Written in 2001 by MCH founder Mary Jane O’Neill, while celebrating the school’s 25th anniversary.
I began the Montessori Children’s House in my home on Irving Avenue on the East Side of Providence in 1976. After graduating from Middlebury College in Vermont and the Association Montessori Internationale in Washington, D.C., I taught at a Washington, D.C., school and at the King’s Wood Montessori school in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
I was young and naive in 1976, and I thought that it would be easier and more rewarding to establish a small school closer to home than to commute to Massachusetts each day. I soon discovered that founding a school was exquisitely rewarding, a true adventure, but definitely not easy. It was important to me to strive to have the school reflect Dr. Maria Montessori’s belief that children trained to be industrious and respectful of each other and of the natural world are our best hope for peace.
I wanted to have the pleasure of setting up a classroom where an environment was as comfortable as home and provided practical and wholesome activities for the children (cooking, sewing, gardening, clay modeling and painting). I also wanted the classroom I created to emphasize geography and a solid appreciation for the contributions that different cultures in history have made to the human experience. Dr. Maria Montessori spoke often of “historical gratefulness.” She was referring to her desire to encourage in young children a knowledge and appreciation for human experience and recognition that our present culture is indebted to the contributions of diverse and previous cultures.
The entire first floor of my home was transformed into a “children’s house.” There was nothing adult-size on the first floor of the house except for the kitchen table. I worked with a young teacher from college, Colleen Lowe, who later pursued training to become a Montessori teacher. We had a small group of children. These students are all grown up now. They have a special place in my heart as the first Providence class.
By spring, we had more children than could be accommodated in my home environment. We were able to move into a large sunny room in St. Martin’s church on the East Side of Providence. We enjoyed our new space for two and a half years until I was able to purchase the former St. Sebastian’s Convent on Lloyd Avenue for the school’s new home.
Since the Fall of 1979, I have been teaching in the same large room of the school building. Walls have been taken down, there was a major renovation of the second floor to make room for the Junior Class, and what used to be on the second floor in the front of the school was renovated to provide a large space for music, creative movement and Chinese lessons. We also added a handicapped accessible bathroom on the second floor. The latest improvement to the school has been the addition of a handicapped ramp and a new play surface and a small garden at the rear of the building. We added a side door to the first grade classroom in order to comply with the fire code. The improvements were carried out over several summers in order to have the building safe and presentable for the children in the Fall. It is not an efficient way to proceed with major renovations, but it did give all of the teachers the opportunity to work within the school building and to gradually recommend changes to make the space attractive and comfortable for the program that we wanted to offer.
Along with physical changes, the school has evolved its curriculum. We are proud of our art history and music curriculum. Our art and art history classes focus on different cultures each year, which has encouraged children to be able to appreciate different human societies and to participate in the joy of creating original art. Recently, we have received full approval from the Rhode Island Department of Education to teach pre-K through sixth grade.
For 25 years, the children have celebrated United Nations Day in October. This celebration brings the children, parents and teachers together in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. At school, we try to interact with parents, children and fellow faculty members in a respectful and cordial manner. We strive to set a good example and ensure a peaceful environment with minimal stress so that the children can concentrate on their work, the parents can be comfortable, and the teachers can observe the children, offering their best advice and energy. We are not always successful in providing this peaceful and industrious environment, but we strive earnestly in this direction. I hope we will continue to work together toward our shared goals.