Notes from Head of School

by Tamara Mount, April 15, 2014

Time and again, important components of the Montessori approach, developed one hundred years ago, are proven to be beneficial in a modern context. One of these is the benefits of integrating arts into other components of the curriculum. In most traditional schools, arts are self-contained “specials” taught only for 45 minutes a week (or often cut from the curriculum) with a teacher who comes in only for that class. In our authentic Montessori classrooms drawing, music, drama, and performance are integrated as a means of learning and expressing all areas of the curriculum.

Arts integration is something that Hilltop Montessori School does amazingly well. The regular classroom teachers are at least bilingual, if not trilingual, in “academics” and art, music, and/or drama. Some of them have professional or educational backgrounds in the arts, while others have strong “hobbies” and passions that they bring to the classroom and share with the students. All have a deep appreciation for the arts as a means to further explore and express both personal ideas and knowledge gained.

The math manipulatives, language, science and cultural lessons all can have follow up works that use art. Here at Hilltop, I have seen art, music, and drama integrated in such an amazing, organic, and natural way! A few examples of note:

Elementary Poetry Performances that include music, naturally keeping more children engaged in each poem and considering how to express the tone, emotion, and content of the spoken word

All School Gathering where students of all ages naturally “perform” by sharing their work weekly with an audience of 150!

Cultural and geography studies grow into beautiful artistic map work.

This integration of the arts grows students who view themselves as artists, musicians, and performers. Many parents have commented that because of their experience at Hilltop, their children have brought music into their families lives. It also helps children learn and retain academic skills and information, as this article highlights.

This arts integration happens every day in every indoor and outdoor classroom at Hilltop. Shortly it will also happen in our Arts Barn!!! It will be wonderful to have this new space for further demonstration of performance arts as a part of the integrated curriculum at Hilltop Montessori School!!!

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

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 . . .

Free Play

September 15, 2017
“Let the children be free; encourage them; let them run outside when it is raining; let them remove their shoes when they find a puddle of water; and, when the grass of the meadows is damp with dew, let them run on it and trample it with their bare feet; let them rest peacefully when a tree invites them to sleep beneath it’s shade; let them shout and laugh when the sun wakes them in the morning as it wakes every living creature that divides its day between waking and sleeping” ~ Maria Montessori
If you travel to Hilltop Montessori School around noon on a weekday, you might be surprised to hear chatter and laughter coming from the forest adjacent to the parking lot. Walk the short dirt path into the woods, and you’ll encounter children darting among the trees, building forts from bark and fallen branches, collecting fistfuls of acorns and pinecones, and creating a magical world of their own making. This environment offers lessons that are just as valuable as those taught inside our classrooms. Just as our morning classroom work cycle gives students the freedom to choose the “work” that they are developmentally ready for, our Elementary recess and after school time lets children choose any activities from fantasy play in the woods to developing their skateboarding skills.
In the increasingly structured and technological world in which we live, it is of utmost importance to provide children with unstructured play time in the natural world. At Hilltop, Elementary Recess and After Care are both designed to offer this time for children to engage in imaginative, free play within a safe, supervised environment – often in “Haytown”. The name “Haytown” has been around for years! Originally children collected cut grass from the freshly mowed fields and used that as their currency.
For our elementary students, social-emotional learning is a component of free play that we support during Recess and After Care. Children are constantly driven to resolve conflict with peers, collaborate on long-term projects, negotiate around shared resources, and make decisions to reach their own goals. We repeatedly see children devising compromises to divvy up bricks, logs, acorns, etc., working in a group for weeks at a time on elaborate forest dwellings, and learning to navigate the socially tricky ins and outs of running a Haytown business. Outside of Haytown, we often observe groups of students working together to develop rules and guidelines for games like Four Square, Capture the Flag, and Monkey Bar Tag.
Another enormous benefit of unstructured play is physical fitness and dexterity. Practicing pull ups on the monkey bars, lugging logs through Haytown to build a fort, learning how to ride a unicycle, balancing on a fallen log in the woods; these activities allow children to build their strength and coordination through play.
Finally, playing in the natural world allows children to expand their sense of wonder, creativity, and imagination. The economy within Haytown is living testament. Children open restaurants, antique shops, insurance agencies, newspaper publishers, general stores, arcades, and drive throughs. Customers looking to buy goods or services can use quartz stones, known as “crystals”, to make their purchases. Children are continuously dreaming up original business schemes, finding new uses for old materials, and using their imaginations to create a true culture and community within Haytown. This is a genuine joy to observe.
So, next time you pick up your child take a moment to observe some of the amazing structures that have been built and the learning that’s occurring during that unstructured time. As Maria Montessori reminds us: “Play is the work of the child.”

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.

Graduates on Board of The Putney School!

April 7, 2017
We are proud to share that two of our 2015 graduates, Emmanuel Keppel and Greta Wolfe, have recently been elected to the Board of Trustees of The Putney School, a position of great responsibility and honor. Emmanuel graduated from Hilltop having started in the Children’s House and Greta joined Hilltop for the two years of the Middle School. Both students thrived at Hilltop. “Hilltop taught us to notice all of the fine workings of a community and discover our place in the world. With that foundation, we continue to do so at Putney, and will be learning with every responsibility we take on for the rest of our lives” – Greta Wolfe.
Both Emmanuel and Greta were perhaps inspired by their father’s roles on the Hilltop Board of Trustees – Patrick Keppel, Emmanuel’s father, was on the board for 7 years, including three as Chair, and Rich Wolfe, Greta’s father, is the current Board Chair at Hilltop. Each of five student candidates gave a speech to the school at an assembly meeting and later in the day, students, faculty, and staff all cast their votes for the position.

 

This is a 30 person board and the two students elected serve as full voting members. The responsibilities include discussing reports from various members of the school community, such as Diversity and Admissions, and making decisions regarding funding and planning for the school’s future. Greta and Emmanuel follow in the footsteps of Maeve Campman, a 2012 graduate of Hilltop who also held a student trustee position at The Putney School, as well as many other graduates of Hilltop that have thrived in other various leadership positions at The Putney School.

 

Guiding the Child at Work

September 8, 2017
It is only week two and the classrooms are already settling in and getting “normalized”. As Montessorians we use the term normalized to describe when the students have the rhythm of the day and, together and independently, work and grow where they need to.
Children are choosing their “work” and building their concentration. In Montessori classrooms we call the student activities “work” because the children are choosing materials that are helping them to grow where they are developmentally needing to grow, and that is their “work” as children. Dr. Montessori also chose this word knowing that “work” should ideally have the same joy and appeal for adults, as the activities the children are choosing on which to work. We should all be learning and growing through our “work”.
As guides in the classroom, the adults are careful not to interrupt a child at work. We want to foster that concentration and focus, rather than encourage distraction. This is something you can work to build at home too. When your child is engaged in something, let it come to a natural close, rather than interrupt with any words of praise or requests for another activity.

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.”

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.

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.