Bennett Park Montessori was recognized by the District Office of Family Engagement this year for its multi-year effort to build a thriving parent-school partnership. The Parent Partnership Recognition was given to our school on May 5, 2018, at the Parent Engagement Summit; if you’d like to see the video the District made about our school’s work, click here: https://vimeo.com/266945017.
Our school pride is made of school-to-family communication, teacher dedication, and the students who make Montessori their home.
Parent Power: At the May Summit, two parents were also lauded for their outstanding work: Krista Palgutt, for her family engagement efforts as the MCA Vice-President and tireless planner for a new school playground, and Cheri Lovett, mother of four, for her parent perseverance and advocacy work on the Committee for Special Education.
Our students also took home awards, notably "grade level" student Jayden Perry won the District Student of the Month.
Students for a Greener City: The student Health and Wellness team, supported by MOLE coordinator Kristen Smith Armstrong, took home an award for making our school greener. Our students entered Mayor Brown’s Environmental Champions program, a contest which asked schools to establish a green team unit, host a visit by a recycling coordinator, conduct a recycling audit, develop a campaign for recycling awareness, and organize an Earth Day event. On June 6, at East High, our team of 9–12 students received an award and won a composting unit for the school.
Teachers give back: Our teachers and staff were awarded the Eugene T. Reville Award for participation in the employer-based United Way Campaign. Of all schools, Bennett Park had the highest participation increase. Reading Specialist Heather Carson Wake accepted the award for our school.
Student of the Month: Jayden Perry
This spring, Jayden Perry was the first Student of the Month, in a District-wide initiative sponsored by Duncan Kirkwood and The African Heritage Economic Initiative. The award recognizes students from grades K–12 “who have demonstrated self-determination in or out of school.” We asked Jayden’s teachers, D’Arcy Black and Kirsten Szantor to reflect on him and the award, and this is what they said:
Jayden is the sort of kid that reminds you why you became a teacher in the first place. He doesn't give up. He has an indelible spirit that is capable of moving mountains and sometimes that mountain is a math concept; sometimes, it's an essay. He has an eloquent way of speaking that lets you know he understands at a deeper level the spirit of a written piece, and in his explanation, he has his own unique voice.
When I think of Jayden, I am reminded of the quote, "Character is doing the right thing when nobody is watching." This fits Jayden's character to a T. He is the nicest young man and has a heart of gold. He is a terrific friend to those lucky enough to call him "friend." He is easily one of the hardest working students I have ever worked with, completing every assignment and accomplishing every task with 110% effort. Because of these characteristics, the District chose him to become the first district-wide Student of the Month. We are so very proud of the accomplishments that this young man is able to succeed in on a daily basis. To quote his mother, "Jayden has had an amazing year!"
Kirsten Szantor, Jayden Perry, and D'Arcy Black
Kristen Smith Armstrong, Parent
Our school gardens are being planted and we are excited to see what the summer sun and rain will yield. Please join us each Wednesday in the summer for garden fun. We will meet at 10 am each Wednesday for gardening. All families and staff are welcome to participate and share in the harvest. The MAP Mobile Market will be joining us the third Wednesday in July and August. They will bring locally grown fruit and vegetables for purchase. MAP accepts cash, SNAP benefits (food stamps), and WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks.
40 Years of Bennett Park Montessori
Ruth Mack, Parent
On Saturday, June 2, lovers of Bennett Park Montessori gathered for a dinner at Templeton Landing to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary. Perhaps most stunningly, all but one of the school’s principals since that first day were at hand to comment on their experiences and to share some of the earliest moments in school history. More than one described the leap of faith taken by teachers who participated in Montessori training for an entire year while hoping—but not knowing for certain—that a Montessori school would open. Over 40 years later, it was still possible to hear the hopefulness of that moment, the joy in the necessarily awkward beginnings of a brand new school with an unusual philosophy. Leading off the evening, Barbara Seals Nevergold, who chairs the Board of Education, spoke of the kind of community that one experiences in the school, and how important Bennett Park Montessori has been—and still is—in the lives of her two grandchildren. As a parent, it was striking to see how fully the school had embraced this idea of family—from Pete Gottfried, the current assistant principal, who could call out to his children’s former teachers in the audience—to Judy Fix, who was also a parent at the school, then a teacher and administrator. I was moved by how many former and current administrators spoke as part of a Montessori family—with anecdotes about students still fresh after many years, and with such clear fondness for their colleagues who had poured resources into the school. Finally, it was wonderful to see so many current teachers and assistants in attendance, the people who bring that same dedication—and joy—to our kids on a daily basis.
40th Anniversary dinner at Templeton Landing
Camping Trip Recap
Chris Anderson, Parent
This week I had the pleasure of accompanying the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade group to Whispering Pines for an overnight camp experience. It’s always great to watch our kids interacting with the rest of the world outside of home. In this case I got an opportunity to watch my 4th grader socializing with his classmates and school staff in a way I don’t normally get to see.
I grew up in a rural area and I forget sometimes that my kids don’t get to see things like fireflies regularly. All the kids were really soaking it in as we rotated through activities in groups. A pond full of tadpoles, a good length hike, helping with dinner preparation, and getting our hands dirty with some clay art.
Whispering Pines is a gorgeous space, with huge open areas, fun trails, spectacular views of the New York countryside, and some of the best log rolling hills a 4th grader could ever hope for.
The Montessori team were absolutely amazing, and it was really encouraging to see how they tempered structure to keep the activities rolling, with letting the kids just enjoy themselves and the experience. As a father of four I’ve had more than my fair share of frustration and impatience when trying to herd my crew for an outing, and this group of extraordinary Montessori staff managed this group with ease and poise.
I look forward to the opportunity to repeat this trip next year, and a great big thank you to Paige, Jillian, Kira, Bo, and Maggie for your commitment to our kids on this outing and everything you do throughout the year.
Camping trip at Whispering Pines
Spring Fest Recap
Kristen Smith Armstrong, Parent
Spring Fest 2018 welcomed back our famous giant Maypole thanks to parents and student musicians who donated their time and energy to coordinate the Maypole Dance. It is a beautiful site and one we look forward to each year to welcome spring. Attendees also shared a lovely taco lunch, visited with alpacas, and participated in spring crafts and face painting. Thank you to all the volunteers and families that attended.
Students and parents around the Maypole at Spring Fest 2018
Interview with Assistant Principal Diane Sauer
Ruth Mack, Parent
I sat down with Diane Sauer, one of the school’s assistant principals (and former teachers), who is scheduled to retire this summer.
RM: How long have you been teaching here at Bennett Park Montessori?
DS: I’ve been at Bennett Park for 38 years; for the last 14 years I have been an administrator. Before that I taught, and I started teaching with the first group that came from the first floor to the third floor, a 6-9 group. That was my first classroom. We grew with that group. It was 6-9, then 9-12; and then I stayed at 9-12 for a long time.
RM: Tell me about being an administrator in a Montessori school. How is that different from being an administrator at any random school in the district?
DS: So, I have to say I haven’t been an administrator at any random school in the District! Because I love this building, right! Part of the reason I became an administrator is that I was the youngest on the staff for a very long time when I began teaching here, and I saw that everyone was going to eventually leave—and who would run our building? That’s why I became an administrator. I think that part of what I value is allowing the school to function more as a community and to not be top down. Everyone should have a voice, and everyone should be able to make decisions. Those decisions should come from a community standpoint and be about what’s good for the children. In traditional teaching, I’m sure they think about what’s good for the children, too, but here everybody brings their own perspective and we value all of those perspectives. We also hold dear the Montessori principles that value children and having a child-centered school. That’s something I value as an administrator. Other people are more interested in the straight lines, while we worry more about the child and the growth of the individual child.
The other thing I’d say too is that we are different in problem solving: when kids have issues, we take time to sit with them. It’s so important as a school to have them feel empathy toward one another and be able to work with through problems and understand problems and different perspectives—not just being told, “We’ll do this and this and this.” It makes a big difference for children’s lives. Valuing a child’s thoughts and opinions is something that we do and have always done. This is a place the children grow from, and it helps our school be what it is.
RM: How has the school changed in the 38 years you’ve been here? What have been the biggest changes you’ve seen?
DS: Obviously the addition to the building, when we got a larger gym; that was big. And when we had to move out of the building for a while and back in and integrate with 78; those were big changes. I think that some of the other big changes are the result of the ebb and flow of the curriculum. Generally, when we hear about rules or things that are happening [at the District level], we have to look at those with a Montessori magnifying glass and we have to decide how we fit into those ideas or don’t fit into those ideas.
RM: And what are the things that seem very much like they did 38 years ago?
DS: I think that the heart of Montessori, thinking about the child all the time, and trying to come from the child aspect, is something that we are very much about and always have been. I think that welcoming parents is something that we’ve always done and continue to do in a really firm way. I think there are some things we’ve tried and have not let go of, which is good, like camping with the children and doing the field trips. Those things are still alive and have always been alive.
RM: I hear that you are retiring very soon. [DS: July 17!] So what is next for you, and will there be Montessori in it?
DS: Yes, I’m actually thinking that I’ll be able to volunteer and be around. I actually think that I might be able to be in the school a little big more because of our SIG Grant [US Dept. of Education School Improvement Grant], which is nice. But even just in a volunteering and helping out aspect, without having to stay quite as late, needing to be here all the time. There are my grandchildren; and my father passed away, so being able to spend more time with my mom. Just time to be able to do some of those family things. Gardening: I haven’t gardened in the fourteen years I’ve been an administrator! I’m really looking forward to having a little bit of the summer for gardening.
[Fittingly, the interview ended with my son Simon, who’s finishing kindergarten, asking two questions: “How do you operate the computers?” and “Has the pool always been there?” Diane answered both very seriously and, still teaching in her last formal days at BPMC, told us both about the school’s history in teaching computer programming and about her grandfather’s use of the original swimming pool. She even slipped in an exercise in telling time, as we readied ourselves to depart for the beginning of the school day.]