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Middle School is not commonly offered by Montessori schools; but one of Woodstock's Montessoris will...

ELIZABETH USSHER GROFF - This fall, Sam Montaña-Gardner and Erin Parker will be starting a Montessori middle school program at Puddletown Montessori - S.E. Chavez (formerly 39th) and Knapp Street.Sam Montaña-Gardner — a Woodstock resident and co-founder of Puddletown Montessori School on Chavez Boulevard (formerly 39th) at Knapp Street — was teaching at the elementary level at Cascadia Montessori in Vancouver, Washington, two decades ago in the year 2000.

"We were concerned, then, about sending our students off to seventh grade, and not having their adolescent challenges and needs met by the existing middle schools."

He and others at the school realized that adolescents have a lot of physical, emotional, and hormonal changes occurring — and they are often asked to meet these new challenges in a large setting that is difficult for them to navigate.

"So we started up a very small group [of students] to build a program to meet adolescents' needs. We knew this was a time to be more careful, not less," he recalls. They wanted to empower the students to trust in their own capacity, knowing what would be "good fit" for them.

Returning to the present day, this fall Montaña — and Erin Parker, Assistant Head of Puddletown — will begin a middle school with the same youth-centered, "slow growth model" as the one Montaña helped create in Vancouver in 2000. It will start with 2 to 6 students. The classroom will be in the building that now serves the preschool children. "It will have its own kitchen for cooking, and for science projects", Montaña tells THE BEE. The 2 to 6 students have not yet been determined, so there is still time for parents to seek to enter a middle school child in the new program.

"Using a 'slow growth model', we will start with our existing infrastructure, and keep adding managers and collaborators over time. We've saved [financially] to make it happen," reports Montaña — meaning that the funds are there to support a small staff for a beginning small group of students. (Currently Puddletown has 75 children in the preschool and 40 in the elementary program.)

"We have been working on this [the creation of a middle school] for a long time." adds Parker. The pandemic interrupted the plans, but now they are ready to give adolescents an intimate setting, and the tools they need to navigate and develop autonomy and independence for making a confident transition to high school.

"Early adolescence matches infancy and childhood. It is like a flower bulb just beginning to bloom," says Parker. "I went to a middle school similar to traditional Montessori in Arizona. It was so influential in my own development. We had our own 'micro-economy'." Students sold items and plants that they had created, and learned life and money skills. Parker says it was a holistic approach to academics, with math, art, P.E., economics, and other subjects integrated. She says it taught her money and life skills.

An important piece of Montessori, and especially the new middle school, will be community service. "Adolescents are so capable of assessing their own community and becoming a part of a broader community," believes Montaña.

"They need tools to navigate [this point in life]. There are a lot of cliques [at this age], and 'othering', and we want to help them learn how to connect and separate in a way that is not harmful."

Eventually Montaña and Parker hope to link the middle school to a local CSA farm. In the meantime, they plan to incorporate farm visits, in which students will commute to a site where they will learn about animal husbandry and farming.

Puddletown Montessori's new middle school teacher, Erin Holzman, born in Woodstock, New York, was chosen after a worldwide search. She will be moving from Scotland to be a part of Puddletown this fall. Her experience growing up as a Montessori child, and her twenty years of experience in both public and Montessori education and administration, will help guide the students. "She loves working with this age group," reports Montaña.

The Puddletown teachers and administrators will use the Oregon state standards to make sure the students are prepared for high school academically, while also being emotionally and socially ready.

Parker reported that the staff of Puddletown is working on being able to offer discounts and/or scholarships sometime in the future to make Montessori education more accessible.

Regarding children or adolescents entering a Montessori program without prior Montessori experience, Montaña believes that, "Kids adapt quickly and well, because it [the Montessori program] aligns well with where a child is."

To see more information about the programs and staff and to contact the office, go online —www.puddletown

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