Non-traditional school holds traditional values
November 22, 2006
With expansive mullioned windows, high ceilings and solid maple doors housed in a three-story brick building, the classrooms look like a traditional 1950’s school time- capsule. But the learning going on in these classrooms is anything but traditional.
The Soaring Wings Montessori School explores with its students how to embrace cultures from around the world, allows students to express talents unique to them, to learn at their own speed, and how to act as mentors for younger students or students of lesser skills.
Students in different grades learn together, with the teacher acting more as a facilitator than traditional teacher, said Soaring Wings director Duna Strachan.
Strachan started the local Soaring Wings in her home in 1987. She found she was quickly running out of room. Meanwhile, The old Park City High School building was about to be torn down and turned into a parking garage. But the historical building was saved, renovated, and became the Park City Main Library.
Strachan heard space had opened up on the third floor, and she moved her Montessori school into the building in 1992. The school now has 120 students ranging from toddlers to third-grade students.
But there is no sign on the building. No advertising. Only a little ad in the phonebook, Strachan said. "Classes are full. Somehow people always seem to find us," she said.
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Montessori schools will celebrate the 100 anniversary in 2007, the same year Strachan celebrates the 20th year of her Montessori school
Maria Montessori, a medical doctor in Italy at the turn of the century, became an educator, and eventually opened her own school, finding her students learned more when they learned at their own speed, with guidance from an instructor. Students were encouraged to develop talents and skills unique to them. Important to her teaching was having students help each other, developing symbiotic relationships in learning. She also encouraged students to appreciate one another’s diversity, Strachan said.
Recently Soaring Wings Montessori School celebrated North American philosophy, attending a ceremony at the Adopt-a-Native Elder rug show at Deer Valley, on Nov. 10. Students attempted rug weaving, corn grinding, according to Strachan. They will soon study Asian culture.
"One student’s grandpa came in and taught our kids how to make tortillas," Strachan said. "We are going to study Ramadan."
"If you can live the way other people live, you can better understand them," Strachan said.
The Montessori school is best described as hands-on learning. For their Thanksgiving celebration, students will help make the turkey soup and pumpkin pie, to be eaten by their visiting parents and themselves.
While students are tested when they enter the school, and are given scholastic aptitude tests in third grade, "testing is such a non-Montessori thing to do, Strichen said.
We encourage children to pursue their interests, she said. ‘They may love rockets. They may want to study the Rainforest."
But it’s not all work and no play. During the physical education break, students were recently sledding on the slope next to the Library/school.
Each student is put in charge of a classroom activity. One student is in charge of caring for Lucky, the chinchilla. One student is in charge of telling jokes, said teacher Michelle Aldrich, who teaches 20 5-8-year-olds, having the same class full-time. She said that students must master certain aspects of a subject before they can move on to the next level of learning, whether it is math, science, history or English.
Discipline is handled through time-outs. The students are isolated from other students until they ready to return to the group. But the students appear so interested in the subject matter it is hard to imagine anyone would cause trouble.
Brenden Ehlers, 6, is designing a perpetual motion-like machine, where steel balls roll down ramps, operate mechanical devices.
He holds a steel ball. "All I need is about 9 million of these," he said. "If someone steals a ball I will have a lot more. It’s going to be really cool," he says of his mechanical contraption. "It will take me several years or so."