A 52-year-old school, which helped introduce Baton Rouge residents to the instructional approach made famous by Italian educator Maria Montessori, is moving beyond its longtime home at 8227 Wimbledon Ave.
In October, the Montessori School of Baton Rouge opened a satellite campus in two long-unused classrooms seven blocks away behind St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church. On Feb. 26, the school celebrated its expansion with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the church, located at 12663 Perkins Road.
The ceremony served as a 50th anniversary celebration for the school as well. One of its founders, Lillie Gallagher, was on hand. She said she’s proud of the current school and its director, Molly Williams. Gallagher urged the school to go on for 50 more years.
“I will be with you on the 100th in spirit,” she promised.
Williams said the new satellite campus is not the end of the school’s expansion plans.
“As we start our next 50 years, we are working to bring Montessori to more families,” she said. “This includes opening a new classroom in Baton Rouge to accommodate those waiting for a spot as well as developing plans for moving into new communities that currently do not have a Montessori option.”
The main campus of Montessori School of Baton Rouge serves about 50 children between the ages of 2½ and 6 years old — preschool to kindergarten age. Only one of the two temporary classrooms which the school is leasing from St. Margaret’s is being used at present and has 15 children.
“We didn’t do any advertising, just word of mouth,” she said.
The school plans to open the second classroom in time for next fall, adding another 15 students.
Maria Quiroga is leading the classroom now in use at St. Margaret’s. It looks clean and pristine, but it didn’t start out that way.
“We had to do a lot of work,” Quiroga said.
Quiroga showed how the room is divided into the five areas that typify Montessori classrooms: practical life skills, sensorial activities, mathematics, language and cultural studies.
Quiroga, who has spent about 30 years in Montessori education, returned to Baton Rouge a couple of years ago, most recently from a stint as director of a charter school in Dallas focused on Montessori. Quiroga said she’s been helping Williams as the Baton Rouge school expands. She said her old school in Dallas employed a similar expansion strategy where it set up multiple satellite campuses throughout that city.
Lyndsi LeBlanc, who is in her fourth year teaching at Montessori School of Baton Rouge, said she first encountered the school as a mother. After sending her three children to the school, she became so entranced by the place that she left her teaching job at an Ascension Parish public school and joined the faculty at the Montessori school.
She likes how children from a wide age range are in the same classroom together, a hallmark of Montessori education.
“The younger children learn from the older children,” she said.
Montessori schools also develop skills other schools don’t tend to deal with. For instance, she pointed to a bowl of marbles that Montessori teachers give to help young children when they arrive to manipulate and improve their tactile skills.
“Children today, their minds are so developed but their fingers are not, because they touch screens all the time,” LeBlanc said.