“The needs of mankind are universal. Our means of meeting them create the richness and diversity of the planet. The Montessori child should come to relish the texture of that diversity.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
It’s hard to find fault with Evergreen – a beautiful mountain town with a small-town feel just minutes away from a metropolitan capitol city and airport along with beautiful weather conditions. It’s a dream for those that love the outdoors and enjoy wildlife. We even celebrate the traffic jams caused by our local elk herds!
However, our lovely town is missing something. It comes up often in conversation among each other. Among those debating a move to Evergreen. Among those looking at local demographics. While we may differ in many ways – religion, politics and socio-economics, for example, we can see that most of us identify as being white. In fact, according to various online sources, 97.3% of Evergreen identifies as white only, 2% identify as being Hispanic or Latino, and only 1% identify as being more than two races.
This is not typical of other areas of our state or the country. How do we teach our children who have never lived anywhere else to learn how to not only tolerate others that are different, but accept and relish their differences? How do we learn what our own biases are, and grow in that discomfort to recognize and overcome them?
At MSE, we strive to live up to the inclusive philosophy of Dr. Montessori. We are learning as we do this work, and will continue to work alongside our friends of color and those with differing beliefs from us. Being uncomfortable means we are growing and work is being done.
Much of our Montessori curriculum lends itself to natural discussions around these areas, but we can always do more and start even earlier. From a toddler age on, we are introducing Montessori materials to our students that depict other cultures. For example, in the month of December, our toddlers had the option to explore materials in the classroom we refer to as works. There were Christmas tree and candle works, a Menorah work, and a Kwanzaa work. We are always striving to do better, and realize we need to have a group such as members from the Brother Jeff Cultural Center in Denver come up and give us lessons on how they celebrate Kwanzaa and light the Kinara. Primary students also study each continent in-depth as they learn about how people meet their needs around the world.
We have learned that children form some biases by age five. We are looking at ways to introduce discussions of race and bias at an earlier age. While our middle school students delve into discussions on stereotypes, the refugee crisis and the novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, what else can we be doing? How else can we be guiding our students to best be prepared for the world around them while living in our cultural climate in Evergreen? We look forward to taking advantage of the multitude of resources available to help us guide those conversations.
Service learning is also a major component of the education we provide to our students. It differs from community service in that we partner with others and really dive deep into what is actually needed, rather than what we think someone else needs. We follow the lead of experts – the people we serve. For example, our 8th years work regularly throughout the year with those that are elderly at Bessie’s Hope, and with those that are refugees at Mango House. Our 7th years take on a world religion study their entire year, learning about how other religions and spiritualties differ and relate to ones we are familiar with. Our lower elementary students work with women, children and clients who are experiencing homelessness at the Gathering Place. Every project we begin and every hour we spend with our friends is based directly on their needs. It may be holding hands with an elderly woman for two hours so she can feel a connection, a human presence. It may be helping children who are refugees in this country practice their English and work with them on their homework. In the midst of that work, thoughts and ideas are shared. Differences are discussed, understood and ultimately celebrated. Everyone feels the sense of community and our students walk away with their hearts full – receiving much more than they have given.
We invite guest speakers to speak on tolerance and respect. We are honored to have Mr. Jack Adler, a Holocaust survivor, spend time with our middle school students and parents next month. We attend workshops and conferences such as the Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder that delve more into this work, and expand our worldview. We spend faculty meetings learning about how to best incorporate anti-bias and anti-racism education into our community. Past and present MSE teachers are helping create Montessori programs in Tanzania and Nepal – working as a team to understand each other’s culture as they build a program together and sharing that experience with our students. There are so many resources out there, but it’s up to us to expand our ways of thinking and to intentionally grow a climate of inclusion.
Our goal is not to sway a student or family’s personal belief system one way or the other, because that diversity is respected, but rather to expose our students to experiences and to better understand differences in their world. Dr. Maria Montessori’s words are so relevant (despite having passed away in 1952). While we all have differences, our basic needs are all the same. It’s that connection that ties us together always.
To learn more about Montessori School of Evergreen, please call Christiane Leitinger at 303-674-0093 or visit us at www.montessori-evergreen.org.