Notes from Head of School

Not So New to Us!

So often things that are reported as new “discoveries” or trends in education are things that Maria Montessori observed 100 years ago and incorporated into the time tested, scientifically proven approach we use at Hilltop. Three such ideas are: the importance of movement in learning, the benefit of developing internal motivation rather than being given external rewards, and how to have STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) in education in an integrated, concrete, real-world way. These are all important components of the curriculum and experience that students have at our school from toddlers through Middle School.
The connection of the Hand to the Mind:
This article, “Why Kids Need to Move, Touch and Experience to Learn,” explains the reason behind our classrooms that encourage movement, and materials that require manual manipulation. The human mind is wired to learn through moving and experiencing, not through sedentary rote memorization. The classroom and outside environments at Hilltop, encourage concentration, movement and experiential learning.
Internal Motivation, Not External Rewards:
This article “Could Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose be the Keys to Motivating Students?” uses a TED talk by Daniel Pink to suggest that, just as financial incentives have been seen to not motivate employees to do creative problem solving, so using tests and grades and other external motivators are not beneficial to children. To foster intrinsic motivation students should be given opportunities to do real-life problem solving and feel a sense of purpose from doing real tasks where they can develop a sense of skill, pride and accomplishment. This can be:
  • serving a friend snack, as the toddlers do with great enjoyment and pride
  • washing a table, a classic Montessori activity often accomplished in our Children’s House classrooms
  • writing persuasive letters to the Head of School on why Lower El needs a bigger garden, and seeing it through with materials, digging, and planting!
  • building lamps for the auction, using precise measurements, calculations, and skilled craftsmanship
  • running a bagel business, soup business, coffee cart, and providing childcare to raise money for an odyssey (as our Middle Schoolers doSTEM and STEAM have been what Montessori is all about for 100 years:
There is a movement in education circles to talk about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) or when you throw the Arts back in there it becomes STEAM. This approach emphasizes how all fields relate to each other and that project based learning on real life situations is a better approach to learning that segmented subjects with hypothetical questions. Again, this is what Montessori is based on and what happens every day at Hilltop Montessori School.
  • The metal insets combine art, with geometry, and are a preparation for writing.
  • The “timeline of life” is a lesson in history, biology, geology, and can be beautifully rendered in colored pencils, or felted wool!
  • Developing the “Museum” projects in Upper Elementary requires combining disciplines to prepare a written and physical illustration to communicate a complex concept.
  • Building water wheels combines math, physics, and design in a hands-on building project
At Hilltop Montessori School we do STEAM!

Classism in the Classroom

April 16, 2015

On Wednesday, Kerstin (Lower Elementary Teacher), Rebecca (Children’s House – Willow Room Assistant) and I attended a training at the Vermont Learning Collaborative on “Classism in the Classroom” (http://www.learningcollaborative.org/classism). At Hilltop, we work consciously to address diversity and inclusion in many ways. In Southern Vermont, we do not have as much opportunity to experience racial and ethnic diversity but we strive to whenever possible. We do have more diversity of family structures and many members of our community who are gay and lesbian. We also have the opportunity to be sure to be inclusive of the economic diversity that we have. And, as we are thinking about expanding that economic diversity, we want to be aware of all the potential class biases that we might have. This training, in conjunction with the discussions we have been having with students, faculty, and the board, are informing how we move forward with increased awareness and inclusion. It is important to ask:

 “Is this accessible to all students?” “Are we excluding people with this curriculum/book/action?”
Much of the training served to reaffirm the cultural curriculum and peace curriculum that is a part of our programs. And, there is always room to analyze, update, and improve.
Some of the topics that come up in this context include:
– how can fundraising be handled in an inclusive, respectful way
– how directly should we be addressing class differences in the classroom with children at different program levels
– what books and materials could we add at different levels to be sure to be including people of different classes
– how could the “fundamental needs” curriculum of Lower Elementary be augmented to more directly address class differences
– additional fees for extra things (after care, pizza lunch, etc.) can exclude some, despite our attempts to include all the fees in the tuition
– would a sliding scale of fees for some things be a way of being more inclusive
We will be continuing to look at these topics within the current context of our community and looking to the future.

An Invitation to All

We realize and appreciate that you are trusting us to educate your child and to help her or him grow in a way that, for many of you, is very different from your schooling. We know that without grades and test scores, you are having to use other measures to know that your child is growing and thriving in this environment. We really emphasize the process in the work that is done here, but often it does result in an amazing product too. Many of the events coming up next week give you an opportunity to appreciate the products of the works of the students in our older programs. Please mark your calendar to attend these events. If your child is younger, you and your family are more than welcome to attend these events. The Poetry Night for the Middle School is sure to be magical in our new Arts Barn theater. These events are a wonderful way to see what Hilltop Montessori School encourages in all students.

Lower El Poetry Performance
Thursday, December 18th 8:45AM

Upper El Museum
Thursday, December 18th 2:00PM
Friday, December 19th 8:30AM

MS Poetry Night
Thursday, December 18th 7PM

Let’s Grow Kids

By Tamara Mount, November 14, 2014           

Time and time again, Dr. Maria Montessori’s ideas from 100 years ago are proven by modern science. Hilltop has been participating in the state-wide campaign, Let’s Grow Kids (http://www.letsgrowkids.org/), a public education campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of the early years in development. This campaign is to make Vermonters aware of facts that Maria Montessori noted in her early writings, “The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed.  But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers. At no other ages has the child greater need of an intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection.”

Or, as Let’s Grow Kids puts it, “Eighty percent of a child’s brain is developed by age three and 90% is developed by age five.” And, “Getting kids ready for school means more than helping them with their ABCs, packing their lunch boxes, filling their backpacks, and getting them to the bus on time. It starts the day they’re born with quality early experiences.” Montessorian’s have known it all along – the early years of development are critical and are worthy of investment – the investment of providing the quality experiences that happen at Hilltop every day.

Hilltop Investments Moved to Socially Responsible Funds

Hilltop Investments Moved to Socially Responsible Funds

By Tamara Mount, November 7, 2014

The Hilltop board is pleased to announce that we have recently moved our investments into a socially responsible portfolio that will be managed by the local firm Prentiss Smith and Company.  They evaluate companies from a variety of perspectives including environmental impact, executive management transparency, demonstrated long term planning, and the societal benefits of their products and services.  This move now puts our investments in line with our mission and goals to be good stewards of the environment and the community. It comes at a time when we have completed current new building expenses and are now focussed on protecting and growing our “Campus Reserve Fund” to maintain our beautiful facilities. We will also be preparing for an “Endowment Fund” to help ensure continued financial aid for future students. An endowment will not only ensure economic diversity by supporting financial aid, but it also creates long term financial stability for the school. This move is something the board has been interested in doing for some time and we are pleased to now be in a position to make such investments.

Additional Words from Board Treasurer, Rich Wolfe

In response to being asked why he chose to serve on the board and how he views his role as treasurer, Rich said “As newcomers to the area and the Hilltop school community,  we were so pleased with the way Greta was welcomed into her new Middle School class, and the experience she was having with her teachers. Katy and I have had a long relationship with Montessori education (Katy also attended Montessori school and worked at the schools where our son, Robbie, was in programs from toddler – 8th grade) and we immediately recognized the quality of the program at Hilltop. We wanted to support the school in whatever way we could, and I think my role as treasurer is logical because I have worked in finance my whole life (starting when I was in middle school and my father gave me the responsibility of managing our household finances). My hope is that as treasurer I am able to communicate with the greater school community about Hilltop’s financial health and help plan for the school’s future.”

Annual Fund

By Tamara Mount, October 17, 2014

I was recently reminded, by a parent, about how long Hilltop has dreamed of having a Learning Specialist on staff to assist teachers and students. Wendy’s involvement with the children working hard to learn to read has indeed been a dream come true. We’ve also seen wonderful benefits, as a staff and community, to having Becky work as an assistant to Lower Elementary: helping with math, with transitions to activities, and providing a more age appropriate After Care for just the elementary age. We have also been thrilled to see Toddlers join our midst – everyone regularly stops to peek in at the little ones learning how to navigate their environment.

These new additions are some of the things that our fundraising and grant writing helps to make happen. These “extras” are wonderful benefits that cost more than what tuitions cover. We are thrilled to be able to provide these this year and look forward to further improvements. Please consider these investments in our staff and programs as we begin this year’s Annual Fund . . .

The Importance of Blending the Three Years within a Program

by Tamara Mount, Sept 12, 2014

One of the critical components of an authentic Montessori program is mixed age groups, usually three years in the same classroom. Hilltop has always had three years together for Children’s House, Lower Elementary and Upper Elementary. At times labels for the three years within each grouping have been used. To further blend the years, we are moving away from the using grade names and only occasionally using the “Younger”, “Middler”, and “Older” names. The more fully these three years are mixed, the greater the benefits. A few of the advantages of having the mixed ages are:

Older children solidify their learning and confidence when helping or teaching younger children, and younger often learn better from another child than from an adult.

Children can learn a skill or topic when they are developmentally interested, not at a predetermined time when students are “normally” learning that topic. All children of a set age do not need to be learning the same skill.

Children can take the time they need to work on a topic and then move to the next, whether that be longer or shorter than others, without being labeled “ahead”/”advanced”/”accelerated” or “slow”/”remedial”/”special”. A child with particular strength in one area can move more quickly through material, while a student who needs more practice on concepts can take more time. In doing this, they are just getting the “lessons” and doing the work that is right for them, no labels necessary.

Social diversity among ages gives more choices for friendships allowing for different levels of maturity and interests among ages. Students are not restricted artificially by chronological age but have a greater variety of friends to choose among.

In this type of environment, the distinctions of grade and the perception of someone being ahead or behind their grade don’t exist and students see each other, and themselves, more as individuals learning what they need to learn, able to help others in some topics and benefiting from others in another subject. Elementary age students might wonder at being in a math group with so many older children, or being in a reading group with younger children. In time, however, these perceptions break down and students see themselves and others engaging in material that is interesting and appropriate for them. They also begin to relish their roles as teachers themselves.

This mixed age grouping is not only for specific lessons, but also for the choices of follow-ups to the cultural/science lessons. For example, with the Lower Elementary class studying Nouns, there is one follow-up work to “label the environment”, another to list nouns that fit into categories (things that are “fuzzy”), and another work of identifying nouns in a “big book”, or classifying concrete and abstract nouns. If a child is really getting into nouns, they could do them all!

In conjunction with this academic and social mixing, we also have projects that are built into the traditions of each classroom, especially in the third year of each program. The “Olders” of Children’s House have pottery class in the winter; the “Olders” of Lower Elementary their biography and atlas projects, and the “Olders” of Upper El their Individual Study Project (ISPs). These traditions are important rite-of-passage and leadership opportunities at each program level.

We need partnership from parents to help reinforce the fact that people learn things at different times and paces at Hilltop Montessori School. Each child works on the lessons that they are ready for and interested in:

  • when your child wonders why they are in a math group with so-and-so, explain that the groupings are determined by who is ready for each lesson
  • when your child talks about a new friend, rather than asking what grade that child is in, ask what your child likes most about them, or what they talk about, etc. (For additional tips on questions to ask your children that get more conversation going than “How was your day at school?” check out this article.
  • if your child wants to be in a reading group that is doing chapter books, encourage her to read more with you at home to become a more fluent reader (it takes practice, not smarts)
  • if your child is asked what grade they are in by a friend or family member, please help them explain the three year groupings and use it as an opportunity to explain one of the many attributes of Montessori.

Summer Notes

by Tamara Mount, August 6, 2014

Well, I thought things might slow down in the summer, but they haven’t . . . It has remained extremely busy and productive up here on top of the hill!

The Arts Barn: The Barn is nearing completion. The community has pulled together and we have the resources to move forward on getting most of the furnishings. We aim to have the equipment and furniture necessary to have it up and running when we get our “Certificate of Occupancy”. The current projected date is just before school opens! We plan to have a ribbon cutting ceremony at the All School Community Picnic on September 5th!

AfterCare Program Expansion: We are expanding our AfterCare program to include Lower and Upper Elementary students in a separate group with a new staff person excited to bring outdoor exploration, gardening, and games to the older students. In bad weather, they will use the space in the Arts Barn. We will also be offering more After School Programs, from 3:30-4:30 after a group snack time in the new Barn space.

Playground: We have had many generous donations towards new additions to the Children’s House and Elementary playgrounds. We are working hard to get things in place for the start of school.

Toddler Program: We are setting up the toddler program. We have full enrollment (with a waiting list) and need to get everything in place for these youngest students. A grant from the Henderson Foundation is supporting our Toddler Program start-up costs.

Program Improvements: There are several program improvements in the works – new nap bags for Children’s House, more math facts for Lower El, a new writing program for Lower and Upper El, math restructuring for Middle School, etc.

New Street Address: We’ve been informed by the Town that because we now have 4 buildings on our property (the pump house counts as a building for emergency responders), we need to have our own distinct road.

The Middle School house was built in 1905. It was known as the Stafford Family Farm. We have chosen “Stafford Farm Hill” as the new name for the driveway/road leading to the school.

The name reflects both the land’s history and our own teachings of farm to table, growing food for MS endeavors (and future farming dreams) and is in keeping with the Arts Barn, which clearly every farm should have! So, by the time everyone returns in the Fall, Hilltop Montessori School is likely to have a new street sign and a new address:  99 Stafford Farm Hill.

SummerFun: All the while, SummerFun has been robust and exciting. We have had an eye to next summer and how to continue to further develop our summer camp.

We are working to get these programs and facilities in place by September 3rd. Please come help us get ready at the Community Work Party on August 25th at 4 p.m.

Orientation day is Tuesday, September 2nd, with a regular school day starting for all programs on September 3rd. On those days, each family will receive a full packet of forms and information including, health forms, Student and Family Handbook, After School Programs information, etc.

Please look in the regular mail for the annual summer letter from your child(s) teachers that includes program specific news and information, including how orientation will be done for your child(s) program. If you are interested in other calendar dates for the school year, please visit the school calendar on the website – hilltopmontessori.org.

We look forward to seeing returning families and welcoming new families!

See you soon,
Tamara

New Mailing Address for Hilltop

July 22, 2014

We’ve been informed by the Town that because we now have 4 buildings on our property, we need to have our own distinct road name.

The Middle School house was built in 1905. It was known as the Stafford Family Farm. We have chosen “Stafford Farm Hill” as the new name for the driveway/road leading to the school.

The name reflects both the land’s history and our own teachings of farm to table, growing food for MS endeavors (and future farming dreams) and is in keeping with the Arts Barn, which clearly every farm should have! So, by the time everyone returns in the Fall, Hilltop Montessori School is likely to have a new street sign and a new address:  99 Stafford Farm Hill.