Montessori School sees growth as it nears 10-year anniversary

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LENOX DALE >> The Montessori School of the Berkshires is approaching the dawn of a decade of existence in the local education landscape.

Head of School Todd Covert, and his wife Meagan Ledendecker, the school's director of education and elementary lead guide, opened the school in 2006 near the rear of the property formerly known as Aspinwell, now known as the Lenox Commons.

Since then, the independent school has since grown exponentially in size, student body and vision. From 13 children in its inaugural enrollment, the school served 112 students this year, from early childhood ages to Grade 8. It also employs 15 full-time and two part-time staff members, and regularly partners with community members and organizations.

The former Aspinwell school was a 2,400-square-foot plaza unit, divided into a general education/activity room, an early-education room, an office and kitchen area, and a small, fenced, outdoor patio and play area.

Today, the approximately 9,000-square-foot, LEED-certified Montessori School of the Berkshires is situated on a idyllic 40-acre woodland campus located in the heart of Lenox Dale, where it opened in April 2010.

In recent years, the school has been focused on developing comprehensive curriculum and enrichment programs, adding things like band and theater classes, and even internship programs for older students. This fall, the school will launch a capital campaign to help continue to grow those programs.

"We're still young with respect to other educational institutions in the area," said Covert. "But a 10-year mark is an important time to emphasize that we're here and we're established."

Covert said the current location was built to accommodate about 120 students, and so the school is close to reaching its ideal capacity. He said the student population comes from the Berkshires, as well as neighboring New York state. For the past four years, the number of students from southern Berkshire County has been enough for the school to charter a bus to transport students to and from the Great Barrington area.

According to the school's website, after financial aid, families typically pay an annual tuition within the range of $7,500 and $15,840, per student, depending on frequency of attendance and child care.

"Now our goal is to look at what our needs are and what our means are to capitalize on the space we have," he said. "Now's a good opportunity for us to gain some traction, and an opportunity too, to look at where we've been since bringing the Montessori model to the Berkshires."

The school practices the "follow the child" philosophy named after Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori.

Recent eighth-grade graduates Claudia Maurino, Max Paladino and Aurora Maldonado, have literally grown up with the school, and say the sense of autonomy instilled there has been integral to their experiences of personal growth.

"I think I've appreciated the way you're allowed to have your own path, so you're allowed to be yourself, even at age 7," said Claudia, 14.

The students graduated with a class of 13, and said that moving on to high school in the fall brings mixed emotions about parting ways with a tight-knight school and friends.

Max said that because the school requires a lot of independent action, "organization and planning skills are definitely key things we will be taking to high school."

"Here, you have to be able to manage your time well," Aurora said.

A couple of alumni, Madeline McCain and Casey Booth Desnoyers, both now attending Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, said they still carry their Montessori experiences with them in high school, and were also glad to have left their mark on their former school.

For example, as a Montessori student, McCain founded a robotics team and a math model at the school, both used by the school today.

She and Booth Desnoyers said they've encountered teachers and others who have had the misconception that a Montessori education isn't very rigorous.

"But MSB did a good job preparing us. I went to my new school finding I could skip first-year math," Booth Desnoyers said.

Ledendecker said the school has been working to establish itself as a hub for early childhood education for the county's parents, regardless of whether their children attend the school. "We want to take a very organic approach to addressing what the needs of the community are and what the needs of families are," she said.

Ledendecker added that over the years, the school has also "put a lot of effort to cultivate a board" of 11 experienced and invested parents and community members.

Board members Gloria Friedman, a founder; Dana Bixby, the school's architect; and chairman Churchward Davis, said the board's goal in looking ahead is to support the school's vision for expansion and enrichment, and to keep the institution sustainable.

As the parent of a school employee and grandparent of three MSB students, Davis said he has a "very vested interest in the school's success."

Bixby said she'd like to see the scholarship program at the school grow and to have Montessori School of the Berkshires "become better known and better understood."

"People should have options [for education] in the Berkshires," Friedman said.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.


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