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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 1, 2004

Pupils have 'freedom within limits' and with responsibilities

By Treena Shapiro
Advertiser Education Writer

On a recent morning at the Montessori Community School, a couple of fourth-graders were outside trying to figure out four ways to light a lightbulb with wire and a battery.

Julien Carley-Windeler, right — along with Joseph Koroki, left, and Kai Yamada — uses a scarf to interpret music while practicing for a performance at Montessori Community School. Teachers grade their pupils, ages 2 to 12, on a scale reflecting progress and motivation.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Inside, their classmates were having a math lesson with the teacher, working on research projects or reading independently.

While students at the small private school in Makiki have more structured enrichment activities in the afternoon, such as music and Japanese language, they spend the mornings selecting their own activities or working in small groups with the teacher.

It's "freedom within limits," said Kathy Shirakawa, the school's marketing director. "But with that freedom, we give them a lot of responsibility."

For example, the school's 9- to 12-year-olds are expected to complete major research projects that include a written report and a presentation. The students prepare for their oral presentation by learning public speaking skills similar to those taught in Toastmasters.

Shirakawa said this training gives students confidence, which serves the older children well as they begin the admissions process for secondary private schools. Almost all the school's students move on to private schools, primarily Punahou, Iolani and Kamehameha.

As a Montessori school, classrooms have multi-age groupings and the teacher acts as a facilitator, guiding the students through developmentally appropriate activities using specially designed Montessori materials. Students are given the freedom to pursue their own interests and take on more challenging tasks as soon as they are ready.

Teachers make sure students have mastered the necessary skills before the move to the next level. "They can't just slide through," Shirakawa said.

Students are graded on a scale, rather than given letter grades, with progress and motivation among the criteria for assessment. "Our expectation is that our kids can work independently," Shirakawa said.

The school accepts students ages 2 to 12. While the 2-year-olds concentrate more on developing social skills, toileting and learning how to use their feet to power tricycles and plastic cars, the older preschoolers are already learning academic skills, such as using puzzles to learn geography or tracing plastic and sandpaper letters with their fingers to learn how to write the letters correctly, avoiding the common problem of writing letters backward.

• What are you most proud of? "The commitment and the generosity of people involved in our school over the years — the parents, faculty, staff, board members, alumni, and friends — has been critical to our success. Collectively, that support has allowed us to offer a high-quality Montessori education for over 30 years, despite a scarcity of resources," Shirakawa said.

• Best-kept secret: "The fact that we exist, and that we offer Montessori programs for children ages 2 through 12 years. A member of our Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools accreditation team stated that we are, indeed, 'one of the best-kept secrets on the island,'" she said.

• Everybody at our school knows: "Our Head of School, Patsy Tom. 'Ms. Patsy' has been completing her internship in the 3- to 6-year-old program this year, but also regularly attends the elementary program's morning group meetings and pops into the 2-year-old program as well, so the children are all very familiar to her."

• Our biggest challenge: Since the school is on the grounds of the First Christian Church in Makiki, Shirakawa said the school's biggest challenge is to find its own site that will allow it to "design a physical environment that will make its program shine."

• What we need: A 1-acre property in Honolulu.

• Special events: The Spring Fling, which is a family fair and fund-raiser, and a campout for elementary school students.

Reach Treena Shapiro at tshapiro@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.

• • •

Classes in Makiki

• Where: 1239 Nehoa St., Honolulu

• Phone: 522-0244

• Head of School: Patsy Tom, since 1989

• School colors: Royal blue and white

• Web address: www.montessorihawaii.org

• History: The school was founded as Katrice Montessori School in 1972 on the grounds of the First Christian Church in Makiki by Marilyn and Wayne Weber. It was preschool intended to accommodate the special needs of their daughter, Patricia, who had Down syndrome. The school has grown to include children ages 2 to 12 from around the island with wide-ranging abilities and backgrounds. In 1982, the school name was changed to Montessori Community School to emphasize its vision of an education experience that involves people and resources in the community as well as the community of children, parents, and teachers.

• Enrollment: 195 students, in a school built for 199

• Computers: Five Macintosh computers are available to elementary school students — one in each of the two lower elementary classrooms; three in the upper elementary classroom.