Montessori school consolidates kindergarten-sixth grade

Barbara Hootman

The Swannanoa Valley Montessori School has combined its two campuses in a move that its administrators believe has bolstered education and fostered leadership skills in its older students.

The non-profit, private school established in 2003 brought its elementary students to its main campus at 130 Center Ave. in Black Mountain for the 2015-16 school year. It now provides education for 55 students under one roof in age groups 3 to 6 years old and 6 to 12 years old.

“This was a long-term goal that we were able to realize this school year,” director Katie Hanning said. “Having everyone on the same campus is a dream come true. Students are able to go from learning to mastery to mentoring. Bringing everyone together gives a multi-age dynamic to classroom learning.

“Older students work with younger ones, and it definitely gives all ages a clear sense of accomplishment. It teaches our students to take care of the greater community of their school.”

Diane Jackson, the school’s media coordinator and office manager, is a retired primary school teacher with some 33 years of teaching experience in the Buncombe County school system. She thinks bringing the elementary students to the main campus is a practical and beneficial move for everyone.

“Having the elementary program on the same campus with the kindergarten students allows us to offer many opportunities for the students to engage in lessons that introduce them to higher level skills than we could provide without the elementary teachers in the same location.

“For example, the kindergarten students recently joined with the elementary students for a writers workshop. This is the first opportunity we have had to offer this learning experience to them. They were able to go into the older students’ classroom, join with them in the whole group discussion and then break into a special group to work on writing skills. As the afternoon progressed, we had some amazed young children as they worked with the older students.”

As recently as 2013, the Swannanoa Valley Montessori School was working toward moving the elementary students to a campus in Asheville. When the new site wasn’t ready for the opening of school, it rented classrooms in Black Mountain’s Carver Community Center to house the elementary classes.

“We realized if we pursued going the Asheville path with our elementary students, we would not be able to keep our commitment of providing a quality Montessori education for all of our students from the Swannanoa Valley,” Hanning said. “Consolidating classes on our original campus made more sense for students, teachers and parents.

“Also it made good financial sense to not pay rent on the Carver site and at our main campus. We saved money by consolidating the grades this year. Also, we lost two teachers that we did not replace because with all teachers under one roof we have enough to cover all classes. Our teaching team is strong, and the cross-staffing opportunities are beneficial for teachers and students. For example our preschool music teacher is also the art teacher for the elementary students. Our reading teacher works with the young students and elementary grades.”

Hanning pointed out that the different-aged students working together draws out kindness in the older ones and awe in the younger ones who look up to the older ones as if they were superheroes.

Jennifer Hermance, elementary coordinator and lead elementary Montessori teacher, said combining the grades has already produced results.

“The elementary students can actually see and have contact with the younger students and know who they are,” she said. “Parents are able to stop in and see what elementary classes are all about. I am able to do more group activities with kindergarten and elementary students like art and writing without transporting the elementary students to the main campus. They also are able to have physical education classes together. The older students look out for the younger ones.”