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As another school year begins, one can’t help but think about why all of the people who work so hard to make schools places for children to grow and thrive do so. The work is challenging – the days often long. It is sometimes difficult to know if you have made a difference. Yet teachers, administrators and students everywhere eagerly anticipate the first day of school.

Years ago, I worked with women who did not have the opportunities our children have. They were marginalized due to a lack of choices and perhaps making some erroneous choices. Many of them lacked an education and did not graduate from high school. My coworkers and I worked to help them achieve that goal and move forward in their lives. This experience made me rethink school. What is the purpose of school? Why does it work so well for some and not others? What can be done to make a difference?

As a nation, we continue to work to “get school right.” As an independent school, it is clear that we have a much better shot at this; we have the opportunity to use that independence to create an educational program that honors each of the children before us, meeting them where they are and providing the lessons and experiences that allow them to gain the skills and knowledge needed for future learning.

Our days are not driven by high stakes tests or a political idea of what education needs to be. Instead, they are guided by the children who enter our building and their needs. Some need an emphasis on math, others on social skills or reading. Some children come with a passion for learning about dinosaurs, and they can do just that. Others want to be the best artist they can be. In a community of learners, one that cares deeply about its members, the possibilities are endless. The teachers are there as guides, helping children gain the necessary skills to become literate and educated adults. They are also there as fellow explorers, listening and finding the resources needed to keep children engaged. They are helping children learn how to learn.

As Montessori educators, we know that we are here to provide the environment and the culture of learning. The children are here to explore, ask questions and create their learning. They look to us to guide them as they make their way through this maze we call school.