Allison Shecter, Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School’s founder and school director, first developed the vision to make Montessori more broadly accessible after encountering Montessori as a parent. An experienced teacher and special educator, Allison became convinced of the value of the Montessori method and inspired by the promise of an educational approach founded on respecting children’s unique gifts and cultivating the extraordinary potential in every child. Propelled by the belief that all children deserve access to a high quality Montessori education regardless of income status and inspired by the successes of hundreds of thriving public Montessori schools around the country, Allison grew determined to bring Montessori to Baltimore City in a public setting. Allison faced many barriers to opening, including dealing with skeptics who questioned the feasibility of a public Montessori school in Baltimore, but remained relentless in her pursuit to make her vision a reality for local families.
Allison’s first step was to establish a Parent-Toddler Class in the basement of a local community space, in order to introduce Baltimore City families to the Montessori method and to gauge interest in this approach to learning. In response to enthusiastic demand, Allison gathered a small but highly talented and committed team of community members to share her vision and play a critical role in creating an extraordinary public school option for Baltimore City families: a Montessori public charter school. This founding group of volunteers became our first Board of Directors and together, led efforts to secure a charter with Baltimore City Schools, garner support for our mission, recruit staff, reach out to families, and find a building — all in less than 8 months.
After contracting with the City of Baltimore to secure a lease on our school facility, volunteers contributed thousands of hours in just a few months in order to transform the neglected space at 1600 Guilford Avenue into a vibrant place of learning. Once an elementary school serving the neighborhood of Greenmount West, the original school building was closed in 2002 and used as a Code Blue homeless shelter for the winter prior to our opening. This extensive renovation required a complete overhaul of the elementary building, including the removal of miles of soiled green carpeting, shattered glass, and dangerous debris. A total resurfacing of the backyard was also necessary in order to create space for a play structure to make sure our first students would have a safe environment for recess.
The First Year
With a mission to build a diverse community of joyfully engaged learners and a vision to nurture a love of learning in a small, family-like environment, we opened our doors in the fall of 2008 for 168 students in Pre-K3 through 4th grade across 7 classrooms. During this inaugural year, we operated with minimal staff, a lean administration, Extended Day provided through an outside vendor, and only modest extra-curricular programming, as we relied on many volunteers to support us through the intensity of this start-up phase.
Our early initiatives also included the creation of our dynamic Seed to Table program and an extensive greenspace expansion, to connect our students to our planet’s ecology, support the acquisition of healthy eating habits and promote environmental stewardship; the launch of two new elementary classrooms in an attempt to address some of the increasing demand for our model; and in 2011, the addition of the Adolescent Community (AC), a Montessori middle school program for 7th and 8th graders, to meet families’ strong interest in continuing with a model well aligned to the unique developmental and academic needs of young adolescents. Housed in the historic, 19th century, School 32 building, a once vacant space we renovated and revitalized in partnership with our neighbors in Greenmount West, the AC is an inspiring place of learning with a strong sense of belonging for youth in Baltimore City.
To further support neighborhood efforts, we created a designated community space for the New Greenmount West Community Association on the ground floor. A waiver submitted in partnership with our neighbors in Greenmount West ensures that 10% of our seats go to neighborhood residents.
Growing and Thriving
Thanks to a dedicated and expanded Board, effective and responsive leadership, a talented and determined staff, a highly engaged parent body, and curious young learners who inspire us every day, Baltimore Montessori Public has continued to grow and thrive. With the Montessori method as an anchoring framework, our vibrant learning community promotes joyful engagement through meaningful work, supports discovery and exploration, and fosters the development of diverse gifts and an appreciation for multiple intelligences through an authentic whole-child approach. In addition to engaging and challenging classroom learning environments, our extra-curricular programming and outdoor learning spaces reflect our commitment to meeting the needs of the whole child, with ample space and opportunity to engage with nature, including garden plots, fruit trees, bees, and chickens, and a rich complement of free and fee-based after-school options. Our offerings include chess, modern languages, MMUN (Montessori Model United Nations), music, sports, step team, study hall, and our in-house Extended Day program.
Our Own Building
To secure our future and affirm our commitment to our neighborhood, we have purchased both the elementary and middle school building sites that house our programs, further contributing to the decreasing vacancy rate for this neighborhood in transition.
Energy and Commitment
Our school community continues to prioritize the needs of our children and our work is now bolstered by on-going professional development; additional support staff, including a full time assistant or co-guide for every classroom; a strong Special Education and Intervention team; a full time social worker and full-time student mentor; part-time library, physical education, and arts integration guides; an expanded leadership team; and productive partnerships with local agencies. We continue to rely on the energy and commitment of our volunteers as together, parents, staff, and Board participate in a culture of high engagement and continuous improvement to fully realize our mission for every student. Our consistently high rates of attendance — among the highest for all Baltimore City Schools, including at the middle school level — and our high levels of parent satisfaction are powerful testaments to our families’ engagement in and connection to our school community.
Now serving children in Pre-K3 all the way through 8th grade across 17 classrooms, our enrollment has more than doubled to 475, with families traveling to our school from 26 zip codes in Baltimore City. With a wait list of over 1000 students, Baltimore Montessori Public remains the city’s first and only public Montessori school.