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Carbondale Montessori school secures approval at state level

This fall, Carbondale will welcome a new kid on the block.The Charter School Institute of Colorado approved a three-year charter for the valley’s new Ross Montessori school during a meeting Monday at Denver’s Metro State. The school, whose location will be decided in mid-April, will open to students for the 2005-06 school year.”It’s been a really long uphill battle, and it was a very emotional, long-awaited and much-deserved approval,” said Carolyn Fisher, spokeswoman for the school’s steering committee.Carbondale Elementary School has had a Montessori program since 1999. Last year, the Roaring Fork School District Board of Education decided to disband that strand in 2006, prompting local parents to form a steering committee to create a free-standing Montessori school in town.The group submitted a charter application to the Institute for the Ross Montessori school in January, and in an initial hearing in February the institute reviewed the application and suggested revisions.At Monday’s meeting, the institute board listened to impassioned parents share their views on the alternative school, which many hope will revitalize Carbondale’s struggling public school system. The town’s public schools are in their fourth year of an improvement program, a result of poor student performance.”Instead of bringing the community apart, it will bring us together,” said parent and Carbondale resident Molly Kienast. “Carbondale will become more attractive and more of a community because people will rally around the school.”Kienast and several Carbondale residents expressed concern to the board that lack of good education in Carbondale hurts the entire town, including businesses. Because kids are often schooled in Glenwood Springs or Basalt, their parents spend more time – and dollars – in these cities.Ross Montessori will also give valley parents more options to educate their children in Carbondale, where choices are limited to public schools or busing kids to other towns, Fisher said.During the board’s question period, institute members asked how the committee will incorporate Carbondale’s growing Latino population into Ross Montessori.The committee mentioned the four outreach meetings in recent months, some in Spanish, and one member emphasized the Spanish-language newspaper in Carbondale could serve as a resource to Hispanic parents. Caucasians will likely make up 70 percent of the school body and Latinos 30 percent, according to the steering committee.After a tense moment of roll call – the only sound a row of children whispering in the back row – a cheer went up as Ross Montessori became a reality. Many parents, who have put countless hours of work into the charter application, teared up as they hugged friends and family.The planners named the new school after the late Mark Ross, the founder of Carbondale’s Montessori strand. When completed, the 160-student school will educate kids K-8, with no more than 24 youngsters to a classroom.Dr. Maria Montessori of Italy developed the core philosophy of a “whole-child” approach, which centers on the child instead of the teacher, in the early 1900s. Today, Montessori students stay in a mixed-age class for two to three years, strengthening relationships and giving teachers the ability to adapt curricula to individual student needs. Younger children also learn from older children, giving more advanced students the opportunity to become role models.Fisher’s 8-year-old daughter, Annalise Sapp, has learned under the Montessori format since age 3, and she said the unique, hands-on experience of Montessori works for her child.”It provides kids an atmosphere where they love learning, and triggers a desire to keep going,” Fisher said.The committee now awaits the outcome of a $450,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Education on March 28. If awarded, the funds would help stock a library, computers for a lab and curriculum materials.


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