Star News of Elk River:
Leah Studaker "I love my community and have always strived to be an active member and do my part to leave a legacy for the next generation; whether it was starting the initiative to get our neighborhood park built, serving on various community groups, building a successful real estate career or driving my dream of starting the first authentic Montessori Charter School in Elk River. Founding this grass roots effort to open the school and being the Board Chair of TRM for over four years, despite the painstaking effort, it is so satisfying knowing children in this community are being touched and changed by this incredible education."
Article by Joni Astrup Editor
A new Montessori school for grades K-6 will open this fall in Elk River.
Three Rivers Montessori is a public, tuition-free charter school funded by the state of Minnesota. The school will operate out of the former American National Bank building, located along Highway 10 at 17267 Yale St. The building is being remodeled.
“We’re fortunate to be able to be able to start with a great school building like this,” said Leah Studaker, board chair. “It is being designed for today’s health and safety needs, and for an optimal Montessori learning environment that will be a smaller setting than other public schools. It’s a truly special opportunity for families in our area.”
Three Rivers Montessori will start with three classrooms for the first year and expand to six classrooms. The school will also have access to an open lot next to the school to develop a secure outdoor recreation and nature development area.
Three Rivers Montessori will offer before- and after-school programs as well.
Rose Bringus is the school’s interim executive director. School board members, in addition to Studaker, are Lisa Andrican, Chris Castagneri, Troy Hanson and Carlo Galeazzi.
All teachers have been hired. Staff will use the academic excellence of the Association of Montessori International method of Montessori learning.
Three Rivers Montessori will serve grades kindergarten through sixth in year one and will model the Montessori method of combined age groups in the classrooms. For the 2020-2021 school year there will be two kindergarten through third grade classrooms, and one grades fourth through sixth classroom. The following years will be based on demand as determined by school administration and the board of directors.
Enrollment is open for students in the region to attend. There are a limited number of spots available but school officials encourage people to apply and get on the wait list since many things change for families over the summer.
Students who live in the Elk River Area School District are eligible for busing.
Three Rivers Montessori was awarded a federal start-up grant in the fall of 2019. The grant provides the school with $600,000 in the first three years to cover start-up costs. The grant allows for the purchase of authentic Montessori classroom supplies and curriculum and will also cover other development costs.
New school was four years in the making
When Board Chair Studaker’s youngest son was in preschool and kindergarten at Monarch Montessori in Elk River, Studaker fell in love with the Montessori approach to learning.
After Monarch Montessori closed, she became part of a grassroots effort to start a new Montessori school.
“Now, four years later, we’re ready to open the school,” Studaker said. She said the start-up process has been challenging, an adventure and “a work of passion.”
Her son, now 10 and entering the fifth grade, is one of the students signed up to attend Three Rivers Montessori this fall.
While Studaker has high regard for the Montessori approach, she’s a believer in all of types of education. Having a variety available helps meet students’ needs, since not all children do well in the same setting, she said.
“If there are other options, then hopefully we can make sure that nobody falls through the cracks,” she said.
Studaker had a unique educational experience herself at a young age. She came to the United States from Colombia, South America, after being adopted at the age of 6. She spoke only Spanish when she arrived, and still remembers her joy the first time she understood every word of English in a sentence at school.
Despite the initial struggle to learn the language, Studaker said she loved school and worked hard at it, and went on to get a college degree in psychology.
Now, she’s using her time and talent to get a new school off the ground.
List of Montessori students includes Bezos, Kennedy and Swift
Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in Italy. In 1896 Montessori became one of the first Italian women ever to obtain a medical degree. Her interests led her to join a research program at the Psychiatric Clinic of the University of Rome, where she came to work with differently abled children. Montessori developed an approach which resulted in incredible outcomes for these children. While her work in this area received a great deal of acclaim, Montessori discovered her techniques were applicable for use with all children. The Montessori method spread throughout the world. Today Montessori education is present in more than 25,000 schools in more than 140 countries.
Here’s more about the method, according to the Association of Montessori International: “The Montessori approach provides children with enduring intellectual capabilities, achieved through the framework of social and emotional learning. Montessori develops the whole child. Academics and knowledge-building are key qualities of Montessori, as is the ability to think creatively and understand the needs of others. When these fundamental skills are fostered early in life, children gain the capability to problem solve, persevere, and interact well with others in any circumstance. Montessori teachers guide children through discovery. Montessori teachers are experts in child development, guiding children to learn independently and reach their unique potential. Children have the freedom to engage in their own learning experience and the Montessori teacher is there to support the child throughout this process.”