The 2019-2020 school year was significant for Council Oak Montessori School (COMS) in Blue Island as it celebrated 30 years of serving Chicago’s South Side and southwestern suburbs.
This small neighborhood school is no stranger to pulling through adverse times.
This year, it took on the challenge of moving its curriculum online due to the statewide mandate to close schools due to COVID-19. The staff worked hard to develop a dynamic and meaningful distance-learning environment, but where the school really stood proud was in the effort put into maintaining its strong sense of community.
Throughout the year, they kept a steady eye on the Montessori philosophy and continued to honor COMS traditions. The school’s mission is to nurture the best within each child, thereby bringing about a better world for each and every one of us. With this in mind, COMS was able to find a clear path through the uncharted territory of bringing Montessori online in a truly meaningful way.
If you are at all familiar with Montessori education, then you know the importance of Montessori materials. Students work with hundreds of different materials, each designed to teach a different concept. The teacher will work with students to introduce a material when they have mastered the previous one.
To transfer this to distance learning, COMS created packets of materials to go to students every two weeks. Teachers, administration, founders and retired members of the community worked together to create and deliver materials.
Students worked with their teachers and peers at least twice a day. Once, for small group work, 3-year-olds worked on cutting and pasting, for example, and lower-elementary students enjoyed Reading Club. They would meet again as a large group once a day—to see their friends and their teachers and to anchor the daily schedule around their communities.
The school hosted virtual social hours, which were truly joyous. Students showed off pets and handstands, shared stories and laughter. On Fridays, they came together for a virtual “pizza lunch.”
The adults in the community came together every Thursday evening for a community check-in with COMS Head of School Lila Jokanovic.
During one such evening, the school hosted longtime educator and Montessorian Mark Berger as guest speaker. He helped allay fears of children “falling behind” and answered many questions about parenting during this difficult time.
Council Oak also continued working with all of its partners—from Gerry Burns providing music instruction and experiences every week, to Joe O’Meara taking students on virtual garden tours and hosting a no-contact plant sale, to weekly yoga with Elizabeth Smith of Serendipity Yoga.
The school’s partnership with the Forest Preserves District of Cook County, which started with the district helping add logs and other natural elements to the COMS playground, continued in the spring when its upper-elementary and middle-school classes met with workers from the Forest Preserves District of Cook County to take part in their first online class.
Students learned about the crayfish of Illinois, and the potential invasive species coming up from further south. Students learned about habitat and watched workers check for crayfish in a nearby pond.
These are just a few of the school’s milestones and moments to celebrate from this year. Others include a performance by Wes Tank of “Dr. Seuss Raps” fame on Youtube, a virtual presentation of the annual musical (students were just two weeks away from the live performance before schools were mandated to close) and a virtual celebration of graduates that maintained traditions that have been with COMS since its first graduating class in the early 1990s.
Hands-on and community-based learning in Montessori education enabled the staff to find creative and effective ways to handle the many changes that 2020 brought to the table. In fact, adapting to change is one of the most central benefits of a Montessori education.
Council Oak Montessori School prepares to go into its 31st year of serving area families—both in-person and online. To learn more about its programs serving children ages 3 through 8th grade, visit the website at counciloakmontessori.org.
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