In the fall of 2020, the leadership of the Center for Guided Montessori Studies asked the question, “What would an authentic Montessori middle school look like if it were online?” This question was especially pertinent at the time, because we were all adjusting to “forced” online learning resulting from the COVID pandemic. The question that we asked ourselves was, “Can we build an adolescent Montessori program and community online?”
That winter, we decided to plan for a soft launch of what became the Bridgemont International School. We began with just one class of seventh- and eighth-grade students, all living within the time zones of the continental United States, led by certified and experienced Montessori Adolescent Guides.
Our plan is to add one grade a year, extending through high school over the next four years. We also plan to open additional cohorts in North America and other parts of the world as interest grows. As we have from the start, our goal is not to grow quickly, but rather with slow, careful steps to ensure that we establish programs that are excellent and sustainable.
The first question that we reexamined was, “What makes a Montessori adolescent (middle and high school) program authentically Montessori?” Even though we have been involved with Montessori programs at this level for years, there is (at this point) no one model for adolescent programs. Dr. Montessori died before she was able to define the “model” of what a secondary program looks like. Rather, there are a series of lectures and discussions that other Montessori educators have interpreted, leading to vastly different models of Secondary education.
Many are familiar with the farm-school model of Montessori Adolescent Education (Erdkinder), while others may be familiar with the curricular outlines of other Montessori Secondary training programs. While there are many different models, there are key components of Montessori for the student in the third plane.
Curriculum: Students need to learn! They should be culturally literate and develop the academic skills they will need if they decide to pursue post-secondary education. Even within this component, there are different definitions of what that means. I would suggest that students need to know basic information. What makes Montessori distinct at this level is the balance between helping students through the challenges of adolescence, while covering an excellent course of study. For us, a particular focus is helping teens to discover that what they learn in school is real, relevant, and interesting. We want to encourage their interests, help them to see the big picture, and think critically about what they study and how it relates to their own lives.
The core of our academic program is the Montessori educational syllabus, which consists of ‘integrated academic components’ in three overarching areas: self-expression; emotional development; and preparation for adult life.
Within these areas, Bridgemont offers rigorous coursework in a variety of academic subjects, experiential learning, and in-the-field experiences; a range of seminars and collaborative learning projects; training in organization and personal responsibility.
Even though our curriculum is highly integrated, courses have titles that are familiar to colleges and other schools including math, language arts, sciences, humanities, Spanish, health, arts, and electives.
Here is an example of a simple 7th- and 8thgrade science experiment that we did recently.
Is “earth-friendly” laundry detergent actually safe for the environment?
For this experiment, we planted radish seeds in potting soil. In Dish #1, we watered the seeds with a mixture of water and regular detergent. In Dish #2, we watered the seeds with a mixture of water and earth-friendly detergent. In Dish #3, we simply used regular tap water.
After 10 days, only one dish had germinated seeds. Can you guess which one???
The dish that used regular tap water was able to grow radish seeds. The other two dishes? Nothing.
In Dish #1, the regular detergent solution left a heavy film over the soil and seeds.
In Dish #2, the earth-friendly detergent solution did not leave as heavy a film; however, no seeds germinated.
Conclusion: “Earth-friendly” may not be all it is advertised to be; however, it certainly is “friendlier” in appearance.
Valorization: This is such a wonderful term that Dr. Montessori gave us. It is the key challenge of adolescence: the formation of a clear sense of identity, a moral compass, and feeling validated and valued for their contribution as an individual. As children transition from childhood through the teenage years, and then into the adult world, they need to feel a sense of responsibility and worth that leads them to confidence and independence. This can be accomplished in many ways; however, it is probably the single most important component of Montessori at this level.
Community: Community is, directly and indirectly, related to curriculum and valorization. Part of the work of adolescents is to discover their own strengths, style, and role in the community. This is done through deliberate and unexpected avenues. A most basic statement is that adolescents desire to be part of a community.
So, back to the question at hand; how does one create this from an online platform?
How can we deliver a rich curriculum that is more than mere memorization, create opportunities for students to feel valued and value in their work, and create a sense of community, when most of them have never actually met in person?
The students at Bridgemont spend approximately four hours a day in real-time engagement in a variety of activities, including (but not limited to) direct instruction, Socratic dialogue, independent and small-group work with peers, presentations, guest lecturers, working out, doing art, and the occasional Harry-Potter-themed “butter beer” parties.
So, can Montessori at this level be done from an online platform? YES!
A prepared environment at the Secondary level is much more about experiences rather than the materials and physical environments of the Early Childhood and Elementary levels. Can the Montessori guides create opportunities for authentic interaction, sharing, and developing a real sense of caring about one another? Can this be done while also helping students become culturally literate and explore their open passions? Again, YES!
Online learning gives students the space to comfortably participate and voice their opinions, which can ultimately help build confidence and positively reinforce their self-esteem.
At the half-year point, the discussion among the students and Montessori guides turned to gratitude. To our delight, what the students were most grateful for was the sense of community, greater than they had felt in their brick-and-mortar schools. What was our greatest concern, had become our greatest strength.
Community, in the case of the Bridgemont students, guides, and administrators, means kind, empathetic, interested young adults that are not just saying that they care, but honestly care about each other and are interested in the world in which they exist. While doing so, they are also being held to a high level of academic expectations that support each student’s progress and independence.
SOME ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:
Is Bridgemont accredited?
As Bridgemont International School is licensed in the state of Florida, it adheres to the graduation requirements of the State of Florida. (We teach the same courses; however, they are taught very differently.) The school plans to pursue accreditation by the International Montessori Council (IMC) and Cognia.
How does Bridgmeont address service learning, Erdkinder, etc.?
At Bridgemont, we recognize the importance of the “Montessori experience.” We intend to include each of these experiences; however, they will be different in that the students will have more responsibility in designing their experiences with the support of our Montessori guides. Rather than being provided with experiences, students will be actively involved in the design of the experiences that satisfy their requirements in their own communities.
Is it all online?
A goal for the near future is to have two live in-person experiences a year. The school year would start with a whole-school orientation, which would change from year to year and is meant to be a team-building and orientation program. The second experience is meant to be student-designed and will look different from year to year. This will be budgeted, designed, planned, and based on student feedback and student work. (COVID-19 has made this difficult, but it is a goal for the 2022-2023 school year, if possible).
How are time zones addressed?
Our courses and schedules are deliberately designed to meet the needs of students in the continental United States. With WIN (What I Need) hours scheduled on both sides of the “Core” curriculum, students from all parts of the United States can work together at times that are convenient and in line with best practices in adolescent psychology.
As the school grows, there will be timezone-specific cohorts. These will be times that are more specific to time zones and regions; however, there will be shared times with all available time zones to include students from other countries, continents, etc.
In summary, Bridgemont International School is an authentic Montessori School, where students from all over the United States and around the world have the opportunity to become what they are meant to be and have the fortitude, confidence, and support to go after it. •
If you are interested in learning more, please visit our website at www.bridgemontschool.com.
Robin Howe, Ed.D. is a Montessori kid, a Montessori certified teacher (at all levels except infants), and a Senior Consultant for the Montessori Foundation.