Riley Elementary hosts open house for new dual-language Montessori program

MacDowell Montessori Principal Andrea Corona addresses a group of interested parents at a meeting about the new dual language school.
MacDowell Montessori Principal Andrea Corona addresses a group of interested parents at a meeting about the new dual language school.

Montessori is expanding at MPS, which boasts the largest collection of purely public Montessori schools in the United States and perhaps the world. In fact, if you separated out the students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools’ Montessori schools, it’d be one of the biggest districts in the state.

But let’s hope no one is talking about separating them out, because public Montessori schools make Maria Montessori’s groundbreaking ideas – many of which have been absorbed by traditional schools, too (think project-based work, for example) – accessible to all Milwaukee children.

The biggest news in MPS Montessori lately is the creation of a dual-language program that will launch in September at Riley School, 2424 S. 4th St.

According to a document from the district:

Though there was once a bilingual Montessori program at the old Kosciuszko School, 971 W. Windlake Ave., that instrumentality charter program fell apart. The program’s web page is still up at the time I post this and has a bit more info for those interested.

Thanks to the hard work of school board member Tati Joseph and others, Riley will house the new program that will serve Milwaukee’s Latino population. But the program will be a citywide one – as at all MPS Montessori schools – so it will also serve families of kids around the city that want their children to learn Spanish.

"The dual-language Montessori school is an exciting new project for MPS," Joseph told me last autumn. "The school, which will be the first of its kind in Wisconsin, will combine two very strong programs to give children the opportunity to learn a second language in a Montessori setting.

"The dual-language programming will allow children the opportunity to learn a second language, a skill necessary in our current global economy."

There will be a one-mile walk zone, but the same is true at all citywide schools and I assure you that many non-neighborhood kids attend most of the programs, so don’t let geography discourage you if you're interested. Do note, however, that transportation (the school bus, that is) is only available to kids outside the walk-zone but within five miles of school.

One potential challenge at Riley is staffing. Most in the Montessori community here attribute to the programs' success to well-trained teachers and administrators. And, at times, finding Montessori-trained teachers has been an issue even at single-language schools. Riley will have the added challenge of building a talented staff not only trained in Montessori but also with skills in two languages.

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"I think Montessori expansion for the Milwaukee bilingual community is much needed," says Phil Dosmann, executive director of the Wisconsin Montessori Association and a retired MPS Montessori teacher and principal. "For the program to be successful MPS will need to appoint a leader who either has Montessori training or is willing to be trained.

"Montessori in MPS has grown to the point that Montessori leadership is essential to success. The district has to invest in human capital not just bricks and mortar."

Enrollment for the program is open now for kids who will be 3 and 4 years old by the first day of school. There will be enrollment help sessions at Central Services and South Division High School in February (details here) and you can apply for the program online until Feb. 17.

The school will also host an open house on Wednesday, Feb. 15 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. All are welcome. You will have time to enroll after the open house. It’s worth knowing that as long as you enroll by Feb. 28, you have the same chance of getting in as anyone else who does the same. If seats remain after that date, they are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

In related news, the annual MPS Montessori Summit takes place on Saturday at MacDowell Montessori, 6415 W. Mount Vernon Ave. As always there will be breakout sessions on Montessori education, teacher training and parent advocacy. And this year the glass classrooms, which allow parents to see Montessori classroom education in action – thanks to teachers and students willing to go to school on a Saturday – will offer a window into every level, from primary grades through high school.

Admission is free and everyone is welcome. Child care is provided for kids 3 and up for the duration of the event, which runs from 1 to 4 p.m. If you’re interested in MPS Montessori programs, this is a great way to meet principals, teachers, parents and students.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Montessori Association Conference and pre-conference event take place March 3-4, also at MacDowell.

Sharon Maxwell, a clinical psychologist from Boston, is the keynote speaking and she will give a free public talk, "In a Hyper-Sexualized Culture, We CAN Raise Healthy, Responsible Kids: It’s Time to Have THE TALK," on Friday, 7 p.m, March 3. A meet and greet precedes the talk at 6:30. Complete details are here.