MONTESSORI METHOD Parents keep school alive, healthy 25 years

The school, which enrolls 105 children, was founded by Suzanne Stettler.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Providing a quality educational environment while teaching respect, responsibility and resourcefulness is the foundation of the Montessori method of teaching -- a system that has flourished at one Mahoning Valley school for more than 25 years.
The Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley is tucked away in a well-manicured neighborhood on Lynn Avenue on the city's South Side.
The main building more closely resembles a family home than a place of learning for those ages 3 to 14, but once inside, it is easy to understand how and why the system works.
Children ages 3 to 6, many wearing slippers or house shoes, move about in independent study in each of the three classrooms. A teacher and several aides circle the rooms, instructing the students.
How pupils function: There are no assigned desks; pupils work in areas determined by the activity on which they working.
In one section of teacher Rosemary Finley's class, a 3-year-old girl works on life skills projects while sitting across from a 4-year-old boy working on a mosaic puzzle.
The Montessori system teaches children with a hands-on approach. Each classroom has four areas of learning -- practical life, mathematics, language and cultural.
The three large classrooms for 3- to 6-year-old pupils in the main building and a newly built structure for older students at the rear of the main building are a clear sign of just how far the school has come from its meager beginnings.
The school, originally named the Liberty Montessori School, was founded and operated as a preschool at the Unitarian Church on Youngstown's North Side.
School principal Diane Gonda said Suzanne Stettler came to the Youngstown area and was astonished that no Montessori School was in operation.
"Suzanne Stettler was like the Johnny Appleseed of Montessori and she found this group of parents who also became committed to starting the school -- so committed, in fact, that this school started as a co-op," she said.
Parents' help: Initially, all parents with children in the school were required to work at the school to cut down on costs. Gonda said if a parent was unable to put in his fair share of time, he had to provide transportation and sometimes finances for another parent to teach or assist in his place.
"From the beginning, Suzanne Stettler wanted this to be a school where anyone who truly wanted their child to have this type of education could," said Gonda.
Within seven years, the school was bursting at the seams and in need of a new building. Plus parents wanted to expand the program to children in early primary grades.
In 1986, the school moved to its Lynn Avenue address on the South Side and the name was changed.
Parents took the needed courses to teach the newly added classes and teachers where brought in. She said the school relies heavily on active parents and teachers who teach for the love of the Montessori system.
Most of the parents have been helping with the school for at least 15 years.
Recent history: In 1997, the school opened a new building, called the Stettler House, for pupils 6 to 12 years old. An adolescent program, in line with grades 7 and 8, was added in 1998. The school enrolls 105 children.
Gonda said the school has been a success and will continue to flourish because of the parents' involvement with the school and their belief in the system.
"That is why the school is here, because of the parents. We have parents involved at every level and that is a large part of the success," she said.

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