A 105-year-old tradition lives on in a Montessori school in El Dorado County. California Montessori Project (CMP), a K-8 Montessori school in Shingle Springs, was opened in 2001 and has been led by Kim Zawilski since its inception.
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“I always like to say I’ve been involved with the school since before the beginning, because it took a lot of hard work to get our charter,” Zawilski said.
Zawilski spent 10 years as a Montessori teacher in private schools and also has experience working for the Legislature and other business entities. She said she married together her administrative background and her experience teaching in order to become principal at CMP.
The philosophy of a Montessori education began in 1907 when Maria Montessori opened the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) in a low-income area of Rome. Zawilski said Dr. Montessori had a true belief in creating peace through the education of children, making peace education a large part of the Montessori curriculum. CMP follows that philosophy in its own classrooms with character education, peace education and a peace rose.
Another Montessori philosophy being put in place by Zawilski and her staff is that of following the lead of the child. This starts at the very beginning when the staff evaluates each child entering the school to determine where they stand in each subject. Each child is given his/her own individualized lesson plan and works directly from that. Students are allowed, and encouraged, to work and develop at their own pace despite what stage the other students or their friends may be at. Lessons and materials are all extremely hands-on and students are given the opportunity to work how they see fit.
“It is very respectful, I think, to meet the children where they are and at their own pace and give them the self-correcting tools to move forward,” Zawilski said.
Even the classroom atmosphere provides for a different learning environment than other traditional schools. In place of rows of single desk and chair sets, community tables are set up around the room. Instead of an assigned seating chart, children are given the opportunity to sit at a table, relax on a bean bag chair or lie on the rug to complete their assignments.
Students are taught that the classrooms are their classrooms. They take care of cleaning up messes after themselves, putting chairs or other items away when needed, all without the instruction of an adult. Zawilski said these are part of the practical life skills children are taught at CMP starting in kindergarten. It may be hard to believe, but yes, kindergarteners in a CMP classroom are making their own pizzas and cleaning up after themselves without being told to do so by their teacher. This, again, reflects back to educating the whole child, Zawilski said.
Along with every other positive aspect of the Montessori teaching philosophy present at CMP, community involvement is also encouraged by Zawilski and her staff. They ask their middle school students to volunteer 50 hours in the community during each school year. Parents and the CMP staff are also highly involved in the community and giving back to El Dorado County.
“We pride ourselves on community involvement from both students and parents,” Zawilski said. “The more parents are involved, the more successful the kids will be.”
In the end, Zawilski believes the true test of success lies in the students and their happiness.
“If the kids are happy, if they love their education and if they are developing skills to become lifelong learners, then I think we are successful here,” she said. “We want them to go on to high school and be successful; be critical thinkers; be confident; be comfortable and be capable to take next step in life.”