At some point in your child's life, whether they were two or even 11, you knew self-directed, hands-on learning and collaborative play were non-negotiable factors in picking their school. So, you opted for a Montessori program, which was developed with those principles in mind. However, as you began your search in the Oak Park River Forest area, you soon noticed that Montessori schools are popular educational choices, and therefore, they exist in great number.
"What sets a Montessori curriculum apart is the emphasis on the social and emotional growth of the student in tandem with their academic learning," explains Gina Gleason, head of Alcuin Montessori in Oak Park. "From birth through middle school, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about learning, while nurturing each child's individual strengths, challenging them to reach their fullest potential."
With a number of Montessori schools in the Oak Park River Forest area, it is important to research and visit as many as possible to gain a very clear understanding of what school is the best fit for your child.
Alejandra Valera, head of admissions for Alcuin Montessori, shares these tips for finding the best Montessori school suited for your child's unique needs.
1. What does the classroom's appearance say?
If a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing a true Montessori classroom in action is worth volumes. It's one thing to read about a school online, but visiting a school in person will help you get a sense of what your child will experience on a daily basis.
A few tips to prepare for your visit:
The term "Montessori" isn't trademarked, therefore, any program can call itself Montessori without being a true Montessori school. To be sure you are choosing an authentic program, explore the school's website and ask questions during the tour, such as:
In addition to being loved and nurtured, we all want our kids to be safe. During your tour, find out:
To get a sense of the school's culture, ask questions like:
Reading, writing, and arithmetic aren't the only things a child should learn - exposure to new ideas and experiences help children become well-rounded individuals.
Ask how the following are integrated into the curriculum and whether extracurricular opportunities exist:
The admission process itself is a great indicator of how the school itself is run. Throughout the process, ask yourself:
This is the most important question of all. Follow your instinct in making a decision about what school is best for your child and your family. Can you picture your child in these classrooms? Is the faculty and staff warm, welcoming, and professional in their pursuit of Montessori excellence? Can you picture yourself and your family as a valued part of this community?
Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park, now in its 56th year in serving Oak Park, the western suburbs and Chicago, is hosting open enrollment for children ages 0-14. For questions, insights from Alcuin alumni, students or parents or for a guided tour, contact Alejandra Valera, Director of Admissions, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-366-1882, and visit Alcuin.org.
Alcuin Executive Director, Gina Gleason, was recently featured in Around Oak Park’s Know Your Neighbors segment. Thanks to Kelli Williams for the fun interview.
Around Oak Park
Where is home for you? And what brought you there?
I live in Oak Park and moved here about five years ago from Chicago. I wanted to be closer to Alcuin (where I work) and allow my kids the opportunity to be part of their school and neighborhood community.
What is Alcuin? What do you do there? How did you get your start?
Alcuin Montessori School is the second oldest Montessori school in the country and have a very long and proud history in the Oak Park community. We were founded in 1961 by six local OP families who were looking for a different way to educate their children. Alcuin is a very special place, with some of the most talented and committed teachers that I’ve ever met. Together with a strong sense of community and commitment to Montessori education we can really provide an exceptional experience for the children.
I am the Executive Director at Alcuin. I started at Alcuin in 2003 as an intern in a Primary classroom (3-6 year olds) and have been there ever since. This is my 7th year leading the school. I was actually working at several graphic design shops in the beginning of my career out of college and learned about Montessori from a good friend. I visited a few schools to see what it was all about since I didn’t have children and hadn’t studied education. I instantly fell in love with the independence that such young children had and the endless learning opportunities and had to learn more myself. I took the training that summer to become a Montessori teacher and the rest is history. I love the fact that Alcuin has so much history and I have the great privilege of carrying on the legacy and dreams that our founders began so long ago.
Where in Oak Park is Alcuin located?
Alcuin is located in the heart of Oak Park so we have the opportunity to use the OP Public library and parks on a daily basis, our kids swim at the YMCA as part of our fitness program and our middle school kids use public transportation as part of their “beyond the classroom walls” learning. We are lucky to be so immersed in our community and the children have a lot of opportunities to feel connected outside of the classroom.
What inspires you most in your work?
The children (at Alcuin) are definitely are my daily inspiration. We have infants all the way through middle school children at the school, a great age range. It’s incredible when we get to see a child’s first steps or words; the first time they tie their shoe or learn how to do multiplication, or read their first book. It’s so great to be a part of that!
Our graduation ceremony at the end of the school year is by far the most touching. The 8th grade students give speeches and show videos that include a short farewell to the younger students, and the younger students sing and give them gifts. It’s such a strong community and the younger students really look up to the graduates, and hold a very special place in their hearts for them.
Knowing that we have such a positive impact on so many children is very meaningful. The world can be a tough place for both parents and kids but here at Alcuin, we’ve embraced the idea of respect, kindness, and meeting the children where they are in all their areas of development.
In your opinion, what are the top three things a parent should consider before enrolling their child at a school?
What is the weirdest thing that has happened to you in your career?
Weird things don’t always happen. But funny things happen all the time. We had a chicken get out of its coop come into our playground which caused quite a bit of fun and a cat tried to come into the school one day. Maybe we are meant to be part farm, too! Just kidding.
I should write a book about all the “overheard” things that kids say. Strictly anonymous of course because it’s usually very funny things about their parents.
How would you quickly summarize the Montessori difference?
Parenting is one of the toughest jobs anyone will ever do, even with the relatively easy kids. We really are looking to partner with parents so that education and parenting really become more cohesive and everyone benefits, but especially the child.
What are some important and unique aspects of your school community that people may not know about?
At every level and in every classroom we are focused on peace education, problem solving/conflict resolution and practicing mindfulness. From the youngest toddlers to the oldest middle school student, there are endless opportunities to continue learning and developing these critical skills. It’s completely integrated into the classroom and the children take ownership and as they get older they eventually become, for the most part completely independent in resolving their conflicts.
We also have a very strong commitment to providing opportunities for charitable work or to provide service. This can vary, but we think it’s incredibly important to role model the idea of giving back to our school community, Oak Park community, and the greater world. On the first Friday of every month, we have a parent/child community event at 8 a.m. that focuses on some type of giving back project.
We’ve made hats for preemies, scarves for the homeless, holiday cards for seniors and shut-ins and a recent project called “kindness rocks” where we wrote messages on rocks and put them in and around Oak Park and the city. We do a variety of projects with Housing Forward, from blanket drives to making the lunches for the shelter guests on Thursday nights. Our middle school students volunteer at local places in Oak Park on a regular basis for the school year. Within our school community, the older students have programs for volunteering in the classrooms of the younger students so that they are helping with reading, editing or assisting the toddlers with snack and recess time. There are so many opportunities for all of the children and such a great life lesson.
What do you feel is the highlight of Alcuin’s program?
Our Middle School is definitely a shining star in our school program. It’s a perfect mix of preparation for high school, experienced-based learning, respect and nurturing of the young adolescent child, travel and more travel, independent learning and a huge amount of parent support. Junior High can be a really tough time for most kids and parents but at Alcuin, the experience is so meaningful and for many the highlight of their education.
And now for a few questions about YOU outside of work! When you’re not at Alcuin, where can we find you?
When I am not working I am spending the very early morning hours running with my friends. It’s the best way to start my day. Other than that I spend time with my two kids and friends exploring the city or finding a forest preserve or park to spend so we can spend as much time in nature as we possible. My kids are still young but I am finding myself at the Ridgeland Ice Rink quite a bit!
If you were magically given three more hours per day, what would you do with them?
Well, since it’s just magic I would cook, eat and read, in that order but the reality is I would probably just work more!
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is never a typical day, and that is one of the best parts about this job. Every day, every moment is something different, and it never quite goes the way you had planned. When you are dealing with kids, it’s always best to approach everything with a sense of calm and a lot of humor. I might be in the classroom helping the toddlers one moment or with middle school kids, or working on a budget the next, meeting with a parent and then back to a classroom. There’s never a dull moment. My job is all about helping the children, teachers, and parents first and then later after everyone is gone for the day I can work on the business side of running a school.
What is the first app, website or thing you open/do in the morning?
I check the weather and open my email.
In celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace, the students at Alcuin Montessori School in Oak Park joined over 100,000 children from schools around the world to sing for peace on Wednesday, September 21st, 2016.
“Peace education is a key component of the Montessori philosophy," explained Gina Gleason, executive director of Alcuin Montessori. "Peace isn't just taught as a one-time lesson; rather, it's integrated into the curriculum throughout the year for all of our students, from birth through middle school. It's just as important as math, language, and music in creating a well-rounded child."
As part of the "Sing Peace Around the World" movement, the song Light a Candle for Peace was sung by schools around the world, starting on the shores of New Zealand and continuing from country to country until it reaches the shores of the Hawaiian Islands 24 hours later. Students at Alcuin Montessori sang their song and performed it in American Sign Language at 10:00 a.m.
In preparation for the event, art teacher Sophia Lyman said, "The children have been busy practicing their performance and creating art relating to the theme of peace around the world in many forms, including the development of peace flags, quotes and inspirational messages, poems, drawing, and dance."
Each year, the United Nations International Day of Peace is observed around the world on September 21st. It is a day dedicated to strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples, a vision that closely aligns with the Montessori philosophy.
Yesterday, we woke up at 4 am, and we didn't know that a hard walking day was waiting for us. First, we got dropped off at the airport; all of us were excited about the trip. At the airport, some people got breakfast, and others just stayed reading. We were really tired! As we arrived in Washington, we got dropped off at the Smithsonian American History Museum. We stayed for an hour at the museum in which we were able to see exhibitions and learn about the American presidents, the First Ladies, and the wars that the US joined (among other things). The First Ladies dresses were gorgeous and elegant!
As our trip finished at the museum, we walked back to the US Department of Agriculture building (and that was just the beginning of our walking day) and had lunch at their amazing cafeteria. After we recharged our batteries, we headed to the Holocaust Museum in which we saw a huge exhibition about the horrible genocide that happened during World War II. We recalled what we learned about World War II, saw heartbreaking photos about what the Jews suffered, learned facts about the Holocaust, and got to know stories from the ones who survived it.
After that, we went to another beautiful but sad place: the Arlington National Cemetery. We marveled at its beauty and learned about its fascinating history, dating all the way back to George Washington and also being tied into Robert E. Lee and his family. We also saw the changing of the guards ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier. The guards who did it were very good at their jobs. They had very specific motions that they completed at the exact right time, and their uniforms were without a single spot or wrinkle. The other thing about the Arlington National Cemetery – it was a lot of walking uphill! We were exhausted by the end.
Luckily, after a short stop at the Marine Corps memorial, we went to dinner. We went to a mall (not the national mall, just a mall) and got to eat in the food court and explore the stores (Surprise! They were just like the ones in malls everywhere.) We thought we were done after that, but it turned out there was more to see. We began by going to the Vietnam War memorial and the Korean War memorial, which were haunting in both their beauty and how sad they were. Seeing the names and faces of the people lost to those wars reflected in the black, glassy walls that each of them featured was a very sobering experience. However, from there we went to the Lincoln Memorial, and that was a different story. We approached the plaza with the Washington monument and the reflective pool before it on one side and the Lincoln Memorial on the other. As I stared up at the huge structure, I became so excited that when we were free to split up and take pictures, I raced up the steps. Inside it was warmly lit, and the huge stone statue of Lincoln and pillars made it feel sturdy. It was so beautiful, and it made my heart swell with love for this country and its history.
Finally, we got to go to the hotel for the night. We were wiped out! It had been a long, eventful 17 hours.
- Gabriela & Jojo
A Parent’s Guide to Surviving the Teen Years
Roxy Krawczyk, Middle School Teacher.
Parenting a tween can be a daunting task. We often hear parents bemoaning the alien that seems to have taken over their sweet, darling child and left them with a moody, defiant teenager. They worry that this new phase will be permanent, and they worry even more that they are ill-equipped to deal with it.
Never fear! The transition from childhood to adolescence is indeed a marked one, but it is simply another phase of normal human development. Knowing what changes are taking place inside your adolescent’s body and brain can help you understand what to expect, and being aware of their shifting needs and priorities can help you keep your own expectations in check. The tween years can look different for each child, but there are some developmental markers that are universal. Knowing what’s coming will help you maintain your sanity, and theirs.
Models of Psychological Development
Jean Piaget (1896-1980)
One of the first scientists to propose that human development happened in stages, as opposed to a singular, uninterrupted progression, was the Swiss developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. Still prominently studied in child development education today, Piaget’s theory suggests that children progress through four distinct stages of development: sensorimotor (0-2 years), preoperational (2-6 years), concrete operational (7-11 years), and formal operational (11 years-adult). In each of these periods, the individual develops a specific set of skills and becomes capable of new levels of thought which were previously inaccessible. The adolescent falls into Piaget’s final stage of formal operational thought. In this stage, Piaget proposed, adolescents begin to reason abstractly and think in hypothetical terms.
Erik Erikson (1902-1994)
Another leading developmental psychologist was the German-born American scientist, Erik Erikson, known for his theory on psychosocial development. According to Erikson, people go through eight stages, confronting (and hopefully mastering) a new personal and/or social challenge in each. Erikson is perhaps most famous for coining the phrase “identity crisis,” and in no other stage is this particular challenge more evident in the adolescent stage. During this period, the adolescent is working on developing his or her personal identity. This is a critical time for individuals to determine who they are, where their values lie, and in what ways they can contribute to the communities around them.
It’s a crisp fall day in October and on Friday we began our morning making cards for Color Give Smile, a non-profit organization that provides artwork to senior citizens. The cards usually accompany a meal that is being delivered. I love these events because it really gets the children asking questions about the world outside of their home, their beloved school and classrooms. I had beautiful and meaningful conversations with the children as we sat together making cards and I know that this event will continue to support the ideas that we work on every day in the classroom.
The Montessori philosophy is based on respect: of self, for others, the environment, and for the world. At Alcuin, everything we do as a school community focuses on these values. From the moment the children come through our doors we welcome them and greet them like a member of our family because they are truly part of the Alcuin family. What does that mean and why is it so special or different? It means that we accept each individual child for who they are and we work together as a team to help them grow and develop into the person they are striving to become. There are a million lovely moments along that journey and there are bumps along the road -- but that’s just it, it is the journey that is most important to us. It’s about the partnership with the families, and sharing in the joys and ah-ha moments that happen for each child. It’s about meeting and talking, problem solving and trusting in the partnership of home and school, and above all knowing that the child will not only get through the challenging moments but will come out on the other side a much stronger, peaceful and independent person.
What makes Alcuin so different is its people. I know you’ve heard me say this many times before, but we truly have an exceptional staff. They love and respect each and every child in this community, and spend their days and nights thinking, planning and preparing for the children. They appreciate the partnership they have with the families and know that together they can support and guide the students in a meaningful way.
As you know we are beginning the writing portion of our self-study with ISACS. We officially kicked off this process with the faculty, staff, and board last week. What this ultimately means for the children and the community is an even stronger set of guiding principles; every aspect of Alcuin will be peeled apart, examined and evaluated. You may be wondering what your role will be in this process or how you can best support our community. Montessori is based on observation, feedback, collaboration, evaluation, and flexibility. My door is always open to the community and I am constantly engaged with teachers and children about ways to improve and how to solve problems. Montessori is about working together for the common good. Shortly you will be receiving a survey from ISACS as part of the accreditation process. Your honest and thoughtful feedback is critical for the self-evaluation of our school. Together we can ensure that our children, parents, faculty and staff are part of a community that believes in the support and development of each individual child, while truly creating a community based on respect for each individual, the environment, and the world. Together we can create the change we dream of. Together we can see the joy in the eyes of our children as they discover the never ending curriculum the world has to offer. And together we can prepare the children of our community to be the adults that we dream they will become.
The school year is off to a wonderful start and the students are settled back into the routines of their classrooms. It is a true joy to welcome them into our building each morning and to receive a warm smile and a firm handshake from so many. With this, I realize the depth of the opportunity we have before us as parents and educators with our young students for no matter the age they are all open to learning, hungry for knowledge and willing to be exposed to new concepts, ideas and opinions.
As I embark on my fifth year leading Alcuin and we enter year two of our accreditation process with the Independent Schools of the Central States and the American Montessori Society, my goal this year is to give back to our greater community. Montessori believed that a peaceful world could be created by children, and part of that peace is brought on by the helping of others. Throughout the school year there will be opportunities for students, parents and staff to learn about different groups in need of our philanthropic efforts. In early September we kicked off our endeavor with a school-wide celebration of the International Day of Peace. We erected our new peace pole and sang a beautiful song about peace. It was a very moving way to start the school year and set the tone for things to come. The children have already had many conversations around the pole discussing what peace means them.
Our first community event of the school year was dedicated to helping the Binky Patrol, an organization which provides comforting blankets to children in hospitals or who are homeless. The community gathered early one Friday morning and made blankets for those children. It was amazing to see our older students teaching the younger ones how to make the blankets, and also to see how easily the community of parents, children and staff could create so many blankets! In the span of 30 minutes, thirteen blankets were made which were later boxed and shipped off to the Binky Patrol’s Illinois branch.
In November our focus was on the children of the Montessori School of Englewood, a public Montessori School that was opened just a few short years ago. Our children at every level in the school are exposed to and research many different cultures. Spanish teacher, Rita Cassiano, and art teacher, Sophia Lyman, organized this event where our families collected gently used cultural books to donate to the Montessori School of Englewood. Our children also spent the morning reading cultural books in Spanish and making cards to send along with the books.
It is with great joy that I lead this school of generous spirits and kind-hearted community members. We are looking forward to celebrating our year of giving back to the greater community and all the possibilities for learning that these opportunities will bring to us all.
Researching and applying to a school shouldn't be a stressful situation. I am here to answer questions, meet you and your children, and make the process relatively simple.
As Alcuin’s Director of Advancement, I love working with prospective families, having them visit us and discover what a quality Montessori program looks like. With programs for children ages birth to 14 years, I welcome you to come see what has made us a Montessori tradition for over 50 years.
The easiest way to get to know more about Alcuin is to join us for an informational Coffee and tour. We will start with some good coffee, a short video on Montessori Education and then take an in-depth look at all of our classrooms. At the end of the tour we hold a question and answer session, and explain our admissions process. Tours are held once a month (9:00 to 10:30 a.m.) in the main Alcuin campus. Our tours will begin in October, but I can also schedule a one-on-one tour during the summer.
Alcuin also offers financial assistance, if you qualify, so we can help make an Alcuin education financially possible for your family. Call (708.366.1882) or email me so I can introduce you to Alcuin Montessori. I’d love to hear from you.
Director of Advancement
The children are enjoying this year’s Alcuin Montessori summer camp. We have many camp themes to choose from. Our weekly sessions let you give your child a great variety throughout the summer. Whether your child is new to Montessori or a pro, this camp is a great way for them to discover, learn and grow in a safe and fun environment.
Become part of the Alcuin Montessori School community this summer and have your children experience “Fun with a Purpose!” The children have work on beautiful art pieces, have made their own theater production, and are learning French. We still have Spanish, Science and more coming our way.
The elementary children have already visited the Sears (Willis) Tower, the Notebaert Nature Museum, and more.
There’s still time to join us for one of these themes:
Art - June 15-19
Theater - June 22-July 1
Nature - July 6-10
French - July 13-17
Spanish - July 20-24
Science - July 27-31
French - August 3-7
Ages 6-12 (1st through 6th grades)
City Explorations - June 15-19
Spanish - July 6-10
Community Giving - July 27-31
Visit our camp page to register!
Wow, what a day! We saw so many things and learned a lot.
Our morning started off at 5:30 am. We got on our bus that was waiting for us just outside the hotel. Our first stop was the coffee plantation for a tour and breakfast. As usual, breakfast was great, and we got to go on a tour of how coffee beans are made. You wouldn't believe how long it takes to make coffee! The tour was really cool and the coffee smelled great.
Our next stop was the volcano. It is one of five active volcanoes on the island. It even had a sign saying, "in case of an eruption... stay calm." When we arrived, we had to walk up to this viewing area. When we got to the top, it was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. There was smoke arising from the volcano, and then when it cleared, you could see the crater. We decided to walk to another crater which had turned into a lake. The walk was pretty steep, and you were encaged by branches and leaves. I nearly passed out! We saw some wildlife along the way. When we got to the top, there was a beautiful lake. The landscape in Costa Rica is much greener than it is back home, and the air is fresh. After taking a couple of photos, we decided to walk back down to our bus to go to our last stop.
Along the ride to our next stop, we stopped for some local strawberries. They were delicious! We also got to try some Costa Rican candy. (I didn't like it.)
When we got to our next stop, it was a really cool rainforest resort with animals, waterfalls, and plants. We walked through and saw all of these really pretty butterflies, birds, and animals. Most of us got to hold a toucan! We got to go into a butterfly enclosure where the butterflies flew freely around. Some of them landed on us, and I got to take some really close-up pictures.
After that, we went on the waterfall tour. It, as well, had a lot of steep walking. The first waterfall was so cool. You could feel the mist hit your face. We kept walking to go see the other five waterfalls. There were a lot of stairs to climb in between waterfalls! At that point, we were all hungry so we got lunch at the resort.
Every day in the rainforest it rains, so we had to run onto the bus. We drove back to the hotel and while on the bus, i think everybody took a snooze. When we got back to our hotel, most of us swam. We got to Facetime with Jojo, and it was really nice to see her. We went to Opa! for dinner and had sandwiches and smoothies.
What another great day -- can't believe we only have two days left! I'm so grateful that I was able to come on this trip, and spend time with my friends.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.