Building Equity at Urban Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori, the creator of Montessori education, was dedicated to helping all children achieve their highest potential.

She developed her teaching method from working with young people with special needs in a mental institution, and with those living in low-income communities, in Lorenzo, Italy. Over the years, Dr. Montessori had the opportunity to teach — and to train teachers — in Asia, Europe and the United States. She saw those educators achieve great results applying her methods with many different types of students in many different countries.

Here at Urban, we strive to implement the Montessori method with a much more diverse group of students in a single school setting than Dr. Montessori ever saw in her day.

Applying the principals of Montessori education in our unique environment, UMCS staff are developing best practices for teaching in a cross-cultural setting to meet the needs of students that come from a range of cultures and family structures, as well as having a variety of different learning styles and needs.

We have consciously created a school community where students can see themselves reflected in the adults around them, and classroom materials that mirror our wide range of cultures. As much as possible, our students see and hear their cultures, languages and dialects among faculty, staff and volunteers at school.

Additionally, in order for students from subgroups that are historically oppressed in our society to achieve their highest potential, these children also need to hear adults who are not from their subgroups sharing their commitment to social justice — in classrooms that incorporate meaningful social action into the curriculum.

Awareness of all of these elements is what makes up ongoing development and implementation of our Equity Curriculum.

During the January teacher institute, teachers received training in the “Peaceful Changemakers Curriculum,” a series of lessons that teach children about race and racism, as well as about the people who have been changemakers in this arena, and around other important social issues.

The Equity Builders Committee is using this framework as a foundation for creating additional anti-bias curriculum to address the social justice issues of students with special needs at our school.

Tony Emerson, chair of the Equity Builders Committee, UMCS community member and Board member, has been holding meetings with parents, caregivers, faculty and staff to ask for feedback on our current Equity Statement (http://www.urbanmontessori.org/inclusion_and_diversity). The goal is to help us come to community consensus about what equity at UMCS is, in order to revise the statement to reflect that consensus. A new draft of the equity statement will be shared with the UMCS community in the month to come for your comments.

You are also welcome to join the Equity Builders Committee. Please visit the Volunteer page (http://www.urbanmontessori.org/volunteer) and check the appropriate box to be added to the email group.

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Montessori, Design Thinking and Arts Integration Charter School in Oakland, California