This final project was the perfect opportunity for me to pay tribute to a school that basically saved my life! This school was the answer to the prayers of a single mother who was faced with a very tough decision. As a result of there not being a neighborhood public school, I was faced with the decision of sending my daughter into a blighted public school environment (where I had heard horror stories and was nothing like our historically and culturally rich neighborhood to which we had become accustomed), or sending her to a private school located in our neighborhhood where tuition costs were more than my college tuition,books and fees combined for the University of Baltimore. What a choice to make, thank GOD, I didn't have to!
As you travel from page to page of my project you'll notice the blue highlighted phrases at the end, these will link you to the next piece in my project: Mildred Monroe Elementary School, And Now a Word From Our Sponsor, A Day in the Life of a BMPCS Student, One Big Family. Additionally my piece 1600 North Guilford is highlighted in some places as well, this refers to The Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School as well but it is not part of the final project. Thank you for taking the time to read my sketches, I hope you'll find it is time well spent.
The Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School or “BMPCS” as it is more affectionately known is located at 1600 North Guilford Avenue in Central Baltimore. It's a school that, in spite of the neighborhood it's in, is succeeding in many ways. With so many articles written about the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School, The Baltimore Sun 5/3/08, The Examiner 6/13/08, Baltimore's Child 3/09 and the list goes on… I thought it would be interesting to find out the “True Hollywood Story” or rather the “True Baltimore Story” behind this beloved little school. To achieve this feat, I was lucky enough to have the chance to sit down and personally interview the director of this school, Mrs. Allison Shecter, my hero(ine)! As the story unfolds you will find that I refer to Mrs. Shecter in the abstract, this is simply out of reverence to her as she is a very modest and humble woman. Nonetheless, she is deserving of all the praise I can give her, for what she has accomplished. I trust you will find this account of how the first free Montessori School began in Baltimore City to be as compelling as I do. Now to our story…
This school began as one woman’s selfless desire to bring a Montessori education to more children, that woman being Allison Shecter. She was inspired while observing her own children’s involvement in a traditional Montessori school. It ultimately became her desire that more children would have access to this type of education; not based on learning style or financial resources but out of a need to bring something “different” to children who probably would have not otherwise had the opportunity, due to the aforementioned constraints. Something other than a traditional public school education, something other than a teacher standing in front of the classroom pointing at students who are forced to sit rigidly behind school desks, something referred to as “child-centered education”. As previously mentioned, while her own children attended a traditional Montessori school already, tuition costs at private Montessori schools often run around thirteen thousand dollars a year. Our founder felt the need to reach beyond her situation and extend the Montessori experience to children who came from families that weren’t as financially able to afford the cost of tuition, for one… let alone multiple children.
Admittedly, this was not an easy task for Mrs. Shecter to undertake, trying to persuade the “Powers that Be” into understanding and accepting the value of “Child-centered active learning”… yet this “dynamo” refused to give up.
At the outset of this venture, this “Icon of Unselfishness “ (in my opinion) vowed to volunteer her time to get her initiative started. All she asked in return was assistance in acquiring materials. Armed with self-determination and the support of parents, she created a non-profit organization that enabled her to initiate a low-cost Parent-Toddler Montessori program, akin to the more commonly known “Mommy and Me” Classes. A nominal fee was charged in order that insurance costs would be covered. Saint Mark's Church, also located in Central Baltimore was the location of this program and the beginning of “The Dream” became reality.
Time moved on and before long, the toddlers were no longer tots but had become pre-schoolers and school-aged children. So once more, the fearless leader in our story rolled up her sleeves and got to work. By connecting with one of the parents who had previous experience working with charter schools, she strategically planned her next move. This time she approached her Board of Directors and explained that she wanted to take this program to the next level by offering the traditional Montessori education for free at a charter school, which was to be the first of its kind in Baltimore City. Backing her all the way, her Board of four members as well as the parents involved in the toddler program pledged their support.
Needless to say, this was a monumental and daunting task. It was a long hard road to get to the day when the BMPCS was finally able to open its doors in its current location, the former Mildred Monroe Elementary School building. I'm sure it took blood, sweat and a whole lot of tears, yet our visionary refused to give up or give in and committed herself to attend multiple webinars, seminars and classes, all in pursuit of her desired goal.
During that journey, our founder eventually cultivated a working relationship with the City of Baltimore in an effort to locate a building suitable to house the elevation of her dream. Life moved on, and our champion continued through the process withstanding the red tape that a bureaucracy requires and…Voila! A school was born! A school that was located in Central Baltimore and has chickens freely roaming about in the playground. That's right I said chickens!
While I wish I could say this story ends happily ever after…such is often not the case in the real world. Unfortunately, that's true here too. Some of the difficulty in maintaining a school of this caliber and character is finding means to fund it. In addition,what makes the funding difficult, is that the directorship doesn’t know how much they will receive per student from one year to the next. You see, the charter school formula is different from that of a traditional public school, therefore conservative planning becomes a must do and the board always has to anticipate potential budgetary constraints. A lot of maintenance and upkeep is shouldered by the parents involved and volunteers. Accolades to the good ol’ financing committee of BMPCS whose job is to tirelessly ensure the school remains financially solvent.
Forging ahead to the future, upon the completion of this project the director of “The Little School that Could” has been informed that the school has been approved to add an additional elementary grade for the upcoming school year. This is another step towards fulfillment of the dream of the visionary for the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School to eventually go as far as eighth grade. The Board of Directors has now grown from four to nine members, with the original four members still active on the board. In my opinion this speaks to the humble, fair, caring and hardworking person that this school’s director has been and continues to be.
What lies next on the horizon for “The Little School that Could” formerly known as the Mildred Monroe Elementary School??? Only time will tell!