Earlier this year, Chestnut Hill College lost a visionary — a woman who was far ahead of her time — former president, Sister Mary Xavier Kirby. Her legacy lives on in many ways, however, including the Montessori Teacher Education Program (MTEP) she helped bring to the College.
Seeing the need for an integrative elementary education program, Sister Mary Xavier enlisted the help of Sister Mary Harold, a CHC graduate with a master’s degree in Montessori Elementary Education from Xavier University. Thanks to her commitment, CHC became one of just six U.S. colleges or universities to support such a program at the undergraduate level.
Sister Mary Harold got her practical experience at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy, where she and Sister Roseann Quinn, D.Min., assistant to the president for mission and ministry, started a new Montessori school for 3 to 5-year-old boys. She brought this experience to Chestnut Hill College in 1974 and directed the program for 11 years.
Sister Roseann, who trained alongside Sister Mary Harold in American Montessori School (AMS) education at Farleigh Dickinson University, succeeded her as the director. Additionally, Sister Roseann also attended the International Montessori Training Program held at Ravenhill Academy and served as the chair of the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education, attending conferences around the world in an effort to expand use of the Montessori Method.
“I always found Montessori schools in different countries to be fascinating, since the culture of each country influenced the Montessori curricular area and made them unique,” says Sister Roseann. “It was a wonderful part of the experience.”
Sister Roseann served the College as the Director of Montessori and as a professor of religious studies for 10 years, easily finding the connections between the spirituality she was teaching and the spiritual philosophy that influenced Maria Montessori in creating the school.
This spiritual connection is also shared by Janet Colaianni, M.Ed., the current director of MTEP, which is now exclusively a graduate program at the College.
As an undergraduate student, I took courses on how to teach different subjects such as how to teach reading, how to teach math, how to teach science," she says. "But it wasn't until I found Montessori education that I was able to connect all of the dots. Montessori provided a philosophy behind everything you do in the classroom and more than that, a philosophy that impacts your way of life and way of being in the world."
Montessori education focuses on the individual child, giving them “the freedom to grow into who they are meant to be,” says Sister Roseann. For this reason, there is no typical day in a Montessori classroom, as each child’s education is formed not just by learning specific skills but also around core principles of tolerance, independence and respect.
A typical Montessori classroom is divided into five curriculum areas: Practical Life/Everyday Skills, Sensorial, Language and Mathematics, and Culture, which includes geography, science, music and art.
The instructor begins by first teaching a particular task, such as how to pour orange juice, separating beans by color or putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Once a student has learned a new task, they then have what Montessori refers to as “free choice,” going into the classroom each day and choosing what they want to do. While a student is participating in that task, the teacher has the opportunity for individualized lessons with the other students in the classroom.
"It's about getting to know each child at his own level of development," says Colaianni. "Lessons are individualized, materials are sequenced and children are allowed to progress at their own pace. The approach helps the child grow in self-confidence, self respect and independence."
Overall, the goal of Montessori education is simple both for the young children going through the program and the college students who are learning the art of teaching the philosophy. It’s about developing a lifelong love of learning as a unique learner and providing the environment to foster that.
“It’s about having the child connect to their real self and helping him see that it is okay to grow up as their own person and not as whatever society is influecning them to become,” says Colaianni. “But in order for the children to develop this way, our students also need to go through their own self-transformation process.
The more students grow spiritually, the more of an impact they will have on the children and in creating a more peaceful world. And peace is the foundation of Montessori education."
— Marilee Gallagher ’14