Montessori Lab School
In this spotlight, we’re extremely pleased to feature The Montessori Lab School at Grand Center, which aims to provide an authentic Montessori education, in the heart of Saint Louis, Missouri. Dr. Annette Haines, who has been an inspiration to so many of us in the Montessori community, was kind enough to answer a few questions on what it’s like to get a school started. Not only do we discuss the motivations behind the project, which include challenges most schools face, but we also dive a bit deeper into her courageous efforts to continue to spark the Montessori movement.
Q: How long has the Lab School been in the making, and what was your inspiration to start it?
A: It has happened remarkably fast. We had to find a building and get it up to speed before my students returned in June. So we bought the building in March and the architects and contractors did an amazing job of creating our environments in warp speed. My head is still spinning.
Q: Can you describe some of the challenges of starting a new school?
A: Most everyone knows, or realizes in time, the best advertisement for any school is word of mouth. That’s really hard to get going. In St. Louis, as in perhaps other cities, people don’t think of quality education and urban/city in the same breath. They think that quality is only found in the suburbs. I want to change that.
Q: When you start something from scratch, it always feels like you have an opportunity to make something extra special. Somehow, the world hasn’t yet told you what it is, but rather, has opened the door to what it could become. Do you feel this sense of optimism with the Lab School?
A: I have a great sense of optimism about the Lab School. We are getting people interested and talking about Montessori and what we’re calling “high fidelity” Montessori that never knew what the word meant. In order to fill the class with children we need to connect with parents. That is a huge job but an exciting one. We are having a Parent Night on Tuesday for parents and prospective parents. Also part of the mission of the Lab School project is to bring together the disparate elements of the Montessori community in St. Louis that have grown apart over time. This is also a vital part of our mission.
Q: You’ve been an inspiration and guide in the Montessori community for many years. What are a few life lessons from your previous experiences that you would like to improve upon or implement at the Lab School?
A: I’ve done AMI-USA School Consultation around the country and seen all kinds of schools. What we want here is to create a model that, once they see it, they will want to replicate. That is hard, of course, because no one can be perfect day in and day out. But that is our goal. I guess I am now actually “walking the walk” tather than just “talking the talk.”
Q: Likewise, knowing everything you do know, do you find yourself facing a different set of expectations than if you were just starting from zero?
A: I certainly am not starting from zero. We have a complete prepared environment, a highly skilled AMI Guide trained at both the primary and elementary level, a complete set of brand new, beautiful Nienhuis materials, and furniture from Community Playthings. We have the support of the Montessori community in St. Louis and a band of young, renegade marketers who are helping me.
Q: We were just reading the Autobiography of Miles Davis. We didn’t realize that he was from St. Louis. Can you share your relationship with the area? And, why it’s important to the community to build the Lab School there?
A: I was born and raised in the St. Louis area, more specifically in East St. Louis. Even though I have traveled extensively, my heart is here. I am very aware of the history and the issues that currently plague St. Louis (i.e. Ferguson) which were not created overnight and will not be solved easily. I feel the Lab School project can be a part of the healing. St. Louis has a remarkable heritage in the arts, i.e. Josephine Baker, Tina Turner, Katherine Dunham, Scott Joplin, etc. And Grand Center is the in midtown St. Louis, “at the intersection of art and life.” It is a good place for a project such as this which has, at its heart, this idea of Maria Montessori as its mission:
“ All humans of every race and every country on earth have children, and the child can become the focus of universal interest . . . to create a sphere of action that will enable all mankind to work together. – Montessori ”
Q: Some of our team at Baan Dek are currently attending the Montessori Training Center of St. Louis, which is attached to the Lab School. Would you be able to touch on the relationship between the Training Center and the Lab School?
A: The Lab School is a function of the Training Center. I believe departments of education and teacher education facilities often fall prey to becoming “think tanks” based on “pedagogical theory.” Montessori thought observation should be at the center of any scientific pedagogy.
“ The lab school will function as a source of scientific pedagogy based on real life and real children working in a prepared environment. ”
The current summer course, which your team from Sioux Falls attends, do not benefit directly from the Lab School since we do not run a summer program. However, I hope to initiate an academic year which would run in tandem with the children’s school year. I believe that hearing and seeing children at work in a Montessori environment will be very beneficial to adult learners. Also, people from the community who do not understand Montessori will be able to observe the children at work, much as Maria Montessori did with her ‘glass house’ idea, so hopefully we will get more people interested in Montessori.
Q: Montessori often talks about the role of education in terms of peace. More specifically, she alludes to a “science of peace”. How do you see the Lab School helping shape such a science? Dare we call the children scientists of peace?
A: Well part of that is in the mix of children and families. If we have only rich children, or only poor children, or only black children or only white children, or only Christians, or only Muslims, etc. we will perpetuate the divisions that exist in our world, driving countries, peoples, and nations further apart. My dream is to have a little “united nations” of children and demonstrate how these children can work peacefully and happily together, growing up without prejudices and misconceptions.
“ Children spontaneously create peace in a Montessori prepared environment. Adults can observe and study this phenomenon and analyze what factors are essential. ”
If you are interested in learning more about the Montessori Lab School, we recommend that you visit their website. Also, if you’re in the area, you may wish to schedule an appointment to see if the school is a good fit for your family. Please feel free to download their brochure, which contains further information about the school.
Written by:Bobby George