RIDGWAY – Assuming the momentum continues, and there is no reason to believe that it won’t, a new school for young children will open in Ridgway this summer.
The Mountain Trails Montessori School is under construction now at the corner of North Cora and Charles Street. The owners, mother-daughter team Gail Jensen and Wendy Shima, both of Ridgway, say that phase one will include a lobby and two classrooms, one for 2 ½ to 6 year olds – what a Montessori school calls a “primary level classroom” – and one “lower elementary” class for grades 1-3. “Eventually,” Shima said, “we’d like to add a [pre-primary] toddler class.”
Gail Jensen is a Colorado native, who ran a Montessori School in Manhattan Beach, Calif., before retiring to Ridgway in 2000. Daughter Wendy took a degree in English literature and then attended the Montessori Institute in Washington, D.C., before getting her master’s in education from Loyola University. She worked with her mom at the school in California, and moved to Ridgway with her husband and two small children last August.
“We heard this was a good time” to build a school, Shima said, given the closing last year of long-time daycare provider Miss Brandy’s, amid a general dearth of daycare and early childhood education in the area.
A Montessori School is much more, of course, than a childcare center. It is a nearly century-old system of education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician in Italy. Dr. Montessori decided through her training and observations that children learn best at the pace they set themselves. And to that end, Montessori schools let children choose their own activities and timetables from hundreds of possibilities. Classrooms include kids of different ages, typically in three-year spans: 0-3, 3-6, 6-9 and so on. Older children help the younger kids with their work; younger children socialize with, and learn from, the older kids. Montessori teachers are “modeling a Renaissance person of broad interests,” according to the organization’s website.
Maria Montessori believed in a young child’s ability to “effortlessly [assimilate] the sensory stimuli of his or her environment.” She called this quality “absorbent mind,” and it became a key tenet of her first school, her Casa dei Bambini, in 1907. A teacher doesn’t make assignments or dictate what to study or read, “nor does she set a limit as to how far a child follows an interest.” Montessori schools are non-competitive and give no grades.
Maria Montessori also believed that education had a role to play in the development of world peace. She said, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.” To that end, Montessori classrooms value order and harmony.
Once Jensen and Shima found their Ridgway lot they hired contractors Jonathan Discoe and Ralph Lowery to prepare the site. They removed what had been a graceful old house from one side of the lot (“Yeah, graceful until you touched anything; it was falling apart,” Discoe said), and dug the foundation. Ridgway builder Eric Dickerson will do the actual building.
“We’re using SIPs panels,” Shima said, “so it’ll go up really fast.” SIPs are Structural Integrated Panels, a sandwich of insulating foam between two layers of structural board.
“[Ridgway designer] Lynn Kircher did the original design consulting. And then [architect] John Baskfield took over. We think it’s going to be something beautiful within the residential community of Ridgway, and within the downtown community.”
Especially beautiful, no doubt, to young families currently without options for their pre-school and early-school age children.