Notes from Head of School

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.

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!!!