Training Future Montessori Teachers

We believe that a good education is the key to providing lifelong opportunities — beginning at birth and continuing throughout a lifetime. Yet, nearly 19% of Greenwood County’s children are not ready when it’s time to start first grade, and 17% of students drop out before finishing high school.* Therefore, the Foundation focuses on supporting programs that enhance school readiness at all ages, and work closely with schools, youth-serving organizations and other community organizations that promote the intellectual and social development of young people.

Summer Fun That Keeps Academics Strong (click here)

S.E.L.F. Summer Program

We all have nostalgic thoughts of lazy summer days, but summertime is also a time when the achievement gap between successful and struggling students widens. Students who have access to caring adults and engaging activities continue to learn while those who do not often lose ground.

The Little River Missionary Baptist Association provides an opportunity for students from low and middle-income families to continue their studies while having a great deal of fun throughout the summer. The Students Empowered for Life’s Future (SELF) Summer Program is an enrichment camp that uses certified teachers and high-quality community partnerships to provide an exciting experience for campers ages seven to 15.

“The camp is set up like a school day to help keep academics strong,” explains camp Director Pacquitta Welton. “In the morning, we have 30-minute classes in social studies, math, science and language arts. In the afternoon, campers can choose from art classes, music, dance, and more. We take field trips to museums, the library, the fire department, the YWCA (for water safety) and other places. The library also brings book mobile out bi-weekly.”

The camp has also brought in several outreach programs from local businesses, including a money management course from Wells Fargo, and engages individual volunteers with a passion for helping and inspiring young people. “We’ve had a professor from Newberry College do a presentation on world travel and global thinking,” Welton says. Government agencies are also involved, like the Sheriff’s deputies who come to talk about safety and citizenship.”

The camp started in 2006 at Little River Multicultural Complex with support from the Self Family Foundation and the Little River Missionary Baptist Association. “We provide a safe place for kids to focus on academics and exploration, to take a break from issues of poverty, violence, substance abuse and other risk factors. When we first started, we were one of the few all-day programs available that included feeding kids. The first year was entirely free for participants, thanks to support from the Baptist Association’s member churches and partnerships with other agencies. Now there are scholarships available.”

The difference in the lives of participants is easy to see. “It’s remarkable to see their faces light up, so ready to learn and soak up information,” says Welton.

She remembers a group of five girls from the camp’s second year who did not want to be there. “They were angry and defiant at first, but we kept working with them, introducing them to new things, and by the end of the summer, they had blossomed. They cried when camp was over, and one of them told me, ‘I’ve never done anything like this.’”

Training Teachers in Montessori Methods (click here)

Lander University

A Montessori Classroom

Ten years ago, Lander University started a Montessori teacher education program with support from the Self Family Foundation that included classroom materials and salary for a program director. Now, a decade later, this program is an integral part of Lander University  and is placing highly-trained teachers in pre-school and elementary Montessori programs throughout South Carolina.

“When I came to Lander that first year, the program was just getting started and was going through accreditation from the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE),” says Director Barbara Ervin. “Now, I’m a full-time part of the faculty. We’re still using all of the materials fro teacher training in our model classroom that the Self Family Foundation helped us create all those years ago.”

Teacher education classes are held in the model classroom. Lander works closely with Greenwood District 50 and Matthews Elementary in particular to bring teachers in from around the state. Matthews has Montessori classrooms for 3-6 year-olds and for 6-nine year olds. In some cases, the school district pays a student’s way through the program in exchange for a commitment to return and teach in that district for 3-5 years.

The Lander Montessori education program is also accepted by the Academic Common Market, a collective of 19 Southeastern states that share programming for students at in-state tuition rates.

Most teachers come as graduate students who work toward an M.Ed. in Montessori, says Ervin. Teachers can also to enroll as non-degree seeking students and just receive Montessori certification for the 3-6 or 6-9 levels. Undergraduate early childhood majors can add the Montessori emphasis to their program if they choose.

Ervin has always been impressed with Montessori methods, and taught Montessori herself for 25 years before coming to Lander. “Montessori meets the needs of individual children in a way other approaches don’t,” she explains. “As one of my colleagues said recently, once you’re a parent and appreciate how unique and special your own child is, you want a classroom environment that also appreciates that.”

The Self Family Foundation has remained engaged in the Lander program. A recent grant is helping Lander market its programs to more teacher candidates and recruit more students. The program now has a video that encourages high school students in all of South Carolina’s 160 Teacher Cadet programs to consider pursuing an undergraduate degree in Montessori, and is producing a poster that will advertise the graduate level program to students in undergrad teacher education programs throughout the Southeast.

Lander has produced 150 trained Montessori teachers over the past decade. The vast majority of those teachers stay in South Carolina schools.

“One of our graduates from about five years ago recently moved to Barnwell, South Carolina — an area of particularly high need,” says Ervin. “She was so determined to create a Montessori classroom in her school, that she took the initiative to gather private donations to set up the classroom. That shows how strongly teachers believe in this method of teaching and what it can do for South Carolina’s kids.”

*Kids Count data 2010.