view or another classroom level. It’s all about growth and maintaining perspective.
However, in between all the serious bits, we also make room for some good old-fashioned fun. Today, our teachers competed in a fast and furious game of Hot Potato (or rather, Hot Donut!) They also had a highly contested relay race—and let it be known that our very pregnant teachers are not afraid to out-run their competition. We also take moments to celebrate and acknowledge our amazing staff, from birthday cake to compliments during circle time.
When the children return on Monday, the teachers and staff will eagerly receive them happy to share new ideas and thoughts. And little will the children know that only a few days prior, their teachers were involved in a cut-throat game of Hot Potato.
A blog by various Alcuin staff members.