Spotlight Porzia Micou
We first learned about Porzia Micou and her incredible story from our friend Meghan at Milkweed Montessori (read her Spotlight here, if you haven’t already!). We were so inspired and wanted to share her story. We’re honored to Spotlight her and her work at The Montessori Academy at the Center for the Homeless.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
I was born in Merrillville, Indiana and grew up in South Bend. My mother raised 6 children as a single parent while putting herself through college and Grad school. She instilled in us the importance of education, social justice and empathy. We were a lower income family, though I was blissfully unaware of this fact throughout my childhood.
I am by nature, an introvert. As a middle child, I learned to shadow my older sisters and prayed for an ounce of their bravery and pizazz. I was painfully shy and withdrawn until high school where I found my voice in the back of a Literature class. I fell in love with Shakespeare, Theroux, and the writings of Frederick Douglass.
I struggled to find my place after high school yet always knew that I would one day become an educator. I enrolled at Holy Cross college where I majored in Psychology and Education. I excelled academically, yet found some conflict in accepting many of the principles on which the school was founded. I continued my education at Indiana University where I studied everything from Women’s Studies to Politics.
I am the proud mother of two spectacular daughters who are my light, inspiration, and greatest accomplishments. It’s difficult to imagine my life without them in it. Anika is bright, cautious and exudes happiness. Alyssa is outgoing, precocious and a free spirit. She is everything that I wished to be at her age. Addam is not only my best friend, he is my wonderful fiancé. He is the level headed one in our family of dreamers.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
My favorite color is green. I have never found a shade of green that I dislike. It adapts to every emotion, every season and circumstance.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
My favorite book is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Thankfully, I can not relate to the pain and hardships she experienced growing up. I can however, find some commonality with the little girl longing to find her voice.
I am an avid Classic movie fan. I love everything made in the 1930’s and 40’s. It’s difficult to choose just one film. Any movie starring Bette Davis would top the list!
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
I dream of seeing the world. I love old things and places and have wanted to go to Egypt for as long as I can remember. As a recent cancer survivor, I have a new lease on life. This has been a year of firsts for me. My sisters planned an epic vacation to celebrate my recovery and birthday. On that trip, I stepped out of my comfort zone and did things I never imagined I could. We went to Las Vegas where I ziplined through the city and saw the magnificence of the Grand Canyons, standing inches from the cliff. I have so much left to experience with a newfound courage to do so.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
I worked in traditional schools as a Substitute long enough to know that something was lacking from what I was instructed to do. I saw children struggle to remain seated throughout the day and an overall disinterest in what was being taught. I felt uneasy when asked to be less concerned with process and more aware of deadlines. My conscience and the need to financially support my daughters were in direct conflict. The Montessori approach was completely foreign to me until my nephew attended the Montessori Academy Edison Lakes, located in Mishawaka, IN. They were the second school in the nation to receive accreditation and remain the only dually accredited school in the state. More appealing than the Academy’s credentials was the notion that the children had the benefit of choice, freedom in thought and movement. This is still remarkable to me nearly 10 years after my first introduction to the philosophy.
Q: Tell us more about The Montessori Academy at the Center for the Homeless.
In 1994 a partnership was formed between The Montessori Academy Edison Lakes and the South Bend Center for the Homeless. Both institutions recognized a lack of quality programming for preschool aged children. Services are offered (tuition free) to any child aged 3-6 who is a guest at the Center. Recently, we have expanded our program to include scholarships for children in the surrounding community who are experiencing economic hardships. When a family moves out of the Center, children are able to continue their education with us. We are the first and only classroom of our kind in the United States, a fact we hope will one day change.
Q: Why use the Montessori Method?
I have witnessed other philosophies in practice, from a beautiful Reggio school to an overpacked daycare using Creative Curriculum. Nothing that I have seen parallels what I have the pleasure to take part in every day. Montessori is a timeless method based solely on the needs of the child. It asks us for little more than to step aside so that the natural process of discovery can occur.
Q: In addition to being an advocate for children, you are a voice for cancer awareness. Can you tell us more about that?
I noticed an abnormality around the age of 29. I was misdiagnosed for years and found out that I had Stage III Breast Cancer last Fall at 33. If I didn’t insist on being reevaluated, I would not be here today. The odds were stacked against me due to my late staging, complexity of being triple negative and because I am a woman of color. I was denied mammograms on several occasions, by reason of being under 40 years old. I had a golf ball sized mass on my chest, yet no one seemed alarmed enough to order the proper tests. While these tests would not have changed the fact that I had cancer, it could have alleviated the aggressiveness of my treatment and reduced the probability future recurrence. I advocate for early detection in all women, not just those who meet a criteria. Cancer, in general, is an epidemic. No one should be cheated out of life because they didn’t fit some standard in a textbook.
Q: Did you continue to work in the classroom throughout your diagnosis?
It was important for me to maintain some consistency for the children in my life. I did not want to disrupt their world in the midst of my own being uprooted. I worked throughout my treatment schedule and tried diligently to only miss school on chemo days. I wore a wig for some time to hide the fact that my hair had fallen out. One day, I walked into the building, unaware that I left my hair on the passenger’s seat. It was so hot and uncomfortable that I did not wear it on my way to work. I crept inside not knowing what the reaction of the children would be. As I kneeled down to greet them, a longtime student of mine gently stroked my head and said, “you’re earrings are beautiful today!” I don’t think that we give children enough credit for their compassion. I received the news of cancer while preparing the classroom for the start of the new year. Months later, as I dusted shelves in preparation for Spring break, I received another call stating the tumor was gone. The best and worst news of my life happened there. It will forever hold a special place in my heart.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
Put patience above all else. You are working on the timeframe of the child and not your own. Accept the fact that their little hands and legs do not always work efficiently. Be calm and do not rush them in their process of learning. As my Head of School often suggests, “sit on your hands if necessary!”
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
I have a Montessori Moment daily. In working with children who have experienced the trauma of homelessness, a host of emotions tend to surface in the classroom. We strive to maintain a sense of peace in an otherwise chaotic world. Any time a child finds calm and accepts a minute of absolute silence, is a moment for me. We practice Yoga and group meditation as part of our Peace Curriculum. It has made a drastic change in the worldview of our children. Peace is a central theme throughout Montessori’s philosophy, it is crucial that we impart this concept early on. A cursory examination of world events reflects why it is vital to our very being.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” I equate this to robbing the child of their independence. When I think of it as such, I am less likely to intervene. The general rule of our classroom is that everyone tries first on their own. If additional help is needed, the child asks a friend who is not engaged before seeking the assistance of an adult.
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
Not unlike myself, most of the parents I encounter come from a traditional schooling background. I often answer questions about the lack of homework and paper products being sent home everyday. My response to this is to make clear all the ways children can learn through the experiences of home.
Encourage your child to help you as you prepare meals and clean. You can incorporate math by talking about the proper measurements and language by introducing the words of the utensils. Organize their environment in a way that requires little help from adults to navigate. Explore new sights and sounds around the neighborhood or play a game of I Spy during your next shopping trip.
Imagine a world full of exciting and unfamiliar things. This is the world of your child, give name and a purpose to everything in it.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
Because homelessness is unpredictable, we often do not know when a new child will enter our program. We work tirelessly on creating stability despite the wealth of unknowns. I am not always aware of the children’s background when they arrive. There is often little time to ask where they came from, what their interests are or if they had enough rest the night before. What has been consistent throughout the years has been the child’s acceptance of our practices. They are, in my belief, innately peaceful. We have a limited opportunity to to make this a lasting trait. Everything in our community is designed with this in mind.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
It is my hope that we can began to see children as free thinking individuals, not as lemmings all destined for the same end point. It saddens me that people who have no interaction with children on a daily basis, get to make decisions regarding what, how and when they should learn. We must ensure that open minded individuals are serving on our local, state and federal Education Boards. I would like to see less funding designated to standardized testing and more allotted to improving outdated structures and materials. We must also acknowledge all the different ways in which children learn. Curriculums should be adapted to fit the needs of the child, not to the contrary.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
In the next 100 years, I hope to see Montessori largely unchanged in regards to philosophy. I think we need to make this approach accessible to all children, regardless of background. We need to dismantle the systems that make quality education a privilege for a few and not a right for all. If this education was intended for those who stand in great need, let us honor the teachings of Dr. Montessori and open our doors to everyone.
Written by:Baan Dek